Aoyama Farmer’s Market

Food Sake Tokyo is delighted to host guest blogger Janice Espa. Janice is passionate about food and Japan. She is a great photographer and all of the photos here are from Janice. Janice’s most recent guest post on the Best of Japan Tour now being offered at Coredo Muromachi in Nihonbashi, is very popular and some followers of Food Sake Tokyo have since taken the tour and loved it. Here is Janice on Aoyama Farmer’s Market. Arigato, Janice!

Espa - Market vibe

Market Vibe – Janice Espa

I thoroughly enjoy learning about the story behind things. The food we come across and the people who put it together to make a livelihood out of it. The effort that goes into cultivating crops, the detail and care with which coffee is grown and roasted. The significance behind passing down a recipe from generation to generation in order to make cookies ‘just like grandma used to make’, or the finesse with which dishes are conceptualized and presented.

Espa - Father daughter and amazing mushrooms

Father and daughter’s Amazing Mushrooms and dashi packs – Janice Espa

 This aspect of food and travel is a deeply gratifying cultural experience, and it’s readily accessible too. Farmer’s markets are the perfect place to begin.

Flowers - Janice Espa

Flowers – Janice Espa

In Tokyo, Aoyama Farmer’s Market is a great weekend destination. Every Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the forecourt of the United Nations University becomes a lively bazaar. The market is buzzing from start to finish, but getting there before noon will ensure you don’t miss out on buying any of the fruit, vegetables, breads, pastries, or flowers you’re after.

Fresh from the farm - Janice Espa

Fresh from the farm – Janice Espa

I’d suggest making a morning of it, browsing the stalls, talking to the producers, and then having a brunch in the courtside area – or head to a nearby park for a picnic, because you’ll pick up many tasty things along the way.

On my visit, I was enamoured by the tomatoes, many shapes and sizes, beautifully plump with bright colors. The stalls have clever and cute names. I sampled juicy strawberries that were just in season, as well as surprisingly flavorsome, and healthful, soy yogurt smoothies. My jaw dropped when I counted the number of mushrooms for sale from one of the vendors, and I giggled in excitement as the lady selling sesame paste and sesame seed products freshly ground some seeds for me to take home.   “If possible, all the way to Machu Picchu”, she said.

Kawaii strawberries - Janice Espa

Kawaii strawberries – Janice Espa

This one-on-one interaction, taking all the smells in, the sight of people sharing who they are and where they come from, producers eager to have a chat and tell you their story, and then the surprises and treats that may come from this sense of community, is priceless.

Fresh ginger and yuzu vinegar - Janice Espa

Fresh ginger and yuzu vinegar – Janice Espa

Aside from fresh produce, there are handmade bags and accessories and a selection of breads. Pastry stands offer kinako (toasted soybean flour) shortbread cookies, miso-based sweets, and fresh bagels. There’s also a takoyaki (octopus cooked in a savory batter) stand, a cart selling Spanish sangria, a curry rice vendor, Indian dosa made-to-order, and some German sausages for sale.

Cool Mobile Coffee - Janice Espa

Cool Mobile Coffee – Janice Espa

Aoyama Farmer’s Market, located in a relatively quiet section between Omotesando and Shibuya, is the perfect way to spend a few unscheduled hours in Tokyo. I thoroughly encourage you to check it out and find for yourself the taste of the season. You may bump into some of Tokyo’s famous chefs like Shinobu Namae of  L’Effervescence who often shops here.

Arrive by bike - Janice Espa

Arrive by bike – Janice Espa


Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 5-53-70, United Nations University Plaza 渋谷区神宮前5-53-70国際連合大学前

Nearest station: Omotesando (Ginza, Chiyoda and Hanzomon lines)


If you liked this post, please check out Janice’s other post about Kyoto.

Nishiki Market and Kyoto Uzuki Cooking School

Sake Tasting with JD Kai


Janice Espa photoJanice Espa

Janice Espa is a Spanish-Peruvian food enthusiast; an avid traveller and inquisitive taster who explores culture through cuisine.  Janice lives in Sydney where she writes and styles food. Her days are spent visiting grower’s markets, checking out restaurants, and shopping at specialty stores to discover goods from every corner of the world.

Feel free to email suggestions and travel tips, or to contact Janice for her own recommendations, whether you’re visiting Peru, trekking South America or doing a road trip along the east coast of Australia.

