Tokyo Station’s Popular Ekiben 東京駅人気駅弁

Ekiben are literally bento from different eki or stations in Japan. Part of the pleasure of traveling by train in Japan is sampling a variety of local foods sold in bento boxes at major stations throughout the country. A bento from a coastal village most likely will showcase locally harvested seafood while a mountain village may feature vegetables harvested from the region.

At Tokyo Station there is a shop specializing in bento called “Bentoya Matsuri”, or festival of bentos (photo of shop here). The shop just opened this August and is already very popular. It is located on the first floor in the Central Passage (中央通路). It sells 170 different type of ekiben from all over Japan. It sells about 10,000 ekiben each day. Some ekiben are purchased by travelers transiting through Tokyo station while others are bought by Tokyoites bringing them home to enjoy.

Bentoya Matsuri recently announced the top selling ekiben based on the first two months of sales. It is interesting to note that five of the top six hail from the Tohoku region that was affected by the 3/11 triple disaster. Tohoku is renowned for its cuisine but this may also be a sign of consumers showing their support for Tohoku. The top six are here. Click on the bento name to see a photo if it’s not included.

gyuniku domannaka

1. Gyuniku Domannaka from Yonezawa in Yamagata 1,100 yen (Yonezawa beef)

2. Gokusen Sumibiyaki Gyutan Bento from Sendai in Miyagi 1,300 yen (grilled beef tongue)

Yonezawa Gyu

3. Yonezawa Gyu Sumibiyaki Tokucho Karubi Bento from Yonezawa in Yamagata (Yonezawa beef)

Sendai

4. Miyagi Ougonkaidou from Sendai in Miyagi 1,000 yen (anago, uni, scallop, salmon, and ikura)

5. Miyagi Umi no Kagayaki Benijake Harakomeshi from Sendai in Miyagi 1,000 yen (salmon and ikura)

6. Koshu Katsu Sando from Obuchizawa in Yamanashi 600 yen (tonkatsu sandwich – good even at room temperature)

Haneda International Airport Restaurants

Having worked for a travel company for a decade I have spent countless time at airports around the world. Once my luggage has been checked in I really enjoy the free time before boarding the plane. Airports are great for people watching, and if you are lucky, another opportunity for a nice meal.

Haneda’s international terminal has an impressive selection of good eats in a very cool area called the Edo Market Place. There is often a line at Tsurutontan, the udon noodle shop.

My favorite oden shop in Tokyo, Ginza Ogura, also has a branch here. The oden broth is lightly seasoned, not the intense soy broth that is usually found in the Tokyo area.

There is also sushi, ramen, soba, sukiyaki, yakiniku, kushiyaki, tonkatsu, and yoshoku. And I hate to say it, but I had my first average meal in Tokyo recently at the yoshoku restaurant at Haneda. No matter how good the photo of the omuraisu with the demi-glace sauce looks in the promotional photo in the shop window, it doesn’t taste as good as it looks. Eat elsewhere.

And, do save time for shopping. There is a tiny branch of Ginza’s famous Ito-ya stationary shop, a colorful tenugui and furoshiki shop, and plenty of omiyage shops selling regional foods. We found some of our favorite seafood products from Sato Suisan in Hokkaido at one of the shops. And if you are into Kit Kats, then check out the seasonal flavors, which at the moment includes a wasabi flavored Kit Kat.

Drinking Japan by Chris Bunting

Drinking Japan

Drinking Japan

Imbibers in Japan, be on the lookout for Drinking Japan, A Guide to Japan’s Best Drinks and Drinking Establishments. The author, Chris Bunting, has an impressive website on Japanese whisky:

http://www.nonjatta.blogspot.com/

Here is the link to the book on Tuttle Publishing’s website:

http://www.tuttlepublishing.com/book/?GCOI=48053100473120

 

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.

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/table-talk/junko-nakahama/ (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.

FAVORITE PLACES TO EAT IN 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.

FAVORITE PLACES TO DRINK

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.

FAVORITE PLACES TO SHOP

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.

FAVORITE RESTAURANT OR CHEF

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!

ADDRESS BOOK

  • Omiyage Concierge Tours on Oct 17 & 24. ¥500 per person, includes map. Email jun-nakah@pop12.odn.ne.jp 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 www.kakizzawa.com
  • 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. http://mayupan358.exblog.jp
  • 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. www.e-nodaya.com
  • 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. http://cafe-uguisu.com
  • 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. http://wasa.main.jp/index.html
  • Yamariki Annex 1-14-6 Morishita, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-5625-6685. Open Mon-Sat 5-10pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Morishita. www.yamariki.com

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.

http://sites.google.com/a/yanesen.org/omiyage/Home

Setouchi Shunsaikan Antenna Shop

Setouchi Shunsaikan Antenna Shop

Setouchi Shunsaikan Antenna Shop

Setouchi Shunsaikan せとうち旬彩館

Minato-ku, Shinbashi 2-19-10 港区新橋2-19-10

Tel. 03-3574-7792

10:00 – 20:00, no holidays

www.setouchi-shunsaikan.com/ (Japanese)

This shop is a collaboration of both Ehime and Kagawa prefectures in the rich Setouchi inland sea on the island of Shikoku. Naturally this shop has a wide variety of seafood. Ehime is also famous for its production of mikan, a tangerine like fruit that makes a refreshing juice. There is a restaurant on the second floor, Kaorihime, specializes in udon noodles.

Murakara Machikara Antenna Shop in Yurakucho

Murakara Machikara Antenna Shop

Murakara Machikara Antenna Shop

While antenna shops typically represent a prefecture, this shop carries a mishmash of items from all over Japan. The shop is not that organized, so you have to know what you are looking for. There are several antenna shops in the Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan, like Hokkaido, Akita, and many more, so definitely worth spending some time here. There are a wide variety of items including miso, natto, sake, wagashi, sembei, pickles, and more. Perhaps the most interesting is the selection of miso in the refrigerator section. Customers can taste through a variety of miso before purchasing.

