Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted on Sep 4, 2008 in Amorette, Bento, Decorative, Onigiri or Sushi, Tips, Tutorial or How-to, Vegetarian | 29 comments

Outsmarting seafood allergies and a how-to on Faux Roe

Outsmarting seafood allergies and a how-to on Faux Roe


Please welcome guest author Amorette (Sakurako Kitsa), who is writing a series on how to make decorative art bento lunches. ~Biggie

An allergy to seafood can be a bit of a hindrance to an Asian food enthusiast. I’m lucky enough to be allergic to both fish and shellfish, with effectively rules out almost all restaurant sushi (even the vegetarian types are often made with the same tools and can be tainted with juices), not to mention those adorable kamaboko (sliceable fishcake logs, often featuring patterns of flowers or anime characters). This can really cramp a person’s bento style, so I’ve had to find ways to work around it.

Mock LobsterThis “mock lobster” is a Roma tomato salad served on a bed of jasmine rice. Unless it’s tomato you’re allergic to, this guy can’t give you hives.  :-)  The eyestalks are removable cloves dabbed with a bit of black decorating gel, the ornamental rose is some carefully-cut yellow cherry tomato, and the “butter” off to one side is a dressing I made of hard-boiled egg yolk, mayonnaise, and mustard. He’s not the only shellfish I’ve faked; I’ve also conserved a couple of shreds of canned chicken breast, tinting them red before adding them to my chicken salad. The result looks very much like crab salad. Kamaboko can be faked with a shaped chunk of lemon-brushed apple, dipped in red juice or food coloring, rinsed, and sliced. All you have to do is figure out to manipulate what you can eat to resemble what you can’t, so you don’t feel so deprived.

Faux Roe

I’ve always been in awe of the beauty of sushi. Maybe it’s the allure of something unattainable, I don’t know. I’ve hovered around the sushi section of Jungle Jim’s, gaping at the glistening roe and trying to imagine what it might taste like. There are some chefs who have pioneered artificial caviar by using squid ink (which doesn’t really help those of us with allergies) and juice-based roe that gloms together with the use of calcium chloride. None of these methods seem particularly cheap or easy. It took some experimenting, but I’ve found that there is a way to incorporate the beauty of roe sushi into a bento without the actual fishiness, using about $5(US) worth of common grocery-store ingredients.

Step 1First off, you’ll need a bag of dried small-pearl tapioca. This is usually found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores, near the boxed pudding mixes, and can be had for about $3 US. Soak about 1/4 cup of it overnight in the liquid of your choice, covering with some plastic wrap. Here I used water and added yellow food coloring, but I advise experimenting with fruit and vegetable juices instead. The main reason for this is that…well, tapioca doesn’t taste like much. You can add sweetener and candy flavorings to the water (or, if you’re brave, soak the tapioca in Kool-Aid), but the natural sweetening and flavoring the tapioca absorbs from juice tastes so much better. Any flavoring and sweetness you add will come through as light and subtle in the final product- don’t expect a strong burst of flavor. Think of it more like rice with a light hint of fruit to it.

Faux Roe Step 2

After the tapioca has been soaked overnight, drained and rinsed, it will look like this. Don’t be thrown off by the opaqueness and  pastel tones…that will all change when the tapioca is cooked. Although it’s technically edible, if you were to pop one of these in your mouth at this stage it would be a weird combination of wet and powdery. It’s not pleasant. Care to ask me how I know that?  ;-)   faux roe step 3

Transfer your tapioca to a saucepan of water or, if you’d like to add additional flavor,  two parts water and one part juice (the same kind you used for soaking). Cook according to normal Pudding Protocol (temperature medium-low, keep a close eye on it, stir constantly). As the tapioca cooks, it will slowly become transparent from the outside in, as you can see here. I stirred with a white rice paddle because it was easier to keep track of the change that way.

faux roe step 4When the liquid begins to take on a texture like boiling gelatin and the majority of the tapioca pearls are transparent,  you can take it off the heat. Cool for a few moments, stirring periodically, and then strain with a metal sieve. As you’re straining, run cool water over the tapioca to rinse it and bring the temperature down. Don’t worry…there’s still enough starch to make it stick together. More than enough, as you’ll learn shortly.

faux roe step 5

This batch of tapioca-roe has just been rinsed and is cooling in the sieve. You can see that, although it’s transparent, it really did pick up the color well. If you don’t rinse it, the tapioca gums together and becomes impossibly sticky. Even after rinsing, you’ll be able to spoon up big glops of it and they won’t fall apart. At this point, it’s ready to add to your sushi. And yes, it’s safe to take an experimental taste. Softer than a gummy bear, with a very light hint of fruit or veggie flavor if you’ve soaked it in juice.

faux roe on sushi

Here I’ve added a teaspoonful of the faux roe to the top of some basic rolled sushi. You could add fruit to the centers of the rolls to accent the flavor of the roe if you like. I decorated the yellow “flying fish” roe with some fans of radish and the orange “salmon” roe with cucumber.

