Posts Tagged ‘japanese


Lettuce Roll and Remembering Some Friends

Luscious Lettuce Rolls

I’ve inherited a lot of great traits from my parents: my extroverted nature, my creativity, my ability to talk for hours, and my love for Japanese food. Clearly order of importance does not apply to the list (or does it?). If any of my readers follow me on social media, they would see my intrusive love affair of Asian food through twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Thank goodness that Internet wasn’t developed later in my adolescence because if I had Instagram during my cognac years, you’d all be annoyed/angry out of hunger and poor picture quality (I was a horrible photographer at a young age…just ask my dad about a trip to Grand Canyon and the last time we saw our family camera).  A place that you would have seen a lot of pictures from is our favorite sushi spot: Koi-San.


Koi-San is this amazing Japanese restaurant tucked in a standard suburban strip mall in Orange County.  A no-frills restaurant that served quality Japanese food that followed the tradition of simplicity, freshness, and traditional ways.  It was, although I was not aware at 8 years old, satisfying to know that this was my first endeavor into Japanese food.  In a time when the beginning of the trend of big box Japanese/Asian fusions were created with Buddha statues dangling from the ceiling, fire coming from cocktails, and a sweet teriyaki sauce being added to everything in the menu, Koi-San sought to focus on the important thing: the simplest of flavors of the ocean in a casual setting.  All of this was run by a husband and wife duo: Sam and Yoko.  Sam, the trained sushi chef, worked the back of house and Yoko was in charge of the front of house.  Although, upon entering the restaurant you would think that it was just an Aunt and Uncle inviting you to their home.


I credit my love for Japanese food because of Koi-San.  When I was young, I would be so excited to sit at the sushi bar (a privilege that I thought only “grown-ups” where allowed to take part in).  There where pictures and autographs of “B” and “C” list celebrities [Is Jose Feliciano still an “B” Lister?] on the wall, pictures of vacations that the couple have taken were plastered in sections of the restaurant, and in the background you could hear the soundtrack of a classic Japanese opera playing a hauntingly friendly melody.  During the holiday season, it wasn’t a rare sight to see Christmas cards from customers adorned with family portraits hanging from the ceiling.  This is how we knew that Sam and Yoko had not just created a restaurant that served guests, but created relationships that became family.


Sam and Yoko are unfortunately not with us anymore.  Yoko passed away a few years ago and on a recent trip home, my Dad informed me that Sam had passed away unexpectedly a few months ago.  I’ll miss them.  Not just for the food, but for the qualities that they embodied: Yoko, with her child like laugh and her attempt to always sneak candy to me at the end of every meal.  It was fun to watch her think of a strategy so that my parents, or other children in the restaurant, didn’t catch her passing on sugar to me.  This continued well into my teenage years (although she still did it with the same mischief).  Then there was Sam, who was stern and commanded attention.  He had a razor like focus when it came to creating his dishes.  Ensuring that the fish that he picked that same morning would be enjoyed for its freshness and flavor.


I still remember my first time ordering sushi without my parents’ assistance.  I ordered, until I could handle raw fish and spicy mustard, a California roll without wasabi and a lettuce roll.  The California roll was standard, but the lettuce roll was Sam’s invention.  It was simply iceberg lettuce, sushi rice, and some secret sauce that he made in house.  I really loved this dish.  It was so simple in flavor yet complex at the same time.  The crunch of the lettuce would blend with the creamy-ness of the sauce and tenderness of the shrimp.  Beyond the blend of textures, you could taste the sweetness of the shrimp marry with the tang of the vinegar in the rice.  It was fresh, light, simple and everything that reminds me of summers in Southern California.   Sam and Yoko were a great pair. Although I never told them, they were instrumental in my appreciation of Japanese food and the hours, training and respect that a true sushi chef puts into their food.




