Niigata – Sake Tasting at Echigo Yuzawa Station

Echigo Yuzawa is a short shinkansen ride from Tokyo station, just over an hour. We left Tokyo on a sunny morning and when the train shoots out of the the Niigata mountain side of the tunnel, we were in a snowstorm. It was like a dream come true.

Echigo Yuzawa station has a special sake tasting room with over a hundred sake, shochu, umeshu, and Japanese wine, all from Niigata. The tasting starts at 500 JPY. Visitors are given a small sake tasting cup and five tokens. It’s a fun way to get a grasp on Niigata sake. There is a box with hot water for warming up the sake. Some great offerings including Hakkaisan, Kakurei, and Kubota. There were several seasonal offerings as well.

Even if Echigo Yuzawa is not your final destination, if you are passing through, I would suggest getting off the train and spending an hour in the station at this sake tasting area and visiting the many shops selling regional products.

Ponshukan

Echigo Yuzawa Station, Niigata

http://www.ponshukan.com/05_1.htm

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/

 

Ginza Sakagura Kengyo

Drinking spots for saké in Japan can range from super casual to sleek bars. I tend to veer towards to easy places where I don’t have to dress up and where saké is at the heart of the shop. Sakagura Kengyo is a retail shop in Higashi-Ginza that is also offers saké and shōchū by-the-glass at bargain-basement prices. A flight of three saké, shōchū, or fruit liqueurs starting at 650 JPY. The food is basic, canned seafood like sardines, oysters, mackerel, as well as yakitori – from a can. Don’t knock it until you try it. It’s good stuff.

Best of all, Sakagura Kengyo is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. I love swinging by here before a leisurely lunch, or in the early evening before a night out.

Sakagura Kengyo 酒蔵検校

Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-8-12, Ginza Yamato Bldg.

中央区銀座3-8-12銀座ヤマトビル

http://www.kengyo.co.jp/bar/

Grand Hyatt Tokyo – Shunbou

Shunbou is the Japanese restaurant at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi. The Grand Hyatt has several Japanese restaurants including Roku Roku for sushi and Keyakizaka for teppanyaki. Shunbou features seasonal kaiseki dishes as well as comfort food like curry udon. It is kid-friendly and a great option in the Roppongi area.

Entering the restaurant seasonal produce is displayed, as are large earthenware serving dishes. The main dining room is in granite and there is an inner garden behind windows that opens up to the sky, bringing in sunlight, or on this day, rain sprinkling on the rocks and tree.

I joined a friend for lunch here and ordered the shun-sai lunch box (5,300 JPY). The presentation is gorgeous as lunch comes in a wooden box with three tiers. The appetizer for the autumn lunch is a chrysanthemum tofu topped with chrysanthemum petals.

The first tier was composed of tuna sashimi, yuba (soy milk skin), mozuku (a slippery sea vegetable), and grilled sanma (Pacific saury).

The second tier included crab cream croquette and grilled salmon.

Grilled Iberico pork, unohana (tofu lees with vegetables), and boiled vegetables completed the third tier.

Separately takikomigohan of vegetables cooked with rice, grilled eggplant miso soup, and pickles round out the lunch. Dessert is a petit kuri chestnut wagashi, not too sweet. It was a perfect mini-kaiseki including all of the components and was a great way to sense the seasons.

Executive sous chef, Takuya Nezasa, was with Nadaman for thirteen years before coming to Shunbou. Nadaman for Tokyoites is a revered establishment with a 185-year history. Some department stores will have a branch of Nadaman in the depachika so that customers can buy seasonal and traditional dishes. Shunbou is kappō-style so you can see some of the chefs in the open kitchen cooking.

The sake list has many offerings by-the-glass, including seasonal hiyaoroshi from Nagano Masumi brewery, perfect with the ingredients available this time of year.

The dishware is also lovely. Many had lovely textures, like the teacup, calling out to be held. The meal is also a pleasure for the eyes.

Lunch starts at 1,900 JPY for curry udon or soba with rice. We got a small bite of the curry and it’s a light curry and not too spicy. The menu is vast and offers something for everyone. The menu is in English and of course staff speak English, so Shunbou is also a good option for some who may have reservations going to traditional Japanese restaurants with an English speaker.

