Tsukiji Curry – Higashi Indo Curry Shōkai

Tsukiji curry

Higashi Indo Curry Shōkai at Tsukiji Market

I love curry. So does Ichiro Suzuki of the New York Yankees. I remember watching a television program on Ichiro that reported that when he has home games that his wife makes him curry for breakfast. I found that so fascinating. Curry for breakfast. While I have lived in Singapore and often had curry for breakfast there it roti prata. But in Japan curry is eaten with rice and the concept was so foreign to me. Until I started having curry for breakfast. It’s not something we have at home for breakfast, but it is something I eat when I am taking my breakfast in the city, often at Tsukiji Market. I usually have curry at Indo Curry Nakaei, a shop that is popular with the fishmongers at Tsukiji. Curry for breakfast is a bold start to the day and there are some great options at Tsukiji Market.

Another curry shop caught my attention when it was featured on television as a popular night spot at Tsukiji Market. While most of us think of Tsukiji Market as a morning spot there are a handful of restaurants that are open at night. As the inner market of Tsukiji is moving in a few years to Toyosu the outer market vendors are concerned about the future of their business. Some of the shops have started promoting their restaurants as destinations at night, including the Italian hot spot Tsukiji Paradiso, mentioned in an article I wrote for The Japan Times.

Higashi Indo Curry Shōkai is one of the shops that is open from breakfast to dinner. The original shop is in Fudōmae near Gotanda. The curry (950 JPY) is rich and comes with big chunks of vegetables – carrot, potato, onion, and tender pork. The owner asked me if I liked potato salad and he gave me a bit with my curry. As it was breakfast and curry shops often serve a generous amount of rice I asked for a smaller serving of rice. Even the small serving was a lot to finish. At Shōkai you can have extra curry sauce if you would like, which I gladly accepted.

The owner, Akira-san, is very friendly. He used to be a mountaineering guide in Europe. We had a quick chat and I asked him how he went from mountaineering to a curry shop. He said that when he came back to Japan he was working in the wholesale produce section of Tsukiji Market, which led him to opening his first restaurant in Fudomae. Just as I was finishing a local worker came in for curry, ordering a beer to enjoy while waiting for the curry. There are also grilled curry onigiri rice balls for sale in front of the shop. Early in the morning that was the popular menu item.

While most people coming to Tsukiji Market are coming to eat sushi, if you are craving something more, consider curry.

Higashi Indo Curry Shōkai 東印度カレー商会

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 4-13-17, Akiyama Bldg. 1F 中央区築地4-13-17秋山ビル1F

03-3542-3322

Soba at Honmura An

Honmura An

Fresh Yuba on Chilled Soba

My first introduction to Honmura An was in New York City back about 15 years ago. A friend who loved soba wanted to share with me his favorite soba shop in the city. I was mesmerized with the stone grinder for crushing the dried buckwheat and impressed that the noodles were being made fresh daily. Sadly the Manhattan shop has since closed. Honmura An has since relocated to Tokyo, in Roppongi, just across the street and around a corner from the massive Tokyo Midtown complex. It is a short walk from Roppongi Hills or any of the Roppongi stations.

The interior is modern and sparsely decorated with simple washi, Japanese paper, that hangs from above. In the back of the restaurant there is a large window overlooking the soba prep room. Sadly when we arrived the rolling and cutting of the noodles were done for the first seating of lunch.

A few tables had solo diners, in their 20s, plugged into their own music or engrossed into their phones and the outer world. Most of the diners were area businessmen and ladies who lunch. The restaurant has a big menu of small bites that can be had before finishing off with soba. At lunchtime most people were not having the side dishes but all going straight for the buckwheat noodles. This day it was quite hot outside and as one would expect, most diners were ordering the cold noodles.

Honmura An

Ikura and Grated Daikon on Chilled Soba

I had asked if they had yakimiso, a classic dish of a sweet miso, often studded with buckwheat, that is grilled. I was disappointed when I was told it wasn’t served so we ordered two types of soba. One topped with a creamy, fresh yuba (soy milk skin) and the other a grated daikon and ikura (marinated salmon roe).

The noodles are fine and very delicate and this would be a great light lunch during the hot summers that Tokyo is known for.

Honmura An has a nice selection of saké and wine. I was so happy to see Urakasumi Junmaishu on the list that I didn’t even bother looking at the wine list. The saké is easy on the palate and a nice partner to the soba.

Honmura An

Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-14-18

03-5772-6657

English menu available.

Closed Monday and 1st & 3rd Tuesday

Hanamaru Summer Udon Salad

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It’s that time of year again. The weather is warming up and restaurants are starting their summer menu. Japanese restaurants, even fast food chain restaurants, offer menus that change throughout the year. This time of year many restaurants offer lighter fare, often featuring salad greens and generous vegetables. Each year I look forward to the summer salad at Hanamaru Udon, a chain of udon restaurants, with locations throughout Tokyo.

