Park Hyatt Tokyo Kozue’s Tohoku Heroes

Hatsumago Sparkling

Hatsumago Sparkling

Kozue at the Park Hyatt Tokyo is a lovely spot for Japanese cuisine. At lunch if the skies are clear you have a gorgeous view of Mount Fuji. At night the city twinkles below you.

Two years ago Kozue did a special Tohoku menu to show their support for three prefectures that were hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami, Fukshima, Miyagi, and Iwate. This year Kozue is repeating the Tohoku Heroes menu, but moving on to the other three prefectures, Aomori, Akita, and Yamagata.

Chef Kenichiro Ooe is from Yamagata, as is my family, so we share this connection with Tohoku. At a recent dinner at Kozue chef Ooe introduced many products and sake from Tohoku.

Koji Nishizaki, the manager of Kozue, gave lovely commentary on the sake with each course. We started the evening off with a sparkling sake from Hatsumago. Hatsumago is a lovely brewery from Sakata in Yamagata. I sold many bottles of Hatsumago when I worked at Takashimaya. It means the first grandchild. A lovely gift for new grandparents. It is only 10% in alcohol, so light on the palate and refreshing. A great start to any evening.

Hiraizumi

Hiraizumi Marubi 15, Yamahai Junmai, Akita Miyama-nishiki rice. The yeast that is used for this sake is called Akita kobo #15, where the sake gets its name. Although it is a yamahai sake, it is not too heavy as yamahai can be. A very food friendly sake.

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Chef Ooe talked about visiting the Tohoku region to meet the farmers, ranchers, and fishermen behind many of the products that they are using. For example, the watarigani crab used in this starter has a local name of gazami. I love these local colloquialism regarding food. It seems to be especially prevalent with seafood. The crab is  steamed in sake, spinach, myoga, and Tosa-zu jelly. Tosa-zu is a classic tart dressing made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, and dashi. As a jelly it adds a nice texture to the dish. The Hatsumago sparkling paired well with the Tosa-zu jelly, myoga, and crab. Underneath is some kani-miso, or the offal of the crab, a delicacy and an unexpected and nice surprise. The rich kani-miso was rich and paired well with the Hiraizumi Yamahai Junmai.

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Warm Aomori hokkigai appetizer with seri, maitake mushrooms, ginko nuts, and sansho was served with Hakkoda Oroshi Daiginjo. Both the hokkigai clam and sake are from Aomori, so a natural partner. I also love this dish with the accent on both edges of the bowl. Dining at Kozue is also a delight on the eyes. Each time I am here I come across new tableware that capture my attention. The Japanese eat with their eyes and taking in the vessels are part of the pleasure of dining at Kozue.

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Owan soup bowl. Check out this lovely lacquer bowl with silver and gold circles. My neighbor at the dinner, a Japanese travel writer, said, “it is September”, like I should know why this bowl is being used this time of year. Of course, the harvest moon. So here you also get an appreciation that chef Ooe selected this bowl for this dish due to the time of year.

Ichigoni

The owan soup course is a famous local dish called ichigoni of awabi and uni. I’ve tried it in the past and have never liked it, until now. Chef Ooe’s soup was rich in umami and the seafood was pristine. It didn’t hurt that there was matsutake mushrooms and other vegetables in the soup.

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Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai from Aomori, lucky if you can get your hands on this sake. 🙂

PHT Kozue sashimi

Chef Ooe sashimi presentation always has a big impact. How gorgeous is this large katakuchi bowl filled with crushed ice? This is a serving for three guests. Mimmaya bluefin tuna, makogarei, and amaebi. The fresh nori is always a treat. Chef Ooe commented that it is still early in the season and that the tuna was not as fatty as it will be later in the season as the water cools down.

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Amanoto made with kuro koji from Akita. This was my favorite of the night. I wonder if it is because of the black koji – as I am a fan of Okinawa awamori spirit, which is also made with kuro koji. It was served with a Hinai jidori chicken from Akita and included a kiritampo rice ball, a classic dish from Akita. It was nice to see it elevated to this level, as it is a dish often made at home. I think this dish that this was presented in was my favorite of the night.

Sadly I had to leave the dinner, unexpectedly, and missed out on the Yamagata Yonezawa wagyu and the Yamagata soba. Dessert was a rice ice cream. I did love being introduced to new sake, a renewed appreciation for Tohoku ingredients, and seeing new vessels. If you go, I highly recommend asking to have Tohoku sake paired with your meal.