And there’s the inclusion of roe sushi into your bento… totally fish-free.

 Faux Roe Sushi




Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  1. Thank you for this wonderful tutorial Amorette! What an original idea, and so beautiful! I will definitely have to try it.

  2. This is such a great idea! I don’t eat fish, so I’m really excited by this. I have some pearls in the pantry and will soon give it a try.

  3. Very cute and ingenious!!! Too work intensive for me but beautiful to look at. I wouldn’t put real roe in most of my bento (like that anyway; frozen or mixed with stuff, yes, but not straight up on top of a roll) so you’re one up already :)

  4. That is amazing. I might have to try this way of eating tapioca (not normally a fan). It does seem a bit labor intensive for us five minute bento makers, but I will make a free day of this and try it out. You hooked me on the light fruit flavor gummy bear description!

  5. While I have no problem with eating roe, the taste is nowhere as awesome as the look of it. I wonder if you can add other flavors for more savory dishes?

  6. Freaking brilliant!!! I am totally going to try this!

  7. Oh, how long a shelf life does cooked tapioca have in the fridge??

  8. Thanks, everyone…

    VeganF…I’m not sure exactly, but I didn’t go longer than 2-3 days. I think more than that might be a little risky.

  9. Hmmm, now how would you fake pork and apple? Luckily I can eat seafood. But I look at the apple rabbits and keep thinking I should try those in asian pears or something.

  10. I wonder if it would be possible to do this with tomato or veg juice to get less of a sweet flavor? If dulse were rolled up with the rice, it could capture some of the “fishy” taste.

    Thank you for this. I can’t wait to try it. I’m always looking for vegan options.

  11. Jocelyn: have you tried jicama? It’s a bit coarser-textured, but behaves a lot like apple.

    I’ve had smoked turkey that I’m told tastes exactly the same as ham, and I can tell you that it smells the same, but I wouldn’t know about taste.

  12. As a vegan, I really appreciate this! Thanks, Amorette.

  13. I actually don’t like fish flavours, but I love tapioca. I am going to have to try this out!! What a fantastic idea. I was trying to guess what you used before looking under the cut and it was much simpler than I expected. Thanks! I just wonder how well that fruit goes with seaweed… hmm

  14. I wonder if you could use a dark colored fruit jerky for the seaweed and sweet coconut sticky rice instead of plain for a dessert dish?

  15. I’m impressed with the tapioca-roe you made! It looks like the real thing, transparent and delicious.

    Ikura (salmon roe) has to be one of my favorite Japanese foods! Very hard to find actual roe in the Midwest, so I suffer withdrawals when I’m not in Japan and can’t get the good stuff.

  16. Fantastic! I know what I will be doing this weekend…

  17. My dad used the tapioca pearls in a different way - he used them instead of rice and crepes instead of nori. We rolled fruit and chocolate pieces in them to make “dessert sushi” for my birthday to follow a more standard sushi dinner.

  18. ooh, sandy, i love the dessert idea! trompe l’oeil!

    maybe start off the meal with real sushi apps (if not allergic, of course) and end with that??

    thanks for this, amorette.

  19. I love coconut tapioca (use coconut milk instead of water to cook. I’m not sure how it would affect the coloring, but the taste would be great, good for vegans too.

  20. Thank you SO much for this! I am also allergic to fish and seafood, so these ideas are totally great. I wonder if this allergy is common among Japanese? I heard from a relative in Japan that it was gaining frequency, but not sure why. My husband also does not like seafood, so these ideas are perfect! I’m going to try them ASAP.

  21. I really don’t usually like tapioca (only had it in pudding..), but this looks so neat I will probably have to give it a try!

  22. This is awesome! A vegan variation of sushi! I’ll definitely try these an email your post to my vegetarian friends! It’s wonderful, thanks a lot!

  23. Thanks so much for this post! My son is allergic to shellfish, and I really appreciate you sharing your great tricks!

  24. Love this idea, it`s so pretty. I don`t eat any seafood (dislike, not allergies) and this would be ideal to have when everyone else is eating regular sushi.

  25. Very artistic and clever! You’ve got great ideas, Amorette! No wonder you rock the oekakiben world. :-)

  26. These look so much like the real thing — brava!

  27. There are some completely fish-free (vegan) faux caviars. I have tasted 2 types, and they’re great. The typical “fishy” taste is quite good, very real. The only ingredient used for this is seaweed (highly concentrated). No fishy stuff required. So i guess you could quite easily do this with the tapioca-pearls. If i find a way to infuse the concentrated seaweed taste, i’ll post it, but maybe you have some ideas. This way you can have a authentic looking, real-tasting caviar-alternative. I love the pictures by the way. Very pretty, very authentic.

  28. wow, they are beautiful! I love roe and fishy tastes, but anything more than a tub of tiny flying fish roe is out of my price range, I bet I could use shrimp boullion and pink coloring to make some pearls that would have the fishy taste… Thank you so much!

  29. Awesome alternative. I too am allergic to shellfish. Fortunately, not regular fish though. No wonder your bentos seemed so … edible to me lol.