Otafuku Oden in Asakusa

Ota1Otafuku in Asakusa has been serving oden for almost 100 years. It’s a great little spot for fishcakes stewed in a delicate seafood broth as well as seafood and other izakaya fare. I came recently with my friend, the food writer and reporter, Steve Dolinsky. Steve is originally from Minnesota and now lives in Chicago with his beautiful family. Steve was in Tokyo and we met in Kappabashi and did the short walk to Otafuku for dinner and an interview for his new show, The Feed Podcast, with chef Rick Bayless.

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The menu at Otafuku is written in this beautiful Japanese calligraphy on the wall. But, we picked what we waned by just looking into the large, steaming bath behind the counter.
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Our first order was zenmai (reminiscent of ferns), shimeji mushrooms, atsu-agé (thick, deep-fried) tofu, and deep-fried Satsuma-agé fish cakes.

Ota4Followed by fukubukuro (deep-fried tofu packets stuffed with mochi), kombu (kelp), and cabbage stuffed with ground meat.

Note the awesome chopstick rest, also called otafuku.

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A meal in winter would not be complete without ankimo, monkfish liver, often called foie gras of the sea.

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The hand-written menu at our counter seats. Gorgeous calligraphy.

Ota7Sashimi of kanburi (winter yellowtail). So tender it melts in your mouth.

My husband loves this fish so much we went to the most famous port in Himi, Toyama, on our honeymoon to eat this. Good stuff.

Ota8And, the collar of kanburi, salted and grilled. Garnished with pickled ginger and freshly grated daikon with soy sauce.

While most people associate oden with winter, this food is good all-year long. This night most of the customers seemed to be businessmen, although there was one young couple at the counter with us. Lots of groups coming in and there is table seating in the back, but it is most fun to sit at the counter and watch the chef manage the stewing pot. We make oden at home in the winter a few times a year, but we never make the variety of ingredients served at Otafuku. We had beer and a warm sake, both which went well with the menu. It’s a jovial restaurant filled with locals and one of the most famous restaurants in Tokyo serving oden.

Otafuku

Taito-ku, Senzoku 1-16-2

03-3871-2521

www.otafuku.ne.jp

Some of my other favorites in Asakusa in this Metropolis piece.

Food Gifts/Omiyage from Tokyo 東京のお土産

Omiyage most often describes gifts that you pick up while traveling that you bring back to your family, friends, and colleagues. For example, on a trip to Kyoto I may select some local jizake or wagashi for friends. For my colleagues at work I may pick up a box of yatsuhashi, a popular confectionary that Kyoto is known for.

It is important when selecting gifts that they are purchased at the correct price. You don’t want to give a gift that is too expensive or the recipient may feel the need to reciprocate, often referred to as okaeshi. I learned about this while working at Takashimaya. The occasion determines not only how much would be spent on a gift, but also how it may be wrapped.

If you need to send a gift to someone bring along their address and phone number. Most shops will arrange for a delivery service, many times for next-day delivery.

The gift-giving ritual in Japan is for another blog post, so for now, just my tips on what to look for and some suggestions for some of my favorite gifts from Tokyo. And as we enter the holidays, if you are invited to a friend’s home, consider bringing along one of the items listed below as a show of your appreciation.

Tips – look for gentei or limited production items. Shun or kisetsu are used to describe seasonal items. Alternatively, koko de shika meaning that the produce is sold only there or ima shika - that it is only being sold for a limited period.

Some popular omiyage at the moment include Baumkuchen, sweets in the form of a small sandwich, or rusks which are toasts, usually sweetened with sugar and maybe some butter.

Here are my favorite gifts from Tokyo.

Sawanoi Bon

Sawanoi Bon

Tokyo has a surprising number of sake kura (breweries) and this always makes for a nice gift for anyone who appreciates nihonshu. My personal favorite Tokyo sake is Sawa no I from Ome in Okutama (Western Tokyo in the mountains). On a personal note, I love this sake so much we served it at our wedding. Sake can be purchased at the sake department in depachika. Alternatively, Hasegawa Saketen is a wonderful sake shop with a few branches in the city.

