Osechi Ryori at Depachika おせち料理

Homemade Osechi Ryori

Homemade Osechi Ryori

Osechi ryori is food made to eat the first days of the New Year. The photo above is of osechi ryori I made two years ago (I made most of it, I am still not confident to make kuromame).

Here is a list of just some of the popular items in osechi ryori:

Kazunoko (herring roe) – tiny yellow fish eggs. Like the tobiko often find at sushi restaurants, kazunoko have a bite or crunch to them, however, the eggs are not loose. They are marinated in a broth of dashi, sake and soy sauce.

Kuromame (black beans) are soft and quite sweet, although you may notice a bit of soy sauce flavoring.

Gomame (also known as tazukuri) are small sardines that have been dried and then finished in a sweet sauce of sugar, mirin, soy sauce and sake. These are rich in calcium and yes, you can eat the head.

Kobumaki are nothing more than the umami-rich kombu rolled tightly and bound shut with a ribbon of gourd strip (kampyo). Often kobumaki are stuffed with salmon. This is also cooked slowly in dashi, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce.

Datemaki looks like the tamagoyaki (egg custard) you often find in a bento box, but here it’s made with a fish paste and has a sponge-like texture. It’s quite sweet.

Sweet potatoes and chestnuts are the base of kurikinton, which can look something like yellow mashed potatoes.

Kamaboko, a dense cake of fish paste, is red and white (traditional New Year’s colors). You can often find thin slices of this on your soba.

Another red-and-white food you’ll find is called namasu – typically daikon and carrots pickled in vinegar.

For vegetables, look for gobo (burdock root), often dressed with sesame. Also lotus root, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and pea pods.

Konnyaku (devil’s-tongue starch) and fu (wheat gluten) will also be sprinkled throughout the stacked boxes.

For seafood, shrimp (representing long life) and sea bream (for auspicious fortune) are most typical.

This time of year all depachika will sell a variety of osechi ryori that can be ordered ahead of time. Some are simple bento boxes with just the basics. Famous ryotei will make a limited number of stacked boxes filled with premium ingredients. Some of these can go for hundreds of dollars. This photo below is Takashimaya’s Tokusen Wafu Osechi featuring items from famous purveyors from throughout Japan.

Takashimaya Tokusen

Takashimaya Tokusen

This year Takashimaya is also featuring osechi ryori from famous ryokan in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. Click here to see photos of these sets.
If you are in Tokyo, check out the osechi ryori displays, if not in the depachika then on the event floor (usually the top floor) of the department store. If you are keen on putting together your own osechi ryori then check out the depachika for ingredients or components to assemble your own.
Here are some of what you will find:
Suzuhiro Kamaboko

Suzuhiro Kamaboko

Suzuhiro has been making kamaboko for 170 years in Odawara, Kanagawa. When I worked at Takashimaya the Suzuhiro shop was directly in front of the sake shop. It was swamped this time of year with customers picking up kamaboko.

Nihonbashi Kanmo Kuromame

Nihonbashi Kanmo Kuromame

Kuromame for me is one of the hardest items to make well and so is better bought. This kuromame is from Nihonbashi Kanmo, a shop famous for its hanpen.

Shibamata Marujin Kurikinton

Shibamata Marujin Kurikinton

Kurikinton is always the first component to go in our house. It is hard to resist the chestnuts. Marujin is in the historic shitamachi district of Shibamata.

If you are picking up osechi ryori, be sure to pick up a bottle of sake.

Hakodate Zundou at Shibuya Tokyu Food Show ずんどう

Zundou Takana

Zundou Takana


Zundou Takana Rayu

Zundou Takana Rayu

Thanks to Robbie Swinnerton for pointing out that the famous ramen shop Zundou from Hakodate in Hokkaido is at Shibuya’s Tokyu Food Show (until this Thursday) on his blog.

Zundou sells a great bottled spicy takana with red chili peppers that we love over rice. If you are in Shibuya, stop by Tokyu Food Show (it’s in the basement of Shibuya station so not far to go). Zundou is there until this Thursday the 22nd.


Food Gifts – Omiyage from Tokyo 東京のお土産

Omiyage most often describes gifts that you pick up while traveling that you bring back to your family, friends, and colleagues. For example, on a trip to Kyoto I may select some local jizake or wagashi for friends. For my colleagues at work I may pick up a box of yatsuhashi, a popular confectionary that Kyoto is known for.

It is important when selecting gifts that they are purchased at the correct price. You don’t want to give a gift that is too expensive or the recipient may feel the need to reciprocate, often referred to as okaeshi. I learned about this while working at Takashimaya. The occasion determines not only how much would be spent on a gift, but also how it may be wrapped.

