The simple step of roasting eggplants and peeling before adding to miso soup adds a rich and smoky dimension to our mornings. Japanese eggplants are thin with small seeds. When cooked the eggplant flesh becomes soft and juicy. Some Japanese eggplant can be eaten as sashimi, simply sliced and served raw with soy sauce. Growing up in the US I was not a big fan of eggplants. But in Japan I can’t get enough of them.
Japanese kitchens lack a big oven for roasting and baking, but often come with a small fish grill, perfect for grilling fish and vegetables. Simply peel off the leaves at the top of the plant exposing more of the skin. Prick the skin in a few spots with a toothpick or knife so that when it cooks the steam can be released. If not, it may explode while cooking. Put in the Japanese fish grill and roast until the skin blackens. If you don’t have a fish grill, you can blacken the skin directly over a gas flame. Be careful.
Put the roasted eggplant in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest for a few minutes. Peel, cut into bite-size pieces, and add to miso soup.
We sometimes sauté in a pan with vegetable oil and dress with a sweet Kyūshū soy sauce. It can be stir-fried with ground meat and seasoned with miso, saké, and sesame oil for mabō nasu, which needs to be eaten with a big bowl of rice.
A classic Japanese dish is dengaku miso over roasted or deep-fried eggplant. Dengaku miso is a sweetened thick miso dressing. If you are not an eggplant fan and have access to Japanese eggplants, consider giving it a second chance.
茄子 nasu – eggplant
焼き茄子 yakinasu – roasted eggplant
賀茂茄子 Kamo nasu – Kyoto vegetable Kamo eggplant
田楽みそ dengaku miso – sweetened miso dressing for eggplant and tofu
I am enchanted with the minty aroma of shiso. Did you know there is a red shiso and a green shiso? The green shiso is often served as a garnish for sashimi. If you find it on your plate, often as a backdrop to sliced raw fish, then be sure to eat it. If not by wrapping a slice of sashimi with it, then by using it to pick up the julienned daikon and eat as a palate cleanser between sashimi bites.
Red shiso is used not for its flavor, but more for its color. Red umeboshi get their bright color from red shiso and the leaves can be dried, pulverized, and mixed with salt for a dark purple furikake called Yukari. I happen to love Yukari.
Shiso juice is made from red and green shiso. The green shiso helps to add the unmistakeable aromatic notes that is shiso, as the red provides color and is not rich on the nose. This colorful juice is sweet and tart and the perfect afternoon drink on a hot day or a refreshing aperitif before a meal. It’s a breeze to make and I only regret not making more of it.
300 grams shiso leaves (mix of red and green)
2.2 liters water
25 grams citric acid (kuensan クエン酸)
200 grams sugar
Remove the leaves from the stem of the plant. Rinse three to four times in water or until it is rid of dirt.
In a large pot, bring 2.2 liters water to a boil. Add a large amount of washed shiso leaves, about 1/3 of the batch, and cook for up to one minute. Any more than a minute and bitter notes will come from the leaves. Remove the leaves and set aside. This process will be repeated until all of the leaves have been cooked.
The red leaves will lose their color when it hits the hot water. This is normal.
Strain the hot shiso water through sarashi (cheesecloth) as there may be some more dirt.
Add the sugar to the mixture and stir until it dissolves completely.
Now, comes the fun part. Add the citric acid and watch the color change from a rusty red to an intense pink. Check out the colors in the photo above.
Allow the juice to cool to room temperature before putting it in bottles for storage. The juice will keep for up to one year in the refrigerator.
Serve over ice.
akajiso 赤じそ red shiso
shiso しそ shiso
kuensan クエン酸 citric acid
One of my go to side dishes this time of year is Yamagata Dashi, a classic kyōdo ryōri (regional dish) from where my family is from. I didn’t eat it growing up, and only came upon it once I lived in Japan. It’s the perfect dish for summer as the vegetables for Yamagata Dashi are at the peak of their season.
Yamagata Dashi smells like you are in the garden. It has a crunchy texture and depending on how much nattō kombu and okra you use, it can be very slippery. I love the aromatics from the shiso and myōga, the crunch from the cucumbers, and it took a while for me to get used to eating raw eggplant, but I love it now.
