December Essentials

Each month requires a different set of essentials for survival. With December being the last calendar month of an unforgetful, yet often stressful 2016. Here are my must haves for the last 31 days of the year:

  • A pajama set from the lovely folks over at Sleepy Jones
  • Hot green tea (I would say hot chocolate, but I’m not really a fan)
  • This song
  • An Amazon Prime account (you know, for those last minute gifts)
  • A flight ticket back home for the holidays (in my case Louisiana)
  • Binge watching this show and maybe this one too
  • Cuddling up with a great book like this one by Phoebe Robinson
  • Playing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” on repeat for the next 25 days
  • Finally getting over the finale episode of HBO’s Insecure
  • A journal entry reflecting 2016 accomplishments and setting 2017 goals (keep it positive!)
  • Mulled wine made with 14 Hands’ Cabernet Sauvignon
  • The December issue of Rolling Stone magazine featuring President Barack Obama
  • A box of kleenex as I realize it’s his last month in office (Barry, don’t go!)

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Source: December Essentials

Congratulations, America!

You’re awake by the way. You’re not having a terrible terrible dream. Also, you’re not dead and you haven’t gone to hell. This is your life now. This our election now. This is us. This our Country. It’s Real.” -Rachel Maddow


This morning, I sat in utter shock and disbelief as inarguably the most qualified and able Presidential candidate within this entire election cycle and possibly far beyond gave her concession speech to a reality television star with a tarnished and struggling brand. Not only did it symbolize a backward shift in the nation’s progress but one thing became abundantly clear: Hatred had overwhelmingly prevailed. On November 8th, 2016 we successfully ensured that America would be anything BUT great. As the stock market plummeted, we sat and watched as a racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, homophobic elitist became the 45th President of the United States of America. Donald J. Trump; a man who believes that he should run a country where he is not required to uphold the ideals upon which it was built, became the next leader of the free world.


We elected a man who doesn’t feel the need to pay taxes although he earns more annually than the average American and could easily afford to do so. We elected a man who believes that immigrants who seek to become a part of “The American Dream” should be turned away despite the fact he regularly employed immigrants working illegally for unfair wages when it better suited him. A man who views woman as sexual objects that he can disregard, degrade and brag about sexually assaulting with no recourse or accountability for his actions now has the ability to determine their reproductive rights. A man who regularly incited violence against individuals who voiced different views and beliefs will now preside over a country whose Constitution’s First Amendment is supposed to uphold its right to freedom of speech and expression. Essentially, the United States elected a self-motivated demagogue who feels as though we should all adhere to laws that don’t apply to him secondary to his sense of entitlement and inability to truly relate to the American people through his privileged upbringing and refusal to acknowledge the experiences of others. We elected a man child who throws tantrums and calls names when he can’t formulate an educated or informed response when asked to explain his plan for the future of our nation.


 To all those who voted for a third party candidate, a fictional character or Harambe, I’d like to give you an extra special pat on the back. You literally thought it would be cool or funny to disregard the political process by wasting your vote in spite of people who actually cared by voting for figures that you knew couldn’t possibly assume the presidency of the nation in which you reside. To all those who had the opportunity to vote but decided to abstain because of the belief that “your vote doesn’t count”, you’ve successfully exemplified how much voting really matters. As a result, disenfranchised groups risk losing benefits from the government, the right to make decisions about their own bodies, the right to marry, the right to an education, and the right to health care. Not to mention, we will now have a President who has insulted countless individuals and made it clear that they are not a part of what he believes makes America great.


This is the first time in my adult life that I’m legitimately hurt and fearful about the outcome of an American election. The blatant examples of bigotry exuded by Donald Trump that were not enough to curb the opinion of the American people propelled him to the highest office in the land. It’s terrifying to think that a grown man who had to have his twitter privileges revoked just days before he was ultimately selected to lead a nation will now have access to the nuclear codes. Personally, I’m not comfortable with living in a country under the control of a person who constantly depicts an organization that exists to reaffirm the fact that an entire race of people is valuable and simply wants acknowledgment that they in fact matter as problematic while accepting endorsements from an organization that has a long known history of violent oppression based solely upon something that no human being has any control over. Sadly, on January 20th, 2017 this will become our new reality and the next four years of our lives have the potential to undo all that we achieved in the last eight. We find ourselves in an unfortunate place at the moment and I won’t say that I’m allowing myself to feel broken and hopeless but I’m truly concerned about what our future holds. One thing is for sure, we cannot allow ourselves to become defeated. Either way, this is truly upsetting and it’ll take some time to fully come to terms with.



