Kappabashi – Komatsuya for Pottery 合羽橋の小松屋

Komatsuya

Komatsuya

Komatsuya

Komatsuya

Komatsuya

Komatsuya

Komatsuya 小松屋

Nishi-Asakusa 2-21-6

03-3841-2368

www.tctv.ne.jp/members/moto/ (Japanese)

This may be the most photographed shop on the street. There is a wide selection of pottery, ramen bowls, teapots, serving dishes, nabe, sake cups, tokkuri. These are all durable and sturdy.

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Kappabashi – Hashitou for Chopsticks 合羽橋のはしとう

Disposable Chopsticks at Hashitou

Disposable Chopsticks at Hashitou

Hashitou in Kappabashi

Hashitou in Kappabashi

Hashitou はし藤

Taito-ku, Nishi-Asakusa 2-6-2  台東区西浅草2-6-2

03-3844-0723

www.hashitou.co.jp/ (Japanese)

Hashitou specializes in chopsticks, including the disposable type if you entertain a lot at home. Naturally there is a selection of hashioki (chopstick rests). There is a nice selection of skewers and long picks that would brighten up any appetizer plate, as well as toothpicks.

Offal Cuisine (Naizo or Hormone Ryori)

Saiseisakaba Shinjuku Sanchome

Saiseisakaba Shinjuku Sanchome

One unique cuisine that is a must-try for adventurous foodies is offal cuisine. This article which first appeared in Metropolis magazine includes several popular restaurants in Tokyo for naizo ryori.

http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/785/localflavors.asp (text follows)

Tokyo’s horumon boom has been going strong for two years now—and shows no signs of letting up. Horumon ryori, a.k.a. naizo, ranges from an animal’s mouth (tongue) to its tail (literally), including all the organs and pipes in-between. Though it may seem intimidating at first, fresh and well-prepared horumon is a dining adventure unlike no other—who knew you could even eat body parts like nodochinko (uvula) or fuwa (lungs)? Textures range from creamy brains to kori kori (chewy) intestines, and the food goes well with most alcoholic beverages, which helps account for its increasing popularity among salarymen and OLs. Here are some of our favorite places around town.

Birdland
While horumon refers to innards taken from cows and pigs, a good place to start may be with chickens. Birdland, one of Tokyo’s most famous yakitori restaurants, has chicken so fresh that it can be eaten rare. Bonbochi is the fatty bits near the tail, grilled up to juicy, savory bombs. Liver is rich and tender, sunagimo (gizzard) is chewy, hatsu (heart) has a nice mouthfeel, while nankotsu (cartilage; below) gives your jaws a workout.

B1, 4-2-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5250-1081. Open Tue-Sat 5-9:30pm, closed Sun-Mon & hols. Nearest stn: Yurakucho.

Yamariki
A shitamachi institution, Yamariki’s original restaurant is undergoing renovation, but the shinkan is still open. This izakaya’s signature nikomi of cow intestines is slow-simmered until tender—the cooks have used the same broth continuously for close to 40 years. Yamariki is known for its yakiton, or grilled bits from pork, including juicy kashira (temples) and chewy teppo (rectum). The restaurant’s knowledgeable sommelier, Mizukami-san, can help suggest French wines to go with your meal.

1-14-6 Morishita, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-5625-6685. Open Mon-Sat 5-10pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Morishita (Toei Shinjuku line). www.yamariki.com

Shinjuku Horumon
Shinjuku Horumon and Saisei Sakaba, part of a restaurant chain managed by naizo specialists Ishii Group, are notable for their top-quality products, knowledgeable staff and deep menus. If you’re the type that loves to cook, you’ll enjoy it here—each table has its own shichirin (charcoal stove), which infuses the meats with a better aroma than gas. If you’re the curious type, Shinjuku Horumon offers the most diverse menu, including pai (breast) and sao (tip of the penis). We ordered an assortment platter, and the friendly staff adeptly walked us through all of them; there is also a helpful poster on the wall explaining the menu. The only thing we didn’t like was that the small space quickly fills with smoke.

3-12-3 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3353-4129. Open daily 5pm-midnight. Nearest stn: Shinjuku, east exit. http://tinyurl.com/shin-hor

Saisei Sakaba
Located on the back streets of Shinjuku-Sanchome, this friendly tachinomiya is our hands-down favorite. The Showa-era décor calls to mind a bygone era, while the six handsome staffers squeezed in behind the counter care for the customers (pictured). We started with brain sashimi—milky and creamy like shirako (cod milt), served with sesame seeds, soy sauce and chopped negi. Then we challenged the grill master to surprise us with five unusual skewers, and he came back with chewy shokudo (esophagus); crispy guts; hizo (spleen), which was similar to liver but with a side of fat; rubbery nodomoto (throat); and meaty komekami (temple). The yudetan (tongue) is simmered all day until tender. The staff was diligent in keeping their work areas and cutting boards spotless—a reassuring sign—and the attentive servers saw that our glasses never went empty.

