Tokyo Station Ekiben

Getting a bento 弁当 and riding on one of the express trains from Tokyo station is a ritual that is comes with traveling in Japan. Even on a short ride, like the hour ride to Narita on the Narita Express, we take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a bento. Above are some bentos that we recently purchased for the Narita Express.

The bento on the top right included many delicacies from the sea like asari clams, ikura salmon roe, and simmered anago sea eel. The bottom right bento is made with 50 different ingredients. It was fun to follow the menu and check off each item.

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Our five-year old loves the shinkansen bento, which come in a variety, based on actual running shinkansen 新幹線. The bento boxes themselves are quite sturdy so we wash them and reuse them at home. The shinkansen bento are about 1,200 – 1,300 JPY and are filled with kid-friendly bites like kara-age chicken, sausage, and fruit jelly. I am reminded by Twitter friends that adults also enjoy this bento.

The above bentos were all purchased at Bentoya Matsuri 弁当屋祭, a bento shop inside of Tokyo Station. As it is in the station, you will need to purchase a ticket to access the shop. If you are traveling from Tokyo Station to another destination, then you will have access to the shop. If you are already near Tokyo Station and just want to come in to see the shop, then yes, you will need to purchase a ticket to enter the station. It is at Tokyo Station Central Street, between the stairs leading to platforms 5/6 and 7/8. Matsuri sells over 170 different ekiben 駅弁. Ekiben are bento sold at different eki (stations) throughout Japan. It’s a popular shop and usually very busy. On the wall of the shop is a sample of the different bento for sale, which are brought in from all over Japan.

For beverages we like to go to Hasegawa Saketen which inside Tokyo Station in the basement in an area called GranSta. There is also a counter for drinking saké if you have the luxury of time on your hands.

Hasegawa Saketen sells full bottles of sake, shochu, umeshu, and wine. For drinks for the train, look to the far left of the shop where there is a big selection of tea, beer, and smaller servings of sake, beer, and shochu.

If you are riding at a time that is between meals and don’t need a full bento, Hasegawa Saketen sells small bites and saké-friendly snacks.

Other good places to pick up bento are throughout Tokyo Station, including in the depachika-like area across the aisle from Hasegawa Saketen. Daimaru department store is also next to Tokyo Station and has the biggest selection of bento. If you have time, then come here, and allow yourself time to carefully peruse the options.

Once you are on the train, wait for it to depart the station before drinking and eating. It’s part of the ritual.:-)

When you are done eating, the trains have trash cans for bento and for your drinks.

Enjoy partaking in this fun eating and drinking part of traveling in Japan.

 

 

 

Convenience Store Sandwiches

Conbini sandwich

Japanese convenience store food is surprisingly fresh and reasonably priced. In particular, I am a big fan of the sandwiches, which come with many fillings, like tuna or egg salad, katsu (fried pork cutlets), or as seen above, ham and cheese with lots of fresh iceberg lettuce. The sandwiches are about 250 JPY. When I am craving vegetables I get this sandwich.

These are actually from two different shops. 7-11 on the left and Family Mart on the right. The 7-11 was better as it was made with mayonnaise and the lettuce was crispier. I think the Family Mart was made with butter.

A chef friend of mine is addicted to the egg salad sandwiches, which are pretty amazing.

The sandwiches also make for a quick breakfast if you are on the run.

convenience store = konbini

 

Nihonbashi Gela C Fruit Breakfast

 

 

In Japan fruit shops and cafés are a great spot for trying blemish-free and perfectly ripened fruit. One thing to put on your radar are morning sets at these cafés. A breakfast of fruit in Japan will feature seasonal fruit and confiture.

Gela C in Nihonbashi Muromachi Coredo building has a bargain breakfast for 500 JPY. Toast, three confiture, yogurt topped with fruit, and coffee. The shop opens at 9 a.m. On this day the confiture was kiwi, black grape, and lemon and honey.

Gela C’s parent company, Tokio, is a fruit shop based in Fukuoka. This shop in the historic Nihonbashi district, near Mitsukoshimae station, has a wide selection of fruit gelato and cut fruit.

The shop was quiet on this weekday morning. My friend James always reminded me to “eat more fruit”. We never get enough fruit, do we? It’s hard in Japan as fruit is very expensive. So this value-priced breakfast is a royal treat.

Gela C

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Muromachi 2-3, Coredo Muromachi 2, B1

中央区日本橋室町2丁目3番コレド室町2 B1 F

 

Shinagawa Bar Marche Kodama Breakfast

Inside of Shinagawa Station is a branch of Bar Marche Kodama. It is in the part of the station that is a small mall called ecute. The store specializes in cured meats, pates, and sausages. I sometimes buy from the Shinjuku branch which is in Takashimaya depachika, and conveniently located near the wine shop.

