Daigaku Imo (Japanese Caramelized Sweet Potatoes)

“Daigaku Imo” is a Japanese dish name that literally means “University Sweet Potatoes” in English. The name ??? derives from the fact that it was popular in college towns during the Taisho (1912-1926) and Showa (1926-1989) period.

I remember having it for the first time in the university I went to in Japan way back in 1996, how I got addicted to it and had it almost every day during autumn because it’s sweet potato season. Cooking this at home always gives me that fuzzy nostalgic feeling of my stay in Japan.

It is a very filling and delicious snack that everyone would love, especially kids! And the fact that it is very easy to make makes it a real winner! Our main problem living here in Dubai is with the main ingredient – the sweet potatoes. Unlike when we were living in Japan where we can just pick a sweet potato in the supermarket with eyes closed yet guaranteed of that superb taste, it is pretty difficult to choose a good quality sweet potato here in Dubai. Most are imported from India or Sri Lanka, aged and lost that fresh firmness. It is always a trial and error here.

But, if you find a good sweet potato, try this and enjoy!

Recipe: Daigaku Imo (Japanese Caramelized Sweet Potatoes)

Ingredients

  • 400 grams sweet potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cooking oil
  • dash of black sesame seeds

Instructions

  1. Wash the potatoes (I lightly pare them with steel sponge to remove dirt but retain most of the skin) and cut sweet potatoes in desired bite sizes and soak them in water.
  2. Drain water and pat the sweet potatoes with paper towel.
  3. Arrange the sweet potatoes in a medium sized frying pan.
  4. Turn on the heat to medium and add oil and sugar. Cover the pan to steam cook the sweet potatoes.
  5. The sugar will melt with the heated oil and start to stick to the sweet potatoes, just keep on stirring and turning the potatoes on all its sides.
  6. It is done when the sweet potatoes turn golden brown or a toothpick goes through it when inserted.
  7. Transfer to plate (draining the excess oil) and sprinkle with black sesame seeds before serving.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 10-12 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 2 (depending on appetite!)

Other versions in the internet include, deep frying the potatoes and then coating them with the sugar mixture as featured in one of my favorite Japanese food blogs, Just Hungry. I just use my version as it uses less oil and just as tasty!

Note (of caution): The fiber content in the sweet potatoes almost always guarantees farting but I tell you, it is the worthiest fart you’d have in your entire life.

Chicken wings with Shiitake

chicken shiitake-1

If I have a bucket of fried chicken in front of me with different chicken parts, i.e., thighs, legs, wings, breast – I would dive in for the wings. I don’t know, I just like them.

This recipe requires dried shiitake mushrooms to make it taste and smell more authentically Asian (Japanese to be exact) so don’t use any other mushrooms than the variety called “shiitake”. Other than that, all other ingredients are simple, guaranteed you’ve been stocking up on the Japanese cooking essentials like Mirin and Rice wine. ūüôā

Ingredients:

  • 10 pieces chicken wings
  • handful of Dried Shiitake Mushrooms*¬†– soak in water overnight
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup shiitake water (water used in soaking the dried mushrooms)
  • 2 Tbsp Mirin
  • 1/2 cup Japanese cooking rice wine
  • 2 Tbsp Kikkoman Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp sugar

* If you don’t have dried shiitake mushrooms, you can also use fresh ones.

Procedure:

1. Cut off the chicken wing parts so as only the middle part remain. Place a small slit on the chicken, just between the bones.

* Red line indicates the chicken piece to be cut off and green line indicates where the slit cuts should be.

chicken wings

Note: Discard the part on the right side of the knife in the photo above. The other part has ample meat in it, I marinate it, fry and call it ‘chicken lollipop’ to please my 6 year old. Recipe will follow next week!

2. Heat oil in small fry pan and pan fry the chicken wings.

chicken wing - fry

3. Turn to the other side until golden brown.

chicken wing - fry

4. Drain the soaked dried shiitake – BUT DON’T THROW THE WATER AWAY. Take out the stalk so only the mushroom cap is left. You can throw away those stalks.