Source: Congratulations, America!

Happy Hour: Aunt Judy’s Passion Fruit Cocktail


Around this time every year, Yoko’s aunt Judy starts bringing around bags of passion fruit for us. She has a very healthy and giving tree in her backyard, which produces plenty of fruit.

Photo by Judy Hayama

Judy has been talking about the cocktail she makes with these passion fruit for some time now. Before we said goodbye last weekend, she handed us a bag full of fruit and said, “Remember: gin and passion fruit. And don’t forget honey!”

I’ve been enjoying shochu lately – mostly because of its lower ABV than other distilled spirits (around 25% on average), and its low sugar content – fewer calories! When I thought of what to do with Judy’s passion fruit, I decided to substitute shochu for gin. I thought a sweet potato shochu would overpower the drink, so I went with Iichiko, a shochu made with barley.


Aunt Judy’s Passion Fruit Cocktail

Serves one drink

3 oz barley shochu
1/2 of a ripe passion fruit (or a barspoon of Passion Fruit Syrup by Small Hand Foods)
1 barspoon honey
10 dashes of Ume Bitters by Miracle Mile


Old Fashioned glass


1.  Take all the fruit out of half a passion fruit and place into an Old Fashioned glass.



2. Add the shochu and barspoon of honey into the glass.


3. Stir until the honey is dissolved.


Honey can be hard to work with in a cocktail – often it has hardened or crystalized. Dilute one part honey to one part warm water to make a honey syrup. This will be easier to incorporate into a cocktail.

4. Fill the glass with ice.


5. I summoned my inner Tiki Goddess and I added a dark rum float to this drink at first. It was way too boozy so I tried something else. I had a bottle of Miracle Mile’s Ume Bitters and dashed it into my cocktail until it created a nicely darkened hue on my drink.


This was exactly the flavor profile I was looking for in a “float.” The Ume bitters have a nice tartness, while grounding the drink with its earthiness.



I consider this a collaborative cocktail recipe with Aunt Judy. Kanpai!

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Happy Hour: The Western


It is really difficult to create cocktails using sake as a base. Sake tends to be subtle and the nuances are often lost when other spirits are combined into the drink. So it takes a genius who understands these subtleties to come up with a cocktail that allows the sake to shine on the palate.

Our friends Martha and Micah Chong are just those cocktail geniuses. I had bartended with Martha at Camino and she and her husband Micah are true cocktail aficionados. Cocktail-making is their passion, and they always have some sort of infusion, bitters, or house-made syrups brewing in their kitchen in Oakland. They also have consulted for Takara Sake in Berkeley, so they are well-versed in sake and its flavor profiles.

I was a bit stumped on making a sake cocktail and asked Martha for advice. A week later, she and Micah had this for me:

The Western

By The Chongs

2 oz Genshu sake
0.5 oz Rye whisky
1 Barspoon of Genepy


A little bit about the ingredients the Chongs chose for The Western: Sequoia, out of San Francisco, makes a great nama genshu sake (unpasteurized tank-strength sake). Since there is no water added to the sake, it is much more robust and alcoholic than other sakes, at a 19% ABV. Micah chose the Michter’s for the rye here, as it is a bit smokier and sweeter than other ryes. Genepy is a newer import here in the states, which is a herbaceous liqueur from France. Think mint, pine, and licorice.


1. Add all ingredients into a mixing glass.


2. Add ice into the glass. Stir very briefly, five seconds max.


3. Strain into a chilled coupe.



This elegant cocktail is light on its feet and brought together with the barspoon of Genepy. Enjoy!

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Happy Hour: Umeboshi Splash!


My best friend Sara wrote a book and it just came out! It’s called Never Ever and it is a young adult fiction novel recreating the story of Peter Pan. I just finished the book yesterday and I must say that it is brilliant! It is the perfect pool-side summer read, or a way to spend a foggy, dreadfully cold summer day in SF snuggled up in bed. The imaginative storyline and characters will pull you in and you won’t be able to put it down. Read it!

