Every Day is a Sushi Day!
On our fifth day in Japan, we spent the morning without Rachael and her family, as they had another commitment.
So what did we do with our time by ourselves? Well, our first order of business was Beard Papa’s. Which, by now, probably doesn’t surprise you one bit.
On this visit, we got two types of cream puffs.
This coffee cream puff had a crunchy exterior, with a coffee custard mixed with coffee jelly cubes inside.
Our second cream puff was one that Rachael insisted we try – the shiro cream puff.
The shiro cream puff (“shiro” means “white” in Japanese) was made with tapioca flour instead of regular flour, which gave it a chewier texture – almost mochi-like.
And on the inside, rather than having a custard filling, it had a cream cheese-based filling.
Holy cow. This instantly became our very favorite (aka we’re totally obsessed and incredibly sad we can’t get them in the US) type of Beard Papa’s cream puff.
After gorging ourselves on cream puffs (just kidding, we shared both of them), we wandered around a bit, exploring the area.
We found the Old Shimbashi Station – what used to be Shimbashi station, before it was replaced with the gigantic station that is in use now.
It was pretty interesting to get to see the history, even if we couldn’t always understand everything.
Then we went in search of Don Quixote (aka DonKi).
This place is… craziness embodied. It’s pretty much a Walmart on crack, in about 1/4 of the space.
And we went a wee bit crazy. But can you blame us? Their snack section is insane!
These mustard-flavored potato chips are weird, but oddly addictive.
It was a ridiculously hot day in Japan, so after all that walking about, we headed to the Starbucks across from our hotel and bought something you can’t find in the US – a mango passion tea frappucchino, with mango pudding cubes mixed in.
At 630 yen (about $8) it’s definitely not something I’d buy again, but it was worth trying once, and actually pretty good!
After a short nap, we met Rachael and her family downstairs, then headed off to Bassanova so they could try it too (because seriously, I will never turn down an opportunity to eat at Bassanova!)
(Oh, and remember that picture we had of a bunch of people taking pictures of some huge poster in the train station? Well, the photo above is from the perspective of the poster – Son actually ran out in front of it, stopped to take a quick picture of all the people taking pictures, then darted away!)
Once again, I got the green curry soba.
This time, Son tried the cold ramen that they only offer during the summer. It tasted like it has a definite Vietnamese influence.
But the ramen, for once, was not the coolest thing about visiting Bassanova.
No, the coolest thing about that evening was that we got to meet Kate!!!
Kate is one of our awesome Miso Hungry Podcast fans who lives in Japan. She’s been super-sweet to us, so we thought it would be cool to get to meet her while we were there. (She says she’s our #1 fan! ^_^)
Kate is now one of our very favorite people. Seriously, she rocks so much.
But… unfortunately, thanks to a gluten-intolerance, Kate couldn’t partake in the ramen with us. (I know, we felt so bad!) So after ramen, we walked to a combini to find some things she could eat.
(And, uh, remember how I’ve mentioned my boyfriend has a bottomless pit for a stomach? Yeah, that’s why we ended up with more food, too – a meat bun and some sort of Korean onigiri.)
We headed off to a park, where we sat and ate for a bit (and then got eaten by the bugs).
Kate was sweet enough to run around with the girls (she is SO good with kids. Seriously, I cannot rave enough about this woman.), and Son wandered off to take some pictures.
These pictures of the park? They were taken in near complete darkness. Seriously. Son has a freaking ridiculous camera.
Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Kate soon after, since she had to catch the bus back home. But stay tuned, because this wasn’t the last we got to see of her! ^_^
On our fourth day in Japan, Rachael’s husband rented a car (both he and Rachael are licensed to drive in Japan) and we went on a road trip!
This was especially cool, because this meant Son and I got to see a side of Japan we would have never gotten to see if we were there by ourselves, taking the trains everywhere.
One such example is the Japanese rest stops.
We stopped at a rest stop on the way. Holy cow, Japanese rest stops there are extravagant!
It had lots of restaurants, shopping areas, and tons of parking. It was practically a mini-mall.
Then it was back on the road.
So where were we going, you ask?
Through the countryside, under mountains, to a very well-known Japanese mountain…
Or rather, Mt. Fuji gift shops!
Mt. Fuji wasn’t open for climbing yet, and for good reason – while it was hot and humid down in Tokyo, it was freezing, rainy, and incredibly windy up the mountain.
So it was a game of dart outside for a photo…
…then back into the gift shop where it was relatively warm.
Then wait for a break in the rain and wind to venture out to the viewing deck where you might ordinarily find a beautiful view up the mountain to one side, and down the mountain to the other.
(Though we mostly just got clouds.)
