Sunday, August 27, 2017


As a Japanophile, foodie and sandwich lover I keep my eye on things via the website Rocketnews24, which covers quirky news "from Japan and Asia," but the news from Japanese is usually the quirkiest, especially for the food, and not least for the sandwiches.

I learn, for example, that there’s a chain named the J.S. Burgers Café, some kin of Journal Standard, a Japanese fashion brand, that has come up with the Super Cheese Burger (that's it above), and I’m not going to argue about definitions of burger versus sandwich, not here anyway, but I think you could make the case that this is in fact a beef sandwich using slices of camembert instead of bread, although there is also single slice of bread in the middle, as well as some Cheddar cheese. 
This I think is pretty much the opposite of what the good Lord Montague, 4th Earl of Sandwich had in mind.  He used the bread as a way of holding the filling, in the interest of ease and avoiding mess.  The Super Cheese Burger strikes me as impossible to eat without getting glop on your hands, and if you’re Lord Montague, also on the gaming table. Oh yes, and it comes with a side order of maple syrup.

If you wander across Tokyo you can find a café named, or named after Tokyo Ghoul which is a comic book and an anime and a live action movie featuring the undead.  Initially the food was meant to look ghoulish but was perfectly edible – sausages made to look like fingers, cheese mousse that looked like an eyeball.  They also had the Bad Tasting Sandwich which is in fact a perfectly ordinary egg sandwich but apparently ghouls can’t stomach any  human food, so it’s all bad tasting as far as they’re concerned, while makes the whole thing kid of redundant.
But then they came up with the mazui (or “foul-tasting") sandwich which actually tastes bad to humans as well as ghouls. Apparently it contains hanpen, which has been discussed elsewhere on this blog, and is a kind of fish paste, along with gorgonzola cheese.

It doesn’t sound great, and we know the Japanese supposedly dislike the smell of cheese, but the reviews say it smells like vomit – which I suspect is in the nose and the mind of the beholder.

And also in Tokyo, in Daikanyama, at a restaurant named Sosa you can get a matcha green tea tuna sandwich.  The bun is dorayaki, a kind of pancake, usually filled with sweet bean paste though apparently these ones aren’t. 

Photo by Casey Baseel

However the tuna is coated in matcha powder and syrup, so we’re definitely edging into dessert territory, and that may be Japan has taken to dessert sandwiches, just as it’s taken to Kit Kat bars in multiple flavors. So what could be more logical than the Kit Kat sandwich devised by the chain First Kitchen?  It’s a white bun containing a small Kit Kat, whipped cream, and orange peel, and I suppose it’s a very distant kin of pain au chocolate.

And so to the Psychogourmet Test Kitchen.  On another day I might have tried experimenting with a beef patty and a split camembert, but it seemed too much like hard work so instead I assembled the makings of the Kit Kat sandwich.

 That’s a French sandwich roll – which I’m sure is very different from its Japanese counterpart - and I didn’t see the point of the orange peel, and then as I looked at the ingredients sitting on the table I thought that I knew exactly how the end result was going to taste: bready, creamy, Kit Kat-ish.  
It didn’t sound terrible, but it didn’t sound great or surprising or indeed worth the effort, so I made a cheese sandwich and afterwards had a couple of Kit Kat fingers with a cup of coffee.  It wasn’t exotic.  It wasn't at all Japanese.  But then I never thought it would be.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


If you’re in you local (for want of a better word) “ethnic” supermarket and you see they’re selling something called Head Soup, you’ve got to be interested, right?  When you see that the head in question belongs to a sturgeon, well it’s in your shopping cart without a second thought.

Closer inspection of the label reveals it’s made by ecofood of Armenia, and in Armenian (and Russian, I think) the name yxa means fisherman’s soup, and so it proved. The basic taste was more of a vegetable (rather than fish) soup, although the words “sturgeon head with meat” on the list of ingredients confirmed the authenticity.  Tasted pretty good, although improved by a squirt of lemon.

And yes indeed, as you see above, there was visible head in it, which was good, but there was also a fair amount of bone, or possibly skull, that I didn’t enjoy all that much, but when you’re eating head soup a little skull only confirms the authenticity even more.

Monday, August 21, 2017


Oyster discussion, Fortnum and Mason

After I’d eaten those oysters at the Blue Point restaurant in San Diego I got a craving for more.  I’d also been seeing the news about an oyster vending machine on the île de Ré, off France's western coast, where customers can go and buy oysters any time day or night.

I see the appeal, but the fact is, I’ve never had much of a problem buying oysters, the problem has always been opening them.  Over the years I have developed, well I wouldn’t call it a skill, but at least a basic competence, but it’s not been easy.

My pal Susanna Forrest directed me to the rider in Grace Jones’s contract – along with all the wine and the fruit platter, and the sushi and sashimi, she wants  2 Dozen Findeclare or Colchester Oysters on ice (unopened)—(Grace does her own shucking.)”. 

She also wants them to provide an oyster knife, but If I were Grace Jones I’d carry my own.  I think an oyster knife is a very personal thing.  It took me a long time to find the one that suited my personality. That’s it below along with the little rubber doodad meant to hold the oyster while you open it, but in truth I don’t always use it.  Sometimes I just hold the bivalve in a thick work glove.

I went to my local Vons supermarket, that I know sells oysters at $1 each, and I could see them nestling there in the ice at the front of the fish counter. I thought they looked pretty good so I asked for six but the guy behind the counter gave me seven, saying “Just in case one of them’s off,” which didn’t inspire confidence.  But as you see they turned out just fine.   And at seven for $6 they're probably the cheapest oysters I've ever bought.

As a coda: while digging around for background I found this thing, I’m left not sure whether it’s a wonder or an abomination.  It’s the Nemco 55900 ProShucker Power Shell Separator. “Opens up to a dozen oysters per minute, Little to no pressure required, evacuates all mud and shell fragment, Provides 100% meat yield with minimal contamination,” all of which I suppose is fine if you’re running a restaurant, but having taken a decade or three to perfect my technique, such as it is, I think I prefer the human touch, just like Grace Jones.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


For one reason and another I’ve been reading some Kurt Vonnegut short stories, including “Welcome to the Monkey House” the title story in this collection:

That cover is actually contains a spoiler which is a shame - Vonnegut is rather good at twists though his stories don’t entirely rely on them.  For what it’s worth, the sexual politics of the story do seem pretty dodgy at this point in history.

It’s science fiction more or less – a future world, wracked by population growth, combated (at least in America) by a form of birth control which is essentially neutering, leaving people numb below the waist, along with suicide parlors staffed by virgin hostesses.
          An outlaw named Billy the Poet “liberates” one of hostesses - Nancy McLuhan
- and takes her to his lair where a bunch of similarly liberated women are running wild (or possibly behaving normally).  The paragraph that concerns us runs as  follows:
“Nancy went over in her mind all the terrible drugs she’d learned about in school, persuaded herself that the women had taken the worst one of all.  That drug was so powerful, Nancy’s teachers had told her, that even a person numb from the waist down would copulate repeatedly and enthusiastically after just one glass. That had to be the answer: The woman, and probably the men too, had been drinking gin.”
         I wonder if the makers of Monkey 47 Schwarzwold Dry Gin are Vonnegut fans.