Tempura-ya That Should Be on Your Radar

On the back streets of Kagurazaka in the basement of a modern building is Tempura Arai. The entrance to the restaurant is a small door that one must bend over to enter. Tempura Arai is the sister shop to the famous Tenko that opened recently and should be put on your Go List. The contrast to the father’s shop is striking as Tenko is a former geisha residence and has some history to it while this is modern with sleek lines.

At the moment Tempura Arai is open for lunch and lunch is very reasonable with the tendon starting at 1,400 JPY and a full course at 5,000 JPY. However, I believe that the shop may only be open for lunch on Saturdays only starting in the new year. The evening course starts at 8,500 JPY which is a good price.

Part of the tempura experience is listening to the items as they fry in the oil. Tempura Arai is intimate enough that you can hear each item as it cooks in the hot oil.

We did the lunch course, the tempura is light and delicate and finishes with a kakiage cake over rice. The shop has sake and a selection of wine as well. The restaurant can do vegetarian only upon request, but I believe the vegetables would be fried in the same oil as the shrimp and seafood.

Tempura Arai 天婦羅あら井

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 4-8, AGE Bldg. B1

新宿区神楽坂4-8 AGEビル B1

http://tempura-arai.jp/

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Octopus Cuisine

Octopus from Tokyo Bay

Boiled Octopus

Shinji’s father has a boat on Tokyo Bay and he often goes fishing. Recently he came home with an octopus. Shinji set to work preparing the octopus by first massaging it in grated daikon. It was then boiled and here is the boiled octopus.

tako sashimi

Octopus Sashimi

Octopus, tako in Japanese, is one of my favorite seafood. It’s meaty, has a great texture, and is not very fishy. That’s important for this Japanese-American girl who was raised in Minnesota. When it is cut as sashimi it is not simply sliced, but cut with a up and down motion creating a wave-like design on the flesh. This helps to pick up the soy sauce. How brilliant are the Japanese to think about this?

deep-fried octopus

Octopus Fritters

Battered and deep-fried octopus were amazing, especially with ice cold beer. Just season with salt and pop into your mouth. Yum. I bet these would be a big hit at the Minnesota State Fair, where I first came to experience deep-fried cheese curds.

Octopus and Rice Donabe

Octopus Rice in a Donabe

We love cooking rice in a donabe pot. Shinji marinated raw octopus with soy sauce, mirin, and saké  and then added to the donabe with rice with dashi. After the rice was cooked it was garnished with julienned ginger. He made a large batch as this can be molded into small rice balls and put into the freezer. It is easy to zap in the microwave.

Octopus Rice

Octopus Rice

Tenmatsu Tempura in Nihonbashi

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Spring is my favorite time of year for tempura as sansai, mountain vegetables, are featured at good restaurants serving tempura. At the top of this box is udo (spikenard), which reminds me of a tender and somewhat bitter white asparagus. The other vegetable is renkon (lotus root). 

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Tenmatsu at Nihonbashi bridge, just between Nihonbashi and Mitsukoshi-Mae stations on the Ginza line, has long been a favorite spot of mine. I used to work at Takashimaya which is just a five-minute walk from here and would sometimes come for a solo lunch. The lunch here is a great bargain at under 1,000 JPY for tempura that is made and served to you piece-by-piece as it comes out of the oil. Here you see the chef’s work spot. Some flour that the ingredients are dipped in before being covered with an egg, flour, and water batter before being deep-fried.

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Here is the udo to start off the meal. At home we blanch udo and then dress it with mayonnaise. But tempura is probably the best way to enjoy it.

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This is a special technique when putting in items to the hot oil, to gently toss away from you into the hot oil. Part of the joy of sitting at the counter at a tempura restaurant is listening to the oil as it sputters. A good tempura chef will know when items are ready to be pulled out of the oil by the sound it makes when it is done frying. On the plate is asparagus and shiitake. My friend got two pieces of shrimp for this course.

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Squid and lotus root. I love the chef’s smile. 🙂

In the large round bowl is the chef’s batter mixture. He also uses two different chopsticks. A wooden pair for the flour and batter and then a metal pair for working in the oil.

Tenmatsu is in my book, Food Sake Tokyo. The chef in this photo is the same chef that is in my book. It is quite busy at lunch time so either go early or late. Be sure to request a seat at the counters on the 1st or 2nd floor. The 3rd floor is tables only and you miss out on watching the chef prepare the tempura in front of you. They are open on Sundays and holidays which is good to keep in mind as most shops in this area are closed on these days. The main shop is in Shibuya.

Note that at lunch time there is a vegetable only tempura set lunch.