5. Push the chicken to one side of the frying pan and add the soft shiitake. Stir.

chicken wing - fry shiitake

Note: Since I have only few pieces of dried shiitake left, I added fresh shiitake I bought from the supermarket. Dubai folks can find fresh shiitake in Spinneys (bought mine in Al Ghurair branch) and in Lulu Hypermarket (Al Qusais branch).

6. Transfer to a deep cooking pan and add 1 cup plain water, 1/2 cup Japanese rice cooking wine, 2 Tbsp Kikkoman Soy Sauce, 1 Tbsp sugar and 1/2 cup shiitake water (the water in which the dried shiitake were soaked in, the one I asked you not to throw away).

Cover it and let it boil, let it boil, let it boil.

chicken wing - boil

7. Some brown colored scum will float while it’s boiling – lower the fire and scoop out the scum out so the sauce later will be clearer and less greasy.

8. Simmer for another 20 minutes in medium-low fire (constantly checking on the liquid).

9. The chicken pieces must be tender by now, add 2 Tbsp of Mirin. Mix by holding the lid of the pan, lifting it and making a circular motion. Turn the fire off.

Note: If you use a spoon or laddle to mix it, the chicken skin might come off and not look presentable. It will still taste good though.

10. Serve – great with rice and miso soup.

*****

UAE/Dubai residents can various Japanese ingredients at the Japanese grocery store, Dean’s Fujiya near Lamcy Plaza in Bur Dubai. Telephone: 04-337-0401.

Tamagoyaki – Japanese sweet rolled egg omelette

Tamagoyaki

Tamago-yaki (or Atsuyaki tamago/Dashimaki tamago) is a Japanese sweet rolled egg omelette. It’s a popular dish in Japan and if you’ve been to a sushi restaurant, chances are, you have eaten this one with or without knowing it. It’s usually in futomakis or egg roll sushi (tamago nigiri):

Tamago nigiri

Tamago nigiri

Sushi rolls

Sushi rolls

I first had this during my ever first visit to my then-boyfriend now-husband’s home in Japan. His mother made this and I was instantly in love. With the dish.

*blush*

I told her I really, really like it so she made me one every single day, everyday I was there. It was a great way for me to see how it’s cooked. That summer is forever etched in my memory as the summer that I stuffed my face with eggs.

*****

This recipe calls for very few ingredients and very easy to make – the only thing that could make it difficult could be the equipment needed if you don’t have it: a special square Nonstick Tamago Pan. But I have friends who don’t have these square pans who used a small fry pan instead and the tamagoyaki went well just the same. You just maybe, have to cut the edges to make it more presentable.

hon-dashi

hon-dashi

Ingredients:

Procedure:

1. Beat the eggs lightly in a small bowl. Do not overbeat.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the ingredients marked with *.

3. Add #2 to #1.

4. Heat a bit of oil in the square pan under low to medium fire.

Note: If you’re a beginner, you might start with a low fire.

5. When the oil is hot, pour 1/3 of the egg mixture and gently stir. When the egg is less runny, starting from the curved side of the square pan, gently fold through as shown.

tamagoyaki 1 and 2

I usually use long chopsticks to do this but I’ll not scaring people away so I’m using a normal frying laddle here.

6. When the egg is rolled fully, ending up on the side near you, push it back towards the other end.

Rolled fully; pushed to the other side

Rolled fully; pushed to the other side

 7. Add a bit of oil again to repeat the procedure (pouring 1/3 of the egg mixture and rolling).

tamagoyaki 5 and 6

8. Pour the last remaining 1/3 egg mixture, repeat the rolling procedure again and remove from pan.

Note: Some people use bamboo sushi mats (makisu) to achieve that near perfect oval shape, molding the egg roll while it’s still hot. I however, don’t do that since no one is checking and because my husband doesn’t mind. If he does, he’d have to find another wife. It is written in our marriage contract.