The Tohoku Heroes event runs now through November 30th, both lunch and dinner. There will be a special dinner on the evening of November 29th, where some of the producers will be in attendance. For more details:

http://tokyo.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/news-and-events/events/tohoku-heroes-2015.html

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Soba at Honmura An

Honmura An

Fresh Yuba on Chilled Soba

My first introduction to Honmura An was in New York City back about 15 years ago. A friend who loved soba wanted to share with me his favorite soba shop in the city. I was mesmerized with the stone grinder for crushing the dried buckwheat and impressed that the noodles were being made fresh daily. Sadly the Manhattan shop has since closed. Honmura An has since relocated to Tokyo, in Roppongi, just across the street and around a corner from the massive Tokyo Midtown complex. It is a short walk from Roppongi Hills or any of the Roppongi stations.

The interior is modern and sparsely decorated with simple washi, Japanese paper, that hangs from above. In the back of the restaurant there is a large window overlooking the soba prep room. Sadly when we arrived the rolling and cutting of the noodles were done for the first seating of lunch.

A few tables had solo diners, in their 20s, plugged into their own music or engrossed into their phones and the outer world. Most of the diners were area businessmen and ladies who lunch. The restaurant has a big menu of small bites that can be had before finishing off with soba. At lunchtime most people were not having the side dishes but all going straight for the buckwheat noodles. This day it was quite hot outside and as one would expect, most diners were ordering the cold noodles.

Honmura An

Ikura and Grated Daikon on Chilled Soba

I had asked if they had yakimiso, a classic dish of a sweet miso, often studded with buckwheat, that is grilled. I was disappointed when I was told it wasn’t served so we ordered two types of soba. One topped with a creamy, fresh yuba (soy milk skin) and the other a grated daikon and ikura (marinated salmon roe).

The noodles are fine and very delicate and this would be a great light lunch during the hot summers that Tokyo is known for.

Honmura An has a nice selection of saké and wine. I was so happy to see Urakasumi Junmaishu on the list that I didn’t even bother looking at the wine list. The saké is easy on the palate and a nice partner to the soba.

Honmura An

Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-14-18

03-5772-6657

English menu available.

Closed Monday and 1st & 3rd Tuesday

Wadakura at the Palace Hotel Tokyo 和田倉

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Seasonal Sashimi of Sea Bream, Medium Fatty Tuna, and Squid

Kaiseki restaurant Wadakura in the Palace Hotel Tokyo is a quiet oasis overlooking the moat of the Imperial Palace. Seasonal dishes are brought out in small portions and presented on beautiful dishes. There are many good reasons for having kaiseki for lunch. First and foremost, it is much more affordable than having kaiseki for dinner. But, more importantly, evening kaiseki meals can be very taxing on the stomach. Some kaiseki restaurants are only open for dinner, so it is good to keep in mind the restaurants that are serve kaiseki at lunch, including Wadakura.

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Wagyū Sirloin Steak Jyūbako

I dined with a girlfriend so we ordered two different menu items. This jyūbako, a square lacquer box of rice topped with seared wagyū sirloin steak as the main part of the kaiseki is 8,700 JPY. This comes with an appetizer, sashimi, miso soup, pickles, and dessert. The meat was marbled with fat but was not too rich. A great option for meat eaters.

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Nodate Bentō Box

The three-tiered lunch box kaiseki set starts at 5,400 JPY. This is a lovely presentation with many courses served in one box. This is also served with rice, miso soup, pickles, and dessert. Following are some of the highlights of the Nodate bentō.

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Wagyū Croquette

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Grilled delicacies. Small bites including duck, eel, chicken, and eggplant.

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Bamboo Shoot, Wakamé, Fuki (butterbur stalks), and Roe

This is a typical spring dish. Delicate flavors of the ocean (fresh wakamé and roe) come together with mountain vegetables (bamboo shoots and butterbur stalks). In particular, the sansai mountain vegetables sing of spring. Tender bamboo shoots and the crunchy butterbur stalks simmered in dashi.

Desserts were the perfect finish to a big meal, warabi mochi with coconut and mango and an aromatic annin dōfu.

