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Japanese Sake and Food Tasting Fair

• A Japanese sake and food tasting event “Experience Japan, Chicago” was held on June 16 at Kendall College in Chicago. A series of the event has been organized by JETRO Chicago with the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago. This year, a variety of sake, green teas, seafood, wagyu, confectioneries, ramen noodles, and more items were exhibited at 35 booths, and the visitors from the food and beverage industry tasted them.
• As a special program, Joseph Stellner, General Manager of the Green Teaist, gave a lecture about “Getting the Best from your Green Tea”. He has worked in the hospitality industry for more than 15 years and became interested in green tea because he thought that it was good for hospitality. He visited Japan in November 2014 and met with tea growers to learn valuable steeping techniques. (See figure 1)

• Consul General Toshiyuki Iwado welcomed the visitors and encouraged them to try more than 130 varieties of sake and also Japanese cuisine, which was registered as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. He said that the event was a part of the Consulate’s initiative to bring Japanese sake and cuisine here, and it would be continued with JETRO Chicago, which did its best to facilitate a wide variety of sake and food for the event.

• In the recent years, ramen noodles’ popularity has been prevailing in the Midwest area. Seiichiro Shimoda of Kikkoman U.S.A. introduced tonkotsu flavored ramen soup base. It is generally takes 12 to 14 hours to make the soup. He said, “Kikkoman would like to help making the most difficult part of ramen for our customers, so they can add their own flavors such as soy sauce, miso, or salt to make their own ramen. A noodle culture has been becoming popular in the Midwest, so I hope that local specialties such as Chicago Ramen or Detroit Ramen will be born in the near future.”
• Shimoda also introduced wasabi sauce and sriracha mayonnaise, which added zest for sandwiches.

• Fumiaki Nakamura of Morinaga Gyunyu Haikyu Co. in Ibaraki Prefecture introduced several flavors of sweet anko pastes to make Japanese confectionaries, wagashi. He said, “I think that ramen noodles took many years to become popular overseas, so wagashi will take some time, but I’m confident that the demand for authentic wagashi will increase. I’m looking forward to introducing manju, dango, and karinto for overseas customers.”

• Kosuke Yabe of Nichirei U.S.A. brought two types of croquettes from Hokkaido, baby scallops from Aomori, and albacore tuna from Shizuoka. He said, “I’m sure that the sales volume of Japanese food has increased. The demand is not only from Japanese people living abroad but also people in general. I expect that Chicagoans eat more Japanese food because I heard that the market in Chicago has more room for our product.”

• Apryl Wythe of Daiei Trading Chicago introduced a marinade base of Kinzanji miso from Nagano. Wythe said that teriyaki has become a well-known item, so misoyaki would be the next.
• A visitor tried a piece of misoyaki chicken and said, “A little taste of miso is in there. Myself, I like the taste a little more.”

• Nobu Okamoto of Azuma Foods participated in the event from New Jersey and introduced ika shiokara, which was a good accompanist for sake. He said that introducing shikokara would be too early, but it could be arranged with cream cheese to match Western people’s tastes. “Eating shiokara with a spoon, instead using chop sticks, is another idea to increase shiokara’s popularity,” he added.
• The shiokara was authentic and very tasty. Okamoto said, “Japanese cuisine is getting popular, but we have to tell people what it is. I want to show them what authentic Japanese food is. And then my customers can arrange it with their ingredients. If we give them fake products, Japanese food culture would be misunderstood. So I’m very careful to introduce our seafood products. We brought all the products from Japan.”

• Miyazaki beef and high grade surimi “Snow Leg Queen” also gained attention from the visitors. They were introduced by NSBA Foods and Sugiyo U.S.A. respectively.

• Sake seems to have become one of the alcoholic beverage items in the U.S.
• Timothy Sullivan from New York represented Hakkaisan Brewery in Niigata as Brand Ambassador and introduced Hakkaisan’s tokubetsu Junmai, tokubetsu Honjozo, and Junmai ginjo.
• He said that he touched sake 10 years ago. While he was trying some sake, it changed his life. It became his hobby first, and then he opened his own sake business some years later.
• According to Sallivan, the sake market was growing, and new Japanese restaurants were opening almost every week in New York.
• He said, “Hakkaisan was one of the first brands that I had. I’m very happy to represent them and introducing sake to other people.”

• Shuzo Nishiyama of Nishiyama Shuzojo in Tanba, Hyogo participated in the event for the second consecutive year. He said that the first year was to find distributors for his sake, and this year was to find restaurants and retail stores in the Chicago area. “Everything is good as we planned,” he said.
• Unfortunately, his brewery was severely damaged by a landslide caused by heavy rain last year. He found the buildings were buried by five feet of dirt, and all the sake was spoiled.
• Nishiyama said, “I reformed my company last year because having a long history is not always good. One of my new strategies was selling our sake abroad. Thus, I came to Chicago. After the disaster, all the people in my town are working to create something new, and so am I. Coming to Chicago is my first step for resurgence.”

• Regular attendee Munenori Ozaki of Tentaka Shuzo in Tochigi said that sake business in the U.S. has entered the next stage with a good profit. New sake-making technologies have emerged in Japan, and a variety of sake has been exported to the U.S. “You can take advantage of this trend. If you find a new one, please try it. By doing so, you can enjoy sake more and more,” said Ozaki.

• Noriyasu Nagao of Wismettac Asian Foods introduced Strawberry Nigori sake, which was made by using nigori sake and strawberry juice. It was specially developed and brewed by Homare Shuzo in Fukusima for the North American market. It was fruity, creamy and had a luscious taste.
• Nagao also introduced Aladdin bottled sake with fancy colors of blue, pink, and yellow. Inside of the bottle was junmai, nigori, and yuzu sake.
• “The biggest thing for me is non-Japanese people are interested in sake. I want to introduce sake to more people in this country.”

• Figure 1

• Getting the Best from your Green Tea
• By Joseph Stellner

• Water quality is an essential consideration. Use of bottled spring water or filtered tap water is recommended.

• Recommended steeping: temperature and times
• Sencha varieties
• 160 F for 1 minute 30 seconds
• Gyokuro, tencha, kukicha
• 150 F or lower for 2 minutes 30 seconds
• Hojicha, kyobancha, genmaicha
• 190 F for 1 minute 30 seconds

An attendee tries a variety of sake at “Experience Japan, Chicago” organized by JETRO

Seiichiro Shimoda of Kikkoman U.S.A. introduces tonkotsu flavored ramen soup base.

Seiichiro Shimoda of Kikkoman U.S.A. introduces tonkotsu flavored ramen soup base.

Nobu Okamoto of Azuma Foods introduces shiokara.

Joseph Stellner demonstrates how to steep tasty green tea.

Consul General Toshiyuki Iwado

Japanese confectionary “dango”

Timothy Sullivan of Hakkaisan Brewery

Shuzo Nishiyama of Nishiyama Shuzojo