Omotesando Hills Kurkku 3

Kurkku 3 Soba Lunch Omotesando

Kurkku 3, is part of the Kurkku restaurant group that has several restaurants in this neighborhood. Located just as you enter the main entrance to Omotesando Hills is this sleek and bright shop. The lunch menu is simple and focuses on soba and seasonal vegetables. Here is the cold soba topped with pork and vegetables served with a tangy tomato dipping sauce. I was intrigued when the waitress described today’s special as it had a tomato sauce instead of the ubiquitous soy-based dipping sauce that soba is so traditionally served with. The tomato was refreshing and is something I will try to replicate this summer, when we often make the very thin, flour-based sōmen noodles that are always served cold.

Kurkku 3 Interior Omotosando

One whole wall is of windows that faces the main street of Omotesando that is often compared to the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo. Grab a window seat for some of the city’s best people watching as shoppers stroll by.

Omotesando Hills, designed by Tadao Ando, is filled with over 100 shops for high-end fashion like Belgium’s Ann Demeulemeester. It’s a great place to meet friends for a meal as there are plenty of restaurants to choose from including one that I go back to time and time again, Yasaiya Mei. Yasaiya Mei offers a menu filled, but not limited to, seasonal vegetables.

Kurkku 3 offers some domestic Japanese wine and international beers.

Kurkku 3

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 4-12-10, Omotesando Hills 1F

Phone: 03-6438-9603

Open daily

Japanese Fruit Shops – Nihonbashi Sembikiya 日本橋千疋屋

*All photos by Aiste Miseviciute of Luxeat. Check out her blog for many beautiful photos of her meals in Japan.

A visit to Japan for any foodie would not be complete without a careful peruse of the upscale fruit shops. My personal favorite is Nihonbashi Sembikiya, which is Japan’s oldest fruit shop. Sembikiya originated in 1834 in Koshigaya, north of Tokyo. It was started by a samurai and moved to the mercantile district of Nihonbashi in 1867. Japan’s first fruit restaurant, selling then opened in 1887. The restaurant was the forerunner to the modern day fruit parlor. It is at the fruit parlors where customers can sit and enjoy freshly squeezed fruit juices and sliced fruits as well as parfaits.

Sembikiya Melon 1

Perhaps the most famous of Japanese fruit is the muskmelon. Here it is wrapped up.Sembikiya Melon 2

Yes, in a wooden box and cradled with packaging to prevent it from bruising.Sembikiya Melon 3

The muskmelon from Sembikiya all come from Shizuoka prefecture. Shizuoka was selected as it gets a lot of sunshine. In the summertime the melons are kept cool with air-conditioning; in the wintertime, kept warm with heaters. And, on each plant only one melon is left to grow while all of the others are cut off. This is so that all of the water and sunlight will be used to nurture the one melon.
Sembikiya Melon 4

And, here are the results. A juicy, sweet muskmelon that melts in your mouth.

When purchasing one of these gift melons the store clerk will ask you on which day it will be eaten. They then select one in your price range that will be at its peak time for consumption on that day. This melon was purchased five days before it was going to be eaten. It cost about 12,000 JPY (or about $120 USD at current exchange rates). Aiste, of Luxeat, who purchased this was advised to keep the melon out at room temperature until she was ready to eat it. Then, to put it in the fridge about two hours before to cool it down.

If you will be visiting Tokyo the best way to try a slice of one of these melons is to visit a fruit parlor. Nihonbashi Sembikiya has a café on the first floor next to the fruit shop, Caffe di FESTA, for purchasing freshly squeezed juices and fruit shakes. The second floor is a proper restaurant where sliced fruits, parfaits, and curries made with fruit are served. Depachika, the epicurean food halls in the basement of department stores, also have eat-in counters where customers can indulge in sliced fruits, freshly squeezed juices, and other fruit-based sweets. Here is a list of my favorite depachika in Tokyo.

Sembikiya Biwa

In this photo are Nagasaki biwa (loquats, Eriobotrya japonica), in season in the spring. These tangy and sweet fruit can be eaten fresh or simmered in a simple syrup. It is also lovely in a gelatin. 8,925 JPY per box.

Sembikiya Fuji Apples

The apple season is just ending its season in Japan. These red Fuji apples come from Aomori prefecture in the north of Japan. Aiste bought some apples and the store clerk had advised her that the peak “shun” or best time for eating apples had passed and that these apples were not as sweet as they are in January or February. She bought one and gave it to me and I have to agree with the store clerk. It was not as juicy or sweet as they can be. 1,050 JPY per apple.