3-7-3 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3354-4829. Open daily 3pm-midnight. Nearest stn: Shinjuku, east exit. http://tinyurl.com/saisei

Ebisu Itchome Horumon
This simply designed restaurant features a power vacuum over each table’s gas grill to suck up the smoke. The staff suggested we start off with liver sashimi, which was very fresh but cut too thick. The next course of grilled naizo was our favorite, especially the fatty tontoro (neck) and hearty hatsumoto (aorta). Ebisu Itchome’s signature dish, the kopuchan nabe, is filled with vegetables to balance the fatty small intestines. The loud music explains why our phone calls went unanswered while we were lost for 45 minutes, so make sure you bring along a good map.

1-22-23 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-6277-0777. Open daily 11:30am-3pm and 6pm-5am. Nearest stn: Ebisu, east exit. http://r.gnavi.co.jp/g431308 

Guide to popular horumon varieties

tan (tongue) タン
tail (tail) テール
nodochinko (uvula) のどちんこ
fuwa (lungs) フワ
burenzu (brains) ブレンズ
tecchan (large intestines) テッチャン
marucho (small intestines) マルチョウ
sunagimo (gizzard) 砂肝
hatsu (heart) ハツ
nankotsu (cartilage) なんこつ
kashira (temples) かしら
teppo (rectum) てっぽー
tontoro (neck) 豚とろ
hatsumoto (aorta) はつもと
pai (breast) ぱい
sao (tip of the penis) さお
shikin (esophagus) しきん
gatsu (guts) がつ
nodomoto (throat) のどもと
komekami (temple) こめかみ
yude-tan (simmered tongue) ゆでタン

Shochu Basics

Shochu

Shochu

While I love nihonshu (Japanese sake), my preference is for the locally distilled spirit, shochu. While working at Takashimaya the company paid for those of us in the sake department to cross train in other areas of specialty. As a sommelier (wine specialist) I could choose from nihonshu or shochu and selected shochu, as there was no one that I knew of that time who was writing in English about shochu, and because I enjoyed it so much.

The coursework was very intense. First of all it was only in Japanese (no surprise here) and the text was filled with kanji (Chinese characters) that were new to me. While I feel comfortable reading Japanese cookbooks the shochu specific Japanese language was a big challenge. One benefit of working in the sake department at Takashimaya is that we talk about shochu, sake, wine, and spirits everyday at work. Also, we were privy to many tastings at the store, and any good salesperson tastes as much as they can to form their own opinions for different beverages. A good friend at the store also was studying for the shochu exam so we studied together. She taught me the kanji and I was able to teach her about the technical process (from my sommelier training).

The exam was intense, a blind tasting, a multiple choice test, and a written exam on service, sales, and promotion of shochu in both retail and restaurants. I passed and shochu is an integral part of my life now.

This article first appeared in Metropolis magazine and highlights the basics on shochu:

http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/712/localflavors.asp (text follows)

As the weather cools down, I stay warm with a hot drink—and it’s not tea. What I do is fill up my teacup halfway with some hot water, then top it off with a nice imo jochu.

Shochu is a distilled spirit that can be made from over 60 different base ingredients, which is one of the great splendors of the drink. Among the many flavors are aromatic sweet potato, funky awamori, or ambrosial chestnut. Shochu has been outselling nihonshu since 2003, and while many people refer to shochu as “Japanese vodka,” they often forget to mention that shochu is lower in alcohol. While vodka is typically about 40-60 percent, shochu comes in at a nice 25-40. When cut in half by adding some hot (or cold) water, the shochu all of a sudden becomes 12-20 percent alcohol, or similar to wine.
Shochu is an easy drink to understand, and the tips below will make you an expert in no time.

• Some of the base ingredients used to make shochu include sweet potato, cane sugar, rice, chestnuts and barley. Other varieties are infused with flavorings such as sesame seeds or shiso.

• There are two types of shochu. One has otsurui or honkaku shochu on the label, and the other has korui. Otsurui and honkaku shochu are distilled only once, and retain the aromas and flavor of the base ingredient; they’re meant to be consumed straight or on the rocks. Korui is used for making mixed drinks.