This Shinagawa branch is famous for its breakfast buffet as it includes all-you-can-eat cured ham. The spread is simple, and not too luxurious, but for 620 JPY, this is a bargain. There is also a bottomless cup of coffee, something that is hard to find in Tokyo.

There is outdoor seating, which I recommend. If it is raining, the indoor seating is very limited, so I wouldn’t recommend it as surely the wait to be seated would be long.

I wouldn’t make a special trip across town for this, but if you are in the area, it’s nice to have on your radar. The buffet is from 8:00 – 11:00 a.m. It is very popular so you may have to wait. If you get impatient there are many other restaurants in the area.

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Bar Marche Kodama

Shinagawa JR Station – ecute 1st floor

http://www.kodama-ltd.co.jp/barmarche.html

Sausage Curry at Tsukiji Pyramid

One of the best curries I have had in a long time was at this German restaurant in Tsukiji. Yes, you read that correctly. A German restaurant at Tsukiji serving curry. But, this wasn’t just any curry.

The meat is a German sausage, and for toppings everyone gets a quenelle-shaped German mashed potatoes with house-made sauerkraut. I could eat a whole bowl of the sauerkraut. Onions and cabbage that are lightly fermented. Next time I’ll ask for a double order of it. I also added some pickled jalapenos, not very German, but I never see it on a menu, so I figured, why not?

And, the spicy curry had a nice kick to it. Not the family-friendly curry that is prevalent throughout this country. After years of working in the area, it is a big surprise to come across something so unique like this. This is one of the great pleasures of Tokyo. You never know what you will find, and it usually takes you beyond what you anticipated.

German pop music (the beat was definitely from the 80s) played on the soundtrack. The walls are lined with German beer ads and photos that were taken from trips to Germany for what look like beer festivals.

From the ceiling hang dusty German flags and buxom German beer maid characters, all adding fun character to this tightly packed restaurant that seats a little over two dozen.

The lunch menu is curry only. I came just before the lunch rush and most of the diners were obviously regulars. The phone rang a few times with take-away orders as well. Lunch is 890 JPY and diners can choose from the following curries: chicken, beef, sausage, Keema (which says it is the spiciest), and a weekly special. This week it was shrimp. Lunch comes with a free dish such as sauerkraut, sunny-side-up egg, dessert, or orange juice.

I would love to come back at night sometime. A cabinet next to the kitchen was filled with German beer glasses. Evenings appear to be more authentic German pub-style cuisine.

Pyramid

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 2-12-16, B1 中央区築地2-12-16, B1

If you go for lunch, then have your after-lunch coffee at Tsukiji Turret Coffee.

Focaccia and Ciabatta in Tokyo

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My favorite Italian bakery in the city is Peck, which is only found at Takashimaya, both in Nihonbashi and Shinjuku, as well as at the shops in the suburbs. Peck is a gourmet shop in Milano that dates back to 1883. The selection includes Italian cheeses, cured meats, pastas, olive oils, and other pantry staples. There is also a selection of prepared dishes as well as some sandwiches.

I am addicted to the focaccia and ciabatta at Peck. The ciabatta freezes well, so I’ll cut up a few pieces for the freezer and warm it up in the oven toaster.

Peck is perfect for an impromptu picnic in Shinjuku Gyoen park, which is a short walk from the Shinjuku Takashimaya. Pick up some breads, cheese, and meat and swing by the wine shop for a bottle of wine.

If you come across great Italian breads in Tokyo, please let me know.

Peck at Takashimaya

Best Mentaiko Pan in Tokyo?

My favorite Japanese bread is mentaiko panMentaiko is pollack roe that has been cured in salt and seasoned with dried red chili peppers. At home we love mentaiko raw with a bowl of rice. It can be toasted on the outside and left raw inside for an umami-rich dish with sake.

The Japanese have brilliantly come up with putting into a small baguette with some butter and toasting it. Whenever I go into a new bakery it is the first thing I look for. Not all bakeries in Tokyo have it, so if you come across it, I recommend highly picking one up.

My commute into Tokyo takes me through Shinjuku station. The South Exit area has been under construction for a long time and has recently opened up under the new bus terminal. For me, this is the best mentaiko pan I have come across in the city. It opens at 8 a.m. and this is a great way to start the day.