Email:  janicespa at

Instant Umami – Hanakezuri Kombu


Suzuki Sashimi – Usuzukuri

Sashimi is a staple in our home. We never tire of it as the type of seafood we use for sashimi changes throughout the year. Suzuki, Japanese sea bass, is a firm-fleshed fish so it is cut in thin, usuzukuri slices. If it were cut thick, as we do with tuna, it would be too hard to chew through and unpleasant. In the middle here are julienned carrots, cucumbers, ginger, and daikon. Wrapping the sashimi around the vegetables is a nice contrast in textures.


Suzuki Sashimi with Hokkaido Hanakezuri Kombu

The classic seasoning for sashimi is wasabi and soy sauce, but that can become routine, so we change-up the seasonings. The green shavings here are from kombu (Laminaria japonica, Japanese kelp). Kombu is rich in natural umami. Most of the time we use kombu for making dashi, the essential stock for many Japanese dishes. Kombu dashi is good on its own as a vegetarian stock. In our home we usually steep the kombu with katsuobushi, smoked skipjack tuna (or bonito) flakes.

The kombu shavings here are simply sprinkled over sashimi. Not only umami but it also gives the flavor of the ocean to the dish. It can also be used over tofu, rice, noodles, and even Japanese-style pasta.


Hanakezuri Kombu – kombu shavings

The name of the product is Hana-kezuri Kombu. Hana-kezuri is the name for the flower-like shavings, that is often seen with katsuobushi flakes.

Hana-kezuri Kombu is made by Towa Shokuhin in Iwate prefecture. This was purchased at the Nomono shop at Ueno Station.

Nuts and Nori


Nuts and sea vegetables are a new snack for me. The idea was introduced to me by chef friend of mine. My friend was in Tokyo and while here she was on the hunt for a special type of aonori. We looked throughout Tsukiji Market and finally came across what she was looking for. She said she wanted to bring some home to make this dish with nuts.

This is a simple dish to whip together. Take some raw nuts, fry in oil at low heat. Take the nuts out of the oil and then I quickly fry the aonori in the oil and then add to the nuts and season with salt. This dish above is with cashew nuts.


Walnuts and aonori.

Nori Peanuts

Peanuts and aonori.


This is the aonori that we used for the nuts and nori. I blogged about it in January as the aonori is also nice in dashimakitamago. These nuts and nori goes well with saké as well as wine, both red and white, and beer.

Gotta Get – Sansai Mountain Vegetables




Today at lunch I was reminded of what a special time of year this is. This gorgeous katakuchi bowl was presented with simmered octopus, fava beans, and fukiFuki is the stem of a bog rhubarb. It is no relation to the rhubarb I grew up with in Minnesota. It looks like a thin celery and has a somewhat similar texture, although more refined and elegant.


This time of year when sansai (mountain vegetables), like kogomi ferns, spring up from under the leaves that have covered the ground over winter. Angelica trees start to bud and the tender greens, tara no me, are harvested. And one of my favorites is the bitter butterbur, fuki no to, that is best when served as tempura. Some of these can be blanched and served with a splash of soy sauce.

If you are visiting Japan this spring, be sure to have a meal at a tempura restaurant that serves sansai. If you go out to an izakaya, ask them if they have any dishes with sansai. Some sansai are only around for a few weeks, so carpe diem.

Popular Donburi in Japan

Donburi are great one bowl meals. A large bowl of hot rice with toppings. We often eat these at home when we are in a hurry. Or, if Shinji is making the meal, he often resorts to donburi. They are easy to assemble and only one dish needs to be washed.

The Asashi Shimbun reported today results from an online survey taken in August. From 1842 surveyed, results for the most popular donburi are as follows:

1. Katsudon (tonkatsu)

2. Unadon (unagi)

3. Kaisendon (seasonal seafood sashimi) *what Shinji usually makes for us

4. Tendon (tempura)

5. Oyakodon (chicken and egg)

6. Gyudon (thinly sliced beef)

7. Chukadon (Chinese style, usually of meat and vegetables)

8. Tekkadon (tuna sashimi) *also popular in our home

9. Unidon (uni)

10. Ikuradon (salmon roe)

Looking over the list there are no surprises. Many of these are hearty dishes. Some chain restaurants specialize in some of these dishes. Tenya for tempura donburi or some of the gyudon chain restaurants like Sukiya. Specialty restaurants like Tamahide in Ningyocho have long lines for the signature oyakodon. If you are craving donburi after reading this, your best bet may be Tsukiji Market where several restaurants in the outer market will have the kaisendon, tekkadon, unidon, ikuradon, and more.