Then a sprint back to the car with Squirrel gripping onto my hand and running alongside me, because oh my goodness, it was so cold and windy and rainy!
By then we were all starving, so after the winding drive down the mountain, we drove around in search of a place to eat.
We found a little udon place in a strip mall. It was one of those places where everyone stared when we walked in, and they had no English menu. A very good sign!
Thankfully both Rachael and her husband are fluent in Japanese, so it didn’t take too much trouble for us to order.
I got a half-bowl of udon with aburaage, wakame, and egg. It was fantastic (though to be honest, we were all starving by then), but the best part by far was the noodles. They were very obviously made in-house and hand-cut, and they were delicious! After all that wind and rain, this really hit the spot.
Son got a slightly more exotic bowl of udon. Any guesses as to what kind of meat was in his!
It was the only meat they had available (the woman taking our order was very apologetic to us gaijin for that). It was interesting – like a lean, very flavorful beef.
And for only 950 yen for both bowls (about $12) it was a steal – we all left stuffed to the gills.
We started to head back… and then somebody decided they needed a potty stop as we were about to get on the freeway.
Luckily, Son realized that we could turn into the Mt. Fuji Visitor Center and use the restroom there, which meant that we got to check out the Visitor’s Center really quick before we left the area.
And then we were off!
But we weren’t heading back to Tokyo just yet.
(Random question: is it weird that every time I see a restaurant that I consider to be “American” – like this Coco’s, or a Denny’s, or, as you’ll see in a minute, Red Lobster – I kind of really want to go try it out, just to see how it’s different?)
No, we had a very important detour to make.
We went to Costco!
Seriously. We went out of our way (since we were paying to rent the car all day anyways) to visit a Costco.
It was probably the freakiest experience of the entire trip.
A Japanese Costco seriously looks just like every single Costco you ever see in the US. Same layout, nearly the same signs…
The only difference is that their seafood selection strikes envy into my heart. Seriously, why can’t we have ridiculously fresh uni and tuna and ikura and 20 different kinds of seaweed at our American Costcos? (Yes, I’m whining. You would too, in my position.)
So seeing Costco was cool, yes. (Did you know that you can use your Costco Membership Card anywhere in the world? Kind of wish we had brought ours!)
But just seeing a Japanese Costco was not the real reason why we came here.
Nope, we were here for the Hokkaido Milk Soft Cream. (200 yen)
After all the times Rachael has mentioned it while we record our Miso Hungry Podcast, of course I had to try it.
It was ridiculous. So good. I want more. I can see why she raves about it!
Rachael’s girls needed several more potty stops after we left Costco, so we ended up stopping at a 7-11 and picking up a few things to eat later.
Son got a fried rice onigiri, and picked out a couple more things for me that I ate later that night.
Then it was back to Tokyo, for real this time.
The Tokyo Tower looked mystical all lit up in the fog.
Once we got back, we left Rachael and her family at their hotel (and returned all the now-broken umbrellas they had borrowed from the hotel that morning – the poor umbrellas didn’t stand a chance against the crazy Mt. Fuji winds!) then headed back to our hotel to rest for a bit.
We got into another of the 7-11 purchases – an inari with some sort of mixed rice inside.
Then we headed out to wander Shimbashi station, looking for something to eat. We had passed this place called Soup Stock several times already, and it always smelled good, so Son decided he wanted that for dinner (I wasn’t very hungry by then).
We got a meal that included butter chicken curry, Tokyo borsch, rice, and orange juice. I wasn’t too much of a fan, but Son enjoyed it.
And for dessert, a custard-like tart from a nearby bakery.
Son got his soup and a yummy custard tart, and I ended up in bed with an onigiri.
This post is about you guys. I adore you, you guys are incredibly precious to me, and I have a new project that I’ve created just for you.
We all know you guys like food. Looking at photos of food, reading about food, learning about and drooling over all types of different foods.
That much is clear – otherwise, why would you be here?
But what you may not have known is that when I’m not spending all my waking hours cooking for and maintaining this blog like a good food blogger (which as you’ve probably guessed is, ahem, pretty much always), I work as a programmer.
I’m a programmer who loves food, so it was an obvious choice to spend the last two months working as hard as I can on something for people like you and me – something for people who love food.
And so I present to you, Fridgg!
It’s currently in a closed beta, which means it’s not open to the public just yet. So if you want a peek inside before the general public gets their hands on it, you can head over and sign up for an invite!
I’m really excited to finally be able to show Fridgg to you guys, and I really hope you guys love it!
A big part of why we went to Japan this summer was to be there the same time Rachael was there. Since she’s lived there before, speaks and reads Japanese fluently, and – oh, yeah – we have a podcast about Japanese food that we do together, we decided that we should definitely, absolutely take a trip to Japan together.