Japanese knives are the perfect gift for anyone who loves to cook. Here is my list of knife shops in Tokyo.

Nishiki Hourin Karintou

Nishiki Hourin Karintou

Karintou from Nishiki Hourin.   These sweet crackers come in flavors like shichimi tougarashi (seven spice), negi miso (leek and miso), kinpira gobo (burdock root and carrot), and kuro koshou (black pepper). The shop is in Tokyo station’s basement in an area called GranSta. It’s easy to find as there is usually a long line. The karintou are sold in small packs so it is fun to pick up a few different flavors. This is an example of koko shika as the karintou can only be bought here – nowhere else in the world.

Yoku Moku Cigare

Yoku Moku Cigare

Yoku Moku is a Japanese confectionary shop specializing in Western confectionaries. In particular, I love their cigares which are sold in pastel tins. Think delicately thin butter cookies rolled into a cigare. I often bring this as an omiyage as a hostess gift. Yoku Moku can be found in almost every depachika.

Confectionary West

Confectionary West

Leaf Pie from Confectionary West are another popular Western style cookie that is rich with butter and sugar. The main branch is in Ginza but most depachika also sell these addictive cookies.

Mamegen's Shiokaki

Mamegen's Shiokaki

For some savory osembei (rice crackers)  look no further than the shiokaki from Mamegen in Azabu Juban. I usually buy these as omiyage for myself. Like Doritos or whatever chips you are addicted to, you can’t stop once you start. Mamegen is known for their flavored nuts and beans in fun flavors like wasabi, mattcha, or uni. Mamegen also can be found in most depachika.

For traditional wagashi (Japanese confectionaries) I always find myself going to Suzukake in Shinjuku Isetan. I am a sucker for its simple packaging and no matter what you get, it is always delicious. In particular, ask for the seasonal  nama wagashi.

For more modern wagashi, check out the mattcha babaloa from Kinozen in Kagurazaka or the confectionaries at Higashiya Ginza.

Yagenbori

Yagenbori

For a special gift, create your own shichimi (seven spice) from Yagenbori in Asakusa (Asakusa 1-28-3). The shop sells its own recommended version, but you can develop your own flavor on the spot. Be sure to pick up a wooden dispenser while there (see photo above).

Lemon's Grapefruit Jelly

Lemon's Grapefruit Jelly

Finally, for a real treat, select some seasonal fresh fruit from Sembikiya or Lemon or Takano. Melon is perhaps the most famous food gift, notably for its price which can be a few hundred dollars for one. But there are a variety of fruit that changes throughout the season and at a variety of prices. My cousin is a big fan of the fruit jellies which are packaged in the shell of the fruit.

Got a question about my favorite nori shop in Tsukiji Market. It is Maruyama and their information is listed below in the comments section.

What and Where to Eat in Tokyo

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga at Nihonbashi Yukari

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga at Nihonbashi Yukari

I often am asked for restaurant suggestions in Tokyo. Wow. Where does one begin? The food is amazing, from the high end kaiseki restaurants and sushi counters to the neighborhood ramen shop or izakaya. Even on a budget it is very easy to eat well in Tokyo.

Let me put here just some of my recommendations of restaurants based on the types of food one should try when visiting. Also, one should consider location as the city is so big and there are so many great restaurants, it may not be necessary to traverse the metropolis.

Sushi – Ginza Harutaka or Kyubey for high end. Both are in Ginza.

Low end sushi – Tsukiji Market outer market. I like Nakaya for their donburi.