The main ingredients are cucumbers, eggplant, myōga (ginger buds), okra, and shiso. Nattō kombu, finely minced dried kombu, is another key ingredient. I picked up this pack of nattō kombu なっとう昆布 or 納豆昆布 at the Yamagata antenna shop in Ginza.
Soak a small amount of the nattō kombu in water while prepping the vegetables.
I like to blanch the okra and remove the seeds, but if you are in a hurry or don’t want to be bothered with turning on the stove, you could mince the okra while raw.
Finely chop the cucumbers, eggplant, and okra. Mince the myōga and shiso.
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and season with either soy sauce or tsuyu (seasoned soy sauce used for soba or udon noodles). Serve over rice. If you can’t be bothered cooking rice, use the precooked rice that only needs to be microwaved.
Serve immediately. Best to make only what you can eat as the texture changes if it sits overnight in the refrigerator.
Yamagata Dashi 山形だし
kyōdo ryōri 郷土料理
cucumbers – kyūri 胡瓜
eggplant – nasu 茄子
ginger buds – myōga 茗荷
nattō kombu 納豆昆布
Do let me know if you try making this dish. Curious what your reactions are.
One of my favorite simple breakfasts in Tokyo is this carrot sandwich at Nihonbashi Bon Coeur. Julienned carrots simply presented between two slices of pain de mie, with a schmear of mayonnaise. The orange haystack is so big that it’s hard to keep contained while eating. There may be butter, or not, I don’t remember and I don’t care, because it is so good.
Bon Coeur is a Japanese bakery on the Chuo Dori of Nihonbashi, very close to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. I often pick up clients a the MO and will stop by here for breakfast. There is also a free cup of coffee in the early morning, I believe from 7:30 – 9:00 a.m.
There are a few small tables in front of the shop, if the weather is good. There is also a counter inside. Most of the customers work in the neighborhood and are regulars.
The breads here are they typical Japanese oyatsu pan or snack breads, made with ingredients like hot dog, cheese, croquettes, yakisoba, and burdock root. Some unusual breads that they do here will include chili con carne or macaroni. You’ll also find Japanese classic breads like melon pan and French classics like pain au chocolat.
Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi-Muromachi 4-3-12
平日 07:30 – 20:00 weekdays
土曜日 08:00 – 18:00 Saturday
closed Sundays and national holidays
At Cicada in Aoyama, near Omotesando, I always order the mezze plate. I love the variety of small bites, often with lots of vegetables. If you have allergies, or prefer for an all vegetable mezze, the kitchen is great to substitute something.
I sometimes come by myself and sit at the bar. In New York City I found it very easy to start up conversations with complete strangers, but that is much harder to do here in Japan. However, I’ve met some interesting people here, including a designer. In our conversation we realized that we both worked on the same food project, at different stages. Cicada is that type of restaurant that draws in an international crowd, but also internationally-minded locals. There is always a buzz in the restaurant and the staff speak English.
The draft beer is from T.Y. Harbor, their sister shop. The wine list is reasonably priced and there is a nice selection of wines-by-the-glass that match the Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.
There is outdoor seating, but that seems to book up quickly, so plan ahead if you want to dine al fresco.
Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-7-28 港区南青山5-7-28
The Nakameguro area is filled with many great restaurants, including my favorite pizzeria, Seirinkan. Just a short walk from Nakameguro station is Onigily Cafe. Onigiri is perhaps the quintessential comfort food in Japan. Rice stuffed with a savory filling that is often wrapped with nori. I almost didn’t go in as the spelling of onigiri with an l just seemed so wrong, but it was hot and I needed to take a break. From outside I could see the handmade onigiri and they looked to good to resist.
The interior is also inviting as it is brightly lit and there are a handful of tables and a counter at the window. I had the mentaiko and takana, a great combination of spicy pollack roe with pickled greens. The annin dōfu was the best I have had in Tokyo. I will go back just for the almond custard.