• There are three types of koji mold that can be used to make shochu: white, yellow, or black. This information is not always stated on the label, but if it is, consider it an indicator of the kind of drink you’ll get. White koji (shiro koji) is the standard variety and creates a softer, lighter, easier-on-the-palate shochu. Yellow koji (ki koji) is the same mold that’s used for making nihonshu; shochu using the yellow variety are floral on the nose and also lighter on the palate. Black koji (kuro koji) makes a big, brash, bold shochu that lingers on your palate.

• Familiarize yourself with the names of the prefectures in Kyushu, which is the heartland of shochu (so much so, in fact, that when locals says “sake,” they are often referring to shochu, not nihonshu). Names to look for include Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Oita, Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Amami Oshima and Okinawa.

• Some prefectures are associated with certain base ingredients. Okinawa is famous for awamori made from Thai rice and black koji. Amami Oshima is known for sugar cane or brown sugar. For sweet potato shochu, look for Kagoshima, and for mugi (barley) try Oita.

• How to drink shochu? There are no rules, and this is where you can have fun. Enjoy it on the rocks, or with some water, soda or fruit juice. If you are interested in shochu but aren’t quite ready to start drinking it straight, consider mixing a shochu cocktail. Try some tonyu (soy milk) with some goma shochu (sesame shochu) on the rocks.

• My appreciation for shochu has grown dramatically over the last 20 years. First of all, there is a much wider variety available at the shops around town these days. Shochu is also very food-friendly and often finds its way to my table. And, because it’s distilled, shochu will keep for several months after the bottle is opened. Invest in a bottle, try it several ways, and see if you, too, will become a fan of shochu.

If this whets your appetite, check-out the website www.theshochu.com, which offers the best information on the topic in English.

Shochu cheat sheet

白麹 shiro koji
黄麹 ki koji
黒麹 kuro koji

乙類 otsurui
本格焼酎 honkaku shochu
甲類 korui

Base ingredients

米 kome (rice)
麦 mugi (barley)
黒糖 kokuto (black sugar)
芋 imo (potato)
そば soba
泡盛 awamori

Gotta Go Shops at Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji - photo by Yusuke Takahashi

Tsukiji - photo by Yusuke Takahashi

Some of my favorite shops at Tsukiji Market. This article first appeared in Metropolis magazine.

http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/682/localflavors.asp (text follows)

It is no surprise that the bustling, frenetic Tsukiji Market is a popular tourist destination. Nowhere else in the world will you see so many varieties of seafood under one roof. Restaurants such as Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi have lines out the door before the sun comes up with customers hungry for fish as fresh as it comes.

The Tsukiji places that I am most familiar with, however, are the many shops in the outer market. These are open to the public, and you can get your hands on the same goods that are stocked in many of the top restaurants in town. Keep in mind that shopping at Tsukiji is not as easy as at, say, depachika. Navigating the narrow aisles of Tsukiji, you must watch where you step and be mindful of the speeding stevedores. But your energies and efforts will be rewarded. Here are some of my favorite shops; I am sure you will discover your own.

If you are allergic to cooking, or are too busy to bother, you can pick up ready-to-go meals. For fans of oden, Tsukugon puts the convenience-store varieties to shame. Served up with some nihonshu, these bites of fish deep-fried and stuffed with goodies like shrimp or gobo (burdock) are irresistible. An oden feast wouldn’t be complete without some tender, slow-simmered daikon, deep-fried ganmodoki tofu, and light, airy hanpen fish cakes, which look like marshmallows.

Fans of dim sum can indulge in the homemade yummies at Yamucha Suga Shoten. The food here is much better than anything you can get at your local supermarket, and it saves you a trip to Chinatown in Yokohama. Chill some beers, pack your steamer with gyoza, shumai and nikuman, and you are ready to chow.

For home cooks, there are plenty of shops to satisfy any urge. In the mood for something hot and spicy? Check out the varieties of kimchi, including negi, sesame leaf and octopus, at Marukita. Fill up your basket with Korean seaweed, sweet miso for barbecues or marinades, and some creamy, sweet makkoli—low in alcohol and an interesting alternative to Japanese nigorizake. Incorporate the kimchi into fried rice, serve it up in a nabe with some tofu and thinly sliced pork, or simply eat it as a beer snack with some of that addictive Korean seaweed flavored with sesame oil and a generous sprinkle of salt.

The variety of vegetables available in Japan is one of the delights of cooking at home. At Vegetable Ishibashi, you will discover produce you can’t find at your neighborhood supa. Check out the kyo-yasai—vegetables native to Kyoto, such as mizuna salad greens. Kyo-imo potatoes simmered until tender are dense and rich, and the sweet, burnt-orange kyo-ninjin carrots will add color to any dish.