Sembikiya Mango

Miyazaki, on the southern island of Kyushu, reminds me of Hawaii. Arriving at the airport one is greeted with palm trees and a coastal breeze. Miyazaki is known for many food and beverages such as shōchū, jidori (local chicken), and mangoes. These juicy fruit bombs can be super sweet and very tender. One Miyazaki mango can go for as much as 20,000 JPY. As you can see, the high-end fruit come in wooden boxes and are cradled with packaging to prevent it from bruising. The package on the right with two mangoes and flowers are being promoted as a special gift for Mother’s Day.

Sembikiya Muskmelon

Here are two Shizuoka muskmelon for 23,100 JPY presented in a wooden box.

Sembikiya Suika

Suika (watermelon) are just now coming into season in Japan. These Kodama suika from Gunma prefecture are perfectly round and go for 4,200 JPY.
Sembikiya Cherries

The most impressive display of fresh fruit are these wooden boxes of sakurarnbo cherries from Yamagata prefecture. The box on the right has 40 cherries all of the same size that are lined up in perfect rows for an astonishing 21,525 JPY (over $200 USD). That is about $5 USD per cherry.

On the depachika food tours we do for Food Sake Tokyo  we visit a fruit shop in a department store basement. Clients are always surprised at the exorbitant price of the fruit in these shops. Of course, this is not where we go to buy fruit to eat at home. Fruit purchased here is part of the rich gift-giving culture in Japan. As Mother’s Day is coming up there are many signs at Sembikiya suggesting giving fruit to your mother as a gift. Fruit are also popular as gifts for elderly friends or if someone is in the hospital.

Be sure to visit a fruit shop when you are in Japan. Indulge in a slice of muskmelon or some freshly squeezed fruit juice at the fruit parlor.

Nihonbashi Sembikiya

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Muromachi 2-1-2, Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower

Phone: 03-3241-1630 (fruit parlor and restaurant)

Fruit shop and Caffe di FESTA hours 9:00 – 19:00 daily

Sanukiya – Kaiseki Udonya and Saké

Tokyo is filled with a wide variety of izakaya, places with food and saké. Recently I got together with friends, two editors from a popular food magazine, DANCYU, and a famous saké and shōchū authority for a night out. I was told that we were going to Sanukiya in Kōenji. Sanuki is a region in Japan famous for its udon noodles, not for its saké so I was a bit puzzled. Udon is a noodle that is getting a lot of attention now. So much so that DANCYU did a big spread on it last month. But, what kind of saké were we going to get at an udon shop? I wasn’t expecting much.

Sanukiya 1

Until we sat down and Atsuko Sando Sensei, the saké authority, said, “Wow, this saké list is not made up of ozeki or sekiwaké (referring to ranks of sumo wrestlers), but these are all yokozuna (the highest rank of sumo wrestlers).” I knew immediately that we were in for a great evening of saké. Just a quick look at the list above, some names jump out right away like Jikon, Kamenoo, and Juuyondai. And, if Sando Sensei was excited, then surely we were in for a treat.

Sanukiya 2

We started off with a slightly sweet saké. Perfect aperitif to begin the evening with.

Sanukiya 3

A frizzante Nabéshima Junmaiginjō from Saga prefecture was served with cod milt garnished with truffles and cured Yonezawa wagyū (imagine a cured ham, but made from wagyū).

Sanukiya 5

One of my favorite pairings was a foie gras chawanmushi (savory custard) and 10-year balsamico with Murayū Hon-nama Seishu. The saké was slightly sweet like wasanbon sugar – ideal for the foie gras and balsamico. A perfect marriage of East and West.

Sanukiya 6

We took a warm saké, Musubi Tokubetsujunmai Muroka, with kuruma shrimp, kinmédai (splendid alfonsino) and truffle, saba (Pacific mackerel) that was cured in sugar and salt, and sayori (halfbeak) with a squeeze of sudachi citrus and Mongolian salt.

Warming up a saké brings out aromas and textures that may be more subtle in a chilled saké. It also warms you up as you drink, much like gluhwein, hot mulled wine.

Sanukiya 7

Chef Yasuhiro Kondō who not only knows how to pair saké with food, is also a cookbook author. He is with Muneki Mizutani-san who is a former editor with DANCYU and is now the editor of a very cool new business magazine that is in manga form, Manga PRESIDENT.

Sanukiya 8

Jūyondai Shichi Tare Nijikkan Junmai Daiginjō was served with a tomato jelly.

Sanukiya 9

Here we had a creamy nigorizaké paired with Yonézawa wagyū in a yogurt sauce – the two creamy items were an ideal match. The saké on the right is a Kizan kōshu (aged saké) from 1999 – also perfect with the teriyaki Yonézawa wagyū.