If you need to send a gift to someone bring along their address and phone number. Most shops will arrange for a delivery service, many times for next-day delivery.

The gift-giving ritual in Japan is for another blog post, so for now, just my tips on what to look for and some suggestions for some of my favorite gifts from Tokyo. And as we enter the holidays, if you are invited to a friend’s home, consider bringing along one of the items listed below as a show of your appreciation.

Tips – look for gentei or limited production items. Shun or kisetsu are used to describe seasonal items. Alternatively, koko de shika meaning that the produce is sold only there or ima shika – that it is only being sold for a limited period.

Some popular omiyage at the moment include Baumkuchen, sweets in the form of a small sandwich, or rusks which are toasts, usually sweetened with sugar and maybe some butter.

Here are my favorite gifts from Tokyo.

Sawanoi Bon

Sawanoi Bon

Tokyo has a surprising number of sake kura (breweries) and this always makes for a nice gift for anyone who appreciates nihonshu. My personal favorite Tokyo sake is Sawa no I from Ome in Okutama (Western Tokyo in the mountains). On a personal note, I love this sake so much we served it at our wedding. Sake can be purchased at the sake department in depachika. Alternatively, Hasegawa Saketen is a wonderful sake shop with a few branches in the city.

Japanese knives are the perfect gift for anyone who loves to cook. Here is my list of knife shops in Tokyo.

Nishiki Hourin Karintou

Nishiki Hourin Karintou

Karintou from Nishiki Hourin.   These sweet crackers come in flavors like shichimi tougarashi (seven spice), negi miso (leek and miso), kinpira gobo (burdock root and carrot), and kuro koshou (black pepper). The shop is in Tokyo station’s basement in an area called GranSta. It’s easy to find as there is usually a long line. The karintou are sold in small packs so it is fun to pick up a few different flavors. This is an example of koko shika as the karintou can only be bought here – nowhere else in the world.

Yoku Moku Cigare

Yoku Moku Cigare

Yoku Moku is a Japanese confectionary shop specializing in Western confectionaries. In particular, I love their cigares which are sold in pastel tins. Think delicately thin butter cookies rolled into a cigare. I often bring this as an omiyage as a hostess gift. Yoku Moku can be found in almost every depachika.

Confectionary West

Confectionary West

Leaf Pie from Confectionary West are another popular Western style cookie that is rich with butter and sugar. The main branch is in Ginza but most depachika also sell these addictive cookies.

Mamegen's Shiokaki

Mamegen’s Shiokaki

For some savory osembei (rice crackers)  look no further than the shiokaki from Mamegen in Azabu Juban. I usually buy these as omiyage for myself. Like Doritos or whatever chips you are addicted to, you can’t stop once you start. Mamegen is known for their flavored nuts and beans in fun flavors like wasabi, mattcha, or uni. Mamegen also can be found in most depachika.

For traditional wagashi (Japanese confectionaries) I always find myself going to Suzukake in Shinjuku Isetan. I am a sucker for its simple packaging and no matter what you get, it is always delicious. In particular, ask for the seasonal  nama wagashi.

For more modern wagashi, check out the mattcha babaloa from Kinozen in Kagurazaka or the confectionaries at Higashiya Ginza.



For a special gift, create your own shichimi (seven spice) from Yagenbori in Asakusa (Asakusa 1-28-3). The shop sells its own recommended version, but you can develop your own flavor on the spot. Be sure to pick up a wooden dispenser while there (see photo above).

Lemon's Grapefruit Jelly

Lemon’s Grapefruit Jelly

Finally, for a real treat, select some seasonal fresh fruit from Sembikiya or Lemon or Takano. Melon is perhaps the most famous food gift, notably for its price which can be a few hundred dollars for one. But there are a variety of fruit that changes throughout the season and at a variety of prices. My cousin is a big fan of the fruit jellies which are packaged in the shell of the fruit.

Got a question about my favorite nori shop in Tsukiji Market. It is Maruyama and their information is listed below in the comments section.

Perhaps the most popular food gift at the moment from Tokyo Station for visitors to Japan is the regional flavored Kit Kats. I list the shop in this Metropolis article.

Tsukiji Market Holiday Schedule 2011

Just a reminder that Tsukiji Market is closed not only on Sundays, but other days this month due to the holidays. Here is the market calendar for 2011 and 2012. Below are the days it is closed for the next four weeks.

Dec. 11, 14, 18, 23, 25 (short day), 31

January 1-4, 8-9

If you are in Tokyo only while Tsukiji is closed, the next best place to go would be to Ameyoko near Ueno and Okachimachi stations. I believe (but am not 100% sure) that it is only closed on January 1st.