If you are excited by the smell of sweet vinegar, and if pickles tickle your toes, don’t miss Juichiya. With over 400 varieties of seasonally changing pickles in their portfolio, this shop offers
a couple hundred at any time of the year—colorful vegetables pickled in salt, vinegar, miso and more. From the ubiquitous umeboshi apricots found in every bento box to the heady narazuke, which is pickled for years and is an acquired taste, you’ll find something here to make you pucker.

The venerable knife shop Aritsugu, from Kyoto’s Nishiki Market, dates back 400 years. At its sister shop in Tsukiji, you can invest in everything from knives to graters to strainers. The cutlery, if cared for properly, will last a lifetime, and would make a great gift for any cook.
Tsukiji is centrally located in the heart of the city, just a short walk from Ginza or Tsukiji stations. It’s scheduled to move to Toyosu in 2012, so come now and dive in to the market before it becomes a part of history.

These shops are open every day except Sunday, national holidays and Tsukiji market holidays (usually two Wednesdays per month).

Tsukugon 4-12-5 Tsukiji. Tel: 03-3542-0181. Open 7am-2:30pm.

Yamucha Suga Shoten 4-10-2 Tsukiji. Tel: 03-3541-9941. Open 6am-3pm.

Marukita 4-9-5 Tsukiji. Tel: 03-3543-5643. Open 5am-1:30pm.

Vegetable Ishibashi 4-10-1 Tsukiji. Tel: 03-3545-1538. Open 5am-1pm (approx).

Juichiya 5-2-1 Tsukiji. Tel: 03-3541-8118. Open 5-11am.

Aritsugu 4-13-6 Tsukiji. Tel: 03-3541-6890. Open 5:30am-3pm.

Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo Part 2/2

Ramen

Ramen

In this article that first appeared in Metropolis magazine I highlight some of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo.

http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/675/localflavors.asp (text follows)

Some days, I pinch myself while exploring Tokyo. Am I really spoiled with all of these places to indulge myself? And just when I think it can’t get any better, I happen upon a new area, restaurant, food or trend.

The attention to detail when it comes to food here blows me away. Wagyu cows are massaged and fed beer, resulting in marbled meat for shabu shabu. Fruits are manipulated to create perfectly blemish-free specimens. In celebration of all that Tokyo has to offer, here are some shops to get the best of the best in the city.

Try wagyu beef sliced paper thin and braised in a sweet soy sauce at Imahan in Takashimaya’s Nihonbashi branch, which has a counter in the meat department where you can have a simple sukiyaki lunch. If you prefer your meat grilled, check out Seikoen Yakiniku in Ginza. Don’t let the disco décor get you down—the shop procures great cuts of Mita wagyu for the barbecue.

“Hormones” or innards are considered a hot item at the moment. Nikomi is a dish of innards simmered until tender, and a fine version can be had at Yamariki in Morishita. This izakaya is also known for its grilled pork yakiton and its wine list. Ask for Mizukami-san, the sommelier, to help you pick from his well-thought-out list to go with your food.

While wagyu may be the best-known meat outside of Japan, pork and chicken are appreciated on the home turf. When done right, breaded and deep-fried tonkatsu is juicy on the inside and not at all greasy. Katsukura on Takashimaya Times Square’s restaurant floor lets you grind sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle before adding them to the sauce, which then gets poured over the tonkatsu.

The bird flu scare in Miyazaki has the new governor, former comedian Sonomanma Higashi, eating chicken on TV to encourage consumers not to give up the faith. If you take up the challenge and want to nibble on bits of chicken stabbed onto skewers and grilled, try yakitori under the tracks at Yurakucho or in the small area of stalls outside Shibuya station (if I told you exactly where, I’d have to kill you). The pot of yakitori sauce at Abe-chan in Azabu-Juban has been in the shop for several decades, evidenced by the thick layer that’s grown on the outside of the pot. How could this be a good thing, you are wondering? Some believe that the container gives the sauce a richness and depth that a new pot would lack.

A tour of Tokyo’s food destinations would not be complete without noodles. For ramen, my recommendation is a bowl of hiyashi chukka in a goma dare sesame broth at Sapporo-ya in Nihonbashi. The dish is topped with, among other ingredients, pork, hardboiled egg and tomato, and the savory sauce leaves you wondering if you can lick the bowl clean. For hot noodles, the Jangara chain has a hearty tonkotsu sauce that I top with the spicy mentaiko. Or, for a quick lunch, check out the Hanamaru Udon chain, where you pick your own toppings from a variety of tempura bits and pieces.

Tempura is another delight. For high-end, Kondo in Ginza lets you sit at the counter and watch the team behind the counter prep, dip and fry shrimp, fish and vegetables. For a fast-food chain, Tenya serves up a respectable bowl of tempura over rice and drizzled with sauce. This tendon is a bargain at ¥500, and rarely disappoints.

