Gotta Get – Taberu Rayu 食べるラー油

Taberu Rayu

Taberu Rayu

When shopping for food products in Tokyo I find there are some items you just gotta get. Either because they are so delicious or as they are a trendy item. Taberu rayu is in the second category. Popular for about two years now it is still a hot item on the market and can be addictive. The bottle pictured above is from Momoya, the company also famous for its nori paste called “gohan desu yo”.

Taberu rayu (chili oil that can be eaten) is without the heat of traditional rayu and packed with additional seasonings. The market has taken off for this product so there is are many variations, but typical ingredients include chili-infused sesame oil, deep-fried garlic chips, sesame seeds, sugar, fried onions, and dried shrimp to name a few. At Tsukiji Market one store has created a version that includes tuna and a pickled vegetable, takana. Taberu rayu is best eaten over a hot bowl of rice to appreciate its flavors and texture, but is a versatile condiment finding its way to burgers, noodles and even tofu. The best place to purchase it is at any supermarket.

FYI – rayu is most commonly used combined with soy sauce and vinegar for a dipping sauce for gyoza (pot stickers).

Check out:

Taberu Rayu Two (without the oil)

Taberu Shoyu

Nosetare Rayu Oroshi

Nosetare Rayu Goma

Kakigori Shaved Ice 氷

Kinozen in Kagurazaka

Kinozen in Kagurazaka

The heat and humidity of Tokyo summers can be overbearing. What better way to cool down than with kakigori (shaved ice sweets). As a child visiting my family in Japan in the summer that is one of my fondest memories. Kakigori topped with sweetened condensed milk (ask for miruku) and garnished with some sweet azuki beans. Toppings include sweet syrups, mattcha, sweetened condensed milk, fresh fruit purees (mangoes are one of my favorites), and azuki beans.

Here are some shops known for their kakigori.

Kinozen 紀の善

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 1-12 新宿区神楽坂1-12

Phone: 03-3269-2920

11:00 – 21:00, Monday – Saturday

12:00 – 18:00, Sunday & holidays

Closed the 3rd Sunday of each month

no website

station: Kagurazaka

Ishibashi in Sangenjaya

Ishibashi in Sangenjaya

Ishibashi in Sangenjaya

Ishibashi in Sangenjaya

You can watch the ice being shaved with an old hand-cranked machine here at this very quaint shop. Interesting toppings here include Calpis, caramel, kuromitsu (brown sugar syrup), and kocha (British tea).

Kakigori Kobo Ishibashi 氷工房 石ばし

Setagaya-ku, Sangenjaya 1-29-8 世田谷区三軒茶屋1-29-8

Phone: 03-3411-2130

12:00 – 18:00 (may close earlier so go early in the day)

no holidays in the summer

Shikanoko in Ginza

Kanoko in Ginza

Shikanoko in Ginza

Kanoko in Ginza

Kanoko is on the corner of the main Ginza crossing where Wako and Mitsukoshi are. The cafe on the 2nd floor gives great views of the busy intersection and this shop is centrally located in the heart of the city.

Kanoko 鹿乃子

Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-7-19 中央区銀座5-7-19

Phone: 03-3572-0013

11:30 – 20:15

no holidays

station: Ginza

Japanese Knives 101

Japanese Knives

Japanese Knives

Japanese Knives 和包丁 Wabouchou

There is no better place to invest in a knife than Japan. Although they are not inexpensive, if cared for properly, Japanese knives will last a lifetime. A good knife shop will also carry Western-style knives made in Japan that are sharpened on both sides.

Traditional Japanese knives are sharpened only on one side, and Westerners will find that cutting with them can take a bit of getting used to (be sure to let the shopkeeper know if you are right- or left-handed).  Although most knives sold in the West do not rust, Japanese knives made from standard carbon steel rust easily. You may want to ask for a rust-resistant carbon steel that is easier to care for.