I was surprised that the onigiri that I was served had just a small piece of nori. But forgot all about that when I bit in. The rice was still warm and was lightly pressed, it was like a pillow.
This is a great spot for vegetarians as there is a good selection of vegetable-only onigiri including yukari (salted red shiso) natto, leek miso with shiso, kombu, umeboshi, soft-boiled egg, and salt. There is also a selection of vegetable side dishes including potato salad, tomato salad, pickled cucumbers, and turnips with kombu.
It was not surprising that there were many people coming for take-away. The prices range from 100 – 200 JPY with most averaging about 155 JPY, which is about the same as you would pay at a convenience store. But these are just so much better.
Meguro-ku, Nakameguro 3-1-4 目黒区中目黒3-1-4
It is hot and humid in Tokyo. A great time to have curry as the spices helps you to sweat, cooling you down. Curry House Tiri Tiri is a popular shop in Shibuya, about a five minute walk from the station along Meiji Dori.
While the shop has pork, chicken, or shrimp as options for the curry, I was craving healthful vegetables. This tomato is the chū-kara, medium spicy, curry. If you ask for a small portion of rice you get a 50 JPY discount. The owner’s wife said that a usual serving is a cup and a half of rice so I asked for the small portion, which was perfect.
I was curious to come here as the shop is famous for serving healthful curry. The chef uses little oil and lots of onions. Outside of the shop is a sign in Japanese that says each serving of curry contains about one whole onion. All of the ingredients are natural, no preservatives. It is also known for having some of the best curry in the city.
The menu is simple. Pick your heat, chū-kara or spicy Masala. You can pick chicken, pork, or shrimp, or go vegetarian. Just list up what you want like tomato, spinach, garbanzo beans, lentils, potatoes, cheese, or a raw egg. Also, tell them if you want a little or a lot of rice.
The shop is only open weekdays, 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., or until they run out. Love this. If I were to do a restaurant I would do the same. Even when I got there around 1 p.m., late for lunch in Japan, there was a line. There are 15 seats at a long counter with white tiles. The line does move quickly as the meal is quite fast. If there is a line outside they will come out and take your order to expedite the service. Quite a lot of customers came for take-away.
The only thing they have to drink is ice water. Smart.
I don’t know if they speak English. The wife was very abrupt asking me in Japanese if I spoke Japanese. I don’t know how she would be with a non-Japanese speaker. So go prepared. I felt like I was at Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi.
Curry House Tiri Tiri チリチリ
Shibuya-ku, Higashi 1-27-9
At the French Culinary Institute I completed the bread baking program before doing the culinary program. I love bread. Tokyo is a wonderful city for bread. There are many French boulangeries in Tokyo including Viron, Maison Kayser, and Gontran Cherrier. Add to that impressive collection Maison Landemaine from Paris. I had heard that there were long lines, as is to be expected when any hot spot opens in Tokyo. I went recently on a weekday and was happy to see that there were no lines and that I could sit in the cafe. The shop was busy with customers, but most of them for take-away.
There are two croissants. The French croissant made with Lescure butter and the Japanese croissant made with a local butter. Forgive me for not knowing as I couldn’t resist trying the French croissant. It is among the best in the city, along with the croissant at Le Boutique at Le Cordon Bleu in Daikanyama.
A second shop has opened in Akasaka, near the Tameike Sanno station and not far from Roppongi Itchome station. This location is much more convenient to any subway station. there is comfortable seating in the back of the shop. My favorite here are the tarte flambee, popular in Alsace, but the baguette is very nice as are the croissants! The baguettes are a good value for only 220 JPY and remind me of authentic French baguettes.
Both shops are open from 7 a.m. as good bakeries should be! Sadly many Japanese bakeries don’t open up until after 10 a.m.
Minato-ku, Azabudai 3-1-5 港区麻布台3-1-5
Minato-ku, Akasaka 2-10-5 港区赤坂2-10-5
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.
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.
The rice has a lovely texture, and is all-you-can-eat. Here is the lovely okoge crust that is so treasured in Japan.
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
You can see the lunch and dinner photos with prices here: