Gotta Get – Nama Shichimi 生七味

My latest craving is this great shichimi paste from the Kubara Honke Group. This nama shichimi is a paste of shichimi or seven spice. A little bit in miso soup for breakfast adds just the right spice to the savory soup. I also like it with some roasted chicken or yakitori.

It is a thick paste of red chili pepper, yuzu peel, sea salt, sansho, black sesame seed, ginger, and aonori.

A girlfriend introduced me to the product line. At her house she had some dashi-jio or dashi salt. She uses it for omusubi rice balls. She speaks very highly of everything she has tried from the company. We love the nama shichimi and will definitely try other products.

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Gotta Get – Yuzusco Yuzu Tabasco

I am a condiment addict. I need to get things in order as our fridge is overflowing with tubes and jars. When working for a travel company I remember having lunch with an automotive executive on our way to the airport. This well-dressed, worldly man pulled out a small bottle of Tobasco from his briefcase. I couldn’t believe it. He was probably on the road 2-3 weeks a month and he said he always carried Tobasco with him. I am not that committed to my condiments, but here is one to put on your radar. Yuzusco, think Tobasco with the citrusy aromatics and bite of yuzu.

It was so good the bottle went quickly. It went with everything I paired it with. Grilled chicken, grilled fish, gyoza, steamed vegetables, pizza, and pasta. Too hot now to make nabe (hot pots) but I am sure it would have been perfect for that as well.

The Yuzusco website (in English) has the perfect tagline: Once you use it, you won’t want to stop – it’ll become a habit. So true. The company also makes a red yuzu sauce as well as a ginger sauce. I haven’t seen it around much.

I found it at our local depachika in a Tokyo suburb. And, a reader wrote in to say that they found it at Ginza Mitsukoshi‘s depachika. Check the sundries department that sells basic pantry items. The company website is in several languages so I imagine they are working hard to export this.

Tokyo Sky Tree Solamachi Food Shop Highlights

Tokyo Sky Tree is the city’s most popular tourist destination. The world’s tallest tower (for the time being) the communication tower replaces the landmark Tokyo Tower.

Solamachi, at the base of Tokyo Sky Tree, is very exciting mall to visit with so many shops it’s hard to come up with a short list. It has over 300 shops including Eataly, as well as Niki no Kashi and a dagashiya for old-time Japanese sweets. If you do visit, here are my gotta go shops:

1. Lupicia for its amazing teas. I first came to know Lupicia from chef Seiji Yamamoto at Nihonryori Ryugin. The restaurant served a cherry flavored green tea (sakurambo vert) that was delicious and I have been a fan ever since. 1F-EastYard-44

2. A store that specializes in salt, Ma-suya, from Okinawa. Over 70 salts from Okinawa and 300 salts from throughout Japan. A salt sommelier can advise which salts are best suited to certain dishes. 4F-EastYard-34

3. Hasegawa Saketen is one of my favorite sake shops in Tokyo. The collection is great, staff are knowledgeable and approachable.  And this branch has a standing bar.  1F-EastYard-47

4. Tobu Department Store. This department store is said to have 70 original “Sky Tree goods” that can only be purchased at this store.  4F-EastYard-48

5. Qu’il fait bon specializes in seasonal fresh fruit pies and tarts. 2F-EastYard-48

6. We are big fans of Uoriki for good sushi at a great price. 2F-WestYard-19

7. The original branch of Mamegen is in Azabu-Juban. If you go, be sure to pick up a bag of the “shio kaki” salted and deep-fried rice crackers. And be sure to check out the wide variety of flavored beans and rice crackers. 4F-EastYard-32

photo is from Solamachi website

8. Who can resist the great packaging at Mameya Bankyu? Inside find roasted beans in flavors like cheese pepper, wasabi, or curry. 4F-EastYard-44