1/4 lb large uncooked shrimps (about 6-8)

6-8 bamboo skewers

2 cups cooked short grain/sushi rice

3 tbs rice vinegar

2 tbs sugar

1+ tsp salt

1/2 c mayonnaise (of course)

2 tsp ketchup

1 tsp poppy seeds

1 head of iceberg lettuce




Simmer water in a large pot


Skewer each shrimp with bamboo sticks lengthwise to prevent the shrimp from curling while cooking


Lightly cook the shrimp in hot water until just cooked through.


Chill and set aside


Mix cooked rice with 2 tbs vinegar, 2 tbs sugar, and 1 tsp salt and let cool to room temperature


Blend mayonnaise, ketchup, rest of the vinegar, poppy seed, and salt to taste. Set aside until the rest of the ingredients are ready.


Remove large clean lettuce leaves and place a ball of rice in the middle of the leaf.


Top the ball of rice with a tbs of sauce and shrimp.


Wrap the both sides in and te bottom of the roll up to prevent the filling to come out (like a burrito)


-serves 6-



Creamy Ponzu Coleslaw

creamy ponzu coleslaw

Admitting the mayonnaise addiction wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Actually, it felt somewhat refreshing. Plus, it gave me an excuse to purchase some shrimp (which is clearly another addiction) and make some delicious shrimp rolls. Although, now that I think of it, I had just combined two of my food addictions in that recipe. May be counter productive huh?

So, in continuing with this trend to admit all my embarrassing childhood food habits, I’m about to tell you of an embarrassing moment in my life. I love coleslaw. I love all kinds of coleslaw. Tart, tangy, creamy, and/or sweet. It doesn’t matter to me. I just like the crunchy texture and the flavors that are involved. Vinegar, citrus, or mayonnaise based (mmm…mayonnaise) coleslaws are more than welcome in my belly any summer day. I haven’t always been so open to such diverse slaws. When I was young I would only prefer one type of coleslaw. Actually, one brand of coleslaw. It was the Kentucky Fried Chicken coleslaw. Man, that’s some delicious stuff. The small pieces of cabbage and carrots that have been minced beyond recognition by some machine and then marinated in the dressing for days while it ships to a local KFC was like God’s Nectar to me. When my mom would bring it home, I knew what I would be eating: coleslaw with a side of fried chicken and amuse bouche of mashed potatoes.

My parents, because they worked so hard to let my brother and I be where we are today, had to work late sometimes. This also meant a quick, and rare, trip to KFC for their advertised family dinners to go. When my parents did bring home a bucket, I would scream like a school kid at first smell of the chicken. The scream of delight was not for the chicken with all of its secret spices, or the brown gravy, or dehydrated and then rehydrated mashed potato. My excitement and gaze was focused on the small nubules of cabbage, carrot, and onions swimming in a broth of cold, milky, sweet puddle that was encased in styrofoam bowls. My love for coleslaw was not only limited to a squeal. That was only the beginning. I would slip and slide across the kitchen floor in my socks and devour the coleslaw with extreme passion, gusto, and fear that someone else (my brother) would get to it before me. I would enjoy every bite, texture, and flavor until all was gone. Then, and this is where I need to accept my problem, I would stare at the cup of sweet, sweet cream in front of me. Beautiful liquid would be left in the bowl and I would attempt to figure out some stealth like strategy for what was about to happen. I’d then look up to see if the rest of the family was paying attention to their youngest. And with ninja quick reflexes, or whatever reflexes a ten year old had, I would drink the dressing that had pooled in the bottom of the cup.
Yup, in addition to eating spoon fulls of mayonnaise, I would drink fast food style coleslaw dressing by the gulp full. I didn’t do it as much as the mayonnaise, mainly because there wasn’t as much access to coleslaw in my house, but you can guarantee that I was hiding somewhere in a corner drinking away every time we had some of this amazing side.

