Bettako Shochu Izakaya in Ikebukuro

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When going out to izakaya I always take some ヘパリーゼ Hepalize to prevent a hangover the next morning. Usually in the tablet form. But, today I forgot to bring some Hepalize pills with me from home so stopped by a convenience store and picked up this liquid form. It worked like a charm. We had lots of shōchū, but feeling great the next morning.

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ポテトサラダ Potato salad is a very popular dish at izakaya. It is often made with copious amounts of mayonnaise, boiled carrots, and sliced ham. But this version was very different. I couldn’t sense any mayonnaise. Instead, it was loosened up with possibly some dash and mixed with some sautéed onions that gave it a bit of sweetness. And, there were crunchy pieces of fried onions, reminding me of the French’s fried onions found on top of the green beans and cream of mushroom dish we often see at Thanksgiving.

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Bettako is an izakaya that specializes in shōchū. Shōchū is the distilled spirit, native to Japan, that is made with a variety of base ingredients. The good stuff, honkaku shōchū, is only distilled once. As a result, it maintains the aroma and flavor of the base ingredient, like sweet potatoes or barley. It is also usually only about 25 degrees in alcohol, and is often watered down, bringing it down to about 15 degrees. So, it’s similar to what you’ll find in a glass of wine. Shōchū is very food friendly, and can be served hot or cold.

Bettako is unique that most of the shōchū here is served maewariMaewari is where the shochu is watered down ahead of time, usually 24 hours or so ahead of time. It’s a great method that allows for the shōchū to mellow out and makes it much softer on the palate. I trained as a “shōchū advisor” and have studied this in class, but rarely do you come across a restaurant that actually serves it like this in Tokyo. I am sure in the Kyushu region, where shochu is the prominent drink, that it is much more available. The maewari shōchū was a revelation. Much softer and gentle on the palate. I will start doing this at home. Simply add water to the shōchū to taste, usually about 6 parts water to 4 parts shōchū, but it’s up to you. Also keep in mind if you will be serving it on the rocks as it will dilute even more.

The first shōchū of the evening is Ichiban Shizuku, a sweet potato shōchū (imo jōchūfrom Kagoshima. It is surprisingly smooth and ever so sweet from the sweet potatoes. Even those in the party who were not big shōchū drinkers found it palatable. The magic of maewari.

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馬刺 Basic, horse sashimi, is a specialty of Kumamoto prefecture. Kumamoto is also famous for shōchū. The lean meat is meaty and chewy. It is served with some sliced onions and grated garlic. It’s garnished with fresh sanshō berries, which make your tongue tingle. Best of all, it is served with soy sauce from Kagoshima. The soy sauce in Kyushu is very sweet. Kyushu is where both Kumamoto and Kagoshima is.

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牛タン Gyutan, beef tongue, is simply seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled. On the left side is the back part of the tongue and on the right is the front of the tongue. At Bettako it is served with some kabosu (a tart citrus) that is squeezed over the meat. The back of the tongue was softer than the meaty front part.

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The second shochu was a barley (mugi jōchū) Gojinka Tenjo. It is from Oshima, a small island south of Tokyo, that is actually a part of Tokyo. Very different from the sweet potato shōchūit has tones that are similar to whisky, drier and a bit more of an attack on the palate.

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The sashimi course today is hamachi yellowtail. It’s a great presentation as the chef serves both the back (far left) and the belly (far right). As can be expected, the belly is a bit more fattier and richer. The chopped hamachi in front was simply seasoned with some sesame seeds and thinly sliced Japanese leeks.

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Jun Kuro (pure black) Satsuma no Kaori (aroma of sweet potatoes) shōchū was next. I really love these sweet potato shōchū. Sweet potato shōchū usually goes very well with seafood, which many izakaya dishes are made out of.

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The shōchū was served in a jyōka. Is this not the greatest pot you’ve ever seen for serving? A spout on both sides. Our friend, Mizutani-san, who is a food editor and who has an amazing depth of knowledge, says that this vessel makes it easy for anyone to pour from. So, no matter which side of the table you are sitting on, you could pick up the jyōka and serve from it. You gotta love the person who thought of this design. Brilliant.