9. The original shop of Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin in the basement of Tokyo Station almost always has a long line. Known for its karintou, a sweet cracker that comes in great flavors like kinpira gobo, sumi charcoal, and black pepper. 2F-TowerYard-33

photo is from Nenrinya website

10. Chiisana Baum Tsuri- by Nenrinya gets my vote for one of the best original sweets. This baumkuchen shop, Nenrinya, has created mini baumkuchen on a stick. Must take me back to my youth and the Minnesota State Fair. 2F-TowerYard-41

Gotta Get – Taberu Rayu Two

Taberu Rayu is at every supermarket I visit in Japan. What started as one product by one company has exploded to many variations. One of the most interesting ones I have come across is the basic taberu rayu without the oil.

As you can see by looking inside the jar, it’s very different from the original version. The SB Foods website says that it is 20% less calories and 40% less fat than the original version. There is a lot of crunch from the fried garlic and almonds.

Here it is simply on rice. We love it. Much better than the oily version which makes the rice greasy and hard to eat. The SB Foods website offers many recipe ideas for this product. Even if you don’t read Japanese you’ll be able to sort out several of the recipes just from the photos.

And, I don’t care for wasabi much, but I imagine this okazu wasabi would be a big hit back in the States.

Also see:

Taberu Rayu

Gotta Get – Taberu Shoyu

The popularity of taberu rayu has been a great food trend to observe. First was to see all of the copycat versions imitating the original taberu rayu. Now, there are many new products that are similar in style but made from totally different ingredients. One of our new favorites is this Saku Saku Taberu Kobashi Shoyu from Kikkoman.

The oil based condiment is made with freeze-dried soy sauce flakes, fried garlic, fried onions, sesame seeds, almonds, and more spices. Over rice it was good but we found it a bit oily. The bottle suggests putting it over boiled vegetables or stir-fries. We also had it over steamed greens which was better than the rice. However, our favorite is over sake-steamed fish. The contrast of the crunchy condiment and the juicy, flakey cod was perfect. Seasoning also a perfect match.

Kikkoman has two other similar products. Taberu Shoyu Yuzu-fumi which is seasoned with yuzu and a Taberu Shoyu Torigara Su-pu Aji that is flavored with chicken soup.

It is sold in a glass jar. 105 grams for 350 JPY.

Gotta Get – Nosetare Rayu Oroshi のせタレラー油おろし

Rayu Oroshi

Rayu Oroshi

We are addicted to taberu rayu, the mild chili oil filled with fried garlic chips. At the store this area of condiments has blossomed into other products, including this very interesting rayu oroshi.

Oroshi is simply grated items, usually vegetables. Popular grated vegetables include wasabi for sushi, ginger for topping tofu, and daikon for serving with grilled fish.

The ingredients for this thick paste include daikon, soy sauce, sugar, rayu, mirin, yuzu, lemon juice, and katsuobushi extract. As you can imagine, it has a nice acidity from the yuzu and lemon, a rich umami from the katsuobushi, sweetness from the sugar and mirin, slight chili from the rayu, and a nice thick texture from the grated daikon. SB, which makes this product, has a line-up of rayu condiments.

Tuna Tataki Rayu Oroshi

Tuna Tataki Rayu Oroshi

Rayu oroshi seems to go with almost anything. It was the perfect garnish for tuna tataki. We also have enjoyed it with grilled meats (pork, chicken, or beef), ramen, and of course, over rice.

Look for it at major supermarkets in Japan.

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.

Yagenbori

Yagenbori

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.

Gotta Get: Ra-yu Salmon Flakes

Hakodate Asahi Sake Fure-ku Uma Karai Ra-yu Shitate

Hakodate Asahi Sake Fure-ku Uma Karai Ra-yu Shitate

Salted salmon flakes are a popular topping for a hot bowl of rice. It is sold in a small glass jar and found is most supermarkets. Shinji came home the other day with a new product we had never seen before, ra-yu (chili oil) flavored salmon flakes. Taberu ra-yu is a very popular product still, having seen its boom a while back. So we were not surprised to see that someone had the brilliant idea to combine the spicy chili oil with salmon flakes.

