Category Archives: Asia

A Moment In… Tokyo

Summer classes ended over a week ago and they start back up two weeks from today. In the last few days, I’ve been almost struck by lightning (ok fine, more like I watched it strike a tree very nearby and that is as close as I ever need to get to being hit, thank you very much), and then – five minutes before the power came back on (after being out for five hours), I found a four-leaf clover. Just sayin’ (yeah yeah, probably means shit, but lighten up people  – it’s still summer!).

I’ve decided life can be just as crazy when I’m not traveling. There is no calm before this storm, there is only storm; my “vacation” has become a whirlwind of to-do lists. With my sister’s wedding fast-approaching (it’s this weekend! WHOOHOO) I figured I should take a quick moment on TwT to escape it all and travel the farthest away that I have ever been: TOKYO, JAPAN.

You enjoy this post while I put the final touches on my Maid of Honor speech. Oh, and feel free to share your impressions of Tokyo as a comment if you’ve been!

Shibuya at night.

Tokyo is one of those places that somehow manages to combine two opposite worlds into one. In a lot of ways, it encompasses everything I dislike about NYC (Times Square — the lights, the chaos, the crowds, the fluorescent, constant noise), which is then multiplied by ten and covered in an indecipherable (to me) script, making it all the more noisy. Yet, at the same time, it is a city speckled with beautiful, clean and simple Shinto shrines that stand high above the fuss, stoic and strong. The chaos of modern Tokyo life is woven gently into the fabric of a very beautiful Japanese history, and somehow, in Tokyo, it works.

Temple near Ueno Park. (Notice the man passed out on the rooftop?)

Prayers from locals and travelers dangle on wooden postcards outside a shrine in Tokyo.

Tokyo train. You spend many hours hopping around the city on public transportation, and usually a random Japanese person sitting next to you falls asleep on your shoulder.

Me (circa 2006) with one of many very delicious udon soup bowls that drew me into a cozy Japanese bubble when the dreary February air made me want to run away.

Street near Ueno Park. Tokyo.

A fountain outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Japanese kimonos for sale on a street in Tokyo.

Paper lantern outside an Asakusa temple.

One day, I ventured to the Asakusa Senso-Ji temple (the oldest temple in Tokyo) for a morning away from the modern side of the city. The smell of incense wafted through the damp February air, and people entered each temple barefoot to pray before monks and admire the beautiful Buddhist artwork.

Approaching the Central Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Central Asakusa Temple. Tokyo.

One of the coolest things about going somewhere like Japan is feeling inescapably like an outsider. In some countries, I can blend in seamlessly (well, almost). In others, like Japan, I wear my “visitor” card like a name tag everywhere I go. But somewhere between the cups of hot sake, the confusing subway lines (you try finding your stop when it is written in Japanese script! Here’s a visual.), the quiet Shinto shrines, and the neon lights of Shibuya, there is a beautiful city that can be just as quiet and zen as it is loud and in-your-face.

Hopefully I can find that place right now, as I jump around in the pleasant chaos of this so-called summer “vacation.”

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Filed under A Moment In..., Asia, Japan, Life Stuff, Travel, Winter

Incredible Crunchy TwT Flavor

Travel, food… Food, travel… The two go hand-in-hand. Ahhh, yes (that was a content sigh, not an AHHH!!!! — just for the record).


This reminds me of the first essay I ever wrote in college. It was for one of my favorite professors, Kidder S. (we just called him Kidder). I was a young, nervous freshman taking an Asian studies freshman seminar called Seekers Lives, which focused on different paths to enlightenment and Truth (capital T – just trust me: there’s a big difference between Truth and truth). I had no idea what to expect when I got my first essay back. The second Kidder handed it to me, I saw this written in big letters across the top: “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Now, I wasn’t sure what to think. So, after class, I asked Kidder what he meant: “Is this an ‘AHHH!!’ [I made an extended, horrified AH sound] or is this an ‘ahhhhhh, yes’ [I made a pleased and calm ahhh sound].” He looked at me, concerned, and said “oh, Tavel!” (yes he called me Tavel, as did everyone in college),”That was definitely an ‘Aha!’ ahhhhh, as in ‘yes yes yes!’ ” And that is when I learned the difference between AHHHH! and ahhhh…

