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.

IMG_2459

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 Matsuriya 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. Matsuriya 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.

*Note, the Matsuri website says that it is open from 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

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.

*** Note – Hasegawa Saketen has moved to a new location while their original shop in the station is under construction. There is still a shop in the station, about a 1-minute walk from the original location. (The photos above are from the original shop.)

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.

*Note, the Hasegawa Saketen website says that it is open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Monday – Saturday) and 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Other good places to pick up bento are throughout Tokyo Station, including in the depachika-like area across the aisle from Hasegawa Saketen, GranSta. 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.

* The GranSta website says that it is open from 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. (Monday – Saturday and holidays -except for the last day of a string of holidays). 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Sunday and last day of a string of holidays.

* Daimaru website says it is open from 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. on weekdays. 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Food Sake Tokyo Book Updates

Some updates to my book, Food Sake Tokyo:

New Castle Curry in Ginza has closed.

Hasegawa Saketen in Azabu-Juban has moved to a new location around the corner. The new address is Azabu-Juban 2-2-7.

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

Five Questions for Sake Master John Gauntner

Sake Master John Gauntner

Sake Master John Gauntner

John Gauntner has done more to promote sake than any other non-Japanese in the world. John is the author of five books, an informational monthly newsletter, and for those lucky enough to be in Tokyo, he holds interesting tasting seminars at Takara.  His accomplishments are too numerous to list all of them here but some highlights include being the only non-Japanese to be certified in both the Master of Sake Tasting and as a Sake Expert Assessor. He also sits on many panels, often as the only non-Japanese, and rarely does a month go by where John is not in a Japanese magazine or newspaper. He has inspired many in the world to pursue and learn more about sake.

He has influenced my life as well. While I was working at Takashimaya’s flagship store in Nihonbashi as a sommelier in the sake department the staff were given a chance to study another beverage. The store manager encouraged me to study sake but John had done so much to promote sake that I decided my energy was better spent learning shochu. Originally from Ohio, this fellow Midwesterner also came to Japan on the JET program the same year that I did, in 1989.

John generously shares with us some with insightful tips for sake lovers visiting Tokyo. My recommendation is to time your trip with one of his sake seminars, to subscribe to his free newsletter, and pick up one of his books. My personal favorite at the moment is The Tokyo Sake Pub Guide.

1. On your website you list many of the best izakaya in the metropolis. If a visitor to Tokyo has only a limited time, could you suggest three izakaya. By visiting all three readers would have a better understanding of the izakaya scene in Japan.

This is a hard question to answer without qualifying. It all depends on whether or not one speaks Japanese. But I think one all around recommendable izakaya for food, sake, ambience and user friendliness is Sasagin. Another great and classy one on all fronts that flies under the radar a bit is Nakamura in Shibuya. Everyone that goes there is surprisingly pleased. And perhaps the ultimate gritty (in a good way) izakaya experience with great sake too is Taru-ichi in Kabukicho. Finally, the fourth of the three is Ajisen in Tsukishima: outstanding food, great sake, but very small, very popular and a bit more expensive.

But there are so many more…

2. What are good retail sake shops in Tokyo? Ideally conveniently located.

Surely the Hasegawa Saketen shop INSIDE JR Tokyo station at Gransta is the easiest and best. They have a great sake selection, English spoken (a bit) and optimally located albeit inside the wicket. Their Azabu Juban store is good too. Next would be Sakaya Kurihara in Moto Azabu, at the bottom of the hill down from the Chinese Embassy. Solid, classic collection and friendly proprietors but English may be strained. And in Shibuya, Tokyu Food Show just below Hachiko has a great selection too.

But there are so many more…

3. You have your finger on the pulse of what is happening with sake in the world. What sake trends do you see right now – either in Japan or in the world?

Domestically it is hard to see trends in a contracting industry but I do see some

-New branding, i.e. “our regular stuff sells under this old name, so let us make a new brand name for ginjo only, or junmai only.”

-Lots of young blood, i.e. younger brewers with new enthusiasm and ideas.

-Overall higher milling rates. Not necessarily a good thing, but I do see this trend.

-A second wave of muroka (not charcoal filtered) nama (unpasteurized) genshu (undiluted) sake. Personally this kind of sake lacks subtlety but it does seem to be making a comeback.

-More character-laden sake like kimoto, yamahai and naturally occurring yeast sake. Not a ton, but enough to see a trend.

4. What sake is in your fridge now? What good sake have you had recently?

In my sake fridge are about 30 sake, lots of which are “science experiments.” But most interestingly are a couple from brewers that no longer exist, like Suzuran in Iwate. The ones I most want to taste are Tensei, Mori no Kura, Sakuragawa, and a Kame no O from Niigata that is about  ten years old. Oh, and one Tatsuriki made with Toku-A Yamada Nishiki @ 35% that needs a year to open up.

5. What are some easy to find sake to look for at izakaya?

One way is to look for harigami, streamers on the wall, to see what is just in or not on the main menu! Two is to ask the proprietor not for a recommendation but rather what he or she likes now or best. Then ask for something similar if you like it or different if you do not. Some places (like Sasagin) will assess you and pick one for you. Others are more reticent to do that. Finally, ask for what you like and if they do not have it ask for something similar. And I highly recommend taking notes on what you taste!

John’s Blackbook

Sasagin 笹吟

Shibuya-ku, Uehara 1-32-15, Kobayashi Bldg.