Ra-yu flavored salmon flakes

Ra-yu flavored salmon flakes

It’s a hit in our house and I plan on trying it with fried rice and maybe some angel hair pasta. The flakes are made by the Goshoku Group.

Gotta Get – What to Get at Japanese Supermarkets

Kizami Yuzu

Kizami Yuzu

For those visiting Japan wanting to stock up their suitcase for foodie items that are hard to find outside of Japan I have come up with my list of “gotta gets”. When I have lived outside of Japan I also make a stop at the 100 (or 99) yen shop and stock up on cheap and light things to stock up my pantry.

The first list below is for items most commonly found at 100 yen shops. The second list is for your supermarket shopping. If you are limited on time then just go straight to the supermarket as most items at 100 yen shops are also sold at grocery stores.

 

Goma – toasted black (kuro) and white (shiro) sesame seeds. Crush the seeds and add sugar and soy sauce for a dressing for cooked vegetables. Try crushed black sesame seeds with sugar over ice cream.

Hashi – long cooking chopsticks and regular chopsticks

Hashioki  – chopstick rests available in seasonal designs

Ichimi – crushed, dried red chili pepper

Kinako – flour made from roasted soybeans, a great topping for ice cream, or mixed into a cold glass of milk.

Kushi – long bamboo skewers for grilling, also great for appetizers and hors d’eourves

Makisu – rolling mat for making sushi rolls at home.

Misoshiru gu – if you like to make miso soup at home, these packs of dried ingredients like wakame, fu, just need to be tossed into the soup.

Neriume – tube of umeboshi paste. Some are mixed with shiso leaves (shiso iri). Use to mix into salad dressings or for rolled sushi.

Ochoko and tokkuri – if you are a casual drinker of sake, then these cups are perfect as they are sturdy and can be thrown into the dishwasher. Tokkuri are like small carafes for sake in lieu of wine, and ochoko are the small cups.

Shamoji – rice paddles, the Japanese version are plastic and studded and easy to use as rice does not stick to them.

Shichimi – seven spice mix to top miso soups or noodle bowls.

Yukari – packets of dried purple shiso leaves. Use for making rice balls.

Yuzu kosho – yuzu and salt in a paste. Try mixing it with mayonnaise to spice up sandwiches or as a dip for crudités.

 

Items to pick up at supermarkets:

Cha – different varieties of tea including sencha, genmaicha, and houjicha.

Katakuriko – a thickening agent

Katsuobushi – dried, smoked flakes of katsuo, an essential for making dashi.

Kokuto  – black sugar from Okinawa and nearby islands.

Kombu – if you cook at home you will want to stock your pantry with kombu, the base for making any dashi.

Kuzu – a trendy ingredient with top chefs throughout the world. It is used as a thickening agent.

Mattcha powder – traditional mattcha is expensive and can be hard to work with in the kitchen. You can find instant versions to make mattcha lattes at home or to mix into vanilla ice cream for mattcha ice cream.

Miso koshi – strainer for incorporating miso into stock for miso soup.

Strainers – Japanese fine-meshed strainers are excellent for straining soup stocks. There is also a special strainer used for getting tofu out of hot broths.

Umeboshi – if you love the salty, tart taste of these pickled apricots.

Wasabi – tubes of wasabi. Ask for “hon wasabi” or “nama wasabi” for 100% wasabi. Much of what is served outside of Japan is actually horseradish paste mixed with food coloring.

Yuzu – look for dried yuzu citrus peels (kizami yuzu by S&B is a popular brand at most retail shops) if you like to make homemade pickles.

Yuzu kosho – a salty and citrusy condiment (good quality yuzu kosho is very different from the kind at 100 yen shops. There are two types, green or red.)

 

Here is my post on where to go shopping in Tokyo.