I am fascinated by fruit stands like Sembikiya or Takano. Perfect fruits are wrapped to prevent bruising, and slapped with a sticker price that reflects all of the hard work to get to that stage. To sample a wide variety, order a fruit parfait whose fillings change as the seasons do, or try a single slice of juicy melon.

The appreciation for food at its peak, or shun, is reflected everywhere in Tokyo’s markets and restaurants. It doesn’t get much better than what we have available to us, so indulge and enjoy.

Imahan. Nihonbashi Takashimaya, 2-4-1 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3211-4111. Open daily 10am-8pm. Nearest stn: Nihonbashi.

Seikoen. 1-6-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3561-5883. Open daily 2-11pm (Sat 10pm). Nearest stn: Ginza-Itchome.

Yamariki. 2-18-8 Morishita, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-3633-1638. Open Mon-Sat 5-10pm. Nearest stn: Morishita.

Katsukura. 14F Takashimaya Times Square, 5-24-2 Sendagaya. Tel: 03-5361-1878. Open daily 11am-11pm. Nearest stn: Shinjuku.

Abe-chan. 2-1-1 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3451-5825. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-12:30pm, 3-10pm (Sat 3-10pm only). Nearest stn: Azabu-Juban.

Sapporo-ya. B1, 3-3-5 Nihonbashi. Tel: 03-3275-0024. Open Mon-Sat 11am-10pm (Sat until 4pm). Nearest stn: Nihonbashi

Jangara Ramen (Harajuku branch). 1-13-21 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3404-5572. Open Daily 10:45-2am (Fri-Sat until 3am). Nearest stn: Harajuku

Hanamaru Udon. 1-16-6 Jingumae. Tel: 03-3402-0870. Open daily 9:30am-10pm. Nearest stn: Harajuku.

Kondo. 9F, 5-5-13 Ginza. Tel: 03-5568-0923. Open Mon-Sat noon-1:30pm; 5-8:30pm. Nearest stn: Ginza.Tenya. www.tenya.com

Sembikiya (main shop). 2-1-2 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3241-1414. Open Tue-Sun 11am-9pm (Sat until 8pm). Nearest stn: Mitsukoshimae.

Takano (main shop). 3-26-11 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-5368-5147. Open daily 10am-8pm. Nearest stn: Shinjuku.

Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo Part One:

https://foodsaketokyo.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/foodies-guide-to-tokyo-part-one/

Foodie’s Guide to Kappabashi 合羽橋

Sushi Refrigerator Magnets

Sushi Refrigerator Magnets

Kappabashi is a wonderland for chefs. Here you will find almost everything that one would need for cooking. While it is famous for its plastic food models, that is only a tiny part of what you will find in this area, very close to Asakusa, the popular tourist destination. It is a short walk from Asakusa so should not be missed.

This article, which first appeared in Metroplis magazine, highlights some of my favorite kitchen tools that can be found in Kappabashi.

http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/608/localflavors.asp (text follows)

The walk up Nakamise Dori towards Sensoji in Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s classic tourist destinations (and, as the cheap trinkets on all sides attest, one of its primary tourist traps). However, Asakusa has an allure for another group as well: serious cooks.

The Kappabashi area of Asakusa has everything a budding chef could possibly want. It primarily caters to restaurateurs, but nonprofessionals will have just as much fun. Most shops specialize in one particular item, from chopsticks to chinaware via coffee and bamboo. Others, like Pro-Pack, resemble little department stores, with floors of crockery and cutlery, pots and pans, containers and food.

The selection changes throughout the year, which is the reason to keep coming back. This summer I picked up bamboo trays and glass bowls for cold somen noodles. Last week, with chillier weather approaching, stores were stocked with winter essentials, and I grabbed some packs of waribashi (disposable chopsticks) for nabe parties.

You will find it hard to leave empty-handed, especially given all the tempting “must-have” kitchen gadgets on the shelves. The more you become familiar with Japanese food, the more tools you recognize, and part of the fun is learning what each is for.

My top pick is a mandolin, which will cut vegetables paper thin (and your fingers too, so slice carefully). In second place is a handcrafted oroshigane for grating ginger, garlic and daikon.
Knives are also good things to buy in Kappabashi, but if you’re going to invest in a set, be sure to shop around. Some of my cooking friends get their knives sharpened at a store called Kamata, which can re-blade an edge even after years of neglect.

