The Real Wasabi: The True Story

How You Can Tell Real from Not

Wasabi is the perfect accompaniment to many Japanese dishes. Do you know what real wasabi taste like? Outside of Japan, most of the wasabi served is just a mix of horseradish, mustard and food coloring. Even in Japan where the plant is not so easy to grow and the demand for it so high, you will still find horseradish mix instead, sometimes with some real wasabi.

Real wasabi tastes more plant-like or herbal than the horseradish mix. Real wasabi is very hot but doesn’t have a lingering, burning aftertaste. It’s smoother and cleaner in taste than the one that passes for wasabi in many restaurants, at the grocers or even in Japanese specialty stores.

Wasabi belongs to the family of plants that also includes horseradish and mustard. It is one of the world’s most expensive crops, and a highly priced spice commodity growing in cold mountain streams in northern Japan. It takes over a year to grow before it can be fully harvested. Wasabi’s growing conditions are very restrictive, preventing its wider cultivation.

Freshly grated wasabi is actually not hugely hot: it reaches its hottest about five minutes after grating. Twenty minutes later the heat has died down again. For the freshest wasabi, you must grate the root right before serving, as the wasabi will only hold its strong flavor for about 15 minutes after preparation.

Some high-end restaurants prepare the wasabi paste when the customer orders, and is made using a grater to grate the root. The dish has to be served immediately or at least covered. Sushi chefs usually put the wasabi between the fish and the rice covering the paste to preserve its punch. Wasabi’s uniqueness is the perfect supplement to the Japanese diet. Now you know some of its secrets.

Real Wasabi at FLO

At Flo Japanese Restaurant and Sake Bar, we only serve 100% pure wasabi. Enjoy our authentic classics with the perfect accompaniment of real spice.

Valentine’s Day The Japanese Way in Bellevue

Unique Two-Prong Valentine Celebration

In Japan, on Valentine’s Day, it’s the women who give gifts to men. Yes, the 14th of February is celebrated differently there. It’s a strong tradition of women giving chocolates to men on Love Day, so much so that you’ll be seeing large displays in department stores and grocery stores of chocolate, usually heart-shaped, from as early as mid-January. Days before Valentine’s, stores are packed with endless varieties of chocolates of every imaginable style and presentation. There are also lots of other non-chocolate choices, as cookies and other sweet treats, also chocolate-making kitchen tools. And women, long ques of them!

Valentine’s Day chocolate is not limited to just husbands, boyfriends or ‘your crush”. Friends, family and office mates are on the list, too. In fact, there are several types of chocolate-giving on Valentine’s Day. There’s Giri-choco, which means ‘obligation chocolate’. The gift is given to friends, bosses, family members, work colleagues or other men who the giver isn’t romantically involved with. It’s an obligation, not to be regarded as a statement of romance.

There’s Honmei choco, the chocolate reserved for a boyfriend, husband or lover, a special someone in your life to shower with affection in the form of chocolate, cookies and other sweet treats. To separate the concept of honmei (meaning loosely ‘real objective’) from others made out of giri (obligation), the women tend to make the chocolate themselves. It’s a sign of how valuable is the object of affection, that extra effort is put into the gift.

Jibun-choco is the chocolate you buy and enjoy for yourself. Tomo-choco is ‘friend chocolate’ and is given by women to other female friends. Gyaku-choco means ‘reverse chocolate’ and is given by a man to a woman. It’s not traditional, hence, not common at all.

Then comes White Day. Exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, men return the favour – as many as three times more the value of the gift they received from any woman. On March 14, men of all ages are expected to give gifts, three times more the worth, to any woman from whom they received giri-choco from the month prior. Men are expected to give chocolates and other gifts like handbags, lingerie, apparel, or flowers that come in white color.

For Men and Ladies: Valentine’s at FLO

Looking to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Bellevue (or even on White Day)? What lovely way to show affection than an exquisite dinner at Flo. Be sure to book a table soon for a hassle-free Valentine’s Day.