Wadakura is on the 6th floor of the Palace Hotel Tokyo. There are private rooms, but the main dining room has a large window overlooking the moat of the Imperial Palace. There are only a handful of tables in the simple space so it still feels intimate. This day the other diners included some businessmen and well-heeled ladies. The kimono-clad servers are very gracious and could answer my many questions about the different ingredients. The Nodate bentō comes with a bilingual Japanese and English menu which is a nice souvenir, especially when looking back at the photos of the different dishes. A very nice touch for novices to Japanese cuisine who want to know more about the varied ingredients.

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Ichi-no-Ichi-no-Ichi Palace Hotel Original Sake

One of the highlights of dining at Wadakura is the private branded saké made for the Palace Hotel by Hakkaisan of Niigata. This saké is not sold retail so the only place one can try this is at the Palace Hotel. The name of the sake, Ichi-no-Ichi-no-Ichi, is the address for the hotel, Marunouchi 1-1-1. The calligraphy on the label is gorgeous as well. The saké has a nice aroma of rice and is very food-friendly.

Wadakura, a kaiseki oasis on the moat of the Imperial Palace, is a short walk from Tokyo Station.

Wadakura at the Palace Hotel Tokyo

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-1-1

030-3211-5322

Hirezake – Japan’s Weirdest Hot Saké Drink?

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There is still a chill in the wind and one of the fun hot drinks to warm up with is hirezake. The fin of the fugu (blowfish or puffer fish) is grilled over a flame until charred and then put into a cup of hot saké to steep. More for fun than for flavor, but a nice change-up from the hot saké or shōchū that I usually drink. We usually make hirezake from fugu fins that we buy in packs from Tsukiji Market. But, came across this the other day and had to try it. In southern Japan fugu is called fuku, which is a nice play on words, for good luck or fortune. On the package it is called fuku no hirezake.

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The box comes with a hiré (fin) from a fugu that has already been charred. It also comes with saké that can be heated in the microwave for a few minutes.

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The charred fugu hiré.

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It wasn’t as good as the version we make at home when we char the fins directly over a flame. I could hardly even sense any of the smokiness that we usually get. If you are visiting Japan and see it on a menu, do order it. It is a fun drink, and something I think you can only find here.

Tokyo Food Guide

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photo by Olen Peterson

We can demystify Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest seafood market,

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and introduce you to a new sushi neta, like kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) that is pink, slightly sweet, and is succulent.

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Introduce you to a wide variety of Japanese pickles.

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Lead you to a special bar where cocktails are made with seasonal fruit and vegetables,

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or to a bar serving craft beer and sweet potato chips.

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Explore the unique izakaya culture from smoky grilled meat joints
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to saké specialty restaurants and discover the subtle nuances of saké through flights of saké,

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or through the native distilled spirit, shōchū. Yukari was the first non-Japanese to pass the shōchū advisor exam.

DSCN5688Explore street food on the side streets of Tokyo,
depachika sugar grapesphoto by Nancy Matsumoto

or to my old stomping grounds, Takashimaya depachika, to discover sugar-coated muscat grapes and

depachika sashimi matsumoto

photo by Nancy Matsumoto

seasonal sashimi.

Food Sake Tokyo guides are a chef and Japanese fishmonger. We are Tokyo’s food guides. Please contact us here for more information on our market tours.

The Artistry of Den 傳 2

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Asamayama Natsu-Jun, or summer Junmaishu, was rich enough to stand up the fish course.Den17

Katsuo-zuké, skipjack tuna marinated in soy sauce, is a dish we eat at home, but this was so much more upscale. The katsuo was marinated for a much shorter time than we do at home. Also, I loved the egg yolk that was marinated in dashi. There is a trick to get his texture but I don’t want to reveal too much.
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Akita prefecture’s Yuki no Bijin (Winter Beauty) is an appropriate name for a saké as Akita is snow-filled for most of winter. This snow melts and contributes to the delicious water used for making Tohoku saké. This was a Tokubetsu Junmai Ginjo. Check out the beautiful glass it is served in.Den19

I was so curious about this ceramic as it had a rich texture. Chef Hasegawa brought out some bowls to show me the beautiful work of this potter from Mashiko in Tochigi, just north of Tokyo. The potter carefully etches or scrapes out the black parts to show the interior white.Den20

My neighbor happened to be drinking from a saké cup also by the same potter. Gorgeous. Den21

Ayu is a summer river fish in season now. Most times it is simply salted and grilled, which is of course delicious. Tonight was my first time to try ayu as himono. The fish is butterflied, guts removed, and then marinated in salt water for a brief period and then air-dried. Just before serving it is grilled. The whole fish is edible, head to tail. “Rich in calcium,” said the server in Japanese.

