New Japanese food products hit the Big Apple

The melting pot that is New York City has inevitably created a wealth of culinary options. Japanese food, in particular, is well-represented, from the yakitori and okonomiyaki hole-in-the-wall joints in the East Village, to the fusion chic of Nobu in Tribeca and Morimoto in the Meatpacking District.

But where do some of these restaurateurs locate the ingredients for their masterpieces? A number of them could be found prowling the booths at the 2006 Japanese Food & Restaurant Show for new premium products. Fortunately, instead of making a reservation to give these new ingredients a try, you can cart the following items home to add a little twist to your food – Japanese or not. Here are a few intriguing provisions that could diversify your palette:

The “Pretty in Pink” vinegar

If you’re seeing pink rice in your sushi, you could very well be biting into a roll flavored with Benímosu. Available in plain and honey sweetened versions, this dark pink rice vinegar features an unusual ingredient: the organic purple sweet potato. Hailing from Kyoto, Benímosu vinegar can be used to lightly flavor ice cream, or even to enhance alcoholic beverages or sodas. The plain version packs a slightly bigger punch than the honey sweetened version – the aftertaste of the latter contrasting with the initial sourness – yet both are flavorful enough to be drunk alone.

The fruity saké

Your author, who epitomizes the Asian stereotype of low tolerance to alcohol, was rushing by the saké wing and trying to make a beeline for the food booths. That is, until she was stopped by a friendly young woman offering some saké by Muromachi Shuzo, a brewery founded in 1687. The first type of saké she offered, not surprisingly, has won awards for the last seven years. Best drunk cold or at room temperature, Junmai Ginjo “Bizen Maboroshi” is light and contains noticeable traces of grape and pear that mask the alcohol.

The barely there roll wrapper

Chomping on seaweed wrapped around sushi rolls can transport a diner a little too close to the ocean. The nori wrappers are sometimes too thick, too salty or too chewy. Fortunately a much-lighter alternative of Mamenori-San, or soybean paper, simultaneously holds together foods like omusubi (rice balls) while providing a barely there subtleness that brings out the flavor of your main ingredients. Toasted seaweed domination is no more. Mamenori-San, made by J-Oil Mills Corporation, is available in a variety of colors. For a delicious and inexpensive example of how it can be used with omusubi, head over to the Oms/b Rice Ball Café at 156 East 45th St. just a block away from Grand Central Station.

The ridiculously easy curry (powder) recipes

In a city where residents eat out more often than not thanks to busy schedules, instant gratification is paramount. The folks at S&B International Corporation understand this, having provided seasonings that are staples of many Japanese restaurants here, including chili powder for udon noodle soup. So they offered a couple of quick ways to spice up some ordinary dishes with their S&B Curry Powder. The first is to create a curry spread by blending the powder into sour cream or cream cheese. Season it with salt and pepper, and then spread onto bread or crackers. The second is to mix the curry powder into mashed potatoes. Again, season with salt and pepper (while it can be done without salt and pepper, these ingredients really bring out the curry flavor). In both cases, the powder does not overwhelm the overall taste, which could possibly even convert curry-haters. If only pie was this simple.

The light citrus salad dressing

You too should go for yuzu – an East Asian citrus fruit – especially when it comes to salad. Heavy salad dressings can completely drown out the vegetables. The Mitsukan Yuzu Citrus Flavored Dressing does none of this, as its consistency resembles more of a sauce rather than a thick sludge like Thousand Island or Bleu Cheese dressings. Two other flavors in the Mitsukan salad dressing line include Sesame, and Mustard & Soy Sauce.

The garnish for a posh palette

It looks a little too posh to pose as caviar, and indeed, the spherical garnish called Angel Tears is merely described as a “caviar-like decoration.” It’s flavorless. It’s water soluble. It must be kept refrigerated. It can be added to main dishes, desserts, and even Champagne, wine or martinis. But each bead also contains…24-karat gold. Suddenly, it seems like caviar has some lessons to learn.