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Tsubugai (whelk) is a shellfish with a rich texture. Here it is served as sashimi with some grated daikon, myōga, and green onions. One of the chefs at our table pointed this dish and said, “atarimae“. While outside of Japan, this would be a dish you may come across at a fine-dining establishment, in Japan it goest without saying, such delicious food like this would be found in an izakaya like this.

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The interior of the restaurant is filled with old posters. It feels a bit like stepping back in time, except for the occasional rugby poster.Image

Interior shot. Look at how little room there is behind the counter seats to exit the restaurant. You could never get away with this in New York City.

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Offal soup, a perfect way to start to wrap up the evening.
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My favorite dish of the night was this pork sauteed with fresh kikuragé (wood ear) mushrooms, okahijiki – literally “hijiki of the hills” which adds a great texture, leeks, rayu chili oil and a bit of salt. Most of the time we only find dried kikuragé mushrooms in the market. The fresh kikuragé are in season at the moment. The contrast of the different textures, the bit of spiciness, and the umami from the pork brought this dish together. Image

Here is shōchū with soy milk. I’ve tried this in the past and liked it when the soy milk was paired with a sesame shōchū. Tonight it was a sweet potato shōchū.

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Finally, Gyokurō, a sweet potato shōchū made with white kōji,  which makes it a light and delicate shōchū. A great shōchū to end the evening on.

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Here is part of our group posing with the owner, Kanemoto-san. Kanemoto-san is famous in Tokyo for his selection of shōchū and for his great izakaya, Bettako. Kanemoto-san is also a big rugby fan which explains the rugby posters on the wall.ImageThe rest of our gang outside of Bettako. Bettako is a short walk from the station. It’s very popular so reservations are recommended.

Shōchūya BETTAKO

Toshima-ku, Higashi-Ikebukuro 1-42-17, Hasegawa Building

03-3987-7982

closed Sunday

 

Shochu – Mitake Imo Jochu 三岳芋焼酎

Mitake 1

Mitake first came on my shochu radar when I was working at Nihonbashi Takashimaya in the saké department. One large bottle (1800 ml) was sitting in the storeroom as a customer had special ordered it. It wasn’t a shochu that we normally carried. I asked one of my colleagues about it and she told me that it was a premium shochu. Premium is tricky in Japan. In this case, it is a popular shochu that is available in limited amounts, creating a premium price for it.

Fast forward about ten years later and you can imagine how thrilled I was to see Mitake being sold in our local department store saké department as part of a fukubukuro, the lucky grab bags that are sold on January 2nd at major department stores.

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Can you see the beautiful imagery of Yakushima island on the label?

Mitake is made on Yakushima island, a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site for its rich flora and ancient sugi (Japanese cedar trees). Yakushima island is also famous for its delicious water, essential in making Mitake sweet potato shochu. In the shochu making process after it is distilled it is often diluted with water to lower the alcohol percentage. Some on Yakushima will tell you that the local water has umami, hence the Mitake shochu also has umami.

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On the upper left corner there is a circle with what looks like three red E’s in it. This symbol is important as it recognizes that all of the sweet potatoes used in making Mitake shochu comes from sweet potatoes that were grown and harvested in Kagoshima prefecture. Apparently some shochu distillers are using imported sweet potatoes from overseas.

The red characters reading down is honkaku shochu 本格焼酎, or single distilled shochu. If you are drinking any shochu, it should be honkaku shochu. The other style, distilled several times, is better for making umeshu or other sweet shochu that is steeped with fruit like yuzu, lemons, or even coffee beans.