In the middle was liver mousse from the ayu. Very rich in flavor, but a light mousse. And the green cake on the bottom is a steamed bread made with tadé no ha (water pepper leaves) and rice flour. It is first steamed until cooked through and is light and fluffy. Chef Hasegawa then grills it under a direct flame to give the edges some crispy texture which is like the cooked edges of the ayu. Brilliant dish that can only be had here at Den.
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Haneya Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu. The cup looked like it was made by a girl. When I asked about it they said yes, Midori Uchiyama, I believe from Tokyo. The bottom of her pieces either have a “M” for Midori or “Mid”.Den23

Here is his signature dish that comes with every meal, no matter what time of year it is. He calls this dish “Hataké no Yōsō” or the state of the farm. There were over 20 vegetables and flowers in the salad bowl, including baby kabocha squash and corn silk. He treats many vegetables individually, either roasting or pickling in a sweet vinegar, or even deep-frying. Giving a variety of textures and flavors. Brilliant dish. I wish I could eat this everyday, or make this at home, but I can see it’s a lot of prep.Den24

Pringles canister containing Den potato chips – check out the smile! And, a zucchini blossom that was deep-fried.
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Here is Midori’s sake cup and tokkuri.

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Tachibanaya Tokubetsu Junmaishu made with omachi rice. The sweetness of the sake paired well with the soy sauce ankaké sauce on the next dish.Den27

Again, a brilliant use of texture buckwheat grains on the sweet soy ankaké sauce over kuro wagyū from Hokkaido.Den28

Chef Hasegawa assembling a dish for other guests (I’m allergic to shrimp, otherwise I think I would have had this). He was saying he had just returned from a trip to France and Italy and was inspired by bouillabaisse. Den29

This saké cup was by far my favorite. I had seen photos of it from the Kenshin Utsuwa facebook page. I loved the texture, the color, the rough exterior and smooth interior. And, the saké tasted lovely in it. The artist also makes a tokkuri that my neighbor used that was gorgeous as well. I think I’ve found my next birthday present from me to me.Den30

The donabé with the rice for the shimé.

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Kamo Kinshu Karakuchi Junmaishu. A little frizzante on the palate.Den32

The rice course was amazing. Sweet corn and scallops cooked in dashi before adding to the rice pot to be cooked with the rice. I wish I could make this at home, and will definitely try.Den33I was getting full at the end of the meal so asked for a small serving of the rice. Chef Hasegawa made a rice ball for me to bring home to my husband. Very thoughtful. The rice was served with asazuké pickles made that morning and miso soup.

Den34And, dessert. Looking like the moss in front of the restaurant. I was so curious about it. It had to be edible, but all of it? So I asked Hasegawa-san if I could eat it all, dried leaves and all. He said yes so I took a bite. I was so curious what the dried leaves were. I had no idea, but it added a unique texture to the dish. “Tea leaves” he revealed.

Dinner at Den is a night that you will remember for a long time. I can’t wait to go back. I spoke with my neighbors who come once a month, all the way from Yokohama. I hope someday to be a monthly customer as well. The atmosphere at Den is light and friendly, not stuffy and staid as some kaiseki restaurants may be. It’s fun and friendly and has amazing food served on gorgeous dishes. Even for a solo diner, it’s easy to sit at the counter by yourself and take it all in.

Artistry of Den Part One

Den

Den has moved to a new location:

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 2-3-18
Please call +81-3-3222-3978

Chiyoda-ku, Jimbocho 2-2-32

03-3222-3978

 

Sanukiya – Kaiseki Udonya and Saké

Tokyo is filled with a wide variety of izakaya, places with food and saké. Recently I got together with friends, two editors from a popular food magazine, DANCYU, and a famous saké and shōchū authority for a night out. I was told that we were going to Sanukiya in Kōenji. Sanuki is a region in Japan famous for its udon noodles, not for its saké so I was a bit puzzled. Udon is a noodle that is getting a lot of attention now. So much so that DANCYU did a big spread on it last month. But, what kind of saké were we going to get at an udon shop? I wasn’t expecting much.