Remember that Kappabashi often (although not always) deals in quantity over quality. Personally, I think the best knives in the city are found at Kiya, a shop located not in Kappabashi but Nihonbashi. Likewise, for top quality pottery I would head to a major department store. However, for simple, sturdy plates and bowls, Kappabashi has a huge variety at low prices. Some shops will deliver, which is much better than having to drag your dishes through the subway.

Before you leave, stock up on presents: plastic food magnets make fun gifts, and for close friends pick up some lacquerware—light, elegant and easy to care for. But most of all, Kappabashi is the place to treat yourself and your kitchen. We are all “Iron Chefs” deep inside—we just need the tools to get there, and Kappabashi is where we can find them.

Gotta Gets
• Mandolin for cutting veggies
• Waribashi (disposable chopsticks)
• Bamboo skewers for hors d’oeuvres
• Hashioki chopstick rests
• Lacquerware for the table
• Plastic food magnets
• Noren curtains for your home
• Wrapping paper and containers

“Kappabashi Kitchenware Town” is halfway between Asakusa and Ueno. The closest stations are Inaricho and Tawaramachi on the Ginza Line and Iriya on the Hibiya Line. Many shops are closed on Sundays.

Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo Part 1/2

photo by Tama Miyake-Lung

photo by Tama Miyake-Lung

This article which first appeared in Metropolis magazine highlights do not miss spots in Tokyo for foodies.

http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/674/localflavors.asp (text follows)

We are spoiled rotten here in Tokyo. The food-savvy consumers of Japan have raised the bar for the dining culture to a level found in only a few cities throughout the world. Here are my favorite parts of town when foraging for food in Tokyo.

To really get a feel for what the city has to offer, the best place to start is, obviously, Tsukiji Market. The inner market will be moving to Toyosu in 2012, so come and see this historical area while you can. Avoid it on Sundays, when it’s closed, and refer to the calendar for other holidays. While most people go to get their sushi at the source, I am addicted to the anago tempura at Tenfusa—tender eel in a crispy tempura batter sprinkled with a sweet soy dressing over a bowl of steaming rice.

If you are not a morning person or it’s a Sunday, head instead up to Ameyoko in Ueno. The narrow street bustles with energy, and stores are popping at the seams with goods spilling out onto the road and into neighboring stalls. Hawkers call out with their scratchy voices offering discounts to the housewives. While Ameyoko cannot be compared to Tsukiji, you will find seafood, fruit, vegetables and some imported goods. Come in the fall and see the coveted matsutake mushrooms, often from China, at discounted prices.

Getting in gear for your kitchen? Kappabashi, between Asakusa and Ueno at Tawaramachi station, is best-known as a place to pick up plastic food. Once you find that perfect sushi keychain, though, wander the streets and go where the real finds are. Kappabashi is where chefs and restaurateurs go to set up shop. If knives are what you are after, make a beeline to Kiya in Nihonbashi. The shop has a fantastic selection of cutting utensils in a range of prices, as well as other kitchen gadgets.

My favorite part of the food culture in Japan is depachika, the grand food floors in the basement of department stores. The newly revamped Isetan in Shinjuku sparkles and shines. Don’t miss the sandwiches at Alain Ducasse’s premiere boulangerie, Be, or the sweets at Pierre Herme, considered by many to be the top French patisserie. In the wine shop there is a sleek bar where you can select from a long list of toasty, smokey whiskeys. Or pick up a bento and a beer and take the elevators to the roof-top garden for an impromptu picnic away from the crowds of Shinjuku.

While Osaka may be famous for okonomiyaki, Tokyo has its own, much messier version, monjayaki. After getting out of the station at Tsukishima, follow your nose to “Monja Dori,” where it looks like time stopped about 25 years ago (left). The secret to enjoying monjayaki is to have your server help you make the first one or two until you get the hang of it. If you can manage to make it thin enough, you’ll find that the pari pari crispy bits put okonomiyaki to shame. Suggested toppings include cheese, mentaiko and mochi.

Another area that smells so good it’ll have you jumping off of the train is Koreatown in Shin-Okubo. Come here for yakiniku, but if you like to cook at home, then make time to check out the local supermarkets, where you can find kimchi, pajong mix, and the finger-licking-good Korean nori.

If you have time for a day trip, head south to Yokohama’s Chinatown for some great street food like steamed buns stuffed with chopped barbecue pork, sticky rice with chicken steamed in a bamboo leaf, and tapioca in coconut milk. While it lacks the energy you find in, say, New York’s Chinatown, and although there seems to be a curious lack of actual Chinese people, the area does not lack in restaurant options, and there are plenty of markets to pick up salt-laden stocks and dried scallops for soups.

Another day trip that does not disappoint is to Utsunomiya. Actually, the city itself is a bit depressing, but the number of gyoza restaurants is tremendous. Go with a couple of friends and hit as many places as you can for pork-filled dumplings, fried or boiled.

