Tokyo’s Coolest Tea and Spirits Bar

souen-gyokuro

One of the most magical tea tastings I have experienced was at Souen. The original shop was in Nishi-Azabu at a terribly inconvenient location. Souen has moved to Minami-Aoyama’s Spiral Building on the 5th floor, which is easy to access. Woo-hoo!

Souen offers a simple tea with wagashi tasting, but the flight of tea and tea-infused spirits is an experience that can only be had here. Allow time for for the full course, I believe we were there for almost two hours, which included some shopping in the tiny retail shop.

gyokuro-w-wagashi

The afternoon started with a sampling of different infusions of gyokuro. The savory and meaty tea was steeped in warm, not hot, water, bringing out notes and aromas I have never experienced with green tea. After the tasting with the wagashi, we were presented with the steeped gyokuro leaves and some ponzu. We were instructed to dress the gyokuro with ponzu and eat. It was like a rich spinach sunomono, and a perfect palate cleanser before the tea-infused liqueurs.

We were presented with four different spirits that were infused with four different tea leaves. The alcohol is very strong and the pours are generous. Be sure to have big dinner plans following a full flight. I have had the date stuffed with butter and walnut before so I was thrilled to be reacquainted with it, and preferred it with the spirit than with tea.

souen-whisky

The tea-infused Japanese whisky was served with iburigako, a smoked daikon pickle from Akita, and pickled greens, this too was a nice match.

souen-wagashi-selectionGuests are presented with a selection of wagashi for the final course. A friend and I couldn’t decide on which to get so we each ordered one and they kindly cut them so we could each try both.

The course ends with a green tea spirit and we selected a cinnamon and apple jelly with a sweet that included ginkgo nuts.

This is a very special experience. Even a cup of tea is lovely here. There is a wall of windows overlooking Aoyama and Shinjuku, but that contrasts the quiet tea space. Reservations recommended. We tried walking in earlier in the week and could not get in.

Souen

Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-6-23, Spiral Building 5F 港区南青山5-6-23

http://www.sakurai-tea.jp/

Tokyo’s Softest Mochi? 築地福餅

Updated 31 May 2016.

We are very sad to say that this shop has closed. Today was the last day. We wish the owner much happiness in her retirement.

Shinji found out the husband of the owner used to own this shop and was selling seafood here. When he passed away the wife took over the shop and was selling the mochi. She decided it was time to close the shop.

Shinji did stop by today to buy a bunch and we have it in our freezer. We will treasure these sweets.

There is a tiny stall, Tsukiji Fukumochi, selling some amazing mochi. The rice taffy is so tender that it almost melts in your mouth. One of the mochi is served on JAL flights. Shinji brought the ones on the right home and we couldn’t stop eating them. Yomogi (a Japanese herb, mugwort), shio (salt), and takesumi (charcoal) stuffed with a sweet azuki bean paste. On his next trip back he picked up the ichigo daifuku, with a fresh strawberry, which was also amazing.

Often the mochi is very chewy, but there is something different about these, that make them worth a journey.

Tsukiji Fukumochi 築地福餅

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 4-13-14 中央区築地4-13-14

 

Best of Japan Tour at Nihonbashi Coredo Muromachi

best of japan map

Food Sake Tokyo is delighted to have guest blogger Janice Espa. Janice is passionate about food and Japan. She is a great photographer and all of the photos here are from Janice. Here is Janice on the Best of Japan Tour now being offered at Coredo Muromachi in Nihonbashi. Arigato Janice!

Coredo Muromachi, in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi area, has launched a special tour; one to taste Japan and learn about regional specialties all within the comfort of the Coredo Muromachi’s recently opened buildings. Escorted by two knowledgeable English-speaking guides, you work your way around the different shops in Coredo Muromachi, see what each shop specializes in, and sample many of the products on sale.

For someone with limited time, or for those unfamiliar with peculiar Japanese creations, this ninety minute introduction to the range of Japanese specialties is top-notch. For the ¥1,000 price tag, it’s a no-brainer. After signing up at Nihonbashi Information Center, which is conveniently located outside Mitsukoshimae Station exit, the tour begins with a description of what you’ll see and the stores you’ll visit that afternoon.

The first stop is Okui Kaiseido 奥井海生堂. The shop sells kombu products from Fukui. There’s a startling shredded kombu, that looks like thick shaves of cotton candy, as well as kombu water that tastes, for lack of more accurate comparison, like a savory version of green tea, or like tea stewed with sea water. It’s odd at first, but refreshing, and something you don’t easily come across or get to sample. (Yukari piping in here – this is one of my favorite kombu vendors in Japan. If you want to buy kombu to take home with you, it is worth making a special trip.)

wagashi

Chefs and wagashi at Tsuruya Yoshinobu

I was captivated by the delicate work at the Kyoto Wagashi store Tsuruya Yoshinobu 鶴屋吉信.  There’s a seasonal menu and also a life-size, edible display by the window that is changed every three weeks.  Food this beautiful is hard to conceptualize, but the flavours are as soft and delightful as the exterior.