International Supermarkets in Tokyo

Nissin - photo by Steve Trautlein

Nissin - photo by Steve Trautlein

There is a great article in today’s Japan Times by my former editor at Metropolis, Steve Trautlein. It outlines some of the best supermarkets that offer a wide variety of international products. Some of my personal favorites in this list include Nissin (see photo above), Seijo Ishii, Kaldi, and Eataly.

Click here for Steve’s article.

Click here for my blog on where Tokyoite’s shop for food.

Gotta Get – Taberu Rayu 食べるラー油

Taberu Rayu

Taberu Rayu

When shopping for food products in Tokyo I find there are some items you just gotta get. Either because they are so delicious or as they are a trendy item. Taberu rayu is in the second category. Popular for about two years now it is still a hot item on the market and can be addictive. The bottle pictured above is from Momoya, the company also famous for its nori paste called “gohan desu yo”.

Taberu rayu (chili oil that can be eaten) is without the heat of traditional rayu and packed with additional seasonings. The market has taken off for this product so there is are many variations, but typical ingredients include chili-infused sesame oil, deep-fried garlic chips, sesame seeds, sugar, fried onions, and dried shrimp to name a few. At Tsukiji Market one store has created a version that includes tuna and a pickled vegetable, takana. Taberu rayu is best eaten over a hot bowl of rice to appreciate its flavors and texture, but is a versatile condiment finding its way to burgers, noodles and even tofu. The best place to purchase it is at any supermarket.

FYI – rayu is most commonly used combined with soy sauce and vinegar for a dipping sauce for gyoza (pot stickers).

Check out:

Taberu Rayu Two (without the oil)

Taberu Shoyu

Nosetare Rayu Oroshi

Nosetare Rayu Goma

Kakigori Shaved Ice 氷

Kinozen in Kagurazaka

Kinozen in Kagurazaka

The heat and humidity of Tokyo summers can be overbearing. What better way to cool down than with kakigori (shaved ice sweets). As a child visiting my family in Japan in the summer that is one of my fondest memories. Kakigori topped with sweetened condensed milk (ask for miruku) and garnished with some sweet azuki beans. Toppings include sweet syrups, mattcha, sweetened condensed milk, fresh fruit purees (mangoes are one of my favorites), and azuki beans.

Here are some shops known for their kakigori.

Kinozen 紀の善

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 1-12 新宿区神楽坂1-12

Phone: 03-3269-2920

11:00 – 21:00, Monday – Saturday

12:00 – 18:00, Sunday & holidays

Closed the 3rd Sunday of each month

no website

station: Kagurazaka

Ishibashi in Sangenjaya

Ishibashi in Sangenjaya

Ishibashi in Sangenjaya

Ishibashi in Sangenjaya

You can watch the ice being shaved with an old hand-cranked machine here at this very quaint shop. Interesting toppings here include Calpis, caramel, kuromitsu (brown sugar syrup), and kocha (British tea).

Kakigori Kobo Ishibashi 氷工房 石ばし

Setagaya-ku, Sangenjaya 1-29-8 世田谷区三軒茶屋1-29-8

Phone: 03-3411-2130

12:00 – 18:00 (may close earlier so go early in the day)

no holidays in the summer

Shikanoko in Ginza

Kanoko in Ginza

Shikanoko in Ginza

Kanoko in Ginza

Kanoko is on the corner of the main Ginza crossing where Wako and Mitsukoshi are. The cafe on the 2nd floor gives great views of the busy intersection and this shop is centrally located in the heart of the city.

Kanoko 鹿乃子

Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-7-19 中央区銀座5-7-19

Phone: 03-3572-0013

11:30 – 20:15

no holidays

station: Ginza

Japanese Knives 101

Japanese Knives

Japanese Knives

Japanese Knives 和包丁 Wabouchou

There is no better place to invest in a knife than Japan. Although they are not inexpensive, if cared for properly, Japanese knives will last a lifetime. A good knife shop will also carry Western-style knives made in Japan that are sharpened on both sides.

Traditional Japanese knives are sharpened only on one side, and Westerners will find that cutting with them can take a bit of getting used to (be sure to let the shopkeeper know if you are right- or left-handed).  Although most knives sold in the West do not rust, Japanese knives made from standard carbon steel rust easily. You may want to ask for a rust-resistant carbon steel that is easier to care for.