I still enjoy a KFC/KGC coleslaw now and then. I can assure you, however, that I do NOT drink the dressing anymore. I also now make my own coleslaw so I can control the amount of dressing that is used. I used ponzu in my coleslaw. It’s a blend of yuzu and soy. If you can’t find it at your local Asian grocery store, you can substitute it with lime and soy instead. I also like to buy the pre packaged broccoli slaw. The only reason is because I’m lazy. If you want to shred your own carrots, cabbage, broccoli, and stuff…go ahead, but why? Enjoy.


1/4 cup minced scallion

2 tbs mayonnaise

2 tsp ponzu

1 tsp agave syrup or honey

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp dehydrated onion flakes

1 tsp rice vinegar

salt and white pepper to taste

1 bag (12 ounces) of broccoli slaw (or shredded cabbage, or whatever you like)


whisk all ingredients except for the vegetables in a bowl

toss dressing with slaw until fully incorporated

-serves 4-


Shrimp Salad

Shrimp Salad

The reason for my addiction

I’m about to admit something that I used to do which was pretty gross. I want to give a little preface first before I tell you. But be warned, either you will be nauseous or proud when you read it. But first the Joyce-ian digression.

Most of my food/technique discovery comes from having access to a full fridge (well, full of Japanese and Taiwanese goods) and a kitchen to myself after school. I mastered the egg drop technique, how to quickly chop scallions, melting cheese in the microwave [sort of], and making pancake from scratch. I also had the opportunity to try playing with ingridients. I figured out that fermented back beans don’t taste good in Kraft Mac and Cheese, rice vinegar is awesome when used in pan frying dumpling wrappers, and stir fried iceberg lettuce with garlic salt isn’t half bad. The best thing about having access to a fridge after school with no one around is exactly that, I got to do things that I would have been judged for by family members based on standards of ethics and health.

So, the thing that I have feared to admit is that I used to eat mayonnaise out of the jar. Gasp!

Mayonnaise is not a popular ingredient in Taiwan. It arrived in Asia through Japan by the military. Eventually it found its way through other Asian regions and now is an important part of a young Taiwanese boy’s discovery of a highly coloric condiment. I still remember how the habit started. Whenever we went to a Chinese seafood restaurant, we would sometimes get boiled abolone. As part of the dish, a small serving of mayonnaise would be provided as dip. I would always limit myself at the table. Well, my mom would always limit me. I later discovered that shrimp could also be dipped in this pillow-y and rich goodness. So, if shrimp was ever cooked at home, I would take out the jar of mayonnaise, which I convinced my parents was necessary to have in an American house hold, and put about a tablespoon of it on the shrimp (yes singular) and enjoy every moment of the fatty, smooth, emulsion. It was when I was spooning the stuff out of the jar and having a little taste after school that I knew I hit rock bottom. I was a ten year old junkie and my drug was mayonnaise.

I’m proud to say that I have quit cold turkey, and I no longer spoon any fatty substance in my mouth in large quantities. I do however keep some mayonnaise in my fridge in case of relapse and as a reminder of my junkie days. I now prefer the japanese version much better than the classic American styles. Instead of white vinegar as the main acid, rice or cider vinegar is used to add a slight sweetness. My favorite brand is Kewpie because it is mostly egg yolk which gives it a creamier texture and the vinegar is a blend of cider and malt which provides a subtle sweet flavor. It goes great with the natural sweetness of shrimp. Especially in this dish.

I love this salad. It allows me to cheat on my “no eating mayonnaise out of jar” rule. It also is a great blend with the tartness of the lemon juice, spice of the chili, and creaminess of the star of the dish: mayonnaise. You can use this base for any other salad (crab, scallop, chicken, tuna) but shrimp and mayonnaise is a combination that will always trigger great memories of my childhood. You can do this with day old shrimp. What I like to do sometimes is double the amount of shrimp I need to make sure I have enough for a salad the next day. So, I bought two pounds. Ok, maybe my problem is not just mayonnaise but also shrimp. Although, I think we established that already.