Book Review – Drinking Japan by Chris Bunting

Drinking Japan

Drinking Japan

This indispensible guide will become the bible for anyone passionate about Japanese beverages. Regardless if your preference is for shochu or nihonshu, Chris has covered it all. Clearly written by a reporter, no detail is overlooked, and the information is easy to understand. The descriptions of each bar transports you there and he even includes specific drinks to try once you get there. The bars are not limited to Tokyo but he also guides you on major cities including Sapporo, Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, and where to go in Okinawa.

I know this book is a winner as many of my Tokyo favorites are included such as the New York Bar & Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo, he even mentions to come as the sun is setting, which is what I recommend to all of my friends. Buchi, Buri, Maru, Akaoni, Taproom, Takara, and Sasagin are other favorites that are included in this guidebook. He definitely has his pulse on the bar scene in Japan.

There are also a slew of bars that are new to me that are on my list to check out that include Shusaron for its collection of koshu (aged nihonshu), Garari and its impressive kokuto shochu list, and Cheese and Wine Salon Murase in Ginza. And although I am not much of a whisky drinker, just reading his chapter on Japanese whisky has me thirsty to visit some of the bars listed in the book.

As for covering beverages he definitely has a well-trained palate that I would trust. He recommends Bryan Baird’s beers and in the Q&A below his favorite awamori at the moment is Shirayuri, also one of my favorites. Just knowing this I am confident in reading his notes on the beverages written about in Drinking Japan.

The chapter on the drinking culture that is to be found in Japan is essential reading for anyone who will be drinking in Japan. And Chris explains why Japan is truly is a drinker’s paradise. While other books go into greater detail on nihonshu, he more than covers the base on what readers need to know when drinking nihonshu in Japan. The same goes for shochu, awamori, beer, wine, and whisky.

One of my favorite parts of the book are his directions on finding each bar. Essential information as I have found myself on numerous occasions lost, and I have a good sense of direction.

Chris is quick to point out others who have helped him along this journey, including professionals like John Gauntner, Bryan Harrell, Phred Kaufman, and many more.

This book will become a reference book for drinks in Japan. I have already dog-eared many pages for my next night in Tokyo. For those who do not read Japanese, there is essential Japanese in the book for names of beverages and addresses for bars, which will help you while on your evenings out. Even if you are not physically in Japan, the information presented on the different beverages alone makes it worth investing in. A portion of the proceeds are going to Japan Earthquake Relief.

Chris was kind enough to answer some questions posted below. Very insightful answers – see his suggestions for nursing a hangover and why he would not open a bar in Japan.

Drinking Japan – A Guide to Japan’s Best Drinks and Drinking Establishments

By Chris Bunting

Tuttle Publishing

272 pages

$24.95 (2127 JPY on Amazon Japan)

For more information, check out his website: http://drinkingjapan.com/

1. What drink do you have at the end of a long day?

Depending on the mood, I might have a glass of beer or something a bit stronger: whisky, awamori or shochu. Recent favourites have been a bottle of Shirayuri awamori from Ishigaki island, which has delicious unctuousness that I find really relaxing, and a bottle of Japanese grain Kawasaki whisky from the independent brand Ichiro’s Malts.

2. If a tourist is coming to Tokyo and only has time to visit five bars which five would you recommend?

I am going to blather a bit before I answer your question because I want to make clear that I don’t think it is possible to come up with any definitive list of top bars in Tokyo. I went to hundreds of bars for the book and the one thing I discovered was the foolishness of my initial objective of finding the “100 plus best bars.” Everywhere I went I seemed to get a new recommendation for a hidden gem. Japan’s, and particularly Tokyo’s, alcohol culture has a boundless energy about it and it just cannot be nailed down. There are new places popping up all the time. I found myself writing at the end of the guide that all my recommendations were just my favourites from the small slice of Japan’s alcohol life that I had been able to experience, and urging readers to use the book to get out and discover their own new places. That said, six (I am cheating) of my favorites at this point are Shot Bar Zoetrope, a Japanese whisky bar near Shinjuku station; Shusaron, a bar specialising in aged sake near Shinagawa station; The Aldgate, a great pub with good craft beer in Shibuya; Katakura, an izakaya near Ichigaya station with a great selection of awamori, shochu, and sake; Tafia, a rum bar near Roppongi,  and Bar Lupin, a really historic bar off the Ginza where Osamu Dazai and other literary greats used to hang out.