Le Bihan is originally from Bretagne and dates back to 1913. It has many more stores in the Kansai region. Le Bihan, also has branch in Shinjuku Odakyu depachika, Ikebukuro Seibu, and Kita Senju Marui.

Le Bihan

Shinjuku Station South Exit

Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 5-24-55, NEWoMan Shinjuku 2F (inside the station gates)

渋谷区千駄ヶ谷5-24-55 NEWoMan SHINJUKU 2F

Convenient Store Curry Pan

The Japanese have a love for “oyatsu pan” or snack breads that can be either savory or sweet. Pan is from the Portuguese for bread. The bakeries here are called pan-ya.

At the bakeries customers pick up a tray and tongs and carefully peruse the bakery putting their selection on the tray before paying. One popular oyatsu pan is curry bread. Savory curry stuffed into a soft dough that is often dipped into panko bread crumbs before being deep-fried.

24-hour convenience stores excel at offering food at a good level. We recently did a tasting of convenience store curry pan. At home, we spritz it with water before reheating in the toaster oven.

The four we tried, clockwise from upper-right:

  1. Lawson Beef curry pan (125 JPY)
  2. Lawson Spice curry pan (180 JPY)
  3. Family Mart curry pan (108 JPY)
  4. 7-11 Koku Uma curry pan (130 JPY)

Our favorite was the cheapest one, from Family Mart. It had a nice flavor of curry that wasn’t too complicated. The 7-11 curry pan was very sweet, surely from many vegetables like carrots and onions.

The two Lawson curry breads were nice. The Spice curry pan is made from 30 different spice and definitely had more complexity than the rest. The Lawson beef curry pan left me asking, “where’s the beef” (which may date me).

Regardless, be sure to try a curry pan when you are in Japan. It’s a quintessential snack bread. If you are lucky, the sign will say 焼き立て or 焼きたて, for hot, out of the oven.

New York Pizza at Shibuya Pizza Slice

Having lived in NYC I was spoiled with many options for pizza by the slice. My favorite was Two Boots and there was one in the West Village near my home. I would have taxi drivers bring me there if were returning home from an overseas trip.

In Tokyo we have incredible pizza, like Nakameguro Seirinkan and Nihonbashi Pizza Bar on 38th at the Mandarin Oriental. These are like pizzas you will find in Napoli and Roma.

I love Rocco’s New York-Style Pizza but it is up in Oji, a part of town I never get to. It’s been two years since I last went. I’d love to go back, but it’s a hike.

I am thrilled to have finally made it to Pizza Slice in Shibuya and even happier that it is good New York pizza. Thin, crispy crust, that almost took me back to Two Boots. The pepperoni by the slice is 500 JPY. Nice tomato sauce and pepperoni, just like in New York City. The slices are warmed up after you order and brought to your table.

Even the cashier had an attitude and was kind of bitchy when I asked for a receipt. I totally felt like I was back home. I guess we get spoiled in Japan with polite service.

Even the room feels like you are in America. A mix of large communal and small tables. A counter on the side to sit. There is a large display of the variety of pizzas to choose from. The crowd this afternoon was a mix of Japanese and non-Japanese, all young and even a gaggle of high school boys.

Best of all, Pizza Slice is in Shibuya, a neighborhood that I get to very often. It’s about a ten-minute walk from the station, faster if you know where you are going. Here’s hoping they open their first branch on the Chuo line.

Pizza Slice

Shibuya-ku, Sarugakucho 3-1  渋谷区猿楽町3-1

http://www.pizzaslice.co/

Deep-Fried Oysters at Tsukiji

Yachiyo is a Tsukiji shop that specializes in tonkatsu, but also does a very nice kaki furai, deep-fried oysters. It is located to the left of Sushi Dai. Oysters are just finishing off their season but will be back in the autumn. However, the days of Yachiyo and the inner market are limited.

Oysters are breaded and deep-fried until golden brown. There is a splash of Japanese karashi mustard on the side, but I prefer the Western tartar sauce that is often served with oysters and fried fish. The set meal comes with three vegetable sides of pickles, crispy julienned cabbage, and a coleslaw. It is rounded out with miso soup and rice.

Two counters line the left and right side of the shop. If you visit when oysters are out of season try some of the seafood like shrimp, scallops, or horse mackerel. The fishmongers often order eggs with pork belly (chashu eggu teishoku, available only Tue, Thu, and Sat).

Chef Ishizuka is the handsome guy in the kitchen with glasses.

Tsukiji Yachiyo 築地 八千代

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #6 中央区築地5-2-1ビル6

http://www.tsukijigourmet.or.jp/21_yachiyo/