Tonkatsu – Maisen (Omotesando) or Katsukura (Shinjuku)

Soba – Yabu Soba (Kanda) NOTE Yabu Soba suffered from extensive fire damage on 2/19/2013 and is temporarily closed, Kanda Matsuya (Kanda), or Narutomi (Ginza)

Tempura – Kondo (Ginza), Zezankyo (Monzennakacho), or Tenko (Kagurazaka)

low end tempura – Tenmatsu (Nihonbashi)

Tofu – Tofuya Ukai (Shiba Koen)

Pickles – Kintame (Tokyo Station or Monzennakacho)

Meat – Ukaitei teppanyaki (Ginza or Omotesando) or New York Bar and Grill (Shinjuku)

Izakaya – Yamariki (Morishita) or Saiseisakaba (Shinjuku or Monzennakacho)

Kaiseki – Nihonbashi Yukari  (Nihonbashi) or Waketokuyama (Hiroo)

Ramen – Ivan Ramen or Ippudo (Ueno) or Kyushu Jangara (Nihonbashi or Harajuku)

Unagi – Nodaiwa (Higashi Azabu)

Monjayaki – Okame Hyottoko Ten (Tsukishima)

Yakitori – Birdland (Ginza) or Isehiro (Kyobashi)

Oden – Otafuku (Asakusa) or Ogura (Ginza)

My short list of where to drink in Tokyo.

A similar list of culinary highlights in Tokyo from Indagare.

And, now that Tokyo Sky Tree has opened up, here is my shortlist of shops in the Solamachi Mall at the base of the Sky Tree.

Yoshoku – Yoshikami in Asakusa

Beef Stew at Yoshikami

Yoshikami in Asakusa is famous for its beef stew. Tender beef in a demi-glace sauce. Other popular dishes include the omuraisu (omelet enveloping ketchup flavored rice) and croquettes. The feel of the restaurant is like a diner from the 50s in the USA. Be sure to get a seat at the counter where you can watch the food being cooked in the open kitchen.

Yoshikami is a short walk from the temple Sensoji.

Yoshikami ヨシカミ

Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-41-4 台東区浅草1-41-4

03-3841-1802

http://www.yoshikami.co.jp (in Japanese)

Tokiwadou Okoshi 浅草の常磐堂

Tokiwadou Okoshi 浅草の常磐堂

Tokiwadou Okoshi 浅草の常磐堂

Tokiwadou Okoshi 浅草の常磐堂

Tokiwadou Okoshi 浅草の常磐堂

Tokiwadou Okoshi 浅草の常磐堂

Tokiwadou Okoshi 浅草の常磐堂

Tokiwadou Okoshi 常磐堂

Kaminari Okoshi Kaminarimon Honten

Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-3-2 台東区浅草1-3-2

Phone: 03-3841-5656

www.tokiwado.com (Japanese)

This shop to the left of the main gate is a popular destination for visitors. Okoshi are the popular food gift that Asakusa is famous for. These colorful, pastel-colored, puffed rice crackers include flavors like peanuts, almond, nori, mattcha, brown sugar, and black bean cocoa. Tokwadou’s lineup includes a variety of crackers, sweets, and a unique collection of karintou crackers include flavors like Satsumaimo (sweet potato), wasabi, ninjin (carrots), tamanegi (onions), and pirikara gobo (spicy burdock root). There is a small production kitchen behind glass where you can watch the okoshi making process.

Izumiya in Asakusa 浅草の和泉屋

Izumiya in Asakusa 浅草の和泉屋

Izumiya in Asakusa 浅草の和泉屋

Izumiya in Asakusa 浅草の和泉屋

Izumiya in Asakusa 浅草の和泉屋

Izumiya in Asakusa 浅草の和泉屋

Izumiya in Asakusa 浅草の和泉屋

Izumiya in Asakusa 浅草の和泉屋

Izumiya in Asakusa 浅草の和泉屋

Izumiya 和泉屋

Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-1-4 台東区浅草1-1-4

Phone: 03-3841-5501

10:30 – 19:30 (closed Thursdays)

www.asakusa.gr.jp/nakama/izumiya/ (Japanese)

This quaint sembei shop presents the rice crackers in glass jars with tin lids. A wide variety of flavors include both sweet and savory like shiso, zarame (rock sugar), and a very spicy dried red pepper covered ookara. The very delicate and thin usuyaki, nori wrapped, and an unusual type, an extra hard genkotsu. There is also a shop in the Nakamise Dori, but this selection is much bigger.

