This Japanese Spice Mixture Belongs on Your French Fries
A happy hour happenstance turned into the best fry find ever.
With every trip, astute travelers take home a bit of history, tradition, culture, and a food tip or two that changes the way they cook. From Hawaii, I brought home togarashi. Now, I can’t stop using it, especially on fries.
Road-weary and a wee bit exhausted, I walked out of The Laylow, my hideout during my time in Honolulu, and stumbled into Dukes Lane Market & Eatery, a food hall-meets-grocery store smack in the middle of bustling Waikiki. It was purely a pick of convenience—it was feet away, and I was starving.
I happened to find this open-air restaurant-market during their happy hour. Hawaii, if nothing else, has a seriously good happy hour game. (They have so much more though.) Drinks and pupus (Hawaiian for appetizers) are abundant and very reasonably priced at almost every type of restaurant. It became my favorite way to try several restaurants all in the same day—happy hour at 4 and dinner at 8.
From the Ono’s Burger Bar menu, I selected a Teri Burger and fries. “Would you like the Toga Fries?” my server asked. Sure, why not?
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Out came golden fries with specks of red, black, and orange. My initial instinct—to grab a few and immediately stuff them into my mouth—returned an instant surge of heat, then garlic spice, peppery warmth, and a zing of citrus. What was this magic?
Togarashi is the Japanese word for chili pepper. However, it’s more commonly used as the name for a spice mix that consists of chile pepper, hemp seed, poppy seed, black sesame, ginger, orange peel, and nori.
Togarashi is widely used in cuisines heavily influenced by Asian food traditions. Sushi, for example, may come with a sprinkle of togarashi. It’s also popular in ramen, soba, and stir-fry. I saw a version of “street corn” sprinkled with togarashi at a restaurant on Kauai, and an employee at Foodland in Laie suggested sprinkling it on pineapple. (I still haven’t done that.)
Wherever this spice mixed is used, it adds an intense heat that’s not as powerful as a hot sauce and not as sweet as sriracha. However, it packs loads of flavor thanks to its bounty of ingredients: Heat is immediately followed with peppery spice and paprika-like warmth. Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and nori layer in intense umami and nuttiness. Ginger and orange peel add a bit of zip at the end.
Don’t mistake those other descriptors and believe, even for a second, that tograsahi isn’t a legitimately spicy ingredient. Your mouth will be begging for water, and the sizzle will linger on your tongue for a while.
That’s precisely why I love togarashi sprinkled on French fries. The just-fried heat helps the spice adhere, and the crisped potato pieces provide a blank canvas for the togarashi flavor magic. Serve the fries with a garlic aioli or even just basic ketchup, and you’ll create a creamy spicy-sweet combo that’s pure French fry magic.