Menu:

http://restaurants.tokyo.grand.hyatt.co.jp/wp-content/uploads/pdf/shunbou_menu.pdf

Grand Hyatt Tokyo – 6th floor

Minato-ku, Roppongi 6-10-3 港区六本木6-10-3

Map:

http://restaurants.tokyo.grand.hyatt.com/access.html

Nunohan Ryokan – Suwa, Nagano

When deciding where to stay while traveling in Japan there are many considerations for type of stay. When we can, we try to stay at local ryokan inns with onsen hot springs. Nunohan was put on my radar by a friend who lives in Suwa, Nagano.

We loved it. The ryokan is kid-friendly, had lovely cuisine, and my requirement for any stay a rotenburo, outdoor onsen. For dinner we included a flight of local saké with the full course kaiseki. Breakfast (photo on left) included freshly made tofu, grilled salmon, and much more. The rotenburo and onsen was big and spacious.

Nunohan is on the banks of Lake Suwa. Here is the view from our room. We loved taking a walk on the lake, kind of reminded me of being back in Minneapolis, but this lake is much bigger than the ones in the Cities and here we have mountains.

Nunohan has been in operation for 160 years.

ぬのはん Nunohan

〒392-0027  長野県諏訪市湖岸通り3-2-9

Tel:0266-52-5500(代) Fax:0266-52-5636

http://www.nunohan.co.jp/index.html

Suwa, Nagano Sake Breweries

A short trip from Tokyo is Suwa in Nagano. The city of about 50,000 people sits on the shore of lake Suwa and has mountains nearby. We love coming here as it is one train from Tokyo, as the air is refreshing, and Nagano is known for good sake and food, particularly soba.

We are big fans of Masumi sake, which has a lovely tasting room in Suwa. Nearby are four other sake breweries with tasting rooms worth visiting. You can make an afternoon of tasting and exploring sake. Then spend the rest of the day soaking in an onsen hot spring and dining in a ryokan.

Here are the five breweries, all within a few minutes of each other, and walking distance from the city center.

Maihime 舞姫

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Suwa 2-9-25 長野県諏訪市諏訪2-9-25

http://www.maihime.co.jp/

Reijin 麗人

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Suwa 2-9-21 長野県諏訪市諏訪2-9-21

http://www.reijin.com/

dscn5747

Honkin 本金

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Suwa 2-8-21 長野県諏訪市諏訪2-8-21

http://honkin.net/

dscn5754

Yokobue 横笛

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Suwa 2-3-6 長野県諏訪市諏訪2-3-6

http://www.yokobue.co.jp/

dscn5763

Masumi Miyasaka Brewing Company 真澄 宮坂酒造

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Motomachi 1-16 長野県諏訪市元町1-16

https://foodsaketokyo.com/2016/09/29/nagano-masumi/

More information on Suwa City in Nagano in English:

http://en.go-centraljapan.jp/lsc/lsc-upfile/pamphlet/01/40/140_1_file.pdf

More information on sake breweries in Nagano:

http://www.japansake.or.jp/sake/english/kuramoto_map/nagano/

Nagano Masumi Brewery

We love Nagano. It’s just north of Tokyo, easy to access by train, and here you’ll find delicious food and great sake. Suwa is a city that is accessible from Tokyo by train, about two hours from Tokyo on the express train, Azusa. Not the shinkansen, but it passes many stations along the way.

Here is some information on Suwa, a city that sits between a lake and the mountains. There are five sake breweries all within walking distance of the city center, and all conveniently located near each other. You’ll see the breweries in the map below around C2 and D2.

http://en.go-centraljapan.jp/lsc/lsc-upfile/pamphlet/01/40/140_1_file.pdf

In the city of Suwa, we like to stay at a ryokan with an onsen (hot spring bath). In the city there are a few sake breweries where visitors can come in for a tasting. Our favorite sake brewery in Suwa is Masumi. Masumi’s rich history dates back over 300 years.

