Dinner after Ben Fiddich

tonchinkan-tonkatsu

Just around the corner from Bar Ben Fiddich on a quiet pedestrian side street is a local tonkatsu-ya, Tonchinkan 豚珍館。The assistant bartender at Ben Fiddich had recommended it for “good tonkatsu and bad service”. He also warned us that there most likely would be a line. We didn’t see a line when we turned the corner, but there was a small line going up the stairs to the second-floor shop.

It’s a value-priced meal, considering that you can get free refills of rice and tonjiru, miso soup with daikon and pork. The standard tonkatsu (photo above) is 950 JPY and is a thick cut with the breading in the style of Meguro Tonki. The tonkatsu is dipped in egg and flour a few times before being breaded and deep-fried. There are two sauces, amai (sweet) and karai (spicy), but even the sweet was not overtly sweet as many shops serve. I also love that on the table is a Thai chili sauce for the julienned cabbage.

There is an English menu and you place your order while waiting in line. This is a shop you don’t want to linger at. Glad I had been warned about the service. Diners are not coddled as at most shops in the city. This is like the strict mother getting you to eat your meal and kicking you out so the next person in line can get in.

Don’t compare this to Maisen or Butagumi. If you only have time for one tonkatsu meal in the city, then head there. But if you are here for a while, or you craving meat after dreamy cocktails at Bar Ben Fiddich, then this is a fun, local experience.

Tonkinchan 豚珍館

Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 1-13-8, Takahashi Bldg. 2F

新宿区西新宿1-13-8高橋ビル2F

closed Sunday and holidays

Family-friendly Yakitoriya

Once in a while we adults want to have yakitori, grilled chicken skewers, but many yakitori-ya are smoky joints that are not kid-friendly. Iseya in Kichijōji near Inokashira Kōen Park is both family-friendly and a good value. It is also perfect for groups as it is a large space. The only challenge is that it is wildly popular. On weekends there is a perpetual line out the front door. Bring along something to keep your kid occupied while standing in line.

First things first, large mugs of cold beer for the adults and barley tea for the kid. We ordered vegetables like edamame, potato salad, green salad, kimchi, and cucumbers to get started. At the same time we ordered a variety of chicken skewers like thigh, gizzard, liver, chicken balls complete with minced cartilage for crunch, and chicken skin. The vegetables come out immediately and just when we are ready for the yakitori a giant plate is placed on the table with the skewers.

Inokashira Kōen is a great spot for the kids to run around after lunch. On the north side of the station is a great shōtengai shopping arcade with many food shops.

Iseya Sōhōten いせや総本店

Musashino-shi, Kichijōji Minami-chō 1-15-8

武蔵野市吉祥寺南町1-15-8

12 noon – 10 p.m.

closed Monday

no website

 

Family-Friendly Sushiya Chain

Going out for sushi as a family cuts out many options. High-end sushiya are out of the question as are many mid-range spots. Our kid loves sushi, could eat it three days a week and when we go out, it’s often for sushi. We eat a lot of sashimi at home and will also make donburi rice bowls and make luscious spreads for temakizushi hand-rolls. But, we don’t make nigirizushi and go out for that.

Sushi Zanmai is a popular chain with branches throughout the city that is kid-friendly and offers a good value. The owner, Kiyoshi Kimura, is famous around the world for having paid $1.76 million dollars for a tuna a while back. Kimura-san is a tuna fanatic and if you love tuna, then go for the maguro-zukushi (maguro-zanmai at his shop) plate which is made with different cuts of tuna. There are about a dozen stores in the Tsukiji/Ginza area alone.

The weekday lunch sets start at about 1,080 JPY ($10). Sushi Zanmai has a variety of shops including kaiten-zushi, revolving conveyor belt sushi, to proper restaurants with a counter and tables. All of the shops we have been to are boisterous. Some shops do allow smoking, so frustrating. At a recent visit we asked to be moved away from a smoking table.

I was in the mood for vegetables this evening, so I took the handrolls which was made of cucumbers, umeboshi, takuan (pickled daikon), shiso, natto, and kampyō (soy simmered gourd). Hit the spot for me.