03-5454-3715

http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1318/A131811/13004599/

Nakamura 並木橋なかむら

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 3-13-5, Ipuse Shibuya 2F-B

03-6427-9580

http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1303/A130301/13059986/

Taruichi 樽一

Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 1-17-12 5F

03-3208-9772

http://www.taruichi.co.jp/

Ajisen 肴や味泉

Chuo-ku, Tsukishima 1-18-10

03-3534-8483

http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1313/A131302/13002247/

Hasegawa Saketen はせがわ酒店

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Station, GranSta B1

03-6420-3409

http://www.hasegawasaketen.com/english/about.html

Hasegawa Saketen はせがわ酒店

Minato-ku, Azabu-Juban 2-2-7

03-5439-9399

http://www.hasegawasaketen.com/english/about.html

Sakaya Kurihara さかや栗原麻布店

Minato-ku, Moto Azabu 3-6-17

03-3408-5379

http://www.sakaya-kurihara.jp/

Tokyu Food Show Sake Department

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-24-1 B1

03-3477-3111

http://www.tokyu-dept.co.jp/foodshow/shop/liquor/

Shotengai Shopping Arcades – Walking Food Tours of Tokyo

Shotengai

Shotengai

I love the shotengai, Japanese shopping arcades. Filled with ma and pa shops selling tofu, fresh produce, rice, pickles, miso, and other basics of the Japanese pantry. This article recently appeared in Metropolis magazine and features five of my favorite shotengai in Tokyo.

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/local-flavors/street-eats/ (text follows)

While the one-stop food shopping at Tokyo’s depachika is an amazing experience, the gourmet eats come with a high price tag. At the other end of the spectrum are the places where most Japanese do their daily shopping: neighborhood shopping streets known as shotengai, where you’ll find mom and pop shops selling vegetables, fish, meat, rice and even handmade tofu. The Tokyo Shotengai website (http://meturl.com/shotengai) lists over 550 of these shopping streets; here are some of our favorites.

KAGURAZAKA 神楽坂

This foodie neighborhood is filled with many fantastic shops along the main drag. Try 50-ban (3-2 Kagurazaka) for its steamed buns, Kintokiya (2-10 Kagurazaka) for wagashi made from sweet potatoes, and the gorgeous Rakuzan (4-3 Kagurazaka) for tea. Isuzu (5-34 Kagurazaka) offers a variety of Japanese-style sweets and, if you walk along the street far enough, Baikatei (6-15 Kagurazaka) has fantastic handmade wagashi. Nearest station: Iidabashi

NIPPORI 日暮里

Just outside of Nippori station lies the Yanaka shotengai—very typical of what you would imagine an old-style shopping street to be like. Two of the area’s meat shops are famous for their menchikatsuNiku no Sato (3-13-2 Yanaka) and Niku no Suzuki (3-15-5 Nishi-Nippori). Goto no Ame (3-15-1 Nishi-Nippori) has a colorful selection of candies. There are many options, including deep-fried tofu balls known as ganmodoki, at Musashiya (3-9-15 Yanaka), oyatsu-pan (snack breads) at Atomu Bakery (3-11-14 Yanaka), and skewered and grilled seafood at Fukushima Shoten (3-13-4 Yanaka). Note that a lot of the shops are closed on Mondays.Nearest stn: Nippori. www.yanakaginza.com

NINGYOCHO 人形町

The historic Ningyocho district is always a delight to visit. While you’ll find many shops selling the local specialty, ningyoyaki (small cakes filled with azuki bean paste), there are many other interesting stores. On the famous Amazake Yokocho shotengai is Futaba Tofu (2-4-9 Ningyocho), with a variety of tofu products and also the sweet, creamy drink for which this street is named. Hojicha tea is the specialty of Morinoen (2-4-9 Ningyocho), while the long line outside the tiny Yanagiya (2-11-3 Ningyocho) is a testament to the popularity of its taiyaki sweet-bean cakes—considered one of the three best varieties in the city. Ningyocho’s most famous restaurant may well be Tamahide (1-17-10 Ningyocho), renowned for its oyako-don rice bowls. Nearest stn: Ningyocho.

KICHIJOJI 吉祥寺

Just north of Kichijoji station is Sun Road, a covered shotengai filled with many small shops. Among the several worth exploring are traditional German bakery Linde (1-11-27 Kichijoji-Honcho) and Meat Shop Sato (1-1-8 Kichijoji-Honcho), which is famous for its menchikatsu and wagyu and which also has a popular restaurant on the second floor, usually with a long line. Okashi no Machioka (1-15-1 Kichijoji-Honcho) will have your eyes spinning with all of the different types of candies, sweets and snacks. In the evening, the Harmonica Yokocho strip is filled with small restaurants that are perfect for a drink and some nibbles. Tecchan is a popular yakitori spot—if you can squeeze in (1-1-2 Kichijoji-Honcho). Nearest stn: Kichijoji.

AZABU-JUBAN 麻布十番

This popular foodie street in the heart of the city is easy to navigate. The renowned Mamegen (1-8-12 Azabu-Juban) tempts customers with over 90 varieties of flavored rice crackers, including uni, wasabi and curry, but it’s the shio-okaki (deep-fried and salted) that are irresistible. The taiyaki at the extremely popular Naniwaya Sohonten (1-8-14 Azabu-Juban) are made by the shop’s fourth-generation owners. Hasegawa Saketen (2-2-7 Azabu-Juban) has well-selected sake, shochu and umeshu. If you’re craving meat, the yakitori at Abe-chan (2-1-1 Azabu-Juban) will hit the spot. Alternatively, slurp up some soba noodles at Nagasaka Sarashina (1-8-7 Azabu Juban), notably the delicate, white sarashina noodles. Nearest stn: Azabu-Juban.