Tenmatsu

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-8-2

03-3241-5840

Lunch 11:00 – 14:00 (Sat., Sun., and holidays until 14:30)

Dinner 17:00 – 21:00

Tsukiji Market Cheap Eats – Tenfusa Tempura

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One of my indulgent breakfasts at Tsukiji Market is tempura anago at Tenfusa. Tenfusa is on the same block of restaurants as the popular Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi. While crowds of people queue for a rushed sushi breakfast I like to slide right by them, push aside the noren and slide open the door to this tiny shop. Only two tables that seat four and a counter for five. The walls are filled with signatures of Japanese celebrities who have dined here. There are two staff, the tempura master who for the most part stands guard over the hot pot of oil. His assistant (perhaps his wife?) takes orders, brings out the dishes, and collects money at the end of the meal.

This morning the other diners are all fishmongers. How do I know? They are all wearing the official gear of fishmongers: knee-high rubber boots.

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My order is always the same, anago don teishoku, the set meal of tempura anago over rice, pickles, and tofu. The dish includes two long pieces of anago in a crispy tempura batter that is drizzled with a sweet soy dressing. The contrast of the juicy eel to the crispy batter is what makes this dish so appealing. It is delivered as soon as it comes out of the oil so it is always piping hot.
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Shrimp tempura here is also very popular. Hanging on the wall the menu is written on tall, narrow blackboards. While anago and shrimp are the most popular items, you can also add seafood like megochi, haze, or kisu. Vegetable tempura options here today included eggplant, sweet potato, asparagus, kabocha pumpkin, shishito pepper, and renkon lotus root.

While most visitors to Tsukiji Market want to have sushi for breakfast, for those of us who go frequently it’s nice to have a variety of other foods to choose from. Tenfusa anago tempura is hands down my favorite.

Tenfusa

Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #6

(03-3547-6766)

http://www.tsukijigourmet.or.jp/24_tenfusa/index.htm (Japanese – with good photos)

Tokyo Cheap Eats

Tokyo is a great city for eating well on a budget. The first thing to look for is restaurants that specialize in a dish, like ramen, tonkatsu, or soba. Also, remember the word “teishoku” which is like the daily special or set meal. It is often includes rice, miso soup, pickles, a main dish and a side dish or two. In all of my years eating in Tokyo I can count on one hand the bad meals I have had.

Here are my favorite cheap eats in Tokyo (and this is just scratching the surface):

1. Maisen tonkatsu in Omotesando. Who doesn’t love breaded and deep-fried cutlets? And, it is conveniently located near Omotesando Hills and Takeshita Dori in Harajuku.

Isehiro Yakitori Lunch Donburi

2. Isehiro yakitori in Kyobashi. The lunch donburi special is 1,800 JPY for five sticks of grilled yakitori over a bowl of rice with soup and pickles. This is a bargain when compared to the dinner full course which starts at 6,300 JPY. This is one of my favorite yakitori restaurants in the city, especially at this price. I like to sit at the counter and watch the chef grilling the skewers. Chuo-ku, Kyobashi 1-5-4.

3. Ivan Ramen. Ivan makes his own noodles, trained at the CIA, and has worked under luminaries such as Andre Soltner and Bobby Flay. Other favorites include Afuri in Ebisu, Jangara Ramen (chain), Ippudo (chain).

4. Uoriki Sushi in Shibuya’s Tokyu Toyoko-ten depachika. Uoriki’s main business is as fishmongers, they have a big retail shop in Tokyu, so the quality of the seafood is very good. Also, the location is great, literally underneath Shibuya station. It is located in the depachika, near the seafood section. Don’t worry if there is a line as it usually moves quickly. Just put your name on the waiting list.

5. Saiseisakaba tachinomi for offal. Everything we’ve had here has been great, from sashimi brains (even Shinji was afraid to try this at first), to all of the grilled innards. My favorite dish here is always the tender tongue. And, I love the genki (and handsome) staff here. Locations in Shinjuku, Monzennakacho, and at the Shin Maru Building outside of Tokyo Station’s Marunouchi exit.

6. Narutomi Soba in Ginza. A bit off the beaten path yet located between Tsukiji and Ginza. I was brought here by two Japanese food writers. Be sure to get the gobo tempura, you’ll thank me later.

7. Tenmatsu for tempura at Nihonbashi. The “business lunch” is a bargain at 920 JPY. Be sure to ask for a seat at the counter. Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-8-2. It is located just next to the historic Nihonbashi bridge. And conveniently located between Takashimaya and Mitsukoshi – both with magnificent depachika.

8. Tamai for anago in Nihonbashi. Most people I know adore unagi. If you don’t live in Japan chances are you haven’t had anago yet. Similar to unagi, but I find it more delicate.

9. Buri tachinomi for sake and small bites. A short walk from Shibuya station, the menu has a variety of dishes and not only are the staff hip, so are your fellow diners. Shibuya-ku, Ebisu Nishi 1-14-1

10. Depachika. When I am at a loss for where to go, I head to the basement of any major department store. Especially Nihonbashi Takashimaya, Shinjuku Takashimaya, Shinjuku Isetan, and Ginza Mitsukoshi as these all have rooftop gardens where you can bring any bento that you get at the depachika to enjoy. While you’re at it, pick up a beer or can of sake to enjoy.