The tasting room is beautiful. The sake is oishii. The portfolio is big, including some fruit sakes like yuzu and ume (apricot).

masumi-flight

Flights of sake at Masumi

The sake tasting room is spacious and there are several sakes to taste through. If the sake is too heavy to carry, it can always be shipped to your home or hotel. The staff are friendly. Masumi is exported, so this is good news if you come across a sake that you like. There is a good chance you can also buy it overseas.

Masumi Miyasaka Brewing Company 真澄 宮坂酒造

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Motomachi 1-16 長野県諏訪市元町1-16

http://www.masumi.co.jp/english/

 

 

Talking About Drinking on Television

Today Japan welcomed a new sumo champion, Goeido. It’s most interesting as in this tournament had he not done well he was going to be demoted. Well, he rose to the challenge and went 15 days undefeated. Bravo!

The television cameras were on Goeido just before the awards ceremony and the announcers filled in with some banter. Following is the conversation (that I could catch) between a former sumo wrestler, Mainoumi, and an announcer. I love that in Japan talking about drinking is normal and not shunned upon.

Announcer (A): 舞の海さん、Mainoumi-san…

Mainoumi (M):はい、Yes…

A: 豪栄道は酒飲むの? Does Goeido drink sake?

M: あ、飲みます。Yes, he drinks.

A: 飲むの? He drinks?

M: え、Yes.

A: あ、そう。。。Oh, really?

M:  気合が入ると良く飲みますよ。When he gets into it, he can drink a lot.

A: 今日は美味い酒は飲めます。。。I bet he’s going to drink really good sake tonight.

M: そうですね。Yes…

A: 遊びに行きたい。(it sounded like the announcer said that he wants to go over to Goeido’s celebration party this evening.)

I had to laugh when I heard this. Such a great commentary on how we approach drinking in Japan.

Congratulations to Goeido. The first time a sumo wrestler from Osaka has won in 86 years. Omedetou gozaimasu! I hope you are drinking very good sake tonight.

*** FYI, sake can refer to Japanese nihonshu (the fermented and brewed rice drink) or to any alcoholic beverage. However, as this is sumo, which is a very traditional sport, when the announcer asked if Mainoumi if Goeido drinks sake, I assume it means nihonshu.

 

Culinary Journeys with Chef Namae Shinobu

Shinobu Namae picnics amongst rice fields at Terada Honke_2

Chiba Terada Honke

I am very excited to share air time with Chef Namae Shinobu in this month’s Discover Japan special on CNN. His show is airing today at 5:30 p.m. Japan Standard Time. Be sure to tune in to travel with him as he goes to Kyoto and to Chiba as he explores the world of tea and saké. Learn about omotenashi, an essential part of the food culture in Japan.

http://edition.cnn.com/videos/tv/2016/08/12/cnn-culinary-journeys-japan-asia-8-18-16.cnn-creative-marketing

Following is an interview with chef Namae Shinobu with CNN’s Culinary Journeys. Read on for where chef Namae would go in the world for his personal culinary journey. I was surprised to hear his destination.

  1. What inspired you to cook? And what compose your culinary philosophy?

Cooking is all about making something by hand to make someone happy. My philosophy is to be sincere to everything around you, love who you are and what you do.

  1. You hold a diploma in Politics from one of the top universities in Japan, Keio University, but it’s not a career you pursued. Becoming a chef must have been quiet an interesting journey for you. Can you tell us about it?

A lot of people been asking me this question but it was quite natural for me to get into the world of cuisine. When I was studying, I needed to earn money to support myself. So I started working part-time at an Italian restaurant at night and went to school in the morning. I needed to survive and this job fed me a delicious and warm meal at the end of the day. That was my starting point and it was really simple.

I love people and I am interested in Social Science, and I wanted to understand people’s difference in different aspects including culture, generations, gender, religions etc. Learning politics was all about how to cope with these differences. And now finding the beauty of different food cultures is another way to fulfill my interest.  

  1. Why have you decided to do French cuisine instead of Japanese cuisine?

My mentor Michel Bras is a French chef. And I was interested in learning something different so I started from European cuisine.

  1. You’ve had experience in the kitchens at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and Michel Bras’ three-Michelin-starred restaurants – what did you learn from your time there?

Both chefs are unique and have extreme curiosities about nature and science. They are both self-taught chefs, creating dishes from nature. 