This year’s summer salad udon offers a full day’s of vegetables served over udon noodles for the bargain price of 500 JPY (about $5). The udon noodles are cooked and then quickly chilled in ice water and then topped with lettuce, carrots, daikon, deep-fried kabocha squash, okra, and some boiled chicken. Diners are offered the choice of a dressing, either creamy sesame or ginger. Here is a close-up photo on the company’s website. The other noodle bowls here are great, but the salad udon dish is one that I go back to often, especially in hot Japanese summers.

Hanamaru Udon restaurants are great for a quick meal. We went recently on a weekend and the shop was filled with families and school kids (both high school and college). If you are looking for a healthful meal and are on a budget, or are just craving some vegetables, check out Hanamaru Udon. The shop’s logo is an orange flower.

There is a shop in Ginza at Ginza 3-10-9, Kyodo Bldg. B1, and shops throughout the city.

Marunouchi Raku Soba

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The guy sitting next to me said to his friend regarding the soba at Raku, “you’ll love it or hate it”. I had already started slurping away and I knew what he meant. It’s not your typical bowl of buckwheat noodles. These handmade noodles are thick cut and the densest soba I’ve ever had. The first bite I was caught off guard by the heartiness of the noodles. You wouldn’t take to bring your grandmother here. But I got into these chewy noodles as they are so different to the soba I am used to.

Early lunch diners are given the option of extra noodles at no charge. At first I said yes. Come on, who says “no” to free food, right? But then I looked one of the diner’s bowls and realized it might be too much for me to chew. I asked the cashier if the “oomori” was an extra large portion and maybe too much to finish and he said that it was. I asked for a regular bowl and even that I could not finish.

This is the tempura soba. Kabocha squash, eggplant, squid, and chikuwa tempura served on a bowl of noodles. Chikuwa is a fish cake that has been shaped into a log with a hole in it that has been grilled, not deep-fried, like many fish cakes. Chikuwa tempura is a classic topping for noodles in Japan, not only for soba but also for udon.

When placing your order you have to specify hot or cold. I almost always order cold noodles with a dipping sauce as it is a great way to enjoy the texture, aroma, and flavor of the buckwheat noodles. At Raku the dipping sauce and noodles are served in the same bowl. The waitress behind the counter generously tops each bowl of soba with two spoons of toasted sesame seeds and a nest of julienned nori. She has a rhythm down to topping each bowl and its done with speed in mind. On the counter are bowls of tenkasu, tempura bits that can also be used for topping the soba, highly recommended.

Raku has two long counters facing each other with staff in between the two counters. The frosted thermos is filled with cold soba tea that is slightly nutty and very refreshing. If you order the cold soba noodles a server will bring you a black thermos with sobayū, the hot water that has been boiling the soba noodles. Pour a bit of this into the bowl and you can drink the concentrated sauce.

My fellow diners were mostly salarymen eating a quick and affordable meal. No surprise as this is the Marunouchi business district. Most bowls are under 1,000 JPY ($10). The music was a surprisingly hip and upbeat salsa music. Not at all what one would expect to find at a soba shop, but this is not just any soba shop, what they are doing is definitely different. The shop was packed and I was there before the noon rush peak. I was impressed at the number of diners the restaurant squeezes into each counter. This would never pass in America, they would have taken at least two, if not three, seats away.

I would love to come back at night some time. The shop has a small selection of saké, umeshū, and shōchū and some small bites like lotus root stuffed with ground meat and deep-fried chicken cartilage. And, I would love to try the nikusoba, a generous serving of thin-sliced meat over the noodles. My only advice, avoid the peak lunch time, there is always a long line in front of this shop.

Suju Masayuki Raku 酢重正之 楽

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-5-1, Shin-Marunouchi Bldg. B1 千代田区丸の内1-5-1新丸ビルB1

Fast Food Japanese Breakfast – Denny’s

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At a family restaurant in Tokyo I came across this great little breakfast. Rice in a savory soup filled with vegetables. The condiments to the right are olive oil and chopped, firm umeboshi with sesame. I just love that this is offered as an option for breakfast in Japan. That a generous serving of vegetables is available for breakfast. This was at Denny’s near Tsukiji Market.

Kichijoji Satou

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If you have been to Kichijoji’s famous shōtengai on the North side of the station, most likely you have walked past the long lines at Satou. The shop is famous for its menchi katsu, seasoned ground beef patties covered in panko and deep-fried. The line is infamously long. I have never seen Satou without a long line, so I was thrilled when Satou had a temporary stall in our local depachika. There were only three people in line so I joined the queue. The first two ladies in line each ordered about a dozen pieces. Typical for popular items like this. Most likely the ladies are not buying only for their own household but will share these with friends as Satou menchi katsu is very famous.

The menchi katsu (200 JPY) was disappointing as was the potato croquette (140 JPY). It was fine, but nothing special, and definitely not worth standing in line for. So curious why people queue for this. Because it is famous, even if it is not good? There is a steakhouse on the 2nd floor of the take-away shop that also is popular.

