Plans for my upcoming Japan-trip are almost well and truly organised: flights were the first thing to be bought, and I spent about a month afterwards slowly trawling through TripAdvisor and AirBnB for hotel and guesthouse deals – and now everything is booked! Then came the JR rail passes, which were a whopping $355 per person for seven days – but it turns out that this is for the line on which the high-speed bullet train runs, so it’s basically the equivalent of our interstate flights. Looking at it in that way, $355 for unlimited trains in the period of seven days isn’t so bad…
In terms of where to go for food, I’ve done surprisingly little planning. My sister, who has been to Japan a number of times, says that due to the confined spaces and high rental prices in the main cities, many restaurants are in fact upstairs from the main street ground level with little to no signage (and definitely not in English). I more have a list of types of food and areas to try them in: takoyaki in Osaka, okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, tsukemen (ramen dipping noodles), an authentic soba noodle restaurant, a yakitori bar, izakaya, a kaiseki meal, and of course – sashimi for breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market. And the BEER. Oh my, apparently beer is super cheap everywhere – and Kirin and Asahi do free tours with tastings..!
I imagine that one of the skewers that may be available at a yakitori bar is Japanese eggplant robata. Brushed liberally with a miso paste, it emerges from its bathing of charcoal heat beautifully caramelised, melt-in-the-mouth, and sweet and savoury at the same time. I ordered this at The Rock’s Sake restaurant for Night Owl’s birthday, and funnily enough I think she liked this simple dish the best over all the sashimi we had that evening!
It’s actually quite easy to make at home, but you do miss a bit of the smoky caramelisation unless you have an open grill/barbeque. I bought the smaller, Lebanese eggplants you can find at Asian grocers; they cook a lot faster than the huge aubergines you find in the leading supermarkets, or the fruit grocers occasionally have baby eggplants too. In hindsight, they do shrink a fair bit while cooking so either buy a few more or ensure that they are part of a generous dinner – which luckily was my case!
Miso-Grilled Eggplant (an original recipe by Confessions of a Glutton)
Serves two as part of a meal
- Two Lebanese/baby eggplants, halved lengthwise;
- 2 teaspoons salt;
- 4 teaspoons vegetable oil;
- 2 tablespoons white miso paste (shiro);
- 1 tablespoon mirin;
- 1 tablespoon sake;
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar;
- 1 shallot, finely sliced and placed in ice water to allow to curl;
- white sesame seeds, toasted;
- Shichimi Togarashi spice (available from Asian grocers).
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
Preheat a grill pan or a heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. Score the eggplant in a criss-cross pattern and sprinkle with the salt. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before rinsing and patting dry.
Whisk the miso paste, mirin, sake and sugar in a small bowl until smooth.
Brush the cut side of each eggplant with the vegetable oil and place the cut sides down on the grill and cook for two minutes or until it turns a light brown. Turn over, and cook for another two minutes. While cooking, use a brush or spoon to spread a generous amount of the miso paste over the cut side of the eggplant.
If your grill pan/frying pan is oven-proof, you can put the whole thing in the oven but I chose to place the eggplants onto a rack elevated over a tray so any moisture would drip through. Brush well with any remaining glaze and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove from the rack onto a plate, scatter over the sesame seeds, Schichimi Togarashi, and curled spring onion. Serve and enjoy immediately.