Whew, I’m glad I got that off my chest. I can now move on with my next 90 posts without fear that my dirty secret would come out. Enjoy.


1 lb shrimp, cooked, shelled & cut into pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium lemon, zest and 1/2 of the juice
1 tsp togorashi, more if you want it spicy
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I prefer Japanese style)
1 small shallot, minced
salt and pepper to taste

combine all ingredients in a bowl
serve in a toasted roll as a sandwich or over a bed of lettuce for a primal option

-serves 4-


crispy shrimp with wasabi tobiko sauce


crispy shrimp with wasabi tobiko sauce

I’ve spent the last five months at an amazing restaurant that shut its doors on Sunday.  Japonais, a Japanese restaurant cooked in French styles, was my place to be creative with drinks as well as allowed me to talk about the thing I love the most: food.  I had a blast there and made amazing friends.  I developed a bond with the staff that I have never had at any workplace.  On top of that, I truly got to learn more about the service industry and truly value the work, friendship, and support of all the players in the restaurant industry.

One of the dishes that I constantly sold and was sure to be a crowd pleaser was the Crispy Shrimp and Salmon.  Now, Japonais had really delicious traditional sushi dishes, but the Crispy Shrimp and Salmon, amongst the three other specialty rolls, where exceptional.  It was a traditional panko fried shrimp inside a sushi roll and topped with soy marinated salmon sashimi and drizzled with a wasabi tobiko sauce.   Yeah.  Sounds decadent huh?  It was.  In a very good way though.

I tried to recreate this dish at home but hit a few obstacles.  The problem with sushi is that it’s not fun to make (or cost affective) unless it is in bulk.  The process of making sushi rice, collecting the ingredients, and marinating sushi grade salmon did not make my wallet happy.  So, I just took the main pieces that I thought I could realistically make and then just hope one day I make it to the Chicago or Vegas location.

So, this is a variation of the dish.  I did a panko fried shrimp and just accompanied it with a wasabi tobiko sauce.  Tobiko is pretty great if you have never tried it.  It’s the caviar of the flying fish.  It creates a crunchy, popping texture when you bite into it and adds VERY subtle briny flavor in the sauce.  If you don’t have access to tobiko, you can use masago.  If you don’t like either, then omit it.  It’s ok.  For this dish, you can make this sauce a couple of days in advance.  The wasabi flavor will be a little stronger, but that’s what makes my sinuses happy.  Also, I used something called Kewpie Mayo.  Kewpie is the brand of a Japanese mayonnaise that’s a little sweeter than the American version.  If you can’t find Kewpie, then the “red, white, and blue” version is fine.


[the sauce]

1/4 tsp wasabi paste

2 tsp tobiko or masago (optional)

1/4 cup scallion, minced

1/4 cup mayonnaise (kewpie if you have it)

1/2 tsp soy sauce

1/2  tsp sesame oil

salt and pepper

[the shrimp]

vegetable oil for frying

2 lb of medium shrimp, peeled with tail still on

1 large egg

1 tbs water

1 cup flour

1 cup panko

1 tbs salt

1 tbs pepper


mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and set aside

pour oil in a deep pot or fryer and heat on high

clean shrimp and de-shell if necessary (freeze shell for broth some other time)

beat egg with water in a shallow dish, set aside

season flour with salt and pepper in a shallow dish, set aside

pour panko in a (surprise, surprise) shallow dish, and set aside

coat shrimp in flour and shake of excess flour, then the egg mixture, and finally the panko bread crumbs.

fry in oil (when you insert a wood chopstick or handle of a wood spoon and bubbles form around it, then it’s ready-Thank you Rachel Ray for that tip-) until golden brown.

remove from oil and let drain on towel for a few minutes

serve with wasabi mayonnaise

-serves 4-


i hunger...i cook...i eat...i come back...i reminisce...i blog...enjoy.


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