August 2023




Mirin, a seasoning found in many households, was originally a type of high-quality sake. It turns out that mirin, made by aging shochu or brewing alcohol, rice, rice koji, and sugar, exudes a gentle and mild sweetness. This characteristic sweetness made mirin a popular choice even among those who weren't fond of strong alcoholic beverages. Mixtures of mirin and shochu were referred to as "yanagikage" or "honnaoshi," and they were chilled in wells during the summer to be consumed as a part of heat relief.

Furthermore, mirin served as a substitute for sugar as a sweetener. As soy sauce production gained momentum during the Edo period, mirin's role as a seasoning became even more pronounced. The gloss, aroma, and umami resulting from the amino acids in soy sauce combined with the sugars in mirin were highly valued, laying the foundation for the enduring principles of Japanese cuisine.

Conversely, mirin intended for consumption as a beverage remained popular until the 1940s. However, due to post-World War II rice shortages and the rise of beer and whiskey, mirin production was prohibited, and its use as a beverage waned. This gradual shift led to the mirin we know today, with increased extract content. This evolution also gave rise to mirin-style seasonings, incorporating alcohol and syrup.

There are three types of mirin: "hon-mirin" (true mirin), "mirin-style seasoning," and "mirin-type seasoning." Hon-mirin is produced by maturing rice, rice koji, shochu or brewing alcohol, and sugar, resulting in an alcohol content of approximately 14%, categorizing it as an alcoholic beverage. Mirin-style seasoning has an alcohol content of less than 1%, with minimal alcohol content. It involves combining corn syrup and umami seasonings with rice and rice koji. This composition yields a robust sweetness due to the inclusion of sugars like corn syrup. Mirin-type seasoning is derived from elements like rice, rice koji, corn syrup, salt, and alcohol. Its standout feature is its salt content.

Mirin serves various functions in cooking. As alcohol evaporates during the heating process, it simultaneously eliminates food odors. Additionally, the combination of sugar and alcohol prevents starch leakage and maintains the structural integrity of fish and meat, preventing their disintegration during cooking. Owing to multiple sugars such as glucose and oligosaccharides, mirin offers a smoother sweetness than regular sugar and contributes to a glossy appearance. When seeking to eliminate meat or fish odors or prevent disintegration during cooking, consider using mirin seasoning or mirin-type seasoning, both of which incorporate alcohol.

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Sakaba Motoki (the bar in the photo)






Have you ever heard of the ice cream that's so hard you can eat it on the Shinkansen? Not only is it impressively firm, but it's also incredibly delicious. It's a flavor that brings back memories of my childhood, eating it with my mother on the Shinkansen during our trips back home.

This ice cream was born when Takayoshi Hibi, the founder of Sujahta Meiraku and then-president, personally took charge to create a special product with a sense of luxury suitable for sale on the Shinkansen. He developed high-quality vanilla ice cream. Since its debut in 1991, it has been sold under the official name "Sujahta Ice Cream." However, in recent years, it has gained popularity with the nickname "シンカンセンスゴイカタイアイス" (Shinkansen's Incredibly Hard Ice Cream), spread through social media and such. This nickname has even become the official sales name.

Ice cream is categorized into three types based on the amount of dairy components: "ice cream," "ice milk," and "lacto ice." Shinkansen's Incredibly Hard Ice Cream falls into the category of "ice cream," with the highest content of milk solids. Moreover, the vanilla in this ice cream has an incredibly high fat content of 15.5%, exceeding the definition of ice cream with over 15% milk solids and over 8% milkfat. This meticulous attention to detail achieves a smooth and rich flavor.

One of its notable features is its "hardness." The secret behind this firmness lies in significantly reducing the air content in the ice cream, thereby increasing its density. Once the ice cream melts, it won't return to its original smoothness and flavor, even after re-freezing. To deliver high-quality ice cream that retains its taste without access to freezing facilities on the Shinkansen, dry ice at -79 degrees is used, and the ice cream is stored at a temperature lower than the conventional freezer at around -18 degrees. This approach creates a hard, dense, and substantial taste.