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Until we sat down and Atsuko Sando Sensei, the saké authority, said, “Wow, this saké list is not made up of ozeki or sekiwaké (referring to ranks of sumo wrestlers), but these are all yokozuna (the highest rank of sumo wrestlers).” I knew immediately that we were in for a great evening of saké. Just a quick look at the list above, some names jump out right away like Jikon, Kamenoo, and Juuyondai. And, if Sando Sensei was excited, then surely we were in for a treat.

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We started off with a slightly sweet saké. Perfect aperitif to begin the evening with.

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A frizzante Nabéshima Junmaiginjō from Saga prefecture was served with cod milt garnished with truffles and cured Yonezawa wagyū (imagine a cured ham, but made from wagyū).

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One of my favorite pairings was a foie gras chawanmushi (savory custard) and 10-year balsamico with Murayū Hon-nama Seishu. The saké was slightly sweet like wasanbon sugar – ideal for the foie gras and balsamico. A perfect marriage of East and West.

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We took a warm saké, Musubi Tokubetsujunmai Muroka, with kuruma shrimp, kinmédai (splendid alfonsino) and truffle, saba (Pacific mackerel) that was cured in sugar and salt, and sayori (halfbeak) with a squeeze of sudachi citrus and Mongolian salt.

Warming up a saké brings out aromas and textures that may be more subtle in a chilled saké. It also warms you up as you drink, much like gluhwein, hot mulled wine.

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Chef Yasuhiro Kondō who not only knows how to pair saké with food, is also a cookbook author. He is with Muneki Mizutani-san who is a former editor with DANCYU and is now the editor of a very cool new business magazine that is in manga form, Manga PRESIDENT.


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Jūyondai Shichi Tare Nijikkan Junmai Daiginjō was served with a tomato jelly.

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Here we had a creamy nigorizaké paired with Yonézawa wagyū in a yogurt sauce – the two creamy items were an ideal match. The saké on the right is a Kizan kōshu (aged saké) from 1999 – also perfect with the teriyaki Yonézawa wagyū.

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And, finally, the udon noodle course. With chef Kondō’s signature tsuyu dipping broth on the left and a nutty, creamy sesame dipping sauce on the right. His cookbook is based on small bites all made using tsuyuTsuyu can be made from scratch, but most homes keep a bottle of it at home for last minute udon or soba meals. Chef Kondō’s is a soy-based sauce that is made with kombu (a sea vegetable rich in natural umami), niboshi (dried sardines), bushi (dried and smoked fish flakes from both Pacific mackerel and skipjack tuna), and sugar. This flavorful sauce can be used for a wide variety of dishes, hence Chef Kondō’s cookbook.

Sanukiya 11And closing off the evening with Jikon Junmai Ginjō from Mie prefecture. This saké is subtle and elegant while still having a richness to it – perfect for the udon noodles. Sando Sensei is playing it up with Saito-san, also an editor at DANCYU. Sando Sensei has written several books.

While this was not all that we had this evening, it is the highlights of a great night out in Tokyo. I highly recommend Sanukiya in Kōenji. It’s a short trip from Shinjuku. No English.

Kōenji Sanukiya

Sugnami-ku, Kōenji Minami 4-38-7

Phone: 03-3314-4488

18:00 – 22:30 (last order)

closed Sundays

Hanami 101

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Each spring cherry trees around Tokyo blossom while friends, families, and co-workers gather under the blossoms to enjoy the ritual of hanami. If you are lucky to be in Tokyo this week, it is the quintessential Japanese experience. A few tips on how to best enjoy hanami.

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Most essential is to pick up a bentō. The best place to select from a wide variety of bentō is depachika, the epicurean basement food floors of department stores. Here is my list of the top ten depachika in Tokyo. But, if a depachika is not on your way to the park, no worries, a convenient store will have lunch boxes or sandwiches, chips, and other snacks.

The bentō above comes from AEN at Shinjuku Isetan, which came in a beautiful bamboo box and had genmai (brown rice) with two types of grilled fish, croquette, pickles, and more. The saké is a junmai ginjō from Shoutoku in Fushimi, Kyoto. It was only 12% alcohol, lighter than most saké which is about 16%, so perfect with lunch. And, I couldn’t resist the packaging.

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Another bentō company I love and can’t get enough of is Yonehachi, which has branches in almost every depachika. Yonehachi is famous for its okowa, a mix of mochi-gomé  (sticky rice) and uruchimai (regular rice) that is steamed with different vegetables and meat or fish. You can select what kind of seasoned rice you want with your bentō. This one here has takénoko (bamboo shoots) and fuki (a type of spring mountain vegetable), both seasonal spring vegetables.