The urban adventure does not end here. Check out next week’s issue for Part Two of our Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo—with a look into various cuisine and specific shops to indulge in here in the metropolis.

Check out next week’s Metropolis for the second and final installment of our Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo.

For more information about Tsukiji market, see www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm.

Tenfusa. 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3547-6766. Open Mon-Sat 6:30am-2pm, closed Sun and hols. Nearest stn: Tsukiji

Kappabashi: http://www.kappabashi.or.jp

Ameyoko:www.ameyoko.net

Kiya. 1-5-6 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku. Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11:15am-5:45pm. Tel: 03-3241-1141. Nearest stn: Mitsukoshimae. www.kiya-hamono.co.jp

Isetan. 3-14-1 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3352-1111. Open daily 10am-8pm. Nearest stn: Shinjuku-Sanchome. www.isetan.co.jp

Tsukishima: www.gurume-tsukishima.com

Korea Town: http://korea-zanmai.com/tansaku.html

Chinatown:www.chinatown.or.jp

Utsunomiya Gyoza: www.gyozakai.com

Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo Part Two:

https://foodsaketokyo.wordpress.com/2009/12/08/foodies-guide-to-tokyo-part-two/

Tempura in Tokyo

Tempura Soba

Tempura Soba

Seafood and vegetables covered in a thin, crispy batter is one food that is, I believe, best eaten outside than at home. It is hard to recreate this dish at home, even for a chef. This article from Metropolis magazine highlights some of my favorite shops in Tokyo for tempura including Kondo, Mikawa, Daikokuya, Tenya, and Tsunahachi. A basic recipe is included for the brave.

http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/664/localflavors.asp (text follows)

tempura can be ethereal, especially in the late fall and early winter: earthy mushrooms, crunchy renkon (lotus root) and sweet potatoes. Delicate, lacy batter covering vegetables fried al dente so they still retain a crunch is one of my favorites; seafood—shrimp, scallops or aji that steams and bursts of juice when bitten into—is also delicious. Even low-end tempura, if it’s hot and fresh out of the oil, can be a satisfying alternative to fast food.
The classic tempura meal starts with shrimp, followed by a parade of vegetables, and then more shrimp and other seafood. These are garnished with tsuyu dipping sauce and grated daikon, or natural sea salt with a wedge of lemon. The decision to dip or not to dip into the tsuyu is up to you. At the end, finish off with a bowl of rice, some pickles and akadashi (dark) miso soup.

Eating Out

Kondo 

Look out for the bamboo basket nestling seasonal vegetables behind the counter at this Ginza institution. Two chefs prepare items to be fried, while
a third dips them lightly into the batter. His job includes managing the batter and the oil so they are just the right consistencies and temperature. Kimono-clad waitresses change the paper under each item with each course. 9F Sakaguchi Bldg, 5-5-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5568-0923.

Mikawa 
This place is hard to find, but well worth the effort. Located in a residential area of Kayabacho, Mikawa is a step back in time. On a recent visit, an elderly woman sitting next to me said that she has been coming religiously for years. On your way out, they give you a small bag of tenkasa to take home. Tenkasa are the tiny bits of batter leftover from the frying process. The shop manager suggested I add it to a bowl of soba for dinner that evening. 3-4-7 Kayabacho, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3664-9843.

Daikokuya 
Fans of shrimp tempura shouldn’t miss the ten-don at Daikokuya, located in Asakusa on a side street off Nakamise Dori. The large fried shrimp on a bowl of rice dressed with a sweetened soy sauce attracts long lines of patient customers on weekends, so go early. 1-38-10 Asakusa, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3844-1111.

Tenfusa
This Tsukiji shop is one of my favorites, especially the anago tempura over a bowl of rice. The eel is so long that it drapes over the entire bowl. Stall 6, 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3547-6766.

Tenya 
For fast food tempura, check out Tenya, which has shops all over the city. Their tendon with shrimp and vegetables on a bowl of rice with sauce drizzled over it is a good alternative to grabbing a hamburger. If you prefer your tempura crispy, ask for the teishoku set where your tempura is served on its own plate and not on the rice. www.tenya.co.jp 

Tsunahachi 
The main branch of Tsunahachi is in Shinjuku Sanchome, but I often find myself at the eat-in counter in the basement of Takashimaya Times Square. There is also a shop in the restaurant mall on the 13th floor. Another option is to buy some tempura to take home and make your own donburi, or use it to top off a bowl of soba or udon. B1/13F Takashimaya Times Square, 5-24-2 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5361-1111. www.tunahachi.co.jp/en/index.html