This is how it looks like using a sushi mat, the advantage of which is of course, getting that beautiful oval shape while letting steam off. You can shape your rolled egg however you like using this bamboo mat.

tamagoyaki using makisu

The finished product:

Tamagoyaki

Note: Leave it for a little while to allow some uncooked bits to cook within the layers. Some people do it with more layers (I did with only three) by dividing the egg mixture little by little and rolling. I only do that when I have extra time in the morning — which means the last time I did that was probably 10 years ago when I was single, living alone and definitely bored.

It’s time to enjoy a different morning egg! Don’t forget to put something in the lunch box along with some teriyaki chicken.

Mingling with the locals

Meeting locals and/or making friends with them was such a remote possibility for me, even after living in Dubai for more than two years.

“Locals” as we call UAE nationals only compose a small fraction of Dubai’s overall population. Think ONLY 20% of the entire population. So here you could see so many Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis, American and other expats from about 200 different countries and a handful of locals in one city.

I see them in malls and in the streets but they seem to be aloof and naive – it’s almost impossible to engage in random conversations with them or better yet make friends with them. While we (expats) live with them in the same city, I always felt that they live in a different, parallel world.

Just an FYI, Emiratis work in the government sector and there are only a very few of them in the private sector. There’s no local working in the company I work now. Be aware of the fact that there are more jobs than the number of locals so expats are needed.

My husband volunteers for an organization teaching Japanese to the locals every weekend.

locals-in-japanese-class-1

~ an Emirati student writing Japanese on the board ~

Since I always have to work on Saturdays, I only got to hear the stories from him like some of the locals are actually nice and easy to talk to, that they are fluent in English, that they talk alot about their country and how they think about themselves being the minority, etc and how his students are so eager to learn about Japan and the Japanese language.

locals-in-japanese-class-2

~ local male students hard at work ~

cupcake

Last Saturday, I took an off from work and went with him. For the first time in my stay here, I met and interacted with Emiratis. Interacted means I didn’t only met them in the eye or bumped shoulders to shoulders with them but actually spent time with them and talked to them! They were there to learn Japanese and I am amazed by their diligence learning a difficult foreign language. After 8 weeks, (despite only having once a week classes) they were able to memorize, read and write the two sets of Japanese alphabet!

After the 2 hours class, they had a class party to celebrate the end of the curriculum. We had Arabic and Japanese food. Yum. These beautiful cupcakes were brought by one student and I post them here just because.

There I got to mingle with the locals and got to know some of them.

I told one of them (a guy) that this is my first time actually talking to someone from the UAE and he said, “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not nice of us.”

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect, how to or what to talk with them. I don’t know why I fear if I would upset them with my conversation or something like that. There’s this invisible wall between them and me (I know most expats would agree) that’s difficult to explain. In fact some locals are aware that expats are intimidated by their presence, find them unapproachable or sometimes arrogant. But you know what? They think the same. They think it’s not easy to approach expats as well (although some Emiratis do not see the need to).

The local I talked to said, “Why? We’re all the same. Some locals are eager to talk to expats too and ask them what they think of our country. Wouldn’t that be a good conversation?”

While talking to him I thought, not all locals are arrogant and unapproachable. There are bad and good people, regardless of nationality!

I talked to a group of young ladies and asked so many questions. Will they want to work after marriage (I got a big YES on this one)? Do they love traveling (yes they do! and so many of them have traveled extensively over Europe and the Americas!), why do they study Japanese, etc. We had an hour of lovely conversation. They even agreed that I take a photo of them with Pristine.

local-ladies-in-japanese-class-2-hid

~ friendly Emirati young ladies I met (photo altered to protect their privacy) ~

At the end of the day, as we were saying our goodbyes, they invited me to visit them in their houses. Some of the ladies want to hear my Japan story and want to spend more time with me.

I’m glad I came to that class/party. It was a precious experience and an eye-opening one, too.

If¬† you’re an expat in Dubai, do you have Emirati friends? Where did you meet them?