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Yonehachi bentō, again, as it is my favorite. This one with the takénoko and fuki rice and the kuri (chestnuts) and red beans okowa. The saké with this bentō is from Masumi, a great saké brewery in Nagano. Masumi has an excellent portfolio of saké, including this junmaishu Okuden KanzukuriThis saké is light on the palate and perfect for sipping under the cherry blossoms. I’ve also had this warmed up and it is lovely hot or cold.

Once you’ve picked your bentō and drink, stop by a convenience store to get a plastic sheet to sit on. For some reason these are usually blue.

And, then get to your hanami spot early as the choice spots tend to be taken early in the day.

Be sure to do some research on where to go. I was surprised to see that Shinjuku Gyoen doesn’t allow alcohol to be brought in. There are security guards who check your bag on your way in. Guards are walking throughout the park as well to make sure everyone is abiding by the rules.

Enjoy and have fun enjoying food food and saké under the cherry blossoms.

Food Sake Tokyo Tours

Food Sake Tokyo

Food Sake Tokyo conducts private guided field trips to Tokyo’s popular food destinations that is led by food professionals. Yukari Sakamoto is a chef, sommelier, shōchū advisor, and author of Food Sake Tokyo. Shinji Sakamoto is a fishmonger and former buyer at Tsukiji Market. Popular topics include market visits, saké or shōchū tastings, or shopping at local supermarkets. The customized tours are suited to your needs and include itinerary planning for your trip.

From time to time we will offer guided field trips that are open to the general public. These will be posted on this blog.

What makes Food Sake Tokyo different from other food tour companies is that we are food professionals ourselves. We offer a unique insight to the food culture of Japan. Many of our clients are professional chefs, restaurateurs, beverage specialists, food retailers, and food journalists.

Other services we provide include:

  • Tokyo food tours led by a chef, sommelier, shōchū advisor, and a Japanese fishmonger.
  • Interpreting from Japanese to English for food related events, market tours, cookbooks, websites.
  • Interpreting services for English speaking food professionals (retail and restaurants) visiting Japan.
  • Depachika tours that deconstruct the massive food halls by Yukari, a former employee of one of Tokyo’s most famous depachika.
  • Supermarket tours to learn about Japanese ingredients.
  • Fixer for food and saké travel programs and interpreting services for food and beverage journalists.
  • Organize business trips to Japan for food professionals.
  • Shinji does private tours of Tsukiji Market.
  • Learn about seasonal Japanese seafood by dining together with Shinji at a sushi restaurant.
  • Shinji does sashimi classes in client’s homes (we are currently looking for a kitchen).
  • Shinji does supermarket tours focusing on the seafood section introducing not only fresh, seasonal seafood, but also frozen, canned, dried, and other products unique to Japan.
  • Shinji does consulting for Japanese seafood companies looking to expand overseas.
  • Private catering of seafood dishes paired with saké or shōchū.
Tsukiji Tour
Tsukiji Tour

Tsukiji Tour photo by Jun Takagi from Budget Travel

Praise of our tours:

Travel & Leisure: World’s Greatest Tour Guides

Budget Travel

Rick Bayless

” I can’t thank you enough – I wish I had done this 4 months ago!” regarding supermarket tour – AK, Kamakura

“Shinji is terrific, patient, knowledgeable and wonderful. There wasn’t a question that he could not answer.” – JS, California

“We love the sushi lunch as well and thought that the explanations and pictures of the different seafood were extremely helpful. For the first time in our life, we could at least visualize the seafood we were eating. Shinji’s insightful knowledge of seafood brought the tour of Tsujiki Market alive.” TK, Singapore

“Your knowledge shines through and your friendly and professional manner to your guests and the shopkeepers alike puts everyone at ease.” WL, Sydney

“Wanted to thank you again for such an awesome tour! It was really a highlight of our vacation.” CM, United States of America

“…especially to Shinji for a very enjoyable and informative tour of Tsukiji and environs, and a delicious sushi lunch. Our morning visit was one of the real highlights of our time in Japan!” BH, United States of America