Sanukiya 10

And, finally, the udon noodle course. With chef Kondō’s signature tsuyu dipping broth on the left and a nutty, creamy sesame dipping sauce on the right. His cookbook is based on small bites all made using tsuyuTsuyu can be made from scratch, but most homes keep a bottle of it at home for last minute udon or soba meals. Chef Kondō’s is a soy-based sauce that is made with kombu (a sea vegetable rich in natural umami), niboshi (dried sardines), bushi (dried and smoked fish flakes from both Pacific mackerel and skipjack tuna), and sugar. This flavorful sauce can be used for a wide variety of dishes, hence Chef Kondō’s cookbook.

Sanukiya 11And closing off the evening with Jikon Junmai Ginjō from Mie prefecture. This saké is subtle and elegant while still having a richness to it – perfect for the udon noodles. Sando Sensei is playing it up with Saito-san, also an editor at DANCYU. Sando Sensei has written several books.

While this was not all that we had this evening, it is the highlights of a great night out in Tokyo. I highly recommend Sanukiya in Kōenji. It’s a short trip from Shinjuku. No English.

Kōenji Sanukiya

Sugnami-ku, Kōenji Minami 4-38-7

Phone: 03-3314-4488

18:00 – 22:30 (last order)

closed Sundays

April Seasonal Japanese Seafood 4月旬の鮮魚


uni pasta

uni pasta

spring sashimispring sashimi by Shinji Sakamoto

kinme sushi 

kinmedai sushi

Tai Carpaccio

madai carpaccio

Saikyo masu

Saikyo miso marinated honmasu

The cherry blossoms have peaked in Tokyo as the weather has warmed up. This time of year we are seeing the last of the creamy shirako (milt) that we love so much as well as many fish eggs. The nabé hot pot is put on the higher shelf in the kitchen as we are not using it a few times a week as we were just last month. Being married to a Japanese fishmonger we eat a lot of seafood, from our breakfasts, usually with a grilled fish like a salted salmon or a himono (salted and air-dried fish) and seasonal sashimi at dinner. Here are some of our favorite dishes this time of year followed by a list of Japanese seasonal seafood you’ll come across if visiting Japan in April.

There is so much to love about Japanese seafood in spring. In particular, there is a a pink-fleshed kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) that has a supple texture which is spectacular as sashimi or sushi. If you are lucky the sushi chef will just sear it to bring out a unique texture and aroma. Kinmedai is also often served as nitsuké, simmered in a sweet soy broth until just cooked through. In Japan, look for kinmedai from the port of Choshi in Chiba as it is line-caught and harvested in shallow waters so it is rich with fat.

Uni on its own may be hard for some to swallow, but once it is cooked with garlic, olive oil, and tomato paste and topped over pasta it becomes a luxurious lunch. A very easy dish that anyone can whip up in minutes with this recipeKatsuo is in season in the spring and then again in autumn. This time of year it is lean, while in fall it is rich with fat. We love it this time of year as sashimi.

 Madai (sea bream) is available all-year long as it is a commonly farmed fish. But, this time of year we can get wild madai that has a better texture than the farmed fish which can be flabby. We love the wild madai for a simple carpaccio (above) topped with shiso, myōgabenitadé, and chives. Myōga is in the ginger family and adds a fresh pop to the dish, shiso adds a minty aroma, and the benitadé adds a bit of pepper. Shinji also loves the honmasu (cherry salmon) this time of year. Here he marinates it in a sweet Saikyō miso marinade overnight and then grills it.

Most of the Japanese fish names are linked to a photo of the fish.

Ainame  鮎魚女 fat greenling (Hexagrammos otakii

 Akagai 赤貝 ark shell (Scapharca broughtonii)

 Aoyagi   青柳  surf clam (Mactra chinensis)

 Asari  浅利  Japanese littleneck clams (Ruditapes philippinarum)

Bora    flathead mullet or gray mullet (Mugil cephalus)

Chidai 血鯛  crimson sea bream (Evynnis japonica)

Chiayu 稚鮎  young ayu or sweet fish (Plecoglossus altivelis)

Honmasu 本鱒 cherry salmon (Oncorhynchus masou)

Hotaru Ika   蛍烏賊擬   firefly squid  (Enoploteuthis chunii)

Hotate 帆立貝 scallops (Patinopecten yessoensis)

Hoya 海鞘 sea squirt (Halocynthia roretzi)

Ishidai  石鯛  black seabream (Oplegnathus fasciatus)

Katsuo   鰹  skipjack tuna or oceanic bonito (Katsuwonus pelamis)

Kasago   笠子  scorpion fish (Sebastiscus marmoratus)

karauni  殻雲丹  sea urchin (Anthocidaris crassispina)

Kinki 黄血魚  thorny head (Sebastolobus macrochir)

Kinmedai 金目鯛 (sometimes called kinme) splendid alfonsino (Beryx splendens)