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 On the right side of the label there are two other important kanji to take note of.
 屋久島産  Yakushima-san or from Yakushima island
 薩摩焼酎 Satsuma Shochu or shochu from Kagoshima
Much like D.O.C. in wine, there are four regional types of shochu that can be labeled as such:
 薩摩焼酎 Satsuma Shochu from Kagoshima (made from sweet potatoes)
球磨焼酎  Kuma Jochu from Kumamoto (made from Japanese rice)
琉球泡盛  Ryukyu Awamori from Okinawa (made from Thai rice)
壱岐焼酎  Iki Shochu from Nagasaki (made from barley)

On the nose, Mitake has a sweet aroma, somewhat like sweet potatoes. It isn’t funky like some sweet potato shochu can be, but more on the mild side. On the palate it is slightly sweet, somewhat like steamed sweet potatoes. It’s slightly dry with a bit of umami on the palate. Overall a mild and easy drinking shochu. I liked it with hot water (oyu wari) but that is because it’s cold this time of year. It is also very nice on the rocks or as mizuwari (mixed with water).

If you ever come across a bottle of Mitake be sure to pick it up.

Mitake Shuzo started in Showa 33 (1958) and is currently a 2nd generation shochu distillery.

三岳 Mitake

芋焼酎 imo jochu (sweet potato shochu)

麹:米麹(白麹) shiro kome koji

原料:コガネセンガン base ingredient: koganesengan sweet potato

900 ml

25 degrees alcohol (Mitake also makes a shochu with the same label that is 35 degrees, so double check when purchasing)

Kagoshima-ken, Kumage-gun, Yakucho Awa 2625-19

鹿児島県熊毛郡屋久町安房2625番地19

TEL 0997-46-2026

 

You may like these other blog posts on shochu.

Shochu Slushee

What better way to beat the heat in Tokyo than with shochu on the rocks. Or how about a popsicle? Better yet, combine the two! A friend recently posted on facebook a cocktail that he had out at a local izakaya. This blue popsicle is called Garigari-kun. He was very popular in the 80’s and is making a come back now. It’s sweet, like syrup.

The cocktail itself is quite easy. Shochu on the rocks in a large beer mug. The regular shochu cups are too small to hold the popsicle. Add a Garigari-kun (or your favorite popsicle) and let it melt a bit.

Once it starts melting I used the popsicle stick to break up the popsicle stick. It turned out to be a nice slushee. Actually one popsicle didn’t add enough flavor to the drink so I added a second one. Kome (rice) shochu or a kokuto (brown sugar) shochu is ideal for this drink.

I hope this inspires you to make your own cocktails at home!

Towari Soba Shochu 十割蕎麦焼酎

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Part of the beauty of shochu is that it is made from a variety of base ingredients. While sweet potato (imo) and barley (mugi) are very popular, it is worth exploring the others, such as buckwheat (soba). This Towari is rich and intense. The aroma of buckwheat is undeniable. This comes from the unique koji that is also made with buckwheat.

Towari is made in Miyazaki prefecture. It is 25% alcohol. The shochu can be had any way, straight, on the rocks, or with hot water.

The perfect food pairing is with soba noodles. As it is a rich shochu, I also like it with richer foods such as deep-fried dishes or well seasoned dishes such as a miso marinated fish.

Jougo Kokuto Shochu じょうご黒糖焼酎

Jougo Kokuto Shochu

Jougo Kokuto Shochu

Another good shochu to start with for shochu novices is a kokuto shochu which is made from sugar cane. It’s inherent sweetness is soft on the palate. This is from Amami Oshima south of Kagoshima.

Koji: shiro (white) koji – making it a light, delicate shochu

alcohol: 25%

suggested drinking method: on the rocks

distillation: otsurui (single distillation) honkaku shochu

distillery: Amami Oshima Shuzo

Antenna Shops in Ginza

If you are looking for jizake or shochu from a small producer or an artisanal miso the first place to check out are the antenna shops. Markets that specialize in regional products, usually from a specific prefecture. The Okinawa antenna shop in Ginza has a huge selection of awamori and the Miyazaki antenna shop in Shinjuku brings in a limited amount of premium shochu on the first of each month. Seafood, meat, and fresh produce as well are often sold. Some of the shops will have a restaurant or an eat-in corner. The Yamagata antenna shop has a branch of it’s famous Italian restaurant using Yamagata products.