At Home
There are a few key points to keep in mind when making tempura at home: Start with fresh ingredients, make a lumpy batter and keep your oil at a constant temperature. Making the batter at the last minute and not mixing it well enough can make the difference between good and great tempura. Your instinct may be to integrate the ingredients thoroughly, but resist temptation. (At the fine tempura restaurants you will see the bowl has a ring of flour around the edge.) With a pair of chopsticks, gently mix two egg yolks with two cups of ice cold water and two cups of flour. Prep your items to be fried into bite-size pieces. Dry the ingredients, lightly coat with flour, dip in the batter and then drop gently into 170°C oil. Shrimp, squid, delicate whitefish, eel and scallops are all recommended, as are most vegetables. Kakiage is a mélange of ingredients, chopped up into bits, and fried up in a small bundle.

Whether in a fast-food joint or in an upscale restaurant, tempura
in the fall showcases the season’s harvest. Treat yourself while the ingredients are still at their best.

Tachinomi in Shinbashi, Nihonbashi, and Hatchobori 立ち飲み

Tachinomi

Tachinomi

Tachinomi, or standing bars, offer drinks and small bites often at bargain prices. In this article, which fist appeared in Metropolis magazine, Alex Vega and I visit popular tachinomi in Shinbashi, Nihonbashi, and Hatchobori.

http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/668/localflavors.asp (text follows)

In a country famous for its reserved
populace, tachinomiya are among the few places where it’s easy to talk to strangers. That’s what makes these “standing bars” fun. As well as an obvious lack of seats, there are a few unwritten rules.

Some places are pay-as-you-go, at others you run a tab, and at others you may find a small bowl on the table where you leave your loose change; the server will take what you owe from there. Be flexible, as you may be asked to move around to accommodate newcomers. Because counter space is also limited, order your food bit by bit. And, according to one tachinomi aficionado, while it’s fine to be friendly, don’t be too friendly.

Shinbashi

One of the best places to experience standing bar culture at its most relaxed is Shinbashi, especially on a Friday night, when the salarymen celebrate the end of the work week creating a real party atmosphere in the streets.

Most of Shinbashi’s bars are on the west side of the JR station. Noyaki is one of the friendliest. It’s been around for 30 years, and it looks like nothing has changed in that time. There are seats inside, but standing out in the narrow alleyway is a good way to soak up the Shinbashi culture. The smoky aroma of nikomi (innards stew) wafts out of the window in front of the grill. The house specialty is chicken and pig bits skewered and grilled, but you may need a few beers before you can stand the gristlier bits.

Tonko is hard to miss, with a plastic pig outside that signals its specialty: pork. It’s famous for its friendly, all-female staff, and many customers seem to be regulars who go for the flirting as much as the beer. You can get every piece of the pig here, from the mimiga (ears) to the “Titanic” kakuni (soft, braised pork), to the gutsy nikomi.

Higoikini is a one of a new generation of standing bars; you might call them “gastro-tachinomi” (like the modern British “gastro-pubs”). It’s a cavernous space with long communal tables and a wall of shochu bottles. The young crowd outnumbers the salarymen. The food is self-service (the deep-fried calamari is recommended) and drinks are ordered from the cashier.

Also in the area, Heso is known for its good food, but is a male bastion of gray-haired chain smokers, so we gave it a miss. There are dozens more, so stroll around and get adventurous.

East Tokyo

In Nihonbashi, Masukyu Liquor really feels like something from another era. Every day at 5pm, this liquor store on Chuo Dori turns into a standing bar. The same goods it sells during the day (cup sake, cans and bottles of beer and shochu) can in the evening be consumed in the shop. Early birds can stand around the mama-san at the cashier; latecomers may find themselves in the office space at the back. As there is no kitchen, for food you can select from an array of snacks and canned goods: tuna, yakitori, scallops, squid—even whale. Yes, all in a can.

Another favorite that is definitely worth seeking out is Maru in Hatchobori. The bar is located next door to a wine and liquor shop. Pick up a bottle in the shop, pay for it and then take it into the bar, where they will open it for ¥500. The menu is quite extensive with European tapas such as grilled and cured meats, olives and cheese, as well as typical izakaya fare. The first floor is a tachinomi, and there are seats upstairs. Maru fills up quickly, so come early.

Address Book

Heso 2-8-2 Shinbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3508-0466.
Higoikini 2-8-9 Shinbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3502-3132.
Maru 3-22-10 Hatchobori, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3552-4477
Masukyu Liquor 2-7-19 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku. No phone.
Noyaki 2-8-16 Shinbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3591-2967.
Tonko 2-9-17 Shinbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3508-1122.