This summer, while on a Shinkansen for a homecoming trip, I found myself craving this ice cream and bought it from the onboard sales after many years. Flavors like "zunda" and "Belgian chocolate" were available, but I still chose "vanilla," a classic favorite. The navy and gold packaging exudes a sense of luxury and has remained unchanged for years, evoking nostalgia. I'm a fan of hard ice cream and usually prefer to eat it when it's rock-solid. With excitement, I immediately opened the lid of the ice cream handed to me and plunged in the spoon. However, the spoon barely made a dent—it didn't pierce through. The ice cream was even harder than I remembered, to the point that I was wide-eyed in surprise on the Shinkansen. Eventually, amused by its extraordinary hardness, I left the ice cream untouched for a few minutes. When I tried piercing it with the spoon again, it went in smoothly, but it seemed that I had waited a bit too long; it had become softer than my preferred level of firmness. Gathering my resolve, I took a bite. The flavor was intensely milky and dense. This fine texture was truly unique, and I thought to myself, "It's still delicious." As I enjoyed the treat, I gazed at the view outside the window.

In early August 2023, the news of the discontinuation of onboard wagon sales on the Tokaido Shinkansen caught my attention unexpectedly. This news seems to have sparked my memory of the existence of this ice cream after a long time. Starting from November 1, 2023, onboard sales on the Tokaido Shinkansen will continue only in the Green Car through mobile orders, but the option to buy from that onboard wagon will no longer be available. It's a bit saddening to think that this convenience will be lost. While Shinkansen's Incredibly Hard Ice Cream can still be purchased from vending machines and online shops, plans are in place to expand the availability of vending machines to more stations.

During my elementary school days, being taken by my mother on a ride and buying this ice cream from the onboard sales was a highlight of traveling on the Shinkansen. Lastly, I'm glad that I had the chance to buy and enjoy this ice cream during my trip back home. While Shinkansen's Incredibly Hard Ice Cream won't disappear, let's continue to savor it on Shinkansen rides and at home.

JR Tokai Passengers Shinkansen's Incredibly Hard Ice Cream
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Do you ever have an uncontrollable craving for hamburgers? I personally like hamburgers because it takes me back to my childhood when I open my big mouth and eat them enthusiastically. Hamburgers are America's national dish. Family, lunch break at work, beer in hand, elderly couple. It was obvious that hamburgers are loved by many people at all the hamburger stores.

I was somewhat thinking that hamburgers were born in the U.S., as there are several hamburger chains that originated in the U.S. in Japan, but in fact, their roots can be traced back to the Tatars, a nomadic people who lived from northern Asia to eastern Europe around the 13th century. The Tatars devised a way to make stringy horse meat easier to eat, and the minced meat dish known as tartar steak was born. This dish was introduced to Europe and became the "hamburger steak" in Hamburg, Germany. It was introduced to the U.S. by German immigrants. There are various theories about the origin of the hamburger in its present form, which is a hamburger sandwiched between bread, but there is a record that the hamburger in its present form was sold at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904.

There are several hamburger chains in the U.S., and each chain is unique in its own way, such as their insistence on not using any frozen ingredients, the ability to customize toppings to your own taste, and the existence of back-of-the-envelope menus. Whether you want a single or double patty, grilled or raw onions, the possibilities are endless, and you can't help but think about it. And let's not forget the sides. Fries also vary in shape and flavor, depending on the restaurant. In most cases, additional condiments such as ketchup and salt are self-service and can be added as much as you like. Some restaurants focus on drinks and shakes. I was surprised at the variety of hamburgers and the attention to detail that the people of the home country put into their hamburgers.

The hamburger crossed the sea from the Eurasian continent to its current form in the U.S. It also spread across borders to the rest of the world, gradually transforming itself into a form loved by the local people in each region. It was an experience that I could not help but feel the depth and fascination of food.

In-N-Out Burger
Shake Shack
Five Guys