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Archive for the ‘japan’ Category

Last supper in Japan

Our last dinner in Tokyo was delivered to my grandmother’s door on the back of a motorcycle.

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These beautiful boxes were put in our care with the expectation that we would wash them out and leave them outside the front door the next day to be picked up. Only in Japan. What came in these lacquerware containers? Unajuu.

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That’s rice topped with eel (unagi) that has been grilled in a sweet sauce. We paired it with the pickled cucumber and radish that came from the unagi restaurant and spinach with sesame dressing made by my aunt. We definitely saved one of the best meals for last.

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Dessert was even better. One of my top three favorite foods:

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The watermelon in Japan — which is just now beginning to hit supermarket shelves in Tokyo — is some of the best I’ve had anywhere in the world. I couldn’t think of a better finale to our Japanese eat-a-thon.

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Yesterday, after moffles, we went with my parents to meet some old family friends — including Naoko, the wife of my godfather and a close friend of my parents’ — for lunch. We ate at Hokkaido Dishes in Ginza, a two-year-old restaurant run by Naoko’s brother.  

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The small space, with only one counter, seats 6-8 people on stools. Specializing in food and drinks from Hokkaido (the northernmost island of Japan), milk, potatoes, and pork products including bacon and sausage (some of the island’s primary exports) are the stars of the show. We started our meal with some sauteed asparagus which is in season right now. It was hot, well-seasoned, and delicious.

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One of the best-selling lunch options is the “wrap ‘n roll,” a potato-based crepe filled with vegetables and your choice of ham, smoked chicken, sausage, or bacon. It comes with a side of hot or cold soup.

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Dave opted for the ham and sausage plate, and we shared the vegetable plate, which comes with a small soft ice cream.

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Dave raved about the bacon which he described as “salty, smoky, and tender.” I greatly enjoyed my half of the vegetable platter including the steamed pumpkin buns (far left) which I filled with stewed gobo and carrot (hiding behind the buns in the photo). The gobo was some of the best I’ve ever had.

The real highlight of the meal, however, was dessert. Dishes serves soft ice cream made with Hokkaido dairy products in two flavors: azuki bean and milk. We wanted to sample both flavors, so we chose azuki for the ice cream that came with the vegetable platter and ordered a sweet potato parfait (which came highly recommended) with milk-flavored ice cream.

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Both were cool and creamy with just the right amount of flavor, but the parfait was one of the best things I ate this entire trip. The combination of the cold ice cream with warm sweet potato and sweet potato flavored mochi at the bottom of the dish was indescribably appealing. Add to that crunchy strands of sweet potato that are thrown in as garnish and you have a killer dessert. It was hard to share.

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After lunch we got to sample one more treat: blue beer. A special Hokkaido brew made with glacier water, Hokkaido Dishes is the only place in Tokyo that serves it.

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Blue beer or not, I would highly recommend Hokkaido Dishes in Ginza to anyone looking for something to add a little variety to eating in Tokyo.

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Moffle party

Two days ago, I fulfilled one of my goals for this trip: I bought a moffle maker.

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Many of my relatives here had learned of the appliance for the first time through me, so I decided what better time to first use it than at a family brunch. Yesterday, Kuri and Seri were in from Yugawara visiting my mom and her two sisters, and we convinced my dad to come over to my grandmother’s as well, giving us a critical mass of nine people.

By the time Dave and I arrived (two big bags of mochi and the moffle maker in hand), my mother and aunt had everything set up. All I had to do was cut up the mochi (each moffle is made using one and a half pieces of standard-sized mochi), and fire up the moffle iron.

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The very first moffle! Seri ate it with anko, sweetened azuki bean paste.

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Each one takes about five minutes to cook, so I just kept making them and everyone was eating in stages and sharing the ones that we ready. We had three different kinds of mochi to choose from: plain, green kusamochi (made with mugwort), and mochi with black beans in it. My mom chose a kusamochi moffle (cut in half below) which she ate with nori and soy sauce.

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My aunt had wheeled in a wooden stand and I had my own little station right next to the dining table.

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After I mastered the plain moffle, I began experimenting with some moffle sandwiches, which require cutting a piece of mochi in half crosswise to create two thinner pieces and using them above and below a given filling. Dave and my dad were huge fans of the mini-hot dog and cheese moffle sandwiches.

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My final experiment: the tri-colored moffle. I made it using one small piece of each kind of mochi.

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From left: mugwort, bean, plain

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For the last two nights, we have indulged in two classic Japanese dinners: kushiyaki and kushikatsu. Kushi means skewer while yaki and katsu mean grilled (usually over a charcoal fire) and deep-fried, respectively. So put it all together and you have one night of grilled things on skewers and one of breaded and deep-fried things on skewers.

For kushiyaki we went to Torien, another must-eat on any trip I take to Tokyo. Run by a long-time friend of my parents, Cheetah, Toriden specializes in yakitori (grilled, skewered chicken).

