Depachika Fruit Sweets

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The muskmelons that go for hundreds of dollars exists in Japan. If you go to a fancy restaurant, like Sukiyabashi Jiro, you may get it for dessert. I should say, if you are lucky and have a nice friend who treats you to dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro.

The muskmelon is amazing. Aromatic, juicy, and tender, and the most amazing piece of fruit that I have ever had. But, it is possible to try a few bites of the infamous melon without breaking your wallet. Check out the fruit dessert counter at any depachika. Cakes, tarts, and much more topped with pristine, blemish-free fruit cut into bite-size pieces. The muskmelon balls are above.

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More muskmelon, figs, and grapefruit.

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Marron, mango, apple pie, and more.

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Top left is the Mont Blanc made with chestnuts.

Some department stores have small eat-in counters in the depachika to have a glass of fresh juice or a slice of melon. Or, some shops, like Shinjuku Takashimaya, have a larger café on an upper floor. Takano Fruit Café in Shinjuku Takashimaya. Some famous fruit shops include Sembikiya, Takano, and Lemon.

Sembikiya Nihonbashi (Japan’s oldest fruit shop)

My favorite depachika in Tokyo.

Tokyo Food Guide

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photo by Olen Peterson

We can demystify Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest seafood market,

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and introduce you to a new sushi neta, like kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) that is pink, slightly sweet, and is succulent.

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Introduce you to a wide variety of Japanese pickles.

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Lead you to a special bar where cocktails are made with seasonal fruit and vegetables,

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or to a bar serving craft beer and sweet potato chips.

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Explore the unique izakaya culture from smoky grilled meat joints
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to saké specialty restaurants and discover the subtle nuances of saké through flights of saké,

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or through the native distilled spirit, shōchū. Yukari was the first non-Japanese to pass the shōchū advisor exam.

DSCN5688Explore street food on the side streets of Tokyo,
depachika sugar grapesphoto by Nancy Matsumoto

or to my old stomping grounds, Takashimaya depachika, to discover sugar-coated muscat grapes and

depachika sashimi matsumoto

photo by Nancy Matsumoto

seasonal sashimi.

Food Sake Tokyo guides are a chef and Japanese fishmonger. We are Tokyo’s food guides. Please contact us here for more information on our market tours.

Tokyo Station Car Bento

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I love shopping for bentō boxes. Bentō are convenient meals, be it for a picnic, while traveling on a train, or when I am too rushed to put a meal together. Japanese schools are now on their summer holidays and Tokyo station is busier than usual with travelers. Inside of Tokyo station there are several areas that sell a wide variety of bento boxes, especially in the basement GranSta area. I also like going to Daimaru department store and the basement depachika that is next to Tokyo station. This fun, kids bentō is from Daimaru at a shop called eashion. It was only 600 JPY. The company’s website even gives some basic information about the bentō including ingredients and calories.
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Bentō usually include five different colors: red, green, yellow, black, and white. A colorful meal ensures a healthful meal. And, often the different dishes are cooked in a variety of methods, giving different textures and pleasure to the palate.DSCN6203If you are traveling with your kids through Tokyo station on summer holidays, look out for fun kids’ bentō. I also saw a Hello Kitty bentō and a panda bentō. Some bentō, like this one, can be recycled. We just wash the removable white partitioned plastic interior and the blue car exterior.

eashion also had a great selection of adult bentō as well, so great for one-stop shopping. If you are going to ride on the bullet train, then be sure to stop by the saké department and pick up a beer or a small bottle of saké for the trip. Ask the cashier for small plastic cups.

I stopped by recently to buy a bentō during the week and did not find it. I was told that it is only sold on the weekends.

Bon voyage!

Hanami 101

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Each spring cherry trees around Tokyo blossom while friends, families, and co-workers gather under the blossoms to enjoy the ritual of hanami. If you are lucky to be in Tokyo this week, it is the quintessential Japanese experience. A few tips on how to best enjoy hanami.