  1. Tell us about your ‘Culinary Journey’ on CNN. What is the highlight of this journey?

Through this journey, I would like to show the very unique Japanese hospitality made by Japan’s historical background, beautiful landscape and craftsmanship. I travelled to Kyoto to meet two Kaiseki chefs and a tea master. And I completed the journey at a sake brewery in Chiba with more than 300 years history.

I thought I already knew many beautiful aspects of Japanese food culture and I realized again it’s a never an ending journey to discover all of them.

Highlights are everywhere from this journey, but I would say each person who I introduce to audience in this journey not only care about details of their craft but also care about people they encounter and serve. The warm-hearted hospitality is the most unique thing here in Japan.

  1. In CNN ‘Culinary Journeys’, you went to Kyoto to discover the best quality Japanese green tea. And a tea ceremony is integral in the dining experience at your restaurant L’Effervescence. Tell us the importance of tea in Japanese dining culture.

The traditional Japanese fine dining, Kaiseki, is originally the meal served in the context of tea ceremony. The tea ceremony ceremony gives you a precious moment of encountering with other guests. A good cup of tea makes people united together and it has a power of magic.

Tea ceremony is an important dining experience at my restaurant because it’s the symbol of unity and peace as well as care of each other.

  1. Will we still find hints of Japan flavors in L’Effervescence menu?

Yes very much. I put some Japanese technic behind European composition, but I try not to make it too prominent in one side of the culture on my dishes. But almost all ingredients are sourced from all over Japan now. 

  1. How would you describe Tokyo’s culinary scene?

A lot of new restaurants opened by younger generations are rising.  

  1. If we gave you a blank cheque, where would your dream culinary journey take you and what would you do there?

Ethiopia. The starting point of “The great journey of human being”. I believe I can find something very important in this country of many tribes. And I am interested in “Gursha” – grabbing a morsel of food and place into the mouth of someone else at the table. Then the person you have just honoured with a “Gursha” returns the favour. It’s about making the friendship and love stronger.
And great coffee too.

  1. What does Michelin recognition mean to you?

It’s good to be recognized but I try to be humble and generous. I don’t mind being called a celebrity chef or so, but I am still who I am. Nothing more or less after recognized by Michelin.  

  1. What do you usually like to cook when you are at home?

Something simple like vegetables with some seafood. And I enjoy having sake and wines.

Part one – the art of hospitality:

http://edition.cnn.com/videos/foodanddrink/2016/08/18/spc-culinary-journeys-tokyo-shinobu-namae-a.cnn

Part two – Kyoto’s culinary traditions:

http://edition.cnn.com/videos/foodanddrink/2016/08/18/spc-culinary-journeys-tokyo-shinobu-namae-b.cnn/video/playlists/spc-culinary-journeys/

Part three – a meal inspired by memories:

http://edition.cnn.com/videos/foodanddrink/2016/08/18/spc-culinary-journeys-tokyo-shinobu-namae-c.cnn/video/playlists/spc-culinary-journeys/

 

Gotta Get – Summer Fruit Saké

In the humid summers I seek relief in chilled fruit saké that are tart and mouthwatering. Here are two worth seeking out, lemon and natsumikan (imagine an orange pomelo). My favorite producer for these kajitsushu is Tsuru Ume from Wakayama. Their aromatic yuzushu is also one of the best made in Japan, in my opinion. On the rocks, or served straight, this is an excellent start to any meal, or a refreshing break in the afternoon.

Tsuru Ume also makes outstanding umeshu, which is no surprise as the apricots from Wakayama are a regional specialty.

I love the selection of kajitsushu at Shinbashi’s Oboro Saketen. Okuma-san, the owner, went to college in Minnesota and speaks English. Tell him Yukari sent you.

http://www.tsuru-ume.com/

Interview with Okuma-san of Oboro Saketen.

http://metropolisjapan.com/seasonal-secrets-of-hiya-oroshi/

Oboro Saketen

http://www.oborosaketen.com/page3.html

Minato-ku, Shinbashi 5-29-2 港区新橋5-29-2

Side note – this is a well-stocked sake shop with some hard-to-find sake and shochu. They will ship to your home or hotel with an overnight delivery.