Flavor Japan: Summer eating in Tokyo

Unaju at Oodawa (~ $20 per set)

When I saw GaijinPot published 2 pieces on summer food and summer festival food in Japan, I wanted to write a piece on the same topic, but I got skewered like a dango stick in work. Now that summer is on its way out, here’s an account of what we can (and should) eat in summer in Tokyo – for next year, that is . THE SAVORY: Unaju at Oodawa (~ $20 per set) [...]

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Flavor Japan – Somen

somen-set

The third installment of the “Flavor Japan – Noodles” series: somen, i.e., Noodles Part 3. Somen is thin white wheat noodle, much thinner than udon and much lighter than soba (buckwheat noodle). Why have I not seen any somen in The States?!! It most closely resembles the Vietnamese bún in bún thịt nướng (grilled pork with rice vermicelli). Is that why I love it the most now, more than ramen, udon or soba? Maybe. This noodle is such a beauty. The day we had it was also a beauty. We were wandering around Fukagawa at 10:45 or so and no restaurant that we wanted to try was open. Then I heard drumming and chanting, so I dragged Mutsumi toward the sound and ended up in Naritasan Fukagawa Fudoudou. Two imageries of this big temple will stay forever in my head: 1. a modern hall whose white outer walls are covered with a Sanskrit mantra in black, and 2. the fire ceremony with powerful drums, beautiful garments of the monks, and exceedingly warm and mellow chanting. We came in the middle of the ceremony, and it went on [...]

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Flavor Japan – Noodles Part 2

somen-set-angle

Ramen is all hip now and if I were that into ramen, I probably would try a ramen shop everyday until I exhaust all options in Tokyo (it will take only a few lifetimes). But honestly, there’s SO MUCH MORE about noodles in Japan that I’m glad I didn’t spend all my time with ramen. I don’t regret one bit that I had only ONE bowl of ramen in Tokyo the entire stay. When I think about the spaghetti with boiled anchovy (you can also have it raw) or somen and rice with clam(*), I’m filled with joy. (I really am!) Ziggy’s Pasta is an unassuming shop a stone’s throw away from Koutoku-in in Kamakura – the temple with the great copper statue of Buddha, where 60% of the tourists stick their hands out for a statue-carrying pose. When we visited in Kamakura, my life goal was too eat shoujin ryouri (精進料理) – traditional Buddhist vegetarian meal, but that goal was quickly quenched because everybody and their grandma were lining up outside every restaurant during lunch time, and no shoujin ryouri restaurant was opened [...]

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Flavor Japan – Noodles

Unagi rice with cold soba (680 yen) at some noodle shop on Waseda Dori, Chiyoda.

Unagi rice with cold soba (680 yen) at some noodle shop on Waseda Dori, Chiyoda. When I was slurping ramen with Mai at The Ramen Shop, I vowed to drown myself in ramen when I get to Japan. When I’m in Japan, I get so overwhelmed that I resign to konbini foods. It is too easy to find a soba, udon or ramen joint in Tokyo, the former two often together. Every 20 meter is likely to pack a few shops, and any shop we see likely serves superior fares to the places we’ve tried in the States. June air in Tokyo is as heavy as the steam from the bowl, but it never stops our appetite. One minor setback: the order machine. It’s simple enough: you decide what you want, insert the money, push a few buttons (or one, if you don’t want to add anything to your order). The problem is reading the all-Japanese labels. I always feel like an idiot when I stare it down for minutes when everyone just punches away. Granted I’ve never taken less than 2 minutes with a candy vending machine in the States [...]

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Flavor Japan – Konbini foods

konbini-food

— Guest blogged by C. from Katsushika, Tokyo. — Knowing enough Japanese to converse is an advantage but it can also hurt your wallet. I keep getting drawn into clothing stores everywhere I go, and the staffs keep sweet talking me into trying on stuff. (It doesn’t happen if you’re with a friend though!) As if that wasn’t bad enough, why does everything always fit so perfectly? Damn Asian one-size-fits-all. I feel too guilty to just walk out without an adequate reason, so there goes my college savings. The answer is, of course, konbini foods. There are 3 convenient stores on the way from Kameari station to our apartment, including a Family Mart 2 minute walk away and a Lawson 1 minute from the Family Mart. Konbini food is so good and so cheap that I keep spending more on clothes! Pictured, from top: 1. Some pastry – I don’t know what I just ate but it’s good. 2. Yakisoba pan – stirfried noodles on bread with some pickle ginger (the pink stuff) 3. Some chocolate pastry – Look at that bar of chocolate in the middle! It’s so thick it’s literally a BAR. Peet’s “chocolate [...]