Kihada maguro  黄肌鮪   yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares)

Kohada  小鰭  gizzard shad (Konosirus pumctatus)

Kurokarei 黒鰈   flounder or black plaice (Pleuronectes obscurus)

Kurodai 黒鯛   Japanese black porgy (Acanthopagrus schlegelii)

Maaji 真鯵 Japanese jack mackerel (Trachurus japonicus)

Magarei 真鰈 littlemouth flounder (Pleuronectes herzensteini)

Madai  真鯛  sea bream (Pagurus major)

Mategai   真手貝  razor clam (Solen strictus)

Mirugai  海松食   geoduck (Tresus keenae)

Mebaru 目張   rockfish (Sebastes inermis)

Nishin     Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii)

Okoze 虎魚   scorpion fish (Inimicus japonicus)

Sakura ebi  桜蝦  sakura shrimp (Sergia lucens)

Sawara    Japanese Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus niphonius)

Sayori   針魚  halfbeak (Hyporhamphus sajori)

Sazae   栄螺   turban shell (Turbo cornutus)

Shako  蝦蛄  mantis shrimp (Oratosquilla oratoria)

Shirauo 白魚  whitefish or ice goby (Salangichthys microdon)

Shira ebi 白海老 glass shrimp (Pasiphaea japonica)

Sumiika  墨烏賊  cuttlefish (Sepia (Platysepia) esculenta)

Tachiuo 太刀魚 cutlassfish (Trichiurus lepturus)

Tairagai 平貝  pen shell or fan shell (Atrina (Servatrina) pectinata)

Tobiuo 飛魚 Japanese flying fish (Cypselurus agoo agoo)

Tokisake 時鮭   young chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)

Torigai 鳥貝 heart clam (Fulvia mutica)

Tsubugai  つぶ貝 whelk  (Buccinum undatum)

Food Sake Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market Tour

Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest seafood market, is in the heart of Tokyo. It is a short walk from the glitzy Ginza shopping district and just minutes from the renovated Kabukiza theater. It’s one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist destinations with visitors. And, it is our most popular tour that our company, Food Sake Tokyo, offers. Shinji, a Japanese fishmonger, used to be a buyer at Tsukiji Market so he offers an insider’s perspective to the market.

Shinji at Tsukiji Dolinsky 1

Here, Shinji is being interviewed by food journalist Steve Dolinsky at Tsukiji, for Public Radio International. It’s an insight to the sights and sounds of Tsukiji:

Shinji at Tsukiji Dolinsky 2

Tsukiji Market is scheduled to move to Toyosu, a few kilometers down along Tokyo Bay. Another reason to come and see this historic market before it moves.

Shinji at Tsukiji Dolinsky 3

Shinji is able to talk about all of the seasonal seafood, how it’s prepared, and what it the texture is like. Shinji’s tour focuses on the inner market which is the wholesale area for seafood. It is here that he worked as a buyer. It’s a crazy place to navigate and to really understand what is here and what is what, you need a guide who understands Japanese seafood.

Shinji at Tsukiji Dolinsky 4

One thing you will notice is that there is no stinky fish smell that you find at most fish markets. The fishmongers are very careful to clean and wash down each stall when they close down shop.

Shinji at Tsukiji 5

At the sushi counter Shinji is able to make recommendations on unique seafood that you most likely won’t be able to try at home. He can also help to demystify the culture of dining at a sushi-ya. This time of year we are crazy for kinmédai, alfonsino, which is a pink fleshed fish. The best kinmédai, are harvested from the shallow waters near Chōshi port in Chiba. Steve Dolinsky writes about having kinmédai and includes a photo here.

Shinji at Tsukiji 6

I have to say, most fishmongers are very friendly and have big smiles – just like this one!

Yukari at Tsukiji 1

I also offer tours of Tsukiji Market. The focus of my tour is the outer market which is open to the general public. It is filled with stalls selling produce, pickles, prepared foods, tea, knives, and much more. We are enjoying tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet) on a stick. Reminds me of the Minnesota State Fair – the food on a stick part.

Yukari at Tsukiji 3

I also take clients into the inner market so that they can get a feel for the heart of the market. Here we are looking at fish killed by a special ikéjimé process.

Yukari at Tsukiji 5

The many stalls of the inner market – and the perfect spot for a photo.

Yukari at Tsukiji 7

There is lots to discover at Tsukiji, including learning about herring roe in a sac, and herring roe that has been laid on a piece of kombukomochi kombu.

Yukari Tsukiji OverviewThe view everyone loves – overlooking the inner market and Tokyo Bay.

We look forward to welcoming you to Tokyo and to Tsukiji Market. Here are more details on our tours.

* A special thanks to our clients for letting us share their photos with you.