Mura Kara Machi Kara Kan むらからまちから館

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 2-10-1, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan 千代田区有楽町2−10−1東京交通会館

Tel. 03-5208-1521

10:00 – 19:30 (10:00 – 19:00 on weekends and holidays)

http://murakara.shokokai.or.jp/ (Japanese)

Kagoshima Yurakukan Antenna Shop in Yurakucho

Japan is a small country, about the size of California, yet each prefecture and region has its own local food and the Japanese treasure these regional products. There is no better expression of the diverse terroir of Japan than its local commodities. Kombu harvested from the rich mineral waters of Hokkaido. The southern prefecture of Kagoshima is famous for its sweet potatoes, which are the base for its heady imo jochu (sweet potato shochu).

Antenna shops act as both stores offering items that are often hard to find outside of the region as well as public relations office offering brochures about the local area. From local beverages like sake or shochu, pickles, sweets and meats, these antenna shops offer great finds and are worth carefully perusing. If you are looking for pottery from a certain region, for example the pastel glazed Hagiyaki from Yamaguchi, then these regional antenna shops are a good place to start.

Some shops will have restaurants featuring local foods, kyodo ryori (郷土料理) and these too are a great way to try food you normally would not have the chance to.

Kagoshima Yurakukan

Kagoshima Yurakukan

Kagoshima Yurakukan かごしま遊楽館

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 1-6-4, Chiyoda Building 千代田区有楽町1−6−4千代田ビル

Tel. 03-3580-8821

10:00 – 20:00 (10:00 – 19:00 weekends and holidays)

www3.pref.kagoshima.jp/foreign/english/profile/gaiyou/yurakukan_main.html (English)

Kagoshima also on Kyushu is famous for its shochu, in particular imo jochu from sweet potatoes, of which the shop has an unusually large selection. The cuisine is rich with kurobuta (Berkshire pork) products, Satsuma age fish cakes and more. The restaurant on the second floor, Ichi nii san, serves up a kurobuta based menu in a variety of presentations including tonkatsu or shabu-shabu.

Travel – Mashiko in Tochigi for Pottery

Mashiko photo by Chris Bamforth

Mashiko photo by Chris Bamforth

Many of the great destinations for pottery in Japan are dotted throughout the country. One of my favorite day trips from Tokyo is Machiko. This article by Chris Bamforth was in The Japan Times. Mashiko also hosts a large pottery festival every year, I believe it is in the fall.

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/mail/fv20100110a1.html

Travel – Himi Fishing Port 氷見

Some more photos of the Himi Seafood Auction in Toyama.

Buyers at the Himi Market

Buyers at the Himi Market

If I understand correctly, this is a list of the licensed buyers at the auction. As you can see in photos below, buyers will have a tag, usually on their hat, that auctioneers can recognize that these people are authorized to purchase at the auction. Carefully looking at the board you can find the names of a handful of women.

Fishing boats unloading at the auction

Fishing boats unloading at the auction

Unlike Tsukiji Market, where most of the seafood comes in by trucks, and even airplanes via Narita and Haneda, most of the fish at the Himi auction were unloaded off of boats and moved just a few feet onto the auction floor.

Auction in action

Auction in action

A close up of the auction.

Overview of the auction

Overview of the auction

The Himi auction has built a great viewing area for visitors to the market. There is a perch that overlooks the market. It would be great if the new Tsukiji Market could also build something like this. You can see the auction taking place in the upper right of the photos.

Variety of local seafood

Variety of local seafood

We saw a variety of winter fish including hirame (flounder), octopus, anko (monkfish), saba (mackerel), and the famous kanburi (winter yellowtail).

Kanburi (winter yellowtail)

Kanburi (winter yellowtail)

The whole reason we came to the market, to try and eat this fish, one of Shinji’s favorite this time of year.

Breakfast in the shokudo

Breakfast in the shokudo

On the second floor of the auction, just off of the viewing perch, is the market’s shokudo, or dining hall. Our breakfast was the local kanburi (winter yellowtail).

Kanburi sashimi for breakfast

Kanburi sashimi for breakfast

Shinji loved this breakfast – the winter yellowtail, rich in flavor and almost melting in your mouth.

Grilled kanburi

Grilled kanburi

A popular way of cooking the kanburi is simply to salt and grill. It is so rich that the meat falls apart.

The name of the shokudo at the auction is Kaiho. This is a great destination for any seafood fan. The coastal village of Toyama overlooks the Sea of Japan.

Travel – Himi Fishing Port in Toyama 氷見魚市場

Himi Seafood Auction

Himi Seafood Auction

On the coast of Toyama on the Sea of Japan is a famous fishing port. In the winter it is renowned for its kanburi or winter buri (yellowtail). Rich in fat, it melts in your mouth like fatty tuna. Don’t worry if you miss the early morning auction as there is a retail market next door with several large stalls selling fish caught locally.

Kamasu (barracuda)

Kamasu (barracuda)

While barracuda may have the reputation of being an agressive, predatory fish, it is actually quite small in size. The meat is tender and delicate.

Saba (mackerel)

Saba (mackerel)

You can see that these mackerel are rich in fat by observing the back area, it is almost bulging from its skin.

Saba (mackerel)

Saba (mackerel)

Kanburi (winter yellowtail)

Kanburi (winter yellowtail)

Here is the famous kanburi, the whole reason for our journey to this famed fishing port. We had some for breakfast and it was amazing, rich, and worth the trip.

For more information on Himi:

http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/regional/toyama/himi.html