The Peter Pan of the story, Phinn, takes Wylie and her brothers to an off-the-grid location far from Manhattan called Minor Island. It is an idyllic, tropical place where no one over 17 years old is allowed. What a dream! Minor Island has its own set of rules, or lack thereof, and the kids do as they please. They also have their own slang terms and “Splash!” is their way to say “Cheers!” or “Kanpai!” So I’ve named my newest cocktail after this.

The main ingredient for this drink is umeboshi or pickled plum. It is an age-old ingredient in Japan that is mainly eaten as a condiment for a steaming bowl of rice.



Umeboshi is so tart that it will make your mouth pucker. Even just looking at that photo makes my mouth salivate. It is a humble food that is distinct in flavor and is quintessentially Japanese. I have never encountered anything like it in the world.

For this drink I took myself to Minor Island — sunbathing in the sand, diving into the clear blue waters, and staying up all night flying through the sky with the fireflies. What a magical place! The kids would want something to quench their thirst and cool them down. This is the drink! Also, this is a pretty lazy beverage that anyone can make, even the average asshole teenager (I was never an asshole, I swear).

Umeboshi Splash!

Makes 1 drink

3oz genshu sake (I used Hakkaisan Shiboritate Nama Genshu)
0.75oz fresh squeezed lime juice
0.5oz Shrub & Co. Honey Shrub
1 umeboshi
Club soda


Ume Muddler
0.75/0.5oz jigger
Large juicer


Toyo-Sasaki Hard Strong Pint


1. Juice limes.


2. Take an umeboshi and put it into the glass. Muddle it with the Ume Muddler.


This is a tool that was invented to specifically muddle umeboshi. There’s a divet at the end of the stick that massages the umeboshi just so…

3. Add sake, juice and shrub.


4. Fill the glass with ice and stir all the liquids together.


5. Fill the glass to the brim with soda.



6. Garnish with a lime wedge and you are on your way to Minor Island!


The Umeboshi Splash is a true thirst-quencher with a nicely balanced combo of sweet and savory. Umeboshi and honey are a classic pairing and go well together with the lime. This drink actually reminds me of a tamarind soda I had in Vietnam. Mexico also uses a lot of that puckering lime and tamarind flavors. You know, all the really HOT and tropical places in the world!

The main character in Never Ever, Wylie, does not drink alcohol. So you can also keep this booze-free by eliminating the sake and adding some more shrub and lime juice. Just don’t hold back on the ice or soda.


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Happy Hour: Umamichelada!

Ah, Mexico. We went to Cabo San Lucas over New Year’s and had a magical time. We were captivated by the sea breeze…


… the abundantly fresh seafood…


… tremendous tacos…


… pristine blue skies…


… the spirit of adventure…




… the Michelada!

Yes, I had a love affair with the Michelada for the first time on this trip and have yearned for it since. We would pack our grocery cart with cases of Tecate, Clamato and limes and we’d be set for the day. The Michelada is the pinnacle of vacation — day drinking in the sun, by the pool, a glass full of tomato juice and beer. Who knew this would be the essence of umami?!?!

In an effort to recreate the Michelada, I burrowed into our Conbini at Umami Mart, looking for ingredients for this refreshing drink. I came up with a recipe so thirst-quenching that I am calling it the Umamichelada. Here goes!



1 can Orion beer
1 oz Inna Tomato Shrub
2 kumquats (or wedges of lime)
Umami Salt for garnish
1 barspoon of Haku Smoked Shoyu



1. Cut two kumquats in half. De-seed. Lay out some Umami Salt onto a plate:


Honestly, I happened to have kumquats in my fridge and thought they would bring a sweeter dimension to the drink. Limes will do if you don’t have kumquats at your disposal.

2. Take a sliced kumquat and line the rim of the glass with its juice:


3. Stick the glass upside down onto the Umami Salt, to rim the glass:



4. Add kumquats into the glass:


5. Muddle the kumquats directly in the glass:



6. Measure out an ounce of Inna Tomato Shrub into a jigger and pour into the glass, over the kumquats:



7. Fill the glass with ice:


8. Pour beer over the ice:


I had thought about using a fancier Japanese beer, like Hitachino’s Saison du Japon or the Kagua Blanc, but decided to stick to the Michelada roots of using a lighter, easy-drinking beer. Orion is really refreshing and perfect for the Umamichelada. Plus, it’s in a can!



Now, Clamato has all sorts of additives in it — although surprisingly no clams. One of the ingredients of Clamato however is MSG. I wanted to emulate this depth of flavor and had read some Michelada recipes that include Worcestershire sauce. I went ahead and Japanified this by adding our popular Haku Smoked Shoyu. Just one barspoon will do!