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Pretty Good Number One bucket list

pgno

Go to Tokyo. Visit the Odaiba Takoyaki Museum. Practise using chopsticks correctly and buy a (few) pairs at Kappabashi. Eat shave ice and watch fireworks (and people) on the Sumida river bank in July. Eat pan-fried soup dumplings in a neighborhood dumpling restaurant in Nakano. Eat “hone” (pronounced |hoh-nay|, meaning: deep-fried sea eel backbone). Stop eating eel because they’re in the red on the Seafood Watch list. Thanks to Matthew Amster-Burton’s book, I’ve had the first 7 items on my bucket list figured out (it’s a bucket list, not a to-do list because of the stop-eating-eel thing). I can’t wait to do them (except the stop-eating-eel thing). If a few months ago I was complacent with imaginatively traveling through books, Pretty Good Number One throws one delicious, chuckle-inducing paragraph after another to my face and say “go to Tokyo, you lazy donkey”. Just about the most expensive place to visit in the world, thanks, Mr. Amster-Burton. Except for the part where he describes Chinese green tea as having “a hint of smoky barbecue” and how red bean paste is an acquired taste for Westerners (because beans are supposed to show up in savory [...]

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Beautiful meals at Iyasare

iayasare-miso-glazed-duck

In less than a month since its opening, everybody I know on 4th Street has been to Iyasare, from the regular shoppers to the shop owners, and everybody praises it. The restaurant, operated by former Yoshi’s executive chef Shotaro Kamio, replaces the equally cute and also Japanese O Chame. The two restaurants have different concepts, of course, and experiencing both in the same space – reminiscing on O Chame’s menu and atmosphere while savoring Iyasare’s – was like tasting the fleeting grandeur of ukiyo-e aesthetics in the most delicious way possible. A beautiful arrangement: ikura (salmon roe), ankimo (monkfish liver), hotate (scallop, the white thing that is barely visible next to razor-thin slices of radish), mackerel (silvery grey, also almost invisible under the radish), and 4 beautiful sweet lobes of uni (sea urchin roe, on the maple leaf) ($22). The ankimo has a thick and dried rind, its flavors were a tad salty and smokey for my taste.(*) The uni was extra-creamy but a little too soft. The ikura was some lovely bubbles. You can order a side of sushi rice with the sashimi. Or just sushi [...]

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One shot: Ramen burger – is it worth the hype?

sooishi-pulledporkburger

Through words of mouth (from a kid that comes to my office hour, to be precise), I learned that the ramen burger is here in Berkeley. Hah, you don’t have to be in LA or NY or SF to eat this (relatively) new craze(*). Mashable has a guide to make it yourself, but why go through the trouble when you can buy it? Unlike all other hypes that turn out to be various degrees of meh (in no order, truffles, caviar, foie gras, Cheeseboard, M.Y. China, Fentons, et cetera), the ramen burger is delicious. I gorged it down, completely defeated. Farewell, my hype-bashing days. So Oishi in Berkeley dishes out 3 types of ramen burgers ($9 each): pulled pork (with wasabi mayo), grilled chicken (with ginger miso sauce), and the usual beef patty (with teriyaki sauce). (You can ask them to swap the sauce.) We had enough sense to avoid the chicken burger (who wouldn’t?!), and were split between pork and beef. Both types contain sauteed mushroom and come with “Japanese fries” (katsuobushi and Japanese mayo). Both sides finished with complete satisfaction. [...]

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One shot: soba lunch at Ippuku

ippuku-tenzaru-soba

The luxury of cold noodles on colder days. Everything was perfect, from the taste of wasabi in the noodle dipping sauce to the tail end of those shrimps. So perfect that I couldn’t properly focus my camera phone. Too bad Chef Koichi Ishii only makes the soba on Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 1 pm. Pictured: Ten zaru soba (soba with tempura shrimps and vegetables) – $18. More details on what’s in the picture are here.

One shot: Ramen Underground ramen

ramen-underground-sf

This ramen shop in the Financial district looks cute. Black walls with Japanese writings, a clock with numbers spelled out in hiragana, and a t-shirt that (I assume) sells for 3000 yen (~30 USD). The owners seem to try keeping it as hole-in-the-wall as possible (to make it appear authentic?). Of course, despite what the name might suggest, it’s not actually underground, nor do you need any special thing to get in. All basic ramens are $8 with $1 toppings. The basic ramen contains your choice of broth, pork (chashu), scallion and mushroom. My miso ramen with extra kakuni (braised pork belly). The mushroom is raw (not only is that just wrong – think about cold mushroom in a luke warm broth! bleh!, enoki would have made a MUCH better ramen companion than portobello T_T). There’s ONE puny slice of chashu. The broth is fine but it’s missing something… (more pork, probably!!!) At least the noodle is chewy. [...]

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