The True Origins of the Japanese Tempura

It’s European, Not Japanese

People who love fried foods are also in love with tempura. The delicious and crunchy batter coated dish – be it seafood, meat or veggie inside – is a comfort food for most. Most of us would thank the Japanese for inventing tempura, however, we are barking up the wrong tree, for tempura did not originate in Japan.

In 1543, a Chinese ship with some Portuguese sailors on board was headed to Macau, but was swept off course and ended up on the Japanese island of Tanegashima. These were the first ever Europeans to step on Japanese soil. The Portuguese came with guns, not to harm the inhabitants, but to trade. And though the Japanese didn’t like them, they found their ammunition useful as they were in mid-war at the time. Thus began a Portuguese trading post in Japan, starting with firearms and then other items such as soap, tobacco, wool and even recipes.

The Portuguese stayed until 1639 when they were banished because the Japanese regarded their religion, Christianity, as a bit too dangerous to the Japanese culture. Even if they had sailed away, the Portuguese left behind a rich part of their legacy, especially where food was concerned.

The Japanese today deviated from tradition and made the batter less heavy, incorporating fish, other veggies like eggplant, carrots, sweet potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, and of course, the famous shrimp tempura. If you travel to Portugal now, you’d recognised the green beans tempura and you’d say they’re Japanese. You’ll soon know you’re mistaken. The Portuguese even made their tempura crispier by adding a starch called nutrios. They still cook those green beans of old and they’ll tell you it’s nostalgia.

We Tempura Everything in Bellevue, Almost

When you come to FLO in Bellevue, enjoy our hot food selections which include the classic tempura. See that we gave it a unique flair. It’s just the way we do things here.

Osechi Ryori: Going Traditional for New Year in Bellevue

The Concept of Osechi Ryori

A traditional feast is observed in Japan at the start of the New Year. People go back to their hometowns, pay a respectful visit to their local shrine, and enjoy traditional food. That traditional food is the popular osechi ryori, granted a status as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

This practice goes back to the Heian period (794-1185). Ritual offerings of food are conducted to be presented to the gods on sechinichi days. These days marked the changing of the seasons based on the traditional Chinese almanacs. Some days are more important than others, and by far the most important one is the beginning of the New Year. On this day, special dishes were offered to various gods and members of the elite society partake of it as well.

Long been practised, this tradition soon spread to the rest of society and by the Edo period (1603-1868), they were being practiced commonly around Japan. Various beliefs came about, curiously and especially that on the first days of the New Year, any kind of work – including cooking – was to be avoided. One theory suggests that the deities shouldn’t be disturbed on these days by the sounds of cooking, or that those who are preparing the foods, especially women, should enjoy their rest and not have to work.

The osechi then was only simple food, like vegetables boiled in soy sauce and vinegar. Over the centuries, many more food varieties were added such that it became a more elaborate affair. These dishes have a special meaning.

Black beans, called Kuromame, mean health, so that a person can be able to work hard in the coming year. Kazunoko is herring roe, means many children. Kōhaku kamaboko is a red and white fish cake not only represents the Japanese flag colors, but also mean evil spirits (red) and purity (white). Tazukuri is sardines boiled in soy sauce and symbolic of a plentiful harvest. Datemaki is an omelette mixed with mashed shrimp or fish paste, associated with learning and scholarship. Kurikinton are sweet dumplings out of chestnuts.; yellow in color, associated with gold and financial prosperity. Kobu is connected to the word yorokobu, or happiness. Tai is made into the traditional food that is fed to a baby 100 days after birth; it’s meant to bring joy and happiness in the new year. Shrimp and Soba both mean longevity.

So if you’re invited to an Osechi Ryori, it’s good to know its background and what those foods mean.

New Year with Osechi

Here at Flo in Bellevue, we bring you this very special cuisine in the Japanese tradition of Osechi Ryori. Greet the New Year with our wide exquisite selections set in beautifully crafted presentations.