3. Again, advice for a tourist who can only have a few drinks during his stay, can you suggest one of each of the following? Nihonshu, craft beer, Japanese wine, shochu, awamori, Japanese whisky.

I will try. This is a fiendish question because it is a bit like asking someone to pick out one French wine. But here goes (I will cheat again by not naming particular brands in most of the categories but styles instead because that is the key issue): a really wild kimoto or yamahai sake rather than just sticking to the clean, dry sakes; one of the Baird Beers from Shizuoka, a brewery that plays freely over a whole range of styles; a wine made with the koshu grape, which is one of Japan’s special contributions to the wine world and often has a delightful shy and delicate touch; a sweet potato shochu from Kagoshima (my favourite brand is Manzen, because I had a great time visiting Manzen san’s tiny craft distillery in the backwoods of Kagoshima); a “kusu” (aged) awamori of some sort, rather than just the unaged stuff; a Japanese whisky that has been aged in mizunara oak, another unique Japanese style, which often offers distinctive sandalwood and coconut aromas and tastes.

4. Your favorite bar outside of Tokyo?

Pub Red Hill in Takayama city. A lot of the bars in my book have absolutely mind-blowing selections of alcohol of one sort or another. Red Hill doesn’t, but it is really friendly and is run by a good friend of mine. Bars are not all about hundreds of bottles on the shelves, they have to have soul as well.

5. Any remedies for nursing a hangover?

Don’t drink too much the night before. Gallons of Pocari Sweat, if you have strayed.

6. If you could create/own a bar what would it be like? Where would it be? What would you call it?

I would not be able to run my own bar. It takes dedication, attention to detail, and persistence, among other qualities. I don’t have those. If I did have to set up a bar, I would set it up somewhere other than Japan, because my bar simply would not be able to compete in Japan’s very competitive nightlife.

7. Through your travels you had the opportunity to meet so many interesting people. Who was the most memorable and why?

Tatsuro Yamazaki, the 90-plus year old owner of Bar Yamazaki in Sapporo. I write about him quite extensively in the concluding chapter of the book. His life story is extraordinary (including living in a boiler and being cleaned out by theft and fires ) and I think it helped me understand why Japan’s bars are of such a high standard.

8. If you could trade jobs with one of the people you met from your travels who would it be? (Someone who had an awesome bar or maybe a distiller, etc.)

As I say, I don’t think I have it in me to do any of these people’s jobs, but if I could be the assistant to Toshihiro Manzen, who runs a small craft shochu distillery in Kagoshima prefecture, I would be a happy man. It was such a beautiful place: in the middle of the forest, birdsong drifting into the distilling hall, the sound of the river …. The stills, believe it or not, are wooden and the spirit they produce is really distinctive. I had a tremendous sense when I was there that Manzen san was toiling away at something that will one day get international recognition.

9. Your favorite bar snack (or food with alcohol)?

Cheese. Any cheese. Not because it goes with all alcohol but because I love cheese and am starved of it here in Japan (see page 204 of my book).

10. Where are we most likely to run into you in Tokyo? At which bar?

At a not-very-fancy izakaya called Mugiya out the back end of Shimbashi station. It serves standard Japanese lager in small glasses and the fried spam gives me terrible jip the next morning, but my colleagues at work go there so I go too. It is about the company as much as the drink. When I get my way, we go to a place in Nishi-Shimbashi called Craft Beer Market, which has reasonably priced craft beer that is becoming increasingly popular among my colleagues. Recently, my roistering has been restricted because my wife and I just had a baby.