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Cheetah tending the grill

Dave enjoyed the many varieties of chicken and pork-based skewers,

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Negima: chicken and green onion

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Bacon wrapped asparagus

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Dave's favorite: tsukune (chicken meat ball)

while I stuck to the veggie options.

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Delicious salad of mizuna, cucumber, grilled tofu, and seaweed with umeboshi dressing

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Potato with butter

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My favorite: ginnan (ginkgo nuts)

 

Last night, my parents took us to one of their favorite places in Tokyo, Kushinobo, for kushikatsu.

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You enter the dim, tranquil atmosphere and are seated at the long counter that wraps all the way around the restaurant. Right away two long ceramic dishes and a pot of vegetables are set in front of you. The ceramic dishes are to prepare with the six different sauces/condiments that are available for you to use with your skewers. The veggies are just for snacking on throughout the course of your dinner.

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The meal is a set course of 40 skewers that just start coming (though you can stipulate any dietary restrictions at the beginning and those skewers will be skipped). You eat until you’re full and then say stop. At that point you can also order seconds of any skewers you particularly liked. I made it about a third of the way last night, while Dave made it over the halfway mark. We asked how many people actually make it to 40 and our chef said about two or three people a week. He also said that he’s seen sumo wrestlers come in and eat 130! As you eat, you place your empty skewers in one of these:

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Some skewer highlights:

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Nori-wrapped scallop, gobo

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Shiso leaf-wrapped shrimp

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Crab meat wrapped in white fish, shiitake mushroom

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Whole sardine, okra

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Quail eggs

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Rock shrimp (Dave ordered seconds of this one)

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Dave and I were running to meet my mom this afternoon and didn’t have time for a sit-down lunch. Instead, we headed to the basement of Odakyu department store and each found a lunch box we liked.

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Slurp-worthy noodles

On our way to the train back to Tokyo, Dave and I had one last lunch with Kuri. We went out for another Yugawara specialty, and a favorite of ours, soba. Quick and healthy, soba is a popular option for lunches out in Japan. I try to have it at least twice during any given visit.

I am a big fan of the classic zaru soba: cold soba noodles served with a soy sauce-based dipping sauce, often garnished with nori (the dried seaweed used in sushi rolls) and thinly sliced green onion. 

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Mixed all together in the small bowl provided, the various elements come together to form the perfect bite. In order to eat your noodles, it is considered normal (and not at all ill-mannered) to slurp them loudly into your mouth.

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Dave opted for hot soba noodles, which are served in a fish stock-based broth, with a side of tempura.

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My cousin also went hot, but chose udon instead of soba. She ordered tororo udon which comes garnished with a heaping portion of grated yamaimo, a type of yam that can be eaten raw and that adds a slippery texture to noodle soups.

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The egg that you see on top of the yamaimo is a raw quail egg that cooks ever so slightly when stirred into the hot broth.

The meal ended with the arrival of a lacquer pot full of soba-yu (the cooking water from the noodles), which is used to water down the remaining dipping sauce from the cold soba so it becomes drinkable.

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With the soba-yu came some soba karinto (a popular sweet snack food, this version is made with the same buckwheat used to make soba noodles). 

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A quick train ride from Hakone (riding back towards Tokyo) is the quiet oceanside town of Yugawara, another onsen destination but not as touristy as Hakone. Yugawara is also home to my cousin Kuri, her husband, and their six-year-old daughter, Seri. After our night in Hakone, we stayed one night with Kuri (sadly, her husband, who is a top chef here in Japan and works at one of the foremost ryokans in the area, was working very late and we didn’t wind up seeing him as he spent the night at the ryokan). 

One of my must-eat meals every time I visit Japan is at Kuri’s local conveyor belt sushi place: Hanamaru.

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Due to Yugawara’s proximity to various fishing hubs, the quality of the sashimi at Hanamaru, despite the fact that it is conveyor belt sushi, is top notch. For prices that wouldn’t even get you a decent sushi appetizer in most NYC restaurants with comparable quality fish, you can eat like a king.

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Clockwise from far left: tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette), anago (saltwater eel), saba (mackerel) roll, ebi (shrimp)

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kampyo (pickled gourd) roll, green tea, gari (pickled ginger)

The plates are color-coded by price. Most of our plates were the less expensive black and red ones, but we did splurge on a few of the higher-priced items.

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otoro (fatty tuna) and a better cut of anago than the one above

In addition to the otoro, which you would never see at conveyor belt sushi in the US, there are several other items found on the belt at Hanamaru that aren’t on the menus of the average sushi restaurant stateside.

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My favorite: saba (mackerel)

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shirasu (baby sardine)

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Chewy portions from the side of the flounder, I forget the name in Japanese

After another delicious meal, we headed home and played Tetris with Seri. 

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Satisfied customers: Dave and Seri

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