Kibundo Souhonten in Asakusa 浅草の紀文堂総本店

Kibundo Souhonten in Asakusa

Kibundo Souhonten in Asakusa

Kibundo Souhonten 紀文堂総本店

Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-2-2 台東区浅草1-2-2

Phone: 03-3841-4401

9:00 – 20:30, closed Wednesday

no website

This popular shop is on the main street just to the right of the Kaminarimon has a collection of kawara sembei (crispy, tile-shaped sweet crackers), uzura kasutera (small bite-size castella cakes), ningyoyaki, and a mix of crackers called okonomiyose.

Umezono in Asakusa 浅草の梅園

Umezono

Umezono

Umezono's Signature Awa Zenzai

Umezono's Signature Awa Zenzai

Umezono in Asakusa

Umezono in Asakusa

Umezono 梅園

Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-31-12 台東区浅草1-31-12

Phone: 03-3841-7580

10:00 – 20:00, closed Wednesdays and 2nd Tuesday

www.asakusa-umezono.co.jp/ (Japanese)

Just off of the Nakamise Dori the corner shop is easy to recognize from the red paper umbrella and benches in front of the shop. Umezono in Asakusa, opened in 1854, has a strong following for anmitsu, oshiruko, soup-like sweets including azuki an paste, fruits, kanten and mochi dango. Their signature dish, awa zenzai, one of the most popular Asakusa sweets, warms up the body on cold days. The awa (a small grain) is cooked slowly steamed until tender and presented in a lacquer bowl with some sweet azuki paste. The menu has a full selection of traditional sweets to enjoy inside the café and several of their popular sweets are packaged to go like dorayaki, anmitsu, and mitsumame.

Iriyama Sembei in Asakusa 浅草の入山煎餅

Iriyama Sembei in Asakusa

Iriyama Sembei in Asakusa

Iriyama Sembei in Asakusa

Iriyama Sembei in Asakusa

Iriyama Sembei in Asakusa

Iriyama Sembei in Asakusa

Iriyama Sembei 入山煎餅

Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-13-4 台東区浅草1-13-4

Phone: 03-3844-1376

10:00 – 18:00, closed Thursdays

www.prpub.jp/senbei/asakusa/iriyama.htm (Japanese)

Popular round sembei are toasted until a golden caramel color and then dipped into a soy sauce. Only one style is made, shoyu (soy sauce). Uruchimai (rice) cakes are dried for 3 days and then grilled for five minutes. Each day they grill 4,000, winter takes longer to grill. Often the men are in white t-shirts and thin, white cotton pants. “Yakitate” osembei have just been toasted and are hot and the best way to try them. Iriya have been toasting rice crackers since 1914.

Magurobito Kaitenzushi in Asakusa 浅草のまぐろ人

Magurobito

Magurobito

Magurobito まぐろ人

Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-5-9 台東区浅草1-5-9

Phone: 03-3844-8736

Monday – Friday (11:00 – 15:00, 17:00 – 22:00)

Saturday (11:00 – 22:00)

Sunday and holidays (11:00 – 21:00)

www.magurobito.com/ (Japanese)

Magurobito is kaitenzushi (revolving sushi) with a good value and a selection of seasonal fresh fish. It is very popular so there is often a line, but it tends to move quickly. This is a chain so you may see shops around the city. Of the many kaitenzushi, this chain is one of the better ones. It is also very popular for its bang for buck. There is a second shop in the area but it is tachigui (stand and eat) and only accommodates a handful of customers.