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Most essential is to pick up a bentō. The best place to select from a wide variety of bentō is depachika, the epicurean basement food floors of department stores. Here is my list of the top ten depachika in Tokyo. But, if a depachika is not on your way to the park, no worries, a convenient store will have lunch boxes or sandwiches, chips, and other snacks.

The bentō above comes from AEN at Shinjuku Isetan, which came in a beautiful bamboo box and had genmai (brown rice) with two types of grilled fish, croquette, pickles, and more. The saké is a junmai ginjō from Shoutoku in Fushimi, Kyoto. It was only 12% alcohol, lighter than most saké which is about 16%, so perfect with lunch. And, I couldn’t resist the packaging.

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Another bentō company I love and can’t get enough of is Yonehachi, which has branches in almost every depachika. Yonehachi is famous for its okowa, a mix of mochi-gomé  (sticky rice) and uruchimai (regular rice) that is steamed with different vegetables and meat or fish. You can select what kind of seasoned rice you want with your bentō. This one here has takénoko (bamboo shoots) and fuki (a type of spring mountain vegetable), both seasonal spring vegetables.

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Yonehachi bentō, again, as it is my favorite. This one with the takénoko and fuki rice and the kuri (chestnuts) and red beans okowa. The saké with this bentō is from Masumi, a great saké brewery in Nagano. Masumi has an excellent portfolio of saké, including this junmaishu Okuden KanzukuriThis saké is light on the palate and perfect for sipping under the cherry blossoms. I’ve also had this warmed up and it is lovely hot or cold.

Once you’ve picked your bentō and drink, stop by a convenience store to get a plastic sheet to sit on. For some reason these are usually blue.

And, then get to your hanami spot early as the choice spots tend to be taken early in the day.

Be sure to do some research on where to go. I was surprised to see that Shinjuku Gyoen doesn’t allow alcohol to be brought in. There are security guards who check your bag on your way in. Guards are walking throughout the park as well to make sure everyone is abiding by the rules.

Enjoy and have fun enjoying food food and saké under the cherry blossoms.

Printemps Ginza Depachika Renewal

Ginza’s glitzy and glamorous shopping options include department stores like Mitsukoshi, Matsuya, and Matsuzakaya. The depachika at all of these stores are very popular. Printemps is not on the main street as the other three are and as a result doesn’t get the same amount of traffic. Printemps also does not participate in selling the year-end oseibo gifts which is a large part of depachika sales. As a result, it has targeted a different market of consumers wanting to give small gifts.

Printemps Ginza’s new depachika brings several shops that are making their debut in the Ginza area.

Yakun Kaya Toast from Singapore

Hoop Bagels from Fussa, Tokyo

St. Christopher Garden scones from Jiyugaoka

Yokohama Francais mille feuille

Asian “C” Curry Yamitsuki

Palomitas popcorn popped in olive oil and in unique flavors like fried chicken, basil tomato, grilled corn, as well as Japanese flavors like wasabi cheese, soy sauce butter, ume kombu, Kyoto mattcha, spicy aonori, Hakata mentaiko butter.

Popular Omiyage – Croissant Rusk

Having worked at Takashimaya’s depachika in Nihonbashi I am very familiar with hordes of people lining up outside of department stores first thing in the morning. I still don’t quite understand the fascination with having to buy the latest trendy food item, but it happens all of the time. Personally I don’t have the time to queue just for food, but apparently in Tokyo there are lots of people with the luxury of time.

One of the current hot items at depachika are the croissant rusks by Ohzan. Rusks have long been a popular sweet at depachika, but typically they are made from bread similar to a baguette. Toasted and often sweetened with sugar. I never understood the popularity of these rusks. For a long time there were lines to purchase the Gouter de Roi rusks.

However, these rusks are not just from just any bread, but made from croissants. And they come in a variety of flavors like caramel, covered in white or milk chocolate, nuts, and even garlic or black pepper. Currently these can be had at Mitsukoshi in Ginza. But go early if you want to try them as they often sell out sometime during the day.