If this is your first time to purchase Japanese knives, you may want to start with three basic knives:

Deba bocho 出刃包丁 knife  with a thick, wide surface, primarily used to prepare fish (to filet, to gut, to cut through bones, and to remove the head)

Usuba bocho 薄刃包丁 knife with a broad, thin blade, used to peel and cut vegetables

Yanagiba bocho 柳刃包丁 Long and slender knife with a pointed tip primarily used for cutting sashimi


Other kitchen tools you may find at knife shops:


Benriner mandorin: Japanese-made mandolin, less bulky than French ones

Honenuki: tweezers used for pulling bones out of fish filets

Manaita: cutting board

Nukikata: an implement in the shape of a seasonal motif, much like a cookie cutter, used to cut vegetables

Oroshigane: a grater, ideal for grating ginger, daikon, and other vegetables (Note: graters for wasabi, made from sharkskin, are different from the ones for vegetables)

Otoshibuta: small, round, wooden lids that allow steam to escape while evenly distributing heat and gently cooking ingredients; they should be a bit smaller than the diameter of the pot

Tamagoyaki ki: pan used to make Japanese-style omelet

Toishi: water stone used for sharpening knives

Uroko hiki: fish de-scaler


Where to get your knives in Tokyo?

Tokyo knife shops.

Junko Nakahama – Tour Guide to Yanesen Area

Junko Nakahama

Junko Nakahama

My friend Junko Nakahama is a food and wine writer in Tokyo. She has recently started to conduct Saturday tours of the popular shoutengai area Yanesen (Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi). This article from Metropolis magazine (by my editor Steve Trautlein) interviews Junko on some of her favorite foodie spots in Tokyo. (text follows)

Some people become food writers because they love to eat, others because they love to write. For Junko Nakahama, her career came about as a matter of necessity. While studying American literature in the US in the mid-’80s, the Hokkaido native fell in love with the Long Island, New York area, and decided she wanted to stay. Her parents had other ideas, however, and told her she would have to make do without their help. So Nakahama supported herself by writing travel articles, then gradually shifted her focus to food and wine. After taking cooking classes and attending wine school, she won accreditation from the Japan Sommelier Association. Now back in Japan, she writes restaurant reviews, winery reports and dining stories for a variety of magazines, with a special focus on the shitamachiarea of Yanesen; she also organizes English guided tours of the neighborhood called Omiyage Concierge. “I respect cuisine and ingredients which express the homeland and craftsmanship of the producers,” she says. Here are her recommendations for tasting theterroir of Tokyo.


Because I write so many restaurant reviews, I often eat two lunches and two dinners a day. So on a free night, I like to have a light meal of vegetables and fish with a glass of natural and gentle wine. Tabegotoya Norabo is a sacred place for veggie lovers. Chef Makio Akemine visits farms every morning and recreates their scenery in his dishes. I am so happy to fill my body with such healthy and beautiful vegetables. Aizbar is a small wine bar owned by a female chef named Ai Eto who selects wonderful American wines. She has over 80 varieties of vegetables on the menu every night; her signature dish is a salad with more than 30 greens, herbs, root vegetables and traditional Japanese veggies. She prepares each vegetable individually—for example, udo (a mountain plant which produces fat, white, edible stalks) is dipped in vinegared water, and renkon is marinated in champagne vinegar. She offers seasonal fish like lightly grilled mackerel, and her cooked vegetable dishes and risotto are also excellent. Chinese restaurant Wasa is a new addition to my list. Owner-chef Masataka Yamashita apprenticed at well-known Kaika-tei in Gifu Prefecture. You can enjoy a menu full of vegetables and fish here—sautéed horse mackerel with a smoky flavor, sardines with Chinese pepper, eel with green beans and miso sauce. Yamashita doesn’t use artificial seasonings, so you’ll be surprised by the natural flavor and fresh aftertaste of these dishes. I often go to the cozy family-owned restaurant Ocha to Gohan-ya with my non-Japanese friends. The father is a grand chef of fish, the mother cooks vegetable dishes, and the daughter does the desserts and the interior decorating. There are around 15 dishes with steamed rice served in ohitsu (wooden containers), with miso soup, at very reasonable prices.


When I’m having a private dinner, I drink only all-natural wines. Uguisu is the most popular wine bar in Tokyo now. All the wine on the list is “bio,” and you can have most of them by the glass at unbelievably reasonable prices. Makoto Konno, the owner-chef, prepares the traditional French cuisine with a nicely casual taste. His salad with 15 vegetables and couscous is my favorite. La Nuit Blanche is a small wine bar owned by Toshinaga Haba, who introduces each wine by telling the story behind it. The authentic Italian cuisine is much more delicious than wine-bar standard. Yamariki just might be the most inexpensive wine bar in Tokyo. In fact, it opened 58 years ago as an izakaya, but the third-generation owner has trained as a French chef and the manager is a certified sommelier. They have a good selection of natural wines, and the pours are extremely generous (Yamariki is undergoing renovation until December; until then, visit the nearby annex). Méli-Mélo is a cozy restaurant with casual French cooking and an excellent selection of wines. Owner-chef Yasuo Munakata apprenticed in France for five years and selects the wines himself. Bistrot Vivienne, owned by a charming lady named Junko Saito, has a good selection of natural wines, too. The energetic atmosphere is also nice.