Restaurants in Ginza on Sunday

The Ginza district is a popular destination on Sundays for shoppers and browsers. I love Ginza’s restaurants, but surprisingly, many are closed on Sundays, notably the restaurants that rely on Tsukiji Market for fresh seafood. Here is my shortlist of restaurants that are open on Sundays in Ginza.

If all else fails, then head to one of the department stores like Mitsukoshi or Matsuya and check out their restaurant floors.

Bairin tonkatsu

Bairin tonkatsu

Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin (Ginza 7-8-1)

Ginza Rangetsu for sukiyaki or shabu-shabu (Ginza 3-5-8)

Tenryu Gyoza (Ginza 2-6-1)

Ukaitei for teppanyaki (Ginza 5-15-8)

Pyon Pyon Sha for reimen (Ginza 3-2-15 11F)

Other blogs on Ginza:

Ginza Cheap Eats 1/2

Ginza Cheap Eats 2/2

Ginza Eats

What and Where to Eat in Tokyo

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga at Nihonbashi Yukari

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga at Nihonbashi Yukari

Updated May, 2016

I often am asked for restaurant suggestions in Tokyo. Wow. Where does one begin? The food is amazing, from the high end kaiseki restaurants and sushi counters to the neighborhood ramen shop or izakaya. Even on a budget it is very easy to eat well in Tokyo.

Let me put here just some of my recommendations of restaurants based on the types of food one should try when visiting. Also, one should consider location as the city is so big and there are so many great restaurants, it may not be necessary to traverse the metropolis.

Sushi – Ginza Harutaka or Kyubey for high end. Both are in Ginza.

Tonkatsu – Maisen (Omotesando) or Katsukura (Shinjuku)

Soba – Yabu Soba (Kanda), Muto (Nihonbashi), or Kanda Matsuya (Kanda)

Tempura – Kondo (Ginza), Zezankyo (Monzennakacho), or Tenko (Kagurazaka), Taniya (Ningyocho)

Value-priced tempura – Tenmatsu (Nihonbashi)

Tofu – Tofuya Ukai (Shiba Koen) – high-end and not exclusively vegetarian.

Pickles – Kintame (Tokyo Station or Monzennakacho) or Nishiri (Nihonbashi)

Meat – New York Grill and Bar (Shinjuku). Exquisite views and service – a splurge. Alternatively Ukaitei teppanyaki (Ginza or Omotesando) – also upscale service, without the view of the New York Grill and Bar. I also love Dons de la Nature in Ginza as the chef cooks the wagyu in a kiln he built just for this purpose. The interior is stuck in the 70s but the steak is good. Just be sure to confirm the price of the steak before ordering as it is market price.

Izakaya – Yamariki (Morishita) or Saiseisakaba (Shinjuku or Monzennakacho).

Kaiseki – Nihonbashi Yukari  (Nihonbashi), Waketokuyama (Hiroo), Kikunoi (Akasaka). Note, I’ve been told that Nihonbashi Yukari no longer accepts reservations from non-Japanese. Not sure if this is true and will update this after I speak with the chef.


Ramen – Ginza Kagari is my favorite at the moment. Afuri for the yuzu shio is also excellent. Alternatively,  Ippudo (Ueno) or Kyushu Jangara (Nihonbashi or Harajuku). Note that Ginza Kagari in the link above has closed and is now at Ginza 6-4-12 and is now cashless (credit card, Suica, etc.).

Unagi – Nodaiwa (Higashi Azabu)

Monjayaki – Okame Hyottoko Ten (Tsukishima) or Sometaro (Asakusa).

Yakitori – Birdland (Ginza) or Isehiro (Kyobashi)

Oden – Otafuku (Asakusa) or Ogura (Ginza)

My short list of where to drink in Tokyo.

A similar list of culinary highlights in Tokyo from Indagare.

I have also contributed to these great food guides for:

Saveur Tokyo City Guide

Punch Tokyo City Guide

Kappabashi – Okuda Shouten Shiten for Bamboo Products

Okuda Shouten Shiten in Kappabashi

Okuda Shouten Shiten in Kappabashi

Okuda Shouten Shiten is on the rightside

This shop features bamboo products. Strainers, steamers, bamboo baskets for soba, tempura, or for large strainers, chopsticks,handai for making sushi rice, bento boxes, bowls for miso soup.