Well that was a sloppy segway… (Asian studies… Asian food… errr…)

ANYWAYS: Today, my TwT blog goes hand-in-hand with one of my favorite food bloggers. In case you weren’t hungry enough, lets take a trip to China on a sub…

General Tso’s Tofu Sub

By IncredibleCrunchyFlavor, (also secretly known as Katinka).

i saw this recipe and was totally intrigued instantly. i mean, i love general tso’s and since i’ve been eating a lot of vegetarian bahn mi sandwiches recently (from eden center in falls church, virginia), flavored tofu on a bun with toppings was especially appealing.

so i got all psyched to make it, but then i actually read the recipe, and i realized you had to fry.

deep frying has always been the third rail of my cooking – the thing i won’t touch. my mom was (is) terrified of frying and never did it at home. i have carried on the feeling that frying is dangerous and best left to the pros.

fortunately, there was a note in the comments section that someone had pan fried it, so i decided to give that a try instead. (deep frying = entire pot of boiling oil. pan fry = half an inch or so of hot oil in a pan). but we’re not there yet.

i started with the edamame puree, which didn’t turn out so well. you are supposed to put ¾ of a cup of frozen, shelled edamame in blender with “just enough water to make a smooth paste.”

i don’t know if it was because it was such a small volume in my big ol’ blender or what, but i ended up adding more than a ¼ cup of water and it still never got nice and smooth the way i wanted it.

(Above: edamame paste next to ginger, garlic and soy sauce for the general tso’s sauce)

it occurred to me later that since you’re supposed to mayo the bread too, maybe i should have blended up the edamame with the mayo and some water to make one creamy spread.

next, the sauce. ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, white vinegar, mirin, sesame oil, red dry chinese chilis (i omitted), salt, sugar and xanthan gum (optional. i opted out) in the blender.

i didn’t know what sweet soy sauce was, and clearly didn’t have any, so i used an extra tablespoon of regular soy sauce.

this was probably a mistake. i learned later that sweet soy sauce is thick like molasses, which – with the xanthan gum – would have made the texture more like the traditional sticky general tso’s of chinese take-out fame. perhaps one tablespoon (instead of the required two) of actual molasses would have helped the texture without messing too much with the flavor.

also, the blender had a hard time with the ginger fibers, so if you have a microplane, i recommend microplaning the ginger first.

leave it in the blender for a long time…

for the pickles, i didn’t even bother with the blender. i chopped the shallot, ginger and garlic, and ended up shredding the scallions by hand, which worked well.

although, you better believe i was missing my mandoline for this part:

mix well and let sit.

now that we’ve got the puree, the sauce and the pickles, it’s time for the tofu.

make sure you are using extra firm. i used firm and it wasn’t firm enough, breaking when i was trying to handle it.

this breading-frying-assembling process moves really fast, so it’s best to have everything set out and ready.

make sure the tofu is very dry when you season it.

dip in egg, coat in panko and drop carefully into the oil.

while it’s frying away, toast the rolls, slice and schmear up.

when the tofu is golden brown, remove it from the oil and dunk it into the sauce.

(i can’t believe i was frying AND taking pictures. phew!)

load onto sandwich and top with some sesame seeds and pickles.

so for all my complaining, i bet you’ll be surprised to hear that the finished product was a huge hit.

the bread, which i had toasted gently in the oven, was warm and flakey on the outside, the tofu was crispy from the panko and super creamy on the inside, the pickles were crunchy and cool, the sauce was tangy… even the (chunky) edamame puree added a nice contrast in flavors.

would i make this again? no. way too much work for a sandwich. would i eat it again if someone made it for me? you betcha.

Incrediblecrunchyflavor is the creative outlet of a disenchanted federal government worker in Washington, DC (her name – yes her real name – is Katinka). Other things Katinka does to keep herself sane are kayak, volunteer, watch a lot of “Man vs Food,” discover really authentic Asian restaurants in the DC suburbs, and celebrate Champagne Thursday. If she could go anywhere in the world at this moment, it would be Tuftonboro, New Hampshire; Antigua, Guatemala; somewhere in Italy; or Tokyo, Japan. Check out more recipes and food porn on and you can follow her on Twitter, @crunchyflavor.


Filed under Asia, Contributor, Food