Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

I have always been fascinated with the snow canyons of the Kita Alps (North Alps) between Nagano and Toyama prefectures, also near Gifu. We were in Ohmachi, Nagano to help a friend plant a vineyard for wine so jumped at the chance to visit the famous Alpine Route. The snow canyons only open to the public from mid-April It can be accessed from Ohmachi in Nagano or from Tateyama in Fukui. We started our journey at 8:30 a.m. and it took a combination of electric buses, cable car, and a ropeway to get to the top of the mountain. We finally arrived at 11:00 a.m. to Murodo. From here visitors can walk into the snow canyons. It was even more impressive than I imagined.

Tateyama Kurobe Snow Wall

Tateyama Kurobe Snow Wall

Here you can see how tall the walls are, even higher than a bus. The brochure below says that the snow canyons are around through May and then starting in June they get smaller. http://www.alpen-route.com/en/wp-content/uploads/leaflet.pdf There were busloads of tourists. I highly suggest going first thing in the morning and heading straight up to the top and then taking your time coming down. On our way down we saw that there were long lines for the cable car and ropeway. You have the option of going all the way through, so starting at one end and going to the other. We opted to start and begin our journey in Nagano. We started at 8:30 a.m. and spent about 45 minutes at the top before heading down. It was about a five-hour journey from start to end. From Ohmachi station there is a bus that can bring you to the base of the mountains. There is also a taxi. The round-trip journey from the base of the mountain was about 10,000 JPY ($100 USD). There are restaurants and some light snacks along the way, but when we go back I would buy food from a convenience store and take it with us. Nearby eats: Azumino Okina Soba

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Onigirazu – Rice Sandwiches

Family Mart Sando Omusubi

Family Mart Sando Omusubi

Onigiri or omusubi are savory stuffed rice balls that are often wrapped in nori. The shape is traditionally a triangle. Onigiri is something we eat at least once a week. These are perfect for picnics, hiking, as a quick meal or snack. But the onigiri is not perfect. The stuffings are concentrated in the center and the edges are not as flavorful as the middle.

The onigirazu, or sandwich omusubi, takes care of that. With the new and very popular onigirazu, every bite will include some of the stuffing. Better yet, if you are making these at home, it simply requires a folding technique. No fancy squeezing and molding to get the triangle shape.

Onigirazu, which actually means onigiri without forming or molding. Brilliant name for something that I wish I would have thought of long ago.

Sando Omusubi

Sando Omusubi

Cookbook shelves have about a half dozen books on the topic. Today I found a “Sando Omusubi” (sandwich omusubi) at Family Mart, a popular convenience store. It was almost twice as expensive as the regular onigiri, I guess as there is more rice and stuffings. Usually the rice balls start at about 100 JPY, but this was for almost 200 JPY.

This is the sando omusubi out of the package.

Tuna and Cheese

Tuna and Cheese

Tuna mayo, canned tuna and mayonnaise, is a popular flavor. Here you can see how the generous stuffing goes all the way to the edges.

Now that these are being sold at convenience stores we know that it is no longer a trend among mothers making these for their kids, but that it has reached the mainstream market.

Please let me know if you try these and how you think they compare to the traditional ones. I am a big fan of the new and improved omusubi/onigiri.

Chikalicious NY Dough’ssant in Tokyo

Chikalicious Dough'ssant

Chikalicious Dough’ssant

For a limited time, Chikalicious NY dough’ssant is available at Ginza Matsuya. I still have yet to try a Cronut, but today while walking through Ginza Matsuya I saw what I thought was a Cronut. There are a few shops making these in Tokyo. The only one that I have liked until now is The Roastery’s New York Rings in Omotesando. The others are all wanna-bes.

The caramel and almonds dough’ssant is very sweet. To be honest, I think it is too sweet for the Japanese market. I shared this with a friend and half was just the right amount. That being said, I will try to make it back to the shop to try another flavor, like creme brulee or mattcha, before the event ends.

The staff said that these would only be available for a month. Not sure when it will end, so go soon.

Ginza Matsuya – Chikalicious NY

Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-6-1

Waseda Rakkyo Brothers Soup Curry

Soup Curry

Soup Curry

Soup Curry is a Hokkaido dish that is a great twist on the regular Japanese curry that we find throughout most of Tokyo. Japanese curry is made with a roux, the flour makes the curry quite thick. The Hokkaido soup version of curry is a soup, without the roux, that is filled with large cuts of vegetables and meat. The first time I was served this was at a girlfriend’s home. I thought she didn’t know how to properly make curry. She explained that this is how the soup curry dish is supposed to be made. It was a nice change to regular curry, that we often make at home.

