Food Sake Tokyo

With Alton Brown in Ginza

Three years ago today I had the pleasure of taking Alton Brown on a tour in Tokyo. We did a book exchange at the end, he gave me a copy of this newest cookbook and I gave him Food Sake Tokyo. It was such a pleasure to meet him and help him find knives at Tsukiji Market and chopsticks at a chopstick specialty shop.

It’s crazy the times we are now in. Japan has not been affected too much by the coronavirus, not like in the US. But we are behind on the vaccines. Hoping I can get vaccinated in July. Also looking forward to the day when the border reopens and I can return to bringing clients to the food markets of Tokyo.

Food Sake Tokyo Update – Kiya Nihonbashi has moved

Kiya Knife Shop 木屋 *Note – this is the NEW address for Kiya Nihonbashi

Nihonbashi-Muromachi 2-2-1 中央区日本橋室町 2-2-1

Chuo-Ku Tokyo Coredo-Muromachi. 1F

Tel 03-3241-0110

10am – 8pm seven days a week
Closed only on New Year’s Day. (English)

The corner shop, opened in 1792, has a sign in English, “World’s Finest Cutlery” over the door. The compact shop displays a shining collection of knives, pots, pans, and many things for the kitchen. Here you will find graters, pepper grinders, tweezers for pulling bones out of fish, as well as scissors and gardening tools. The friendly staff is patient and will help you to find exactly what you are looking for.

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.



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.

Book Review – The Decorative Art of Japanese Food Carving

Kodansha - The Decorative Art of Japanese Food CarvingThe Decorative Art of Japanese Food Carving by Hiroshi Nagashima, Kodansha International, 2009, 112 pp.

The Japanese eat with their eyes as evident with food carving that decorates dishes at kaiseki restaurants. No other book has captured this dying art to such detail. The book is filled with instructions and photos that give you the tools to recreate these at home. Simple recipes are included as well as a guide to the carving tools. What is most impressive is the delicate and thin slices that chef Hiroshi Nagashima, of Honganji temple restaurant Shisui in Tsukiji, uses to transform fruit and vegetables into edible art.

We tested a few of these at home and were tickled with our successful results. Complicated as some of these look, it is easy to make the curls and knots. The chapter on cucumber carvings in particular was a snap to recreate at home, and satisfying on the palate.

Book Review – Japanese Kitchen Knives

Japanese Kitchen Knives

Japanese Kitchen Knives by Hiromitsu Nozaki with Kate Klippensteen, Kodansha International, 2009, 160 pp.

Revered chef Hiromitsu Nozaki’s cookbooks in Japanese are rich with classic recipes and techniques. Finally, his first book in English and it does not disappoint. Japanese knives are revered around the world and chef Nozaki clearly defines why in this handsome book. He starts off not with knives, but with cutting posture, the proper stance and even at what angle to face the cutting board. We tried this at home and realized quickly what a revelation this small change made in the kitchen.

While there are many Japanese knives Nozaki focuses on the main three that most chefs work with daily, usuba, deba, and yanagiba. Photos and clear directions guide readers through each step on working with these knives. Classic cutting techniques covered include katsuramuki for paper thin rolls of daikon, sasagaki for thin vegetable slivers, and sanmai oroshi for filleting fish. The tutorials on cutting sashimi are worth the price of the book alone. Easy and delicious recipes are included so that you can put to practice these newly acquired skills.

Finally, essential information on caring and sharpening your knives round out this book which will become a reference book that you will go back to many times.

Machikan Knife Shop in Kawagoe, Saitama

Historic Kawagoe north of Tokyo

Historic Kawagoe north of  Tokyo

Kawagoe in Saitama is a short train ride just north of Tokyo. This historic city is charming and a great day trip. The downtown “kurazukuri” area is filled with old, wooden buildings and this tall bell tower.

Machikan Knife Store in Kawagoe

Machikan Knife Store in Kawagoe

Shinji and I came to Kawagoe to purchase knives for each other. Machikan is on the main street in downtown Kawagoe and I believe is a seventh generation shop.

Machikan Knife Shop in Kawagoe

Machikan Knife Shop in Kawagoe

Here is the noren (banner) in front of Machikan.

Machikan Knives

Machikan Knives

Shinji’s knife is the long, yanagibocho, for cutting fish into sashimi slices. I chose a small debabocho, for filleting small fish.

Shinji slicing hirame with his yanagibocho

Shinji slicing hirame with his yanagibocho

Shinji’s first fish with his new knife was a gorgeous winter hirame, rich with fat.

Machikan Knife Shop

Saitama-ken, Kawagoe-shi, Saiwaicho 7-3


Check out the website for gorgeous photos of the interior of the shop.