Below is the link for Sushi Zanmai. On top you can change to language to English to see what is in your neighborhood.

Sushi Zanmai

http://www.kiyomura.co.jp/

Yakisoba Temple

Jimbocho’s Mikasa is a temple to yakisoba, even the noodles are made from scratch here. Yakisoba is a humble dish. Noodles stir-fried with vegetables and a protein and seasoned with a sauce or salt and dusted with aonori, an aromatic sea vegetable. It’s a messy dish and is not photogenic, but would win a congeniality contest as everyone seems to love yakisoba.

There is often a line at Mikasa, no matter the time. Weekends can have up to 50 people in line when the shop opens. It’s a cheap meal, 700 JPY, considering the handmade noodles are made with Hokkaido wheat. Each dish is made to order, starting with boiling the noodles. Boiling the fresh noodles allows them to keep a chewy texture.  Just order the spicy sauce or salt and the size, an oomori extra portion of noodles is free.All of the sauces used are made in-house. For an additional 150 JPY you can add some squid and shrimp.

The owner, Nakata-san, realized that there were many udon and ramen shops in Tokyo, but that yakisoba specialty shops were lacking. His nickname is Jimbocho yakisoba god, kami-yakisoba, which is a nice play on kanji considering the area is in Jimbocho, using the same character for “god”. 神保町の神やきそば。

Mikasa is a sliver of a restaurant. Be sure to check out the space behind the counter where the chefs are. Tiny. The space for the customers is not much bigger. Imagine squeezing behind these folks to get to your seat. I don’t think this would pass any fire code in the US.

Note only 120 portions are made each day.

Order from a vending machine in the front of the shop. Below is some Japanese to help.

ソース焼きそば (so-su yakisoba) sauce yakisoba

塩焼きそば (shio yakisoba) salt yakisoba

イカ・エビトッピング (ika/ebi topping) squid and shrimp topping

大盛り (oomori) large portion

小盛り (komori) small portion

Jimbocho Yakisoba Mikasa 神保町やきそばみかさ

Chiyoda-ku, Jimbocho 2-24-3

千代田区神田神保町2-24-3

http://mikasain.com/

Travel – Shirakawa-go Nomura Soba

O

Shirakawa-go is a world heritage site in Gifu, near Takayama, known for its wooden buildings with thatched roofs. It’s not easy to get to as trains don’t run here directly, so a bus is necessary. It’s a romantic village and pretty in winter, I would love to come back in summer.

Grabbing lunch in the village we went to Nomura, a teuchi handmade soba shop. All seventeen seats overlook the open kitchen. I usually go for seiro soba, cold noodles, but it was freezing and I needed to warm up. The set lunch comes with takikomi-gohan, rice cooked with vegetables.

If you get the chance, I hope you can make it to Shirakawa-go.

Teuchi Soba Dokoro Nomura 手打ちそば処乃むら

Gifu-ken, Ōno-gun, Shirakawa-mura, Ogimachi 779

岐阜県大野郡白川村荻町779

http://www.shirakawa-go.gr.jp/details/?i=37

Sushi For Beginners – Press Your Sushi

Pressed sushi is a great starting point if you want to make sushi at home. Best of all, even if you don’t have access to sashimi-grade seafood, you can still make sushi at home. This recipe came from a Nobu cookbook which I helped to edit. Chef Nobu is brilliant and knows what flavors appeal to the wide masses.

A box for pressing the sushi is required. Oshizushi hako 押し寿司箱 or a wooden sushi press mold. Here is an example of one sold on Amazon in the US:

https://www.amazon.com/JapanBargain-Wooden-Sushi-Press-Mold/dp/B00269NS02

For this recipe, mince shiso and myōga (ginger buds) and mix into vinegared sushi rice along with some toasted sesame seeds. Variations of this could include thin-sliced cucumbers or pickled gari (ginger).

Press the rice mixture into the wooden box that has been wiped with some rice vinegar. Press just enough to bring the rice together, but not too hard, and then remove the box. Slice into bite-size pieces and wrap with toasted nori.