Okuda Shouten Shiten オクダ商店支店

Taito-ku, Nishi-Asakusa 1-5-10

Phone: 03-3844-4511

www.kappabashi.or.jp/shops/32.html (Japanese)

December Seasonal Japanese Seafood 12月旬の魚



I love seafood this time of year. I think part of it has to do with the fact that I met Shinji around New Year’s and one of the first days we spent together he took me on a tour of Tsukiji Market (he was working as a buyer at Tsukiji then).

Some of our favorite seafood for sashimi include kinmedai (splendid alfonsino), hirame (olive flounder), kawahagi (thread-sail filefish), and kanburi (winter Japanese amberjack). Shinji loves kanburi so much that part of our honeymoon was spent trekking to one of the ports famous for harvesting winter buri and having it for breakfast. And, if the kawahagi is fresh, you can eat the liver raw – a real treat.

Wakasagi (Japanese smelt) is lovely when simply dredged in some flour and fried up. Eat it whole and serve it with some sake. We love to use ankou (monkfish) for nabe and to steam the ankimo (monkfish liver) in sake. Some say it is better than foie gras. Having studied at the French Culinary Institute and having a soft spot in my heart for French cuisine, I would have to say that I prefer foie gras, but that ankimo is a close second – and excellent with some sake or shochu.

Shijimi (corbicula clams) are best enjoyed in miso soup. Asari (littleneck clams) over pasta with simply extra virgin olive oil just can not be beat.

Shinji loves to grill hata hata (sailfin sandfish), especially if they are komochi (full of eggs). I have tried to come to like the hard eggs but it’s an acquired taste. I love fish eggs of all kinds, but these are very hard and crunchy and surprisingly big in size.

Crab is in season this time of year – perhaps best enjoyed simply steamed. I love uni – as sashimi, sushi, or when I am craving some Western preparation I love to make uni pasta.

Finally, the photo above is of kinki (thornhead). This is an amazing fish when simply simmered (nitsuke). Tender, delicate, and sweet flesh that falls off the bone.

December Japanese Seasonal Seafood

Akagarei – 赤鰈 flathead flounder (Hippoglossoides dubius)

Amadai – 赤甘鯛 tilefish (Branchiostegus japonicus)

Ankou – 鮟鱇 monkfish (Lophiomus setigerus)

Asari – 浅利 littleneck clams (Ruditapes philippinarum)

Bora – 鯔 flathead gray mullet (Mugil cephalus cephalus)

Buri – 鰤 Japanese amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata)

Fugu – 河豚 blowfish or puffer fish (Takifugu porphyreus)

Hata Hata – 鰰 sailfin sandfish (Arctoscopus japonicus)

Hirame – 鮃  olive flounder (Paralichthys olivaceus)

Honmaguro – 本鮪 bluefin tuna (Thunus thynnus)

Houbou – 魴 gurnard (Chelidonichthys spinosus)

Hoya – 海鞘 sea squirt (Halocynthia roretzi)

Inada –  イナダ young Japanese amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata)

Kaki – 牡蠣 oyster (Crassostrea gigas)

Kanburi – 寒鰤 Japanese amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata)

Kawahagi – 皮剥 thread-sail filefish (Stephanolepis cirrhifer)

Kinki – 喜知次 thornhead (Sebastolobus macrochir)

Kinme – 金目 splendid alfonsino (Beryx splendens)

Kurumaebi – 車海老 Japanese tiger prawn (Penaeus (Melicertus) japonicus)

Madara – 真鱈 Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus)

Makarei – 真鰈 littlemouth flounder (Pleuronectes yokohamae)

Managatsuo – 真名鰹 silver pomfret (Pampus punctatissimus)

Madara shirako – 白子 milt from Pacific cod

Mebaru – 目張 rockfish (Sebastes inermis)

Meji maguro – young maguro

Mizudako – 水蛸 North Pacific giant octopus (Octopus dofleini)

Mutsu – むつ gnomefish (Scombrops boops)

Namako – 生子 sea cucumber (Stichopus japonica)

Nametagarei – 婆鰈 slime flounder (MIicrostomus achne)

Saba – 鯖  Pacific mackerel (Scomber japonicus)

Sakuraebi – 桜蝦  sakura shrimp (Sergia lucens)

Sawara – 鰆  Japanese Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus niphonius)

Sazae – 栄螺 horned turban shell (Turbo cornutus)

Shijimi – 大和蜆 corbicula clams (Corbicula japonica)

Sukesoutara – 介党鱈   Alaska pollack (Theragra chalcogramma)

Suzuki – 鱸  Japanese sea perch (Lateolabrax japonicus)

Uni –  sea urchin

Wakasagi – 若細魚  Japanese smelt (Hypomesus nipponensis)

Warasa – 鰤 Japanese amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata)

Zuwaigani – 頭矮蟹 snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio)