Hidden Gems: 3 Foods to Try

You’ve tried conveyor-belt sushi. You know the difference between shio and shoyu ramen. You’ve gobbled down deliciously doughy bites of takoyaki and forkfuls of okonomiyaki. So what's next?
 Three of my favorite recent discoveries are inexpensive, everyday foods found on restaurant menus and in local Japanese supermarkets. If you haven't tried these yet, maybe it's time to delve a little deeper into the world of Japanese cuisine?
1.     Yuzu Marmalade
Taking a break from sightseeing, I had a glass of yuzu tea at a museum café.  Yuzu is a small citrus fruit that flavors everything from beer to pepper to jam, and it’s an ingredient in a range of products that includes shampoo and cosmetics. The tea flavor wasn’t exactly lemon and not quite orange, but it had a nice hybrid flavor. Asking where I could buy it, I learned that it’s common to mix yuzu marmalade with hot water to make the tea yourself. If you don't see it on a menu, head to a grocery store to pick up a jar of your own.
2.     Tororo Konbu
One morning in Osaka I had rice for breakfast with a side of tororo konbu. The strands of konbu- silky soft with a salty taste- melded well with the hot rice. I’ve eaten Japanese foods for years, but I’d never seen this type of konbu- it’s dried, shredded kelp that’s been softened in vinegar. A good source of iron, calcium, and iodine, konbu gives foods a savory umami flavor. It’s also added to soups and used as a topping for hot noodles.
3.     Koya Dofu
You may have had koya dofu, a sweet, spongy version of tofu, in a bento box or as a small side dish with a meal.  Koya dofu is made from freeze dried tofu, which looks like a hard, dry, crumbly block when it starts out. But once it’s reconstituted with water, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and dashi stock, you have a sweet and juicy accompaniment to your meal. 
If you haven't run across these dishes on a menu, they're also easy to prepare yourself, whether you’re in a hostel, an Airbnb, or even a homestay. They’re simple (and delicious) options to include in your Japanese eating experience- and you just might impress your friends and hosts with your in-the-know info!

Susan Gavin