I’ll Have What Phil’s Having

I'll Have What Phil's Having at Den

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having at Den

It all started a little over a year ago. An email from a producer in New York City wanting to know if we would help with the filming of a new food show for PBS. The program would travel around the world with Phil Rosenthal. I was more than happy to help and was lucky to film at Nihonbashi Takashimaya as I had worked there about ten years ago in the sake department. It was fun to see many colleagues still there, and to share with Phil the secret rooftop that so few people, even Japanese, know about.

I was happier than a kid on Halloween when I found out we would be filming at my favorite restaurant in Tokyo, chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s Den. It is one of those spots that is hard to get into, so filming there would be a very special treat. The restaurant would open up for just us before service. The program does a brilliant job of capturing chef Hasegawa’s personality and the cuisine. He was so kind to fry up some Dentucky Fried Chicken for the crew after filming was done.

Then came the tough decision, to ask Phil into our home for dinner or not. Until now we have kept our son’s photo off of social media. Opening up our apartment for the world to see was not as much of a concern as was including our kid. I thought that even if our son was filmed, it would only be in the periphery. You’ll have to watch the video to see his cameo.

I was happy to see that Phil also made it to two other special restaurants, Narisawa and Kyubey. Also places that should not be missed, if you can get in.

The video is here:


I don’t know for how long it will be online, so watch it while you can. It is an hour-long show. We appear at 14:15, 33:30, and 43:15, but please, see the whole show.

The Amazing Crew

The Amazing Crew

We’ve already heard from new clients saying that they are inspired to come to Tokyo. That is Phil’s goal with this program, and how awesome to see it come true. We had a blast with Phil and his team and are honored to be included.

Chikalicious NY Dough’ssant in Tokyo

Chikalicious Dough'ssant

Chikalicious Dough’ssant

For a limited time, Chikalicious NY dough’ssant is available at Ginza Matsuya. I still have yet to try a Cronut, but today while walking through Ginza Matsuya I saw what I thought was a Cronut. There are a few shops making these in Tokyo. The only one that I have liked until now is The Roastery’s New York Rings in Omotesando. The others are all wanna-bes.

The caramel and almonds dough’ssant is very sweet. To be honest, I think it is too sweet for the Japanese market. I shared this with a friend and half was just the right amount. That being said, I will try to make it back to the shop to try another flavor, like creme brulee or mattcha, before the event ends.

The staff said that these would only be available for a month. Not sure when it will end, so go soon.

Ginza Matsuya – Chikalicious NY

Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-6-1

Depachika Fruit Sweets


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.


More muskmelon, figs, and grapefruit.


Marron, mango, apple pie, and more.


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


photo by Olen Peterson

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


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


Introduce you to a wide variety of Japanese pickles.


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


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


Explore the unique izakaya culture from smoky grilled meat joints

to saké specialty restaurants and discover the subtle nuances of saké through flights of saké,


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


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.

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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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! :-)


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