If this is your first time to purchase Japanese knives, you may want to start with three basic knives:

Deba bocho 出刃包丁 knife  with a thick, wide surface, primarily used to prepare fish (to filet, to gut, to cut through bones, and to remove the head)

Usuba bocho 薄刃包丁 knife with a broad, thin blade, used to peel and cut vegetables

Yanagiba bocho 柳刃包丁 Long and slender knife with a pointed tip primarily used for cutting sashimi


Other kitchen tools you may find at knife shops:


Benriner mandorin: Japanese-made mandolin, less bulky than French ones

Honenuki: tweezers used for pulling bones out of fish filets

Manaita: cutting board

Nukikata: an implement in the shape of a seasonal motif, much like a cookie cutter, used to cut vegetables

Oroshigane: a grater, ideal for grating ginger, daikon, and other vegetables (Note: graters for wasabi, made from sharkskin, are different from the ones for vegetables)

Otoshibuta: small, round, wooden lids that allow steam to escape while evenly distributing heat and gently cooking ingredients; they should be a bit smaller than the diameter of the pot

Tamagoyaki ki: pan used to make Japanese-style omelet

Toishi: water stone used for sharpening knives

Uroko hiki: fish de-scaler


Where to get your knives in Tokyo?

Tokyo knife shops.

Setouchi Shunsaikan Antenna Shop

Setouchi Shunsaikan Antenna Shop

Setouchi Shunsaikan Antenna Shop

Setouchi Shunsaikan せとうち旬彩館

Minato-ku, Shinbashi 2-19-10 港区新橋2-19-10

Tel. 03-3574-7792

10:00 – 20:00, no holidays (Japanese)

This shop is a collaboration of both Ehime and Kagawa prefectures in the rich Setouchi inland sea on the island of Shikoku. Naturally this shop has a wide variety of seafood. Ehime is also famous for its production of mikan, a tangerine like fruit that makes a refreshing juice. There is a restaurant on the second floor, Kaorihime, specializes in udon noodles.

Murakara Machikara Antenna Shop in Yurakucho

Murakara Machikara Antenna Shop

Murakara Machikara Antenna Shop

While antenna shops typically represent a prefecture, this shop carries a mishmash of items from all over Japan. The shop is not that organized, so you have to know what you are looking for. There are several antenna shops in the Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan, like Hokkaido, Akita, and many more, so definitely worth spending some time here. There are a wide variety of items including miso, natto, sake, wagashi, sembei, pickles, and more. Perhaps the most interesting is the selection of miso in the refrigerator section. Customers can taste through a variety of miso before purchasing.

Mura Kara Machi Kara Kan むらからまちから館

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 2-10-1, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan 千代田区有楽町2−10−1東京交通会館

Tel. 03-5208-1521

10:00 – 19:30 (10:00 – 19:00 on weekends and holidays) (Japanese)

Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza – Antenna Shop

Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza

Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza

Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza 北海道どさんこプラザ

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 2-10-1, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan 千代田区有楽町2−10−1東京交通会館

Tel. 03-5224-3800

10:00 – 19:00, no holidays (Japanese)

The large northern island of Hokkaido is famous for many agricultural products including kombu, potatoes, dairy products and its rich seafood including salmon and crab. Potatoes are represented here with croquettes, dairy with soft cream cones and the trendy salted caramels and the seafood selection changes seasonally. Here you will find some Japanese wine made in Hokkaido. Hokkaido’s climate is ideal for growing grapes as it stays much drier than the rest of Japan. Also, the cool evenings allow the grapes to ripen slowly giving the wines a nice, natural acidity. German varietals, especially a steely Kerner, does well in Hokkaido. And, it is also known for its unique fruit wines, look for strawberry, sweet melon (think cantaloupe), or pear. I’ve been drinking the strawberry Hokkaido wine for over twenty years. One of my Japanese aunt’s does not drink a lot, and she likes these as they are light in alcohol, sweet, and fruity.

The Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza is conveniently located in the same building with a few antenna shops so worth a visit if you have time and are curious about regional foods.

Kagoshima Yurakukan Antenna Shop in Yurakucho

Japan is a small country, about the size of California, yet each prefecture and region has its own local food and the Japanese treasure these regional products. There is no better expression of the diverse terroir of Japan than its local commodities. Kombu harvested from the rich mineral waters of Hokkaido. The southern prefecture of Kagoshima is famous for its sweet potatoes, which are the base for its heady imo jochu (sweet potato shochu).

Antenna shops act as both stores offering items that are often hard to find outside of the region as well as public relations office offering brochures about the local area. From local beverages like sake or shochu, pickles, sweets and meats, these antenna shops offer great finds and are worth carefully perusing. If you are looking for pottery from a certain region, for example the pastel glazed Hagiyaki from Yamaguchi, then these regional antenna shops are a good place to start.