Near Waseda University is a branch of the Sapporo Rakkyo soup curry shop. The soup curry is not very spicy, but you can request to have it made hotter. It is served with rice on the side. Traditionally thick curry and rice are served in the same bowl. If you like curry, then be sure to try Hokkaido’s soup curry.

Rakkyo Brothers Soup Curry

Shinjuku-ku, Babashitacho 61-9, Yamaguchi Building

新宿区馬場下町61-9山口ビル1F

03-5941-8455

http://www.spicegogo.com/shop05.html

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba 神楽坂 九頭龍蕎麦

Kagurazaka Kyu Soba

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba

Just minutes from Iidabashi stations (both JR and the Metro) is a lovely spot for handmade soba, Kuzuryu Soba. The lunch set includes both soba and a donburi, rice bowl. The donburi options include curry rice, oyakodon (chicken and soft-scrambled eggs), and their recommendation – sōsu katsu, thin-slices of pork deep-fried and then covered with just the right amount of a sweet and salty sauce. It is such a bold and umami-rich dish that it almost outshines what we came here for, the soba.

Kagurazaka Kyu soba noodles

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba noodles

The buckwheat noodles are made from scratch in the store and if you are lucky you can watch the soba dough being sliced into thin noodles with the large, rectangular soba knife.

Kagurazaka Kyu Soba tableware

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba tableware

The gorgeous dishware is on display. Lovely lacquer and colorful tableware that is a reminder of how dining in Japanese is done first with the eyes.

Did I mention the price of the lunch? Only 890 JPY. Great bargain for handmade soba and donburi.

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba 神楽坂 九頭龍蕎麦

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 3-3

新宿区神楽坂3-3

Nobu Tokyo

Nobu Signature Roll

Nobu Signature Roll

I remember my first visit to Nobu, in New York City, a long time ago. The restaurant was buzzing. The miso cod was better than I imagined it could be, especially after reading about the dish for so long. The table next to me was a film crew from Tokyo making a commercial for Dunkin Doughnuts Japan and we started chatting. I got a side job for the next two days as an assistant for the crew. It was all so exciting, the great food, making new Japanese friends, and the energy that comes from a busy restaurant.

Nobu restaurants appeal to a large audience and for good reason. Nobu Tokyo is located just next to the Okura Hotel. Walking in I felt like I was back in Manhattan. Many of the staff speak English, the restaurant floor is quite big, especially for Tokyo, and there were a lot of non-Japanese diners. The restaurant was quite busy at 12:30 on a weekday in early April. I came to meet a girlfriend who works nearby and she often comes here for lunch. The lunch menu is big, there is something for everyone, and there is even an English menu. I ordered the Nobu house special roll and handmade soba combination lunch (2,400 JPY).

I had the pleasure of helping to translate Nobu: The Sushi Cookbook from Japanese to English. Many of the recipes are now a part of our repertoire, like pressed sushi and miso soup with fresh tomatoes. Even the miso cod, a traditional Japanese dish, is something we often make at home. I finally had the chance to try his signature roll, which is covered with a thin sheet of daikon, adding a crispy crunch to norimaki roll. The stuffings included creamy avocado, crunchy tobiko (flying fish roe), and sashimi. I absolutely loved this addition of the daikon, which is Nobu’s creation. Nobu is brilliant in my mind and this just confirmed that for me.

Nobu soba

Nobu soba

The soba is served cold with a dipping sauce. Towards the end of the meal the kitchen sends out some soba-yu, the hot water that the soba is made with. That is poured into the dipping sauce and then drunk.

The table next to me was having the lunch box with miso soup (3,400 JPY) that looked nice and included a variety of hot dishes and sushi. I was curious to try the Stone Oven Vegetable Plate. The Japanese menu said kisetsu yasai, or seasonal vegetables. I asked my server what the seasonal vegetables were for this dish as it is spring and many of my favorite vegetables are in season. But his reply was standard vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and bell peppers. Glad I went with his signature roll which was a revelation.

I had a hard time finding the restaurant as signage is minimal. Lunch at Nobu is not cheap. If you have not experienced a meal at Nobu, it is nice to have once in your life. His cuisine and influence has brought Japanese food to the masses.

Nobu Tokyo

Minato-ku, Toranomon 4-1-28

港区虎ノ門4-1-28

03-5733-0070

http://www.noburestaurants.com/tokyo/experience-2/

Switch Coffee

Switch Coffee

Switch Coffee

One of the best part of our job doing food tours is that we make new friends each day. Most of our clients are passionate about food and many come with a list of shops and restaurants to visit while in Japan. A well-traveled coffee aficionado told me that he had been visiting many coffee shops during his visit to Tokyo and that hands down his favorite was Switch Coffee in Meguro. The client and I had shared a coffee together and I knew that I could trust his recommendation. He filled his suitcase with Switch Coffee to take home with him.