Here is a list of antenna shops in Ginza, the area with the most number of shops. Here is a list of antenna shops in Nihonbashi.

Osaka Hyakkaten

Over 600 items and an eat-in corner with takoyaki and butaman.

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 2-10-1, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan 1F

03-5220-1333

10:00 – 22:00

Tokushima and Kagawa Tomoni Ichiba

Sanuki udon, somen, Tokushima ramen, sudachi, jizake, and more.

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 2-10-1, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan 1F

03-6269-9688

10:30 – 19:30

Hyogo Waku Waku Kan

Tako no kamaage, oden packs, Higashimaru udon, vegetables, and more.

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 2-10-1, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan B1

03-6273-4133

10:00 – 19:00

Iki Iki Toyama Kan

Over 800 items including masu sushi.

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 2-10-1, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan B1

03-3231-5032

10:00 – 19:00

Wakayama Kishukan

Over 50 types of umeboshi, jizake, and fruit.

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 2-10-1, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan B1

03-3216-1615

10:00 – 19:00

Iwate Ginka Plaza

Over 1,500 items, including a Koiwa soft cream corner.

Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-15-1, Nankai Tokyo Bldg. 1F

03-3254-8282

10:30 – 19:00

Gunma-chan Chi

Produce, sweets, and jizake with an event space on the 2nd floor.

Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-13-19, Duplex Ginza Tower 5/13

03-3546-8511

10:00 – 19:00

Oishii Yamagata Plaza

Jizake, fruits, vegetables, and an Italian restaurant incorporating Yamagata’s produce by star chef Masayuki Okuda at San Dan Delo.

Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-5-10, Ginza First Five Bldg.

03-5250-1752

10:00 – 20:00

Kagoshima Yurakukan

A large selection of shochu, restaurant, and much more.

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 1-6-4, Chiyoda Bldg. 1-3F

03-3580-8821

hours vary

Tottori Plaza

Rakkyo, nagaimo, seafood, Italian restaurant featuring Tottori products, and more than 1,500 items.

Minato-ku, Shinbashi 2-19-4 SNT Bldg.

03-5537-0575

10:00 – 21:00

Ginza Kumamoto Kan

Fruits and vegetable, seafood products, and more than 1,000 items. ASOBI Bar on the 2nd floor featuring Kumamoto shochu, basashi (horsemeat sashimi), and karashi renkon.

Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-3-16

03-3572-1261

11:00 – 20:00

ASOBI Bar 17:00 – 20:00

Marugoto Kochi

Sweets, jizake, and a restaurant on the 2nd floor.

Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-3-13, Ri-burekkusu Tower

03-3538-4351

hours vary

Okinawa Ginza Washita Shop

An impressive selection of awamori in the basement and fresh produce such as go-ya.

Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-3-9, Maruito Ginza Bldg.

03-3535-6991

10:30 – 20:00

Shochu 焼酎 – Futan 風憚

Fuutan

Fuutan

My favorite type of shochu is an imojochu, or sweet potato shochu. It comes in a wide variety of aromas and flavors. Some can be really funky and others very smooth. Fuutan is on the easy-drinking and light side. This is a great starter shochu if you are interested in sweet potato shochu but are not too adventurous. Fuutan can be had on the rocks or with hot water (oyuwari), so a good shochu to have anytime of the year.

What makes Fuutan unique is that it uses a sweet potato called kurikogane. Most sweet potato shochu is made from a variety called koganesengan. Kurikogane is a unique sweet potato, not often found.

Fuutan

25 degrees alcohol

base ingredient – kurikogane sweet potato

koji – kuro koji (black koji)

Fuutan Genshu

Fuutan Genshu

Fuutan Genshu is the undiluted version (most shochu is diluted with water to bring the alcohol down). At 36 degrees it is on the high side for shochu. I don’t come across this as often and would have this one on the rocks. If shopping for this, look for the kanji for genshu on the label. 原酒

Fuutan also ages a small amount of bottles, either three or five years. I haven’t had the pleasure of trying these, but typically as time passes the shochu becomes softer and more gentle on the palate. These bottles are numbered on the label.