Some shops will have restaurants featuring local foods, kyodo ryori (郷土料理) and these too are a great way to try food you normally would not have the chance to.

Kagoshima Yurakukan

Kagoshima Yurakukan

Kagoshima Yurakukan かごしま遊楽館

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 1-6-4, Chiyoda Building 千代田区有楽町1−6−4千代田ビル

Tel. 03-3580-8821

10:00 – 20:00 (10:00 – 19:00 weekends and holidays) (English)

Kagoshima also on Kyushu is famous for its shochu, in particular imo jochu from sweet potatoes, of which the shop has an unusually large selection. The cuisine is rich with kurobuta (Berkshire pork) products, Satsuma age fish cakes and more. The restaurant on the second floor, Ichi nii san, serves up a kurobuta based menu in a variety of presentations including tonkatsu or shabu-shabu.

Osechi Ryori – Japanese New Year’s Day Cuisine おせち料理


Homemade osechi ryori

I made this osechi ryori set the first year I was married for my Japanese husband’s family. It took about a week in total (not all day but using parts of each day) of menu planning, shopping, and assembling each dish. Only the kamaboko and black beans were purchased.

Top left box: datémaki egg and fish cake rolled omelet, kamaboko (fish cakes), black beans, tazukuri or gomamé, kuri kinton (chestnuts in a sweet potato mash).

Top right box: nimono of chicken, carrots, renkon, gobo, konnyaku, and pea pods.

Bottom box: kazunoko (herring roe), namasu (pickled julienned carrots & daikon), sesame dressed gobo, kuwai, kobumaki (herring wrapped in kombu), and pickled renkon.

This article first appeared in Metropolis magazine.

Trying to find somewhere open on and after January 1, when the New Year holidays have shut doors all around Japan, can be trying. Hence the tradition of osechi ryori, or seasonal food, dishes targeted at providing sustenance over the laidback days at home. Most can be prepared ahead of time, lasting for days when kept in a cool environment.

Like everything else in Japan, osechi ryori can be bought packaged exquisitely in deluxe boxes called jubako. At department stores such as Takashimaya, late October sees the spectacle of the first day of pre-order, when lined-up customers stampede inside to snap up the coveted limited-edition boxes. These tend to include offerings from Michelin-grade and other award-winning chefs, top-class hotels, and famous ryotei (luxurious Japanese restaurants)—and can fetch up to ¥200,000 per box. For those without a six-figure salary however, local supermarkets and conbini also sell—more affordable—box sets. Some mix in Chinese and Western elements, while others highlight regional cuisine.

Every year has its trends, and 2012 is no different. Look out for a proliferation of low-calorie options, and “yawaraka osechi”— soft foods for elderly customers.


  • Tazukuri—Candied dried sardines, formerly used as fertilizer in rice paddies, hence their other name gomame (“50,000 grains of rice”)
  • Kazunoko—Herring roe simmered in soy and dashi broth, symbolizing fertility
  • Kuromame—Simmered sweet black beans, a pun on the word “mame” for diligence and hard work in the upcoming year
  • Kohaku namasu—Pickled, red Kyoto carrots and strips of white daikon make up the celebratory colors of red and white
  • Kamaboko—Steamed fish cakes, also in the nationalistic colors
  • Kuri kinton—Mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnut, the kanji is a play on prosperity
  • Yude ebi—Boiled shrimp, whose bent backs refer to having a long life (check out some elderly on the bus for a visual explanation)
  • Kobumaki—Kelp, often wrapped around herring or salmon. A play on the word “yorokobu,” for happiness in the home
  • Tai—Sea bream; a play on the congratulatory greeting “omedetai
  • Sato imo—Taro root, symbolizing a great number of descendents, from the way the little potato-like vegetables proliferate
  • Renkon—Lotus root, the holes of which allow us to see clearly into our future
  • Daidai—Bitter orange, whose name is a homonym for future generations

Look out for spice packets for steeping in sake to make o-toso. The spice pack looks like a tea bag and is filled with herbs including cinnamon and dried sansho berries, and produces a delicious drink for New Year’s Day, thought to stave off illness during the winter season.

Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo Part 1/2

photo by Tama Miyake-Lung

photo by Tama Miyake-Lung

This article which first appeared in Metropolis magazine highlights do not miss spots in Tokyo for foodies. (text follows)

We are spoiled rotten here in Tokyo. The food-savvy consumers of Japan have raised the bar for the dining culture to a level found in only a few cities throughout the world. Here are my favorite parts of town when foraging for food in Tokyo.

To really get a feel for what the city has to offer, the best place to start is, obviously, Tsukiji Market. The inner market will be moving to Toyosu in 2012, so come and see this historical area while you can. Avoid it on Sundays, when it’s closed, and refer to the calendar for other holidays. While most people go to get their sushi at the source, I am addicted to the anago tempura at Tenfusa—tender eel in a crispy tempura batter sprinkled with a sweet soy dressing over a bowl of steaming rice.

If you are not a morning person or it’s a Sunday, head instead up to Ameyoko in Ueno. The narrow street bustles with energy, and stores are popping at the seams with goods spilling out onto the road and into neighboring stalls. Hawkers call out with their scratchy voices offering discounts to the housewives. While Ameyoko cannot be compared to Tsukiji, you will find seafood, fruit, vegetables and some imported goods. Come in the fall and see the coveted matsutake mushrooms, often from China, at discounted prices.

Getting in gear for your kitchen? Kappabashi, between Asakusa and Ueno at Tawaramachi station, is best-known as a place to pick up plastic food. Once you find that perfect sushi keychain, though, wander the streets and go where the real finds are. Kappabashi is where chefs and restaurateurs go to set up shop. If knives are what you are after, make a beeline to Kiya in Nihonbashi. The shop has a fantastic selection of cutting utensils in a range of prices, as well as other kitchen gadgets.

My favorite part of the food culture in Japan is depachika, the grand food floors in the basement of department stores. The newly revamped Isetan in Shinjuku sparkles and shines. Don’t miss the sandwiches at Alain Ducasse’s premiere boulangerie, Be, or the sweets at Pierre Herme, considered by many to be the top French patisserie. In the wine shop there is a sleek bar where you can select from a long list of toasty, smokey whiskeys. Or pick up a bento and a beer and take the elevators to the roof-top garden for an impromptu picnic away from the crowds of Shinjuku.

While Osaka may be famous for okonomiyaki, Tokyo has its own, much messier version, monjayaki. After getting out of the station at Tsukishima, follow your nose to “Monja Dori,” where it looks like time stopped about 25 years ago (left). The secret to enjoying monjayaki is to have your server help you make the first one or two until you get the hang of it. If you can manage to make it thin enough, you’ll find that the pari pari crispy bits put okonomiyaki to shame. Suggested toppings include cheese, mentaiko and mochi.

Another area that smells so good it’ll have you jumping off of the train is Koreatown in Shin-Okubo. Come here for yakiniku, but if you like to cook at home, then make time to check out the local supermarkets, where you can find kimchi, pajong mix, and the finger-licking-good Korean nori.

If you have time for a day trip, head south to Yokohama’s Chinatown for some great street food like steamed buns stuffed with chopped barbecue pork, sticky rice with chicken steamed in a bamboo leaf, and tapioca in coconut milk. While it lacks the energy you find in, say, New York’s Chinatown, and although there seems to be a curious lack of actual Chinese people, the area does not lack in restaurant options, and there are plenty of markets to pick up salt-laden stocks and dried scallops for soups.

Another day trip that does not disappoint is to Utsunomiya. Actually, the city itself is a bit depressing, but the number of gyoza restaurants is tremendous. Go with a couple of friends and hit as many places as you can for pork-filled dumplings, fried or boiled.

The urban adventure does not end here. Check out next week’s issue for Part Two of our Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo—with a look into various cuisine and specific shops to indulge in here in the metropolis.

Check out next week’s Metropolis for the second and final installment of our Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo.

For more information about Tsukiji market, see

Tenfusa. 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3547-6766. Open Mon-Sat 6:30am-2pm, closed Sun and hols. Nearest stn: Tsukiji


Kiya. 1-5-6 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku. Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11:15am-5:45pm. Tel: 03-3241-1141. Nearest stn: Mitsukoshimae.

Isetan. 3-14-1 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3352-1111. Open daily 10am-8pm. Nearest stn: Shinjuku-Sanchome.