Switch Coffee Exterior

Switch Coffee Exterior

Switch Coffee is a nice walk from Meguro station, down the hill and near the Meguro River in a quiet residential area. It was almost too quiet and I had to keep looking at Google Maps to make sure I was headed in the right direction. The map on his website works like a charm. You will know when you have arrived when you see the cerulean blue shopfront.

There is a small bench in front of the shop, just right for enjoying a cup. Don’t come here expecting to get any work done on your laptop.

Switch Coffee

Switch Coffee

Onishi-san helped to recommend beans to take home as well as something to drink there. Masahiro Onishi-san had a half-dozen coffees on the counter to sample. The coffee does not sit on a burner, so it may not be hot when you sample it, but it is enough to know if you would like the coffee or not. The coffee menu includes espresso, pour-over, and French Press.

Many coffee shops in Tokyo serve a dark roast. Onishi-san lightly roasts his beans in the back of the shop. For me it was a refreshing change from what I am used to. This coffee shop and micro-roastery is a must visit if you love coffee.

Arigato shout-out to @bluecirclehead (twitter) for putting this on my radar. 🙂

Switch Coffee

Switch Coffee

 

Switch Coffee

Meguro-ku, Meguro 1-17-23 目黒区目黒1-17-23

03-6420-3633

http://www.switchcoffeetokyo.com/

Shibuya Murgi Curry 印度料理ムルギー

Murgi Curry

Murgi Tamago-Iri Curry

Murugi has been on my Go List for about twenty-five years now. Famous for its curry, and the unusual presentation of the tall rice behind the curry. The popular dish is the tamago-iri curry, curry with a hard-boiled egg (1,050 JPY). It is served with a small portion of a fruit paste, to be mixed into the curry to add sweetness. There are no chunks of vegetables in the curry, just a thick black curry with a strong flavor of ginger. I believe the meat is ground chicken, but it is hard to tell. The curry is served with two jars of pickles, red ginger and yellow daikon, both are a nice accent to the curry. The curry is not that spicy and diners can ask for it to be made hotter for a small charge.

Murgi exterior

Murgi exterior

Opened in 1951, the shop is nestled amongst the Love Hotels of Dogenzaka. The brick exterior of the door surrounds the sign which uses the kanji for India, 印度, instead of katakana which we see more often these days, インド (both pronounced Indo). The shop opened in 1951 and is included on many round-ups of curry restaurants in Tokyo. The interior is dim and dark wood fills much of the shop. The diners are a mix of young and old. Next to me is a table of salarymen, also first-timers, and like me excited to finally have made it to a shop that they have heard so much of.

A CD player to the side of the room with CDs lined up against the wall provide the music. Today it is Lionel Ritchie, a nod back to about 30 years ago, when Murugi was first put on my radar. I am glad I finally made it, and look forward to going back.

Murugi 印度料理ムルギー

Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-19-2

渋谷区道玄坂2-19-2

Saturday – Thursday; 11:30 – 15:00 (lunch only)

closed Fridays

Ginza Lunch – Hachidaime Gihey 銀座米料亭 八代目儀兵衛

 

Hachidaime lunch

Hachidaime lunch

At home we cook our rice in a donabe (ceramic pot). It is much faster to cook the rice in the donabe than it is in a rice cooker. Better yet, if you can cook it properly, the donabe will give you a nice okoge, charred crust. A Kyoto restaurant that specializes in rice that has a small restaurant in Ginza, which is a lovely spot for lunch. Here is a standard set lunch (about 2,500 JPY) that includes sashimi, tempura, yuba, and teriyaki Spanish mackerel as some of the dishes.

Hachidaime vegetarian

Hachidaime vegetarian

The vegetarian lunch (about 1,500 JPY) is a delight which included nama fu (wheat gluten), tempura, and tofu. Both lunches included roasted nori, salted kombu, pickles, miso soup (which is made with katsuo so not vegetarian). Both also included chirimen sansho (sardines with sansho berries), so also not vegetarian. But, if you are vegetarian you would be satisfied with the rest of the meal.

Hachidaime okoge

Hachidaime okoge

The rice has a lovely texture, and is all-you-can-eat. Here is the lovely okoge crust that is so treasured in Japan.

Hachidaime exterior

Hachidaime exterior

The Ginza restaurant is small. Just a handful of tables and it is a popular shop. We saw many diners turned away.

On our way out the staff called out the traditional Kyoto thank-you, okini.

 

Ginza Kome Ryotei Hachidaime Gihey 銀座米料亭 八代目儀兵衛

Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-4-15

中央区銀座5-4-15

03-6280-6383

Closed Wednesday

http://www.hachidaime.co.jp/ginza/

You can see the lunch and dinner photos with prices here:

http://www.hachidaime.co.jp/ginza/menu/