At Imoya Kinjiro 芋屋金次郎, you skip the queue and go straight to the samples of hot, crispy matchsticks of fried, candied sweet potato – a specialty from Kyushu’s Shikoku Island.  Then you enjoy a cup of creamy amazake, before nibbling on Satsuma-agé from Q-Jiki, a store specializing in Kagoshima’s local favourite fish cakes. (Yukari – The shop is famous as it deep-fries the sweet potatoes in olive oil before coating it in the candy coating. This is a popular selling point as it is deemed better to fry in olive oil than in other oils.)

fish cake

Q-Jiki 

At Hakuza Nihonbashi 箔座日本橋, store that specializes in crafts made from gold leaf, there’s an impressive display of Ishikawan artistry, including a gold leaf tower, jewellery, pottery, and edible gold leaf flakes for sale – which would make the most elegant furikaké sprinkled over a bowl of rice.

sprinkles

Gold leaf sprinkles for sale

At Ninben Nihonbashi Honten にんべん日本橋本店, you learn how katsuo (skipjack tuna or often called bonito) is dried, smoked, and then shaved to make the highest quality fish flakes, followed by a visit to Dashi Bar Hanare, where you taste some warming soup broth.

katsuo anatomy

Katsuo Anatomy

After traveling from North to South, viewing craftsmanship and tasting goods from Hokkaido to Nagasaki, the tour rounds up nicely at Nihonbashi Hashicho 日本橋箸長.  Hashicho sells chopsticks from all over Japan. The merits and regional differences are evident: diverse shapes and materials, from sharp, wooden edges to lacquer choptsicks. The selection is beautiful, and in some cases exorbitant (1 million yen chopsticks available for purchase). A thoughtful way to finish a tour of Japan: seeing it ‘all together’ through chopsticks from all over the country.  Upon conclusion, you receive a small gift as a token of Coredo’s appreciation for your time.  An afternoon spent tasting Japanese delicacies, presented by knowledgeable concierges in modern, beautiful surroundings, is a win-win.

When the tour was done, I lingered around the Coredo buildings for a bit longer, had some iced matcha, and bought food from the basement to take away for dinner.  After samples of fish cakes, kombu, and amazaké, I enthusiastically purchased Hakkaisan saké, tsukuné (chicken meatball) yakitori, and uni with an Italian twist from Riccio Mania’s exclusively designed, sea urchin-centric menu.  Oishii!

ladies afternoon tea

Afternoon tea at Hakuza Nihonbashi

The Best of Japan tour is on every Saturday at 2 pm and 4 pm

Cost ¥1,000

Duration: 90 minutes

Reservations by email guide@nihonbashi-info.jp or by calling 03-3242-0010

Address:
B1 Coredo Muromachi, 2-2-1 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.

 

Nearest stations:

Mitsukoshimae Station, Exit A6 (Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line/Ginza Line)

Shin-Nihonbashi Station, direct access (JR Sobu Line Rapid)

 

If you liked this post, please check out Janice’s other post about Kyoto.

Nishiki Market and Kyoto Uzuki Cooking School

Sake Tasting with JD Kai

 

Janice Espa photoJanice Espa

Janice Espa is a Spanish-Peruvian food enthusiast; an avid traveller and inquisitive taster who explores culture through cuisine.  Janice lives in Sydney where she writes and styles food. Her days are spent visiting grower’s markets, checking out restaurants, and shopping at specialty stores to discover goods from every corner of the world.

Feel free to email suggestions and travel tips, or to contact Janice for her own recommendations, whether you’re visiting Peru, trekking South America or doing a road trip along the east coast of Australia.

Email:  janicespa@gmail.com

Tokyo’s Best Mamé Daifuku

Image

Wagashi, traditional Japanese confectionaries, are often made with azuki, tiny red beans, and mochi, sticky rice pounded until its like a taffy. While I grew up eating some of these, I was never a big fan until I tried the mamé daifuku from Mizuho in Harajuku.

The smooth azuki paste is not too sweet. But what makes this sweet, about the size of my fist, are the ever-so-lightly salted black beans that are in the mochi. It is often listed in magazines and television programs as one of the best mamé daifuku in the city, and for good reasons.

Image

Mizuho is located on one of the narrow streets off of Omotesando. The shop opens at 8:30 a.m. and closes when it sells out. It is closed on Sundays.