Korea Town:

Utsunomiya Gyoza:

Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo Part Two:

Gotta Get Food Shopping Tips in Japan

Kanji Ridden Packaging

Kanji Ridden Packaging

Shopping for food in Japan can be intimidating as there is often little to no English on the packaging. Here are a few tips for some of my favorite food products and how to use them in your kitchen. This article originally appeared in Metropolis magazine: (text below)

Exploring a new food culture can be an adventure for some, and intimidating for others. Even if one can read Japanese product labels at the supermarket, deciphering what is inside the package is not always so easy. I have been eating Japanese food for almost four decades and I still find myself scratching my head trying to make sense of it all. Along the way, though, I have come upon a few delights that I would be selfish not to share. Explore and enjoy! Being curious can be a good thing.
Kinzanji miso and su miso (金暫時みそ and 酢みそ)
Miso offers itself in a myriad of ways, beyond the ubiquitous miso soup. The dressings that can be whipped up, or conveniently purchased, are also addictive. I like to keep kinzanji miso in my fridge as a savory dip for crudités of cucumbers, carrots and daikon. Kinzanji miso has a heady, sweet aroma and a chunky texture. It is a healthy alternative to creamy vegetable dips. Su miso is a blend of sweet saikyo miso and vinegar, and is commonly found as a dressing over quickly blanched dark greens, or with blanched octopus. This puckery, slightly sweet dressing can brighten up many dishes. A salad composed of lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and wakame seaweed with this dressing makes for a refreshing side dish. I like the conveniently packaged su miso by Marusan. Take some along with you for your hanami picnic.

Yuzu kosho (柚子こしょう)
Something missing in Japanese food is heat. The Thais and Koreans have more than their share of spicy food—we have wasabi and karashi. So in my pantry you will find a jar of yuzu kosho. This thick, salty paste is simply yuzu, chili peppers and salt. You will find both red and green versions, depending on the color of the chili peppers. It is a great garnish for yakitori, steamed vegetables, udon or as you please. Chef Josh DeChellis of Sumile in New York City suggests putting yuzu kosho on fresh scallops and then lightly sautéing them in a pan.

Aji tsuki nori (味付き海苔)
Nori is the crispy seaweed found wrapped around maki sushi rolls or some onigiri. There is a variety of nori available on the market. The non-flavored type is used for sushi; flavored, or aji-tsuki, nori is used with traditional breakfasts. Traditional Korean nori is quite irresistible with salt and sesame oil. For a real treat, Yamamoto Noriten (available at Takashimaya) has nori flavored with offerings such as uni (sea urchin), ume (plum), mentaiko (spicy cod roe) and salmon, to name but a few. It makes a great alternative to potato chips for a healthy snack.

Nama fu (生麩)
Fu, a delicacy from Kyoto that is also a staple in vegetarian diets, is a form of wheat gluten—it is literally pure protein. Fu is either dried or nama (raw). The dried version does not have much flavor, but like a dry sponge it will soak up the liquids in which it is immersed. You’ll find rehydrated fu in sukiyaki or in a simple bowl of soup. However, it is the nama fu that makes a great, healthy snack. On a recent trip to Kyoto, I picked up two decadent flavors of nama fu, bacon and cheese. The nama fu can be lightly sautéed in a non-stick pan, without oil, for otsumami with beer.


OK, “fish cakes” may not sound appetizing; however, anything that is deep-fried should not be overlooked. Another great snack or side dish is satsuma-age, fish cakes that have been deep fried. Most likely you have seen this in the oden case at your convenience store. Some satsuma-age can be eaten at room temperature, just slice and indulge, but I prefer to quickly sauté them. At shops which make them by hand you will find a variety of stuffings, from traditional gobo (bamboo roots) to more modern fillings like corn and cheese.

Yukimi daifuku (雪見だいふく)
There are a few things in life that you never forget, such as your first kiss, high school graduation, and the first bite of yukimi daifuku. Maybe not, but if you are going to try one thing new, do try this. Vanilla ice cream covered with a thin layer of mochi that all melts in your mouth. I do not have a sweet tooth, but do have a soft spot for this treat, available at your local convenience store. (You’ll find yourself sneaking out of the house for a late-night Yukimi daifuku craving before you know it.)