Tokyo Foodie Tips

What can a foodie do to prepare for their trip to Tokyo? I get asked this question often and have put together a list of my recommendations here:

1. Pick up my book, Food Sake Tokyo, published by The Little Bookroom. The first half of the book covers the basics of Japanese food and beverages. From depachika, seasonal seafood, soy products, wagashi, sake, shochu, etiquette, and much more. The second half of the book lists shops and restaurants by major stations in Tokyo like Tsukiji Market, Kappabashi, Ginza, Kagurazaka, Nihonbashi, and more. I also include two itineraries for foodies to make the most of their time in Tokyo covering the popular foodie spots.

2. Refer to this blog. I update changes to the book as well as list current food events in the city and introduce restaurants and shops. I also include food items or beverages you may want to check out while in Tokyo.

3. Metropolis magazine is “Japan’s No. 1 English magazine”. Based in Tokyo it covers the food scene. Lots of restaurant reviews and interesting interviews with chefs and other food and beverage people in Japan.

4. Taste of Culture is Elizabeth Andoh’s great cooking school. I have taken several classes from pickle-making to seafood. I always learn so much and leave her classes more pumped up to study more. Check her calendar to see if she is offering a class during your visit.

5. Sake guru John Gauntner offers sake tasting classes from time to time. Check out his website, Sake World, for more details. There is also great information here about sake and where to go in the city for good sake.

6. My friend, Junko Nakahama, is a food and wine writer. She also does very interesting tours of Yanesen. Yanesen is a hip area with lots of old shops, many of them selling great food. Her site, Omiyage Concierge, gives more details.

7. Ivan Orkin is a Culinary Institute of America trained chef making some of the best ramen in Tokyo according to some of Japan’s toughest ramen judges. He has two shops and if you’re lucky he’ll be there when you visit and he can educate you on ramen. Ivan Ramen.

8. My hands down favorite restaurant for an authentic meal in Tokyo is Nihonbashi Yukari. 2002 Iron Chef champion Kimio Nonaga is behind the counter of the restaurant and loves to talk about Japanese cuisine. He doesn’t speak English so come with a Japanese friend. The evening kaiseki course starts at a reasonable price (10,500 JPY last time I checked). If you are on a budget he does set meals for lunch, or call ahead and order the upscale Yukari bento for 3,675 JPY. (Photo by Dr. Leslie Tay and amazing Singapore food blogger)

9. Depachika are the epicurean basement floors of department stores. I worked at Nihonbashi Takashimaya for two years and still could not stay on top of all of the different food that was sold there. My favorite depachika are listed here.

10. Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest seafood market. My husband was a buyer here. The outer market is open to the public and is filled with great restaurants and shops.

11. Robbie Swinnerton is the restaurant reviewer for The Japan Times. You’ll find his reviews here as well as other great information on food in Japan.

12. Shop at the local Japanese supermarket. Here is my list of local markets in the city. These are not farmer’s markets but local grocery stores. If you are looking for a big market with wide aisles that you can cruise around with a pushcart then head to Kiba to Ito Yokado. It’s a few stops from Tokyo station on the Tozai line.

13. Do a tour of Tokyo with a chef/guide who speaks Japanese and English. If I am not available I can introduce you to friends of mine. Popular areas to cover include Tsukiji Market, depachika, and Kappabashi. Other options include dining and drinking together and learning about sake, shochu, and Japanese cuisine. (photo by Laura O’Dell)

14. Here is a list of what and where to eat which includes the most popular foods and restaurants.

Popular Omiyage – Baumkuchen

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This photo of baumkuchen comes from the Juchheim website.

Baumkuchen is a very popular omiyage, or gift, in Japan. It can be found at all depachika. This German cake is made of thin layers of cake that are baked onto a spool. At first sight the cake is a delight on the eyes as the layers are so delicate.

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We received this Juchheim baumkuchen as a gift at a home party and we were thrilled. It is an ideal dessert and everyone is happy to receive a baumkuchen.

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Other popular baumkuchen companies include:

Nenrinya at Tokyo station’s Daimaru

Club Harie at Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi

Taneya at Tobu Ikebukuro

Since I posted this I got this note from a reader. Very good to keep in mind if your travels bring you to Hiroshima.

When I read your post today I immediately felt I should tell you about another place to get real artisanal Baumkuchen. If ever you come to Hiroshima, please do not miss to visit Kyo Tagashira’s “Felderchef” in Hatsukaichi or his “Mehl” downtown Hiroshima. Kyo-san has learned in Germany and makes fabulous, authentic German cakes and bread. He is certainly worth being mentioned! :-)

http://www.felderchef.com/felderchef.htm

He is a very pleasant guy, very serious about his work though.

Osechi Ryori at Depachika おせち料理

Homemade Osechi Ryori

Homemade Osechi Ryori

Osechi ryori is food made to eat the first days of the New Year. The photo above is of osechi ryori I made two years ago (I made most of it, I am still not confident to make kuromame).

Here is a list of just some of the popular items in osechi ryori:

Kazunoko (herring roe) – tiny yellow fish eggs. Like the tobiko often find at sushi restaurants, kazunoko have a bite or crunch to them, however, the eggs are not loose. They are marinated in a broth of dashi, sake and soy sauce.

Kuromame (black beans) are soft and quite sweet, although you may notice a bit of soy sauce flavoring.

Gomame (also known as tazukuri) are small sardines that have been dried and then finished in a sweet sauce of sugar, mirin, soy sauce and sake. These are rich in calcium and yes, you can eat the head.

Kobumaki are nothing more than the umami-rich kombu rolled tightly and bound shut with a ribbon of gourd strip (kampyo). Often kobumaki are stuffed with salmon. This is also cooked slowly in dashi, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce.

Datemaki looks like the tamagoyaki (egg custard) you often find in a bento box, but here it’s made with a fish paste and has a sponge-like texture. It’s quite sweet.

Sweet potatoes and chestnuts are the base of kurikinton, which can look something like yellow mashed potatoes.

Kamaboko, a dense cake of fish paste, is red and white (traditional New Year’s colors). You can often find thin slices of this on your soba.

Another red-and-white food you’ll find is called namasu - typically daikon and carrots pickled in vinegar.

For vegetables, look for gobo (burdock root), often dressed with sesame. Also lotus root, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and pea pods.

Konnyaku (devil’s-tongue starch) and fu (wheat gluten) will also be sprinkled throughout the stacked boxes.

For seafood, shrimp (representing long life) and sea bream (for auspicious fortune) are most typical.

This time of year all depachika will sell a variety of osechi ryori that can be ordered ahead of time. Some are simple bento boxes with just the basics. Famous ryotei will make a limited number of stacked boxes filled with premium ingredients. Some of these can go for hundreds of dollars. This photo below is Takashimaya’s Tokusen Wafu Osechi featuring items from famous purveyors from throughout Japan.

Takashimaya Tokusen

Takashimaya Tokusen

This year Takashimaya is also featuring osechi ryori from famous ryokan in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. Click here to see photos of these sets.
If you are in Tokyo, check out the osechi ryori displays, if not in the depachika then on the event floor (usually the top floor) of the department store. If you are keen on putting together your own osechi ryori then check out the depachika for ingredients or components to assemble your own.
Here are some of what you will find:
Suzuhiro Kamaboko

Suzuhiro Kamaboko

Suzuhiro has been making kamaboko for 170 years in Odawara, Kanagawa. When I worked at Takashimaya the Suzuhiro shop was directly in front of the sake shop. It was swamped this time of year with customers picking up kamaboko.

Nihonbashi Kanmo Kuromame

Nihonbashi Kanmo Kuromame

Kuromame for me is one of the hardest items to make well and so is better bought. This kuromame is from Nihonbashi Kanmo, a shop famous for its hanpen.

Shibamata Marujin Kurikinton

Shibamata Marujin Kurikinton

Kurikinton is always the first component to go in our house. It is hard to resist the chestnuts. Marujin is in the historic shitamachi district of Shibamata.

If you are picking up osechi ryori, be sure to pick up a bottle of sake.

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.