The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and Japan’s ongoing state of emergency may have us confined to our homes for weeks on end, but for some, it’s the perfect excuse to take to the kitchen – social media has never been so full of quarantine cooking photos. Japanese food is known for its fun colours, shapes and presentation. Now, people are showing off their kitchen creativity, mastering dishes with decorative toppings that are certainly no piece of cake.
Fruit sandwiches, a combination of soft white bread, whipped cream and fresh fruit, have been a popular treat in Japan since the 1920s, when shortages of flour and sugar made cakes unavailable. Fruit sandwiches are once again booming, now with Insta-worthy designs where ingredients like strawberries, grapes, mango, kiwi fruit and oranges are crafted into ornate flower-shaped fillings.
Character bento has long been a popular lunchbox item for school kids, but now people are making the kid-friendly food for themselves, too. Beyond just arranging ingredients in shapes of faces and animals, nori seaweed is used like a black marker pen to add facial features to everything from a bowl of rice to a slice of toast.
A short supply of baking ingredients (or oven) and an over-supply of time at home make these technicolour jelly desserts an ideal kitchen project. The key ingredients are jelly made with agar (gelatine from seaweed) and kakigori syrup, which are easy to find at the local supermarket. Then, just add whatever fruit or sweet treats you like to make your punch really stand out.
The humble onigiri (rice ball) has been elevated to decorative new heights. Typically, onigiri are rustic combinations of steamed rice and simple fillings like flaked salmon and tuna, all wrapped in a piece of nori seaweed. Now, they’re appearing with toppings like shiso leaves and sashimi, cod roe and grilled cheese, or even sliced radish with braised kombu.
These whimsical, kawaii slices of bread are topped with mini ‘waves’ of condiments. To make your own wave toast, use alternating swipes of plain cream cheese and coloured cream cheese flavoured with ingredients like matcha, strawberry, lavender and avocado.
Japan takes the American-style parfait, a tall glass filled with fresh fruit and cream, and adds mochi (sweet rice cakes), ice cream, cornflakes and soybean powder. With Tokyo cafés closed, people are getting indulgent, building these lofty layered desserts at home.
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