“After reading the wonderfully informative and gorgeously illustrated “Food Sake Tokyo,” I knew I had to take a food tour with Yukari Sakamoto.  During a two-hour guided stroll through the depachika in Takashimaya’s flagship store, I learned more than I could have ever imagined about Japanese food, history and culture.  Of all the experiences I managed to squeeze in during my first trip to Japan, my tour with Yukari was easily the best.”  EL, New York

“Shinji was a wonderful guide–informative, friendly, and full of enthusiasm for the market.  We felt that we gained a real understanding of the market itself and learned about some products we can use in our own cooking at home–just what we wanted.” SK, New York City

Praise for Food Sake Tokyo:

“I just returned from my first trip to Japan with my family and friends of ours. My wife bought your book, and we loved it so much that we bought a copy for the family with whom we traveled (they are both food-industry veterans). The 8 of us (4 adults, 4 kids) were found all over Tokyo, huddled up with our two copies of your book in hand.” JS, United States of America

Yukari & Shinji

Born in Tokyo and raised on the shores of Lake Wobegon, Yukari Sakamoto trained as a chef and baker at the French Culinary Institute. Following that she trained as a sommelier at The American Sommelier Association and worked as a sommelier at the New York Bar and Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. She also worked at Takashimaya’s flagship store in Nihonbashi as a sommelier in the saké department of the depachika. While at Takashimaya she passed the exam to be a shōchū advisor. Shōchū is a distilled spirit native to Japan. Yukari apprenticed at Coco Farm and Winery in Ashikaga, Tochigi.  Yukari also offers market tours with Elizabeth Andoh’s Taste of Culture.

Shinji photo

Yukari is married to Shinji Sakamoto, a former buyer at Tsukiji Market. Shinji has ten years’ retail experience in Japan selling seasonal seafood directly to customers. He would make cooking recommendations and cut up seasonal fish as the customer needed. He also has three years’ experience selling seasonal Japanese seafood and frozen seafood in both New York City and Singapore.

Yukari’s first book, Food Sake Tokyo, is published by The Little Bookroom as a part of the Terroir Guides. It is a food lover’s guide to Japanese food and beverages and introduces restaurants and food shops in Tokyo. There is also a chapter on Kyoto’s Nishiki Market. The first half of the book focuses on the food and beverages of Japan. The second half selects some of Tokyo’s popular destinations by station and suggests shops not to be missed in that area.

Any changes to information in Food Sake Tokyo, that I am aware of, will be posted on this blog. Please search under “updates” for the most recent PDF that you can print out.

Our other blog focuses on cooking Japanese food at home.

I am represented by Lisa Ekus.

Yukari’s twitter account

We can be reached at yukari dot shinji dot sakamoto at gmail dot com.

GENERAL CANCELLATION POLICY: Should Food Sake Tokyo need to cancel any or all segments of a program, every effort will be made to re-schedule sessions at a mutually convenient time. If that is not possible, a full refund will be made promptly for sessions canceled by Food Sake Tokyo.

If an individual or group is unable to attend a Food Sake Tokyo program for which they have already enrolled, that person or group may designate a substitute for him/her/them. No additional fees are charged to the participant (substitute attendee). Any financial arrangements made between the original participant and his/her/their substitute is at the discretion of the person originally enrolled. All requests to have a substitute attend a program, however, must be received by phone or e-mail at least 24 hours prior to the scheduled class meeting. When making such a request, please provide the full name and (local, Tokyo) contact phone number and e-mail address of each person who will be taking the place of the originally enrolled individual or group.

LIMITATIONS on LIABILITY: Every possible precaution is taken to ensure your personal safety and the safety of those in your group. However, registration for, and attendance at, all programs is subject to the following condition: the director and staff of Food Sake Tokyo, are released from, and specifically disclaim, all responsibilities for injuries or illness incurred traveling to and from sessions, during sessions, or resulting from food prepared at, or according to recipes distributed during, cooking & tasting sessions, market tours or other field trips, including restaurant meals.

NOTE: Tuition fees for cooking workshops, market tours, and other field trips conducted by Food Sake Tokyo do NOT INCLUDE food & beverage not specifically mentioned in the program description. Tuition does NOT include the cost of local transportation. Any purchases made by participants during class, market tours or field trips are at the discretion of each participant. Participants in all programs are responsible for making arrangements for, and making payment for, their airfare, lodgings, and transportation to/from/within Japan. Participants are also responsible for obtaining and paying for any travel/trip/health insurance coverage they would like to have.

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.

Yagenbori

Yagenbori

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.