Fuutan is made by Fukiage Shochu in Minami Satsuma, Kagoshima.

Shochu 焼酎 – Shiro しろ

Shiro

Shiro

Perhaps the most asked question I have is what is a good shochu to start with for those who are new to shochu. A rice based shochu is a good place to start as it is usually light, easy-drinking, and clean, much like rice. A good brand to start with is Hakutake Shiro, referred to simply as Shiro. It is made with shiro koji, a white koji, that produces delicate shochu.

Kumamoto prefecture is famous for its kome jochu (rice shochu).

Shiro しろ

Made in Kumamoto

Made by Takahashi Shuzo

Kome (rice) shochu

25% alcohol

Otsurui

Shiro is great on the rocks, or in the winter I like it with hot water. It is also an excellent mixer for cocktails. Mix it with fresh juice.

Shochu 焼酎 – Tantakatan 鍛高譚

Tantakatan

Tantakatan

As a shochu advisor I wanted to share with readers shochu that are worth checking out. The first shochu I will introduce is very interesting. My first day at work at Nihonbashi Takashimaya in the sake department some of my colleagues took me out for drinks. They asked me to pick something from the store to take along for the group to drink. At the time I didn’t know too much about shochu but was definitely curious so I asked my colleague to select a unique shochu. She selected Tantakatan, a shochu made from shiso. I was definitely curious, not only from the base ingredient, but also what a great name. It rolls off the tongue – Tantakatan.

The aroma of the shiso is present, but not too overbearing. However, once on your palate, it is obvious that this is made from shiso. It’s a great starter shochu for someone curious about this distilled spirit. The alcohol percentage is low, only 20 percent, and as it’s usually combined with water and ice the percentage drops to 10 percent, or less than most wine.

Tantakatan  鍛高譚

made in Asahikawa, Hokkaido

Shiso shochu

20% alcohol

Tantakatan is made with a blend of juice from red shiso leaves, dates, and white liquor (or korui shochu), so this is a unique type of shochu referred to as “konwa shochu“.

Cocktail suggestions:

I prefer this on the rocks with water but other options include:

Including a smashed umeboshi with water (or soda).

Having it with cranberry juice, ginger ale or tonic water.

Garnish with fresh shiso leaves.

Book Review – Japanese Cocktails

Japanese Cocktails

Japanese Cocktails

Japanese Cocktails is filled to the brim with original concoctions with fun names like Oyaji, Salty Hachiko Dog, Bloody Mari-chan and Office Lady. And not only are the names creative, so are the recipes. With drinks based on sake, shochu, whisky and more, this thin book has a cocktail to please everyone, many of the recipes are easy even for the inexperienced mixologist. The Hinomaru is umeboshi in warm sake, while the Samurai Courage combines yuzu juice with hotdaiginjoJapanese Cocktails was written with the support of Suntory, so it includes some recipes based on the beverage giant’s lineup of whisky, Midori melon liqueur, and Kuromaru sweet-potato shochu. But in no way does this detract from the appeal. Author Yuri Kato, a “beverage alcohol consultant,” consistently offers offbeat and appealing drinks. Mixers include chestnut puree, aloe vera juice, steamed milk and even ice cream, while traditional Japanese ingredients range from citrus juices like kabosu and yuzu tomatcha powder and hojicha tea. Kato’s expertise shines in her explanations of shochu and Japanese whisky, in particular on how to properly prepare a mizuwari(diluting with water). If you enjoy mixing your own drinks, or even if you just want to get started, this fun book will be an excellent guide.

JAPANESE COCKTAILS

By Yuri Kato
Chronicle Books, 2010, 95pp, ¥1,396

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine.

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/local-flavors/the-food-files/