Kaze: the place to go when you crave ramen in Berkeley

Tonkotsu ramen with a side of gyoza. ($10.99)

Kaze, Berkeley: tonkotsu ramen with a side of gyoza. ($10.99) This little shop opens sometime last winter, it looked unassuming then, but now it is packed every time I come, so I think it’s safe to assume that it’s packed almost everyday if not always. People on the East Bay think of The Ramen Shop when they think of ramen, simply because until now there has been no other shop that really specializes in ramen. There’s ramen at sushi places, izakaya places, and some random places that should have nothing to do with ramen. Hence, the consistently ridiculous 2-plus-hour wait at The Ramen Shop. Now, let’s do a check-and-compare list between Kaze and The Ramen Shop (TRS): […]

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Sai the Izakaya


Izakayas in the Bay Area mostly target customers with a lot of money to spare (looking right at you, Ippuku!). Although there are merits to that (it costs to support local business and ethical ways of raising animals), a meal at these places is just not the same as sitting in a small neighborhood izakaya, talking to the chef who’s cooking 5 feet away from you, smelling the smoke from both the food and the tobacco of the nearby customer (who you may know by name), and inhaling your food, which comes in big bowls, to your heart’s content. I love neighborhood izakayas in Tokyo. Sai is one of them. This place jumps to mind when I think of izakayas nowadays. One big reason is that when I had a homestay in Japan, my host family took me there one night and it was a perfect family experience. If I had discovered the place myself (which I’m not sure is possible), I wouldn’t know what to order (the menu is 90% kanji @_@), I wouldn’t have had two parental figures to share the meal with (traveling alone makes you want […]

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One shot: lunch at Chano-ma Nakameguro


Comfy seating on white cushion, a tray of simple, delicious lunch, and a look out to the Meguro river. In the middle of Tokyo, there seems to be always little coves like this for a cozy, relaxing brunch. The lunch set includes a nice big bowl of rice, soup, 3 sides of choice and dessert (or a finishing drink) for 1250 yen (~ 12 USD). The latte art may be wanting, but I’d rather dive into my matcha latte with no remorse than adoring little bears or cats too much to drink them. Address: Chano-ma at Nakameguro 〒153-0051 東京都目黒区上目黒1-22-4-6F chano-ma webpage

Cafe Calaugh – why no cats came to me?


Yesterday Kristen posted on Facebook pictures of cutie fluffy four-legged pals that walk all around her in a cat cafe. I’m so jealous, Kristen! My jealousy is as high as Mt. Fuji right now. You know the (almost) first thing I did when I went to Japan? I looked for a cat cafe. Unfortunately, just about everybody decided to go to the same cat cafe that day (I wished I had found a less popular cafe, this one being on the internet with English and all just makes it too known). One middle-age man chased the cats around relentlessly. (He wanted their attention just as much as I did. I feel you, man.) Then after he was about to leave, a couple came in and the girl took over the chasing duty. >__> All of the cats retreated under chairs and onto inaccessible window sills. My phone sucks at taking their pictures. One cat semi-approached me, but somebody (either the middle-age man or the girl) inched to him and he left. Me devastated. I spent an hour there reading, trying to hide my misery, but I was too heart-broken to […]

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Flavor Japan: best Japanese fastfood


There’s a Mister Donut near our apartment, but I still haven’t walked into it once (*). As much as I like Mos Burger (which is better than McDonalds Japan, which in turns is inarguably better than McDonalds US, of course ), I prefer the fastfoods that we don’t have. 1. Takoyaki Fluffy and bouncy. Inside each of these shining orbs is a piece of real octopus. When I die, I want to be buried with takoyaki (which is also the name of my phone, by the way)… 2. Taiyaki […]

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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


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


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


— 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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