Nodaya is one of my favorite wine shops. Kouhei Sato, who runs the store with his parents and wife, has a huge knowledge of natural wines and is a great supporter of Japanese producers (above). He holds a monthly casual wine party with the customers and invites producers as well. It is a wonderful occasion to exchange observations with the person who made the wine. Nodaya also sells traditional Japanese seasonings like shoyu,mirinkatsuobushi, etc. I drop by the delicatessen Atelier de Mannebiches whenever I am tired from work and don’t want to cook. They offer French home cooking like quiche, paté, caviar d’aubergine and delicious desserts. My favorite bakery-cafe is Konohana, owned by a pair of pretty young sisters: Mayumi bakes a variety of breads using natural yeast and organic ingredients, and Megumi is in charge of drinks. I have attended their baking class and enjoy baking by myself now.


Unfortunately this might be difficult for readers to take advantage of, but my favorite chef is Hitoshi Kakizawa, who teaches my Japanese cooking class. Although it is a hands-on class, he sometimes cooks himself and offers a traditional kaiseki course to us. Kakizawa is the second-generation chef of a kappo restaurant named Tsuruju in Toranomon. It closed about five years ago and since then he’s been introducing his technique and philosophy to students. The summer course menu the other day was goma tofu (paste made of ground sesame), hamo-chiri (boiled conger pike served sashimi style), sardines with Japanese plum sauce, rice with sliced sea bream dipped in a sesame sauce, and more. The courses were beyond delicious and made us happy!


  • Omiyage Concierge Tours on Oct 17 & 24. ¥500 per person, includes map. Email or see their homepage for more info.
  • Aizbar 2F, 2-26-5 Kami-Osaki, Shinagawa-ku. Tel: 03-5434-0117. Open 6pm-1am, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Meguro.
  • Atelier de Mannebiches 1-2-2 Nishi-Kata, Bunkyo-ku. Tel: 03-5804-4242. Open Wed-Mon 10am-8pm, closed Tue. Nearest stn: Kasuga (Mita line).
  • Bistrot Vivienne 4-13-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-6273-2830. Open Mon-Sat 6-10pm, closed Sun & 3rd Mon. Nearest stn: Ginza or Higashi-Ginza.
  • Hitoshi Kakizawa’s Cooking School
  • Konohana 3-25-6 Asakusa, Taito-ku. Tel: 03-3874-7302. Bakery open Tue-Sat 10:30-6pm, café from noon, closed Sun-Mon & 3rd Tue. Nearest stn: Asakusa.
  • La Nuit Blanche B1, 7-2-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-6909-9561. Open Mon-Sat 6pm-3am, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Ginza.
  • Méli-Mélo 4-5-4 Iidabashi, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3263-3239. Open Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm & 6pm-midnight, Sat & hols noon-4pm & 5-11pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Iidabashi.
  • Nodaya 3-45-8 Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku. Tel: 03-3821-2664. Closed Wed. Nearest stn: Sendagi or Nishi-Nippori.
  • Ocha to Gohan-ya 3-42-8 Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku. Tel: 03-5814-8131. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-2pm & 5-8:30pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Sendagi .
  • Tabegotoya Norabo 4-3-5 Nishiogi-Kita, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-3395-7251. Open Tue-Sun 5pm-midnight, closed Mon. Nearest stn: Nishi-Ogikubo (Chuo line).
  • Uguisu 2-19-6 Shimo-Uma, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 050-8013-0708. Open Tue-Sat 6pm-2am, Sun 6pm-1am, closed Mon & 4th Tue. Nearest stn: Sangenjaya.
  • Wasa 3-6-22 Yakumo, Meguro-ku. Tel: 03-3718-2232. Open Thu-Tue noon-2pm & 6-10pm, closed Wed & 1st & 3rd Thu. Nearest stn: Toritsu-Daigaku.
  • Yamariki Annex 1-14-6 Morishita, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-5625-6685. Open Mon-Sat 5-10pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Morishita.

Here is the link to her Omiyage Concierge site offering more information on the Yanesen tours (at a basement bargain price!). Tell her Yukari sent you.