If you are not a fan of wagashi, try Mizuho. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Mizuho 瑞穂

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 6-8-7

Gyokueido in Ningyocho 人形町の玉英堂

Gyokueidou 玉英堂

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 2-3-2 中央区日本橋人形町2-3-2

03-3666-2625

9:30 – 21:00 (Monday – Saturday), until 17:00 (Sunday and holidays)

closed the last Sunday of each month

www.ningyocho.or.jp/shop/a28.html (Japanese)

Commanding the corner, this branch of a Kyoto shop dates back 400 years. Gyokueidou is famous for two sweets, its dorayaki of pancakes stuffed with azuki paste and gyokuman. The gyokuman is a large sweet manju that is several layers around a chestnut of azuki paste, pink an, white an, and the manju cake dough, made from sticky yamaimo that encompasses it all.

Toukai in Ningyocho 人形町の東海

 

Toukai 東海

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 1-16-12 中央区日本橋人形町1-16-12

03-3666-7063

9:00 – 19:00, closed Sunday and holidays

no website

For almost 100 years Toukai has been a popular wagashi shop in Ningyocho. Be sure to pick up their signature Japanese-style waffles. There is a small selection of other wagashi confectionaries. Across the street is a well-stocked sake shop.

Higashiya Ginza

Higashiya Ginza

Higashiya Ginza

For traditional Japanese confectionaries there is Toraya, which is one of Japan’s most famous shops with locations around Tokyo. A modern confectionary shop that I love is Higashiya in Ginza. I first met the folks from Higashiya at a food event where I was pouring dessert wine from Coco Farm and Winery. The Higashiya team were serving wagashi with shochu. I knew immediately that they were worth exploring and I have always been delighted with the sweets from Higashiya.

The Ginza shop is conveniently located in the heart of the shopping district, so a good excuse to rest your feet here and to rejuvenate over some sweets, either traditional or modern. Check out the mattcha blanc manger or the houjicha pudding or for something more classic, the monaka or yokan.

Higashiya Ginza

Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-7-7, Pola Ginza 2F

03- 3538-3230

 

Tokyo Station Omiyage – Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin 日本橋錦豊琳

Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin

Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin

Karintou are traditional sweet confectionaries made from a flour based cracker that is fermented and then is deep-fried and covered with a sugar coating. The sugar coating can be a white sugar but many times it is a dark sugar coating that is rich in minerals. The cracker can have different ingredients folded into it like mattcha, peanuts, soybeans, or sesame seeds.

In the basement of Tokyo Station’s GranSta area is a very, very popular booth selling karintou called Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin. I have never seen the shop without a long line. The variety of flavors is what makes this shop a lot of fun: ginger, coffee, vegetables, shichimi tougarashi, black pepper, and kinpira gobou. The packaging is perfect for picking up a variety of flavors as they are small packs priced at 330 JPY.

kinpira gobou

kinpira gobou

Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin

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

8:00 – 22:00 (closes at 21:00 on Sunday and holidays)

Ginza Toraya 銀座とらや

Toraya Ginza

Toraya Ginza

Toraya Anmitsu

Toraya Anmitsu

Toraya is a purveyor to the Imperial Family and its rich history can be dated back to the 1600s. The signature item at Toraya is the yokan cakes wrapped in bamboo leaves. This is considered one of the top shops for wagashi, in particular, the yokan. The yokan comes in several flavors including azuki, mattcha, and the kokuto has a rich, deep flavor. Toraya has outlets in most depachika. The main shop is in Akasaka with an eat-in space. The recommended dish is anmitsu

This gorgeous shop in Ginza has a retail shop on the first floor and a café on the second floor. In the summertime you can cool down with a kakigori (shaved ice sweets).

Toraya とらや

Chuo-ku, Ginza 7-8-6

03-3571-3679

9:30 – 20:30, Monday – Saturday

9:30 – 19:30, Sunday and holidays

www.toraya-group.co.jp/english/index.html (English)

Kotobukido in Ningyocho 人形町の寿堂

Kotobukido 寿堂

Kotobukido 寿堂

Kotobukido 寿堂

Kotobukido 寿堂

Kotobukido 寿堂

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 2-1-4 中央区日本橋人形町2-1-4

Tel. 0120-48-0400 (toll free number in Japan)

9:00 – 21:00, closed Sunday

This 5th generation shop is so small that only a handful of people can enter at one time. The three-story gray building with red trimming displays some of their confectionaries behind glass display windows up front. The unmistakable aroma of cinnamon wafts into the street. Their signature sweet, koganei imo, is shiroan (white bean paste), egg yolk, and sugar dusted with cinnamon and baked. Order one of these and the staff will serve it to you with a cup of tea.