Steak House Satou

Musashino-shi, Kichijōji Honcho 1-1-8

NY Croissant Donut at Mr. Donut

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So Mr. Donut Japan has brought its version of the Cronut to Japan, the Mr. Croissant Donut. It’s not as good as the cinnamon-dusted New York Rings at the Roastery in Omotesando, but a huge improvement over the version made by Banderole. It is crispy and flakey and the whipped cream was pretty skimpy. It is definitely not worth standing in a long queue for hours for. Japanese consumers love trying new food products, so it was no surprise that the two people in front of me both were buying the Mr. Croissant Donut. On my way out of the shopping mall I saw three other customers holding the specially designed bag for the Mr. Croissant Donut. I won’t be going back for a second.Croissant Donut2

The Mr. Croissant Donut comes in three flavors and is about $2. As in the photo above, from left to right:

1. Chocolate with whipped custard

2. White chocolate with whipped caramel

3. Maple with angel whip (whipped cream)

If you like croissants and sweets, then make a beeline to the Croissant Taiyaki shop.

Rocco’s New York-Style Pizza

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Rocco’s New York-Style Pizza has been on my radar for a long time. We have great pizza in Tokyo, like the classic Italian Neopolitan style, cooked in wood-burning ovens, as can be found at the famous Nakameguro Seirinkan. What is harder to find is the New York-style, baked in a deck oven, and sold by the slice. Toppings are what I often crave like pepperoni, Italian sausage, and olives, items that aren’t traditionally put on the Neopolitan pizzas.

Rocco’s is just a short walk from Oji station, an area that is not part of my regular routine. I am thrilled to have finally made it as Rocco’s pizza reminds me of my years in New York City. Big slices that fall over the paper plates that are right out of the oven. The tables are lined with red-and-white checker cloth. Grated cheese, chili flakes, and powdered garlic condiments are also on the table, another nod to New York. There is a full menu, including calzones, Buffalo wings, and New York cheesecake. We didn’t have much time this day but will definitely go back to try more of the menu.

The owner, Dan, is from New York, and I was thrilled to be able to catch part of a New York Yankee’s game on the big-screen television. The sports schedule is listed on their website. While Oji was not an area I went to often the past, I see that changing. This pizza is worth a journey.

Rocco’s New York-Style Pizza

Kita-ku, Oji-honcho 1-1-24

03-3906-9710

http://www.roccosnewyorkstylepizza.com

Tsukiji Market Breakfast – Onigiriya Marutoyo おにぎり屋 丸豊

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Onigiri or omusubi is the quintessential comfort food in Japan. A ball of rice that is stuffed with savory fillings. I grew up eating this and it makes for the perfect quick bite. Onigiri-ya Murotoyo is a famous shop in Tsukiji Market known for its handmade onigiri. A television show recently featured this shop and my curiosity was piqued. Marutoyo is just a few shops down from our favorite knife shop, Tsukiji Masamoto.

The selection to choose from is surprisingly rich. I stood there for minutes as I couldn’t decide. The signs are in Japanese so best to ask for your favorites like:

sake – salmon

umeboshi – pickled apricot

ikura – marinated salmon roe

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There is a small seating area around the corner to the right of the shop. A tiny table and a few chairs where you can rest your feet. Marutoyo also servse miso soup and small side dishes if you want to round out the meal. There are also sushi rolls and chirashi-zushi, but it is the onigiri that makes this shop famous.

I went with the bakudan which is stuffed with a soft-boiled egg and a seasonal one of tempura of bamboo shoots. The rice balls are a bit on the pricey side, about twice what you pay for at the convenience stores, and worth the mark-up. My only gripe is that it was under seasoned. I would have liked a bit more salt on the outside of the omusubi. I will be back, and next time I will order an item that is naturally salty, like ikura or pickled greens like takana or the classic umeboshi.

Onigiri-ya Marutoyo

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 4-9-9

The shop opens early in the morning, around 3 a.m. according to one website, and is open until about 2 p.m.

Tokyo’s Best Banh Mi

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Thanks to a tip from JapanEats I finally found what I believe to be the best banh mi in Tokyo at Banh Mi Sandwich. The bun has a nice crust but is chewy inside. The pate and ham banh mi (550 JPY) remind me of what I had in Chinatown in NYC and there is a generous serving of pickled carrots and daikon. I splurged an extra 50 JPY for extra cilantro. The shop is only a minute from Takadanobaba station and is a tiny shop. Only one person can fit inside at a time to use the vending machine to place your order. There are two narrow seats in front of the shop, but it was busy with diners waiting for their orders to be filled. Consider this a take-away shop. I am already trying to figure out in my calendar when I can go back.

For a city with some of the world’s greatest food, there are some things that just are not easily available, like banh mi. I am still on the hunt for Korean fried chicken, like Bon Chon in NYC. If anyone can help me, please let me know.

Banh Mi Sandwich (seriously, that is the name of the restaurant)

Shinjuku-ku, Takadanobaba 4-9-18