9. Stir:


10. Sprinkle over some Umami Salt over the drink:


11. And, Salud!


Thank you Mexico for my Michelada inspiration! With love from the Umami Mart Familia.


Photos of our vacation in Mexico by Yoko Kumano.

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Happy Hour: Tokyo 75


Photos by Mariko Yamasaki

Happy holidays everyone! What a year! I hope you are all able to relax during these last days of 2015 and reflect on joyful memories. It’s been a hectic holiday season here at Umami Mart, and I’m thankful for everything we’ve done in the past year. Namely, we opened our Bottle System, featuring sakes, wines and the largest selection of Japanese beers in the U.S.! In August, we launched our Sake Gumi, a subscription service where we ship two sakes to members every month. To date, we are 113 members strong, from NYC, Michigan to Portland!

AND we were mentioned in the New York Times! Yes, it was a fulfilling year indeed.

Can you believe 2016 is just around the corner?

With that, here’s a bubbly cocktail that will be a lovely way to ring in the new year. Why don’t we use our Goldfinger Set to get us in the mood?

The Umami Mart Goldfinger Set features a 24K gold Cobbler shaker, gold jigger, 2 coupes, 2 cocktail pins and a Queen Elizabeth cocktail stirrer.

As usual, I like to play on classic cocktail recipes and tweak them just a bit. So here’s my riff on the French 75, which I’ve dubbed the Tokyo 75. The French 75 contains gin, and I subbed umeshu (plum wine) for a low-alcohol alternative.

One serving

3 oz umeshu (I used Choya)
0.75 oz yuzu juice (sub lemon if yuzu is unavailable)
2 oz sparkling wine

IMG_4728 Shake the umeshu and yuzu juice in a Cobbler shaker full of ice. Keep it to just a few short shakes. Strain into coupes. Top off with sparkling wine. IMG_4722 Garnish with an umeshu plum or a lemon peel. IMG_4725 Kanpai! IMG_4747 I hope you all have a cozy and safe holiday season. We’ll see you in 2016!

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Happy Hour: Don’t Call This a Saketini


I deplore the word “Saketini.” The whole idea that you can name a cocktail by adding “tini” to the end of it is just plain juvenile and not creative at all. Which is not fair because I’ve been drinking a hell out of these Martinis, subbing sake for vermouth, and the name Saketini is not so far off. But still, I can’t call it that! So I’ll just leave it at, “Don’t call this a Saketini.”

The idea for this came to me when I started making a traditional Martini, which is gin, dry vermouth and bitters. I thought, why not try a really dry sake instead of vermouth?!? I’ve found that the roundness from rice, however dry a sake may be, really adds a nice texture to this drink.

For this Martini, I used Cap Rock, a gin from Colorado with a bouquet of botanicals and juniper; and Joppari honjozo, a sake that we simply call the “Daruma can” at Umami Mart, that is bone dry and works well in this drink. Honjozo is a type of sake where distilled alcohol is added to smooth out the funkier flavor profiles that sakes tend to have. You’ll want to stick to drier sakes for this Martini, not necessarily Honjozos — you’ll know a dry sake when you taste one, it will end pretty immediately on your palate.

Vermouth is a fortified wine, infused with spices and herbs. In a Martini, it adds a bit of bitterness to the palate. I wanted to emulate this so did not want to use a robust sake, especially since the gin I’m using is already so fragrant. (On the flip side, I might use a more robust sake if I were using a London Dry gin).

2oz juniper-forward gin, like Hendrik’s or Cap Rock
1oz dry sake
2 dashes of orange of yuzu bitters



1. Put two Martini glasses into the freezer.

2. Add gin and sake into your mixing glass filled with ice:


Put PLENTY of ice in the mixing glass — the height of the ice should be higher than the liquid:


3. Dash in your bitters.

4. Grab the Martini glasses from the freezer. Spear with olives with cocktail picks (get them here!).

5. Stir for 10 seconds:




4. Strain:

IMG_5720 IMG_5722 Enjoy! IMG_5735 Well, well, well, it turns out that a Saketini is exactly this: gin, sake and an olive, invented in the 1960s. So I’m not a genius who came up with this afterall! To change it up, I would add a barspoon of yellow chartreuse to this. However you slice it, don’t you dare call it a Saketini!

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