This is just a tiny bit of what’s delicious and affordable in Tokyo. Just recently, Robbie Swinnerton of The Japan Times shared with readers a great sukiyaki restaurant, Sukiyaki Yoshihashi, in Akasaka that has a lunch bargain starting at 2,100 JPY.

Tempura in Tokyo

Tempura Soba

Tempura Soba

Seafood and vegetables covered in a thin, crispy batter is one food that is, I believe, best eaten outside than at home. It is hard to recreate this dish at home, even for a chef. This article from Metropolis magazine highlights some of my favorite shops in Tokyo for tempura including Kondo, Mikawa, Daikokuya, Tenya, and Tsunahachi. A basic recipe is included for the brave.

http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/664/localflavors.asp (text follows)

tempura can be ethereal, especially in the late fall and early winter: earthy mushrooms, crunchy renkon (lotus root) and sweet potatoes. Delicate, lacy batter covering vegetables fried al dente so they still retain a crunch is one of my favorites; seafood—shrimp, scallops or aji that steams and bursts of juice when bitten into—is also delicious. Even low-end tempura, if it’s hot and fresh out of the oil, can be a satisfying alternative to fast food.
The classic tempura meal starts with shrimp, followed by a parade of vegetables, and then more shrimp and other seafood. These are garnished with tsuyu dipping sauce and grated daikon, or natural sea salt with a wedge of lemon. The decision to dip or not to dip into the tsuyu is up to you. At the end, finish off with a bowl of rice, some pickles and akadashi (dark) miso soup.

Eating Out

Kondo 

Look out for the bamboo basket nestling seasonal vegetables behind the counter at this Ginza institution. Two chefs prepare items to be fried, while
a third dips them lightly into the batter. His job includes managing the batter and the oil so they are just the right consistencies and temperature. Kimono-clad waitresses change the paper under each item with each course. 9F Sakaguchi Bldg, 5-5-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5568-0923.

Mikawa 
This place is hard to find, but well worth the effort. Located in a residential area of Kayabacho, Mikawa is a step back in time. On a recent visit, an elderly woman sitting next to me said that she has been coming religiously for years. On your way out, they give you a small bag of tenkasa to take home. Tenkasa are the tiny bits of batter leftover from the frying process. The shop manager suggested I add it to a bowl of soba for dinner that evening. 3-4-7 Kayabacho, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3664-9843.

Daikokuya 
Fans of shrimp tempura shouldn’t miss the ten-don at Daikokuya, located in Asakusa on a side street off Nakamise Dori. The large fried shrimp on a bowl of rice dressed with a sweetened soy sauce attracts long lines of patient customers on weekends, so go early. 1-38-10 Asakusa, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3844-1111.

Tenfusa
This Tsukiji shop is one of my favorites, especially the anago tempura over a bowl of rice. The eel is so long that it drapes over the entire bowl. Stall 6, 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3547-6766.

Tenya 
For fast food tempura, check out Tenya, which has shops all over the city. Their tendon with shrimp and vegetables on a bowl of rice with sauce drizzled over it is a good alternative to grabbing a hamburger. If you prefer your tempura crispy, ask for the teishoku set where your tempura is served on its own plate and not on the rice. www.tenya.co.jp 

Tsunahachi 
The main branch of Tsunahachi is in Shinjuku Sanchome, but I often find myself at the eat-in counter in the basement of Takashimaya Times Square. There is also a shop in the restaurant mall on the 13th floor. Another option is to buy some tempura to take home and make your own donburi, or use it to top off a bowl of soba or udon. B1/13F Takashimaya Times Square, 5-24-2 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5361-1111. www.tunahachi.co.jp/en/index.html

At Home
There are a few key points to keep in mind when making tempura at home: Start with fresh ingredients, make a lumpy batter and keep your oil at a constant temperature. Making the batter at the last minute and not mixing it well enough can make the difference between good and great tempura. Your instinct may be to integrate the ingredients thoroughly, but resist temptation. (At the fine tempura restaurants you will see the bowl has a ring of flour around the edge.) With a pair of chopsticks, gently mix two egg yolks with two cups of ice cold water and two cups of flour. Prep your items to be fried into bite-size pieces. Dry the ingredients, lightly coat with flour, dip in the batter and then drop gently into 170°C oil. Shrimp, squid, delicate whitefish, eel and scallops are all recommended, as are most vegetables. Kakiage is a mélange of ingredients, chopped up into bits, and fried up in a small bundle.

Whether in a fast-food joint or in an upscale restaurant, tempura
in the fall showcases the season’s harvest. Treat yourself while the ingredients are still at their best.