To add seafood to this you could do grilled unagi, shime saba (pickled Pacific mackerel), or salmon sashimi over vinegared sushi rice.

The Nobu Sushi Cookbook in Tokyo is sold at his restaurant. I have yet to see it sold at any bookstores, sadly. Online, in the US:

https://www.amazon.com/Nobu-Sushi-Book-Nobuyuki-Matsuhisa/dp/4418133003

Small Bite in Ningyocho

Ningyocho is a charming part of Tokyo that I was thrilled to discover. I had lived in Tokyo for years and when I first walked the streets of Ningyocho I was kicking myself for having not made it there earlier. Many historic food shops and a laid-back energy that is hard to find in the city.

Futaba is a tofu-ya that dates back to 1907, that sells soy doughnuts, surely not made 100 years ago. The shop sells a wide variety of tofu and other soy products including soy soft cream, yuba, and soy milk. The glass cases are filled with soft, firm, and grilled tofu. Fried tofu, both thick and thin, as well as my favorite, ganmodoki, tofu stuffed with vegetables and deep-fried.

Futaba is on a shōtengai shopping street and if you get hungry, pick up a soy milk doughnut (100 JPY) and some sweet amazaké drink. There is also a restaurant on the second floor above the retail shop.

Tofu no Futaba 豆腐の双葉

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 2-4-9

中央区日本橋人形町2-4-9

http://www.tofunofutaba.com/tenpo.html

Celebrating with Sparkling Sake

mio-sparkling-sake

Mio Sparkling Sake by Takara Shuzo

Small occasion to celebrate this evening. Not worthy of champagne, but deserving of more than a can of craft beer and calling for something with bubbles. Mio is a sweet sparkler from Takara Shuzo. It’s low in alcohol, only 5%, like a beer, and sweet so a nice aperitif to dinner. It paired perfectly with chunky Kinzanji miso which is inherently sweet.

The bottle is only 300 ml, so perfect for two people to share before a meal. It’s hard to tell that it’s saké and to be honest, it is more like drinking 7-up. But it’s fun and we love it. Best of all, it is sold at our neighborhood 7-11 so we could pick it up at the last minute and cool it down in ice water before dinner.

http://shirakabegura-mio.jp/about/

 

Sushi Chain to Put on Your Radar

Living in Tokyo it’s good to have a few sushi chain on your radar, especially if  you are parents and dining out with kids. Some popular sushiya on the budget side include Midori Sushi, Sushi Zanmai, Sushiro, Choshi Maru, and Kurazushi. One to know about is Uoriki, which is not only a sushiya, but also a seafood retail shop, so the company is buying a lot of seafood and can offer sushi menus at a good value.

Uoriki is unbelievably cheap for what it is offering. The set lunch in the upper right photo was only 1,290 JPY ($13). Check out the size of the anago (simmered sea eel). It also included ikura, chutoro, scallop, and shrimp.

The bottom photo is of silvery skinned fish, which took me a long time to get used to, but now I love these. At lunch this was only 750 JPY and consisted of: Pacific saury, horse mackerel, sardine, Pacific mackerel, and gizzard shad. As these are the fishy in flavor, they are often garnished with ginger, garlic, chives, or even pickled in salt and rice vinegar to make them more palatable.

A very easy branch of Uoriki Sushi to get to is in the Shibuya station building in the Tokyu Toyoko-ten depachika. There are a few shops on the Chuo line which we frequent. The take-away sushi is also very cheap and is usually made without wasabi so it is kid-friendly. Wasabi is served on the side.

The name, Uoriki 魚力, literally means strong fish. What a great name for a seafood retail and restaurant chain.

Uoriki Sushi

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-24-1, Tokyu Toyoko-ten Depachika B1

渋谷区渋谷2-24-1 東急百貨店西館B1F

Other branches (in Japanese):

http://www.uoriki.co.jp/tenpo/index.html#insyoku

I was recently interviewed for this piece for Saveur magazine, by Laurie Woolever:

http://www.saveur.com/conveyor-belt-kaiten-sushi