She goes to Japan every summer because her husband’s company sends him to Tokyo every year, so Son and I planned our trip to coincide with theirs. Since they found out not long before we left that they’d be able to take their two girls along this year, their flight scheduling meant they arrived a couple of days after we did.
So what did we do the first day we were all in Japan together? Well we visited the brand new Tokyo Skytree, of course!
Before meeting them that morning, I popped by the Starbucks in their building, in desperate need of some coffee. (Apparently I don’t do so well with jetlag. Heh.)
I got a soy latte (hi, I’m lactose intolerant), and discovered that unlike the Starbucks here in the US, the ones in Japan are super careful about making sure you don’t actually get regular milk instead. (That card I’m holding says that my drink should be made with soymilk – you hand it back to the barista when they give you your drink.)
At 430 yen (about $5.50) for a grandé, it’s definitely more expensive in Japan. But holy cow, their soymilk is lightyears better than the soymilk you get in the US! Almost worth the ridiculous price.
Once we found the Fujis, we all stopped by our newfound favorite onigiri place to pick up some onigiri (we got a salmon with mayo onigiri, and a laver paste – aka seaweed paste – onigiri) to take with us, then it was off to the Skytree!
The Skytree is very, very…
… very tall.
We were all hungry by the time we got there, so we found a curb to sit on while we snacked on the onigiri we bought.
While we were sitting there, an older man who was walking past stopped to talk to Rachael and the girls. (Apparently this is common – people in Japan love to stop and fawn over children, especially Rachael’s blue-eyed, blonde-haired, very obviously not Japanese girls.)
He insisted upon giving the girls a couple of boxes of cookies he had just bought to the girls, and talking to Rachael and Mr. Fuji for a while.
Then he turned his attention to Son and myself… and started speaking Japanese to Son, thoroughly convinced that Son could understand him, even when Rachael informed him that Son is Vietnamese, not Japanese. (And he was very amused by the fact that I’m Japanese but can’t speak the language, while Rachael is not Japanese but is fluent in it!)
He was quite a character.
Then a man on a bike passed by with his dog, and they stopped to let the girls play with the dog.
Both Rachael and I got dragged over there by her girls, so we could play with the dog too!
Because really, who can resist an adorable dancing dog like this one?
Once the man and his dog went on their merry way, we all took a stroll around the Skytree Town (the area beneath and around the Tokyo Skytree where there were a bunch of shops.)
Have I mentioned yet that people in Japan really seem to like lining up for things? Such was the case with this statue – apparently if you stand in the middle of it, you can look up and it’ll line up with the Skytree. There was a ginormous line of people waiting to take pictures of the Skytree through the statue.
We found this place called the Tokyo Curry Lab.
Both Rachael and I have a difficult time resisting curry-filled pastries, so of course we had to check it out.
They sell these curry pies – 300 yen each. Rachael and I each got one.
Delicious! Though I’d still have to say curry buns are my favorite.
Pretty soon Rachael and her family had to be on their way (they had something else scheduled for the rest of the day), so we all said our goodbyes, for now.
After they left, Son and I wandered the area a bit more.
Let the pigging-out commence!
I’ve spoken of our newfound obsession with onigiri, which has resulted in us having a very difficult time resisting any onigiri specialty shops we come across.
Especially when there are so many different, interesting types to choose from!
Since we… er… still can’t read Japanese, we just picked two that looked interesting.
I just adore how the Japanese wrap things up for you, although it does result in a whole lot of packaging that just ends up being thrown away.
So we ended up with an onigiri that was wrapped in something akin to mustard leaves (though I’m not entirely sure that’s what it was).
It use a mixed rice, but didn’t have any sort of fillings.
The other one had tempura shrimp and lettuce in it. Delicious! Both for only 400 yen.
After we ate the onigiri, we headed back in, to a mochi shop we had passed.
We decided to get two of the mochi skewers (dango?) that they were selling.
The first was warabimochi, an almost jelly-like confection covered in kinako (soybean flour).
It came with a packet of mitsu (a dark, sweet syrup) to drizzle over it. After eating this, Son has gained a newfound obsession with warabimochi (he really wants me to figure out how to make it, and we got it at least two more times while we were in Japan.)
The second kind that we got was a sort of yaki dango (grilled mochi) with a sweet shoyu sauce. Both were delicious, and came out to a total of 310 yen.
After pig-out part one, we walked around a bit, going upstairs where there was a Ghibli store. Son bought “The Art of Spirited Away”, because he’s been interested in doing a bit of drawing lately.
After that, we wandered around the upper level of Skytree Town, over to where the base of the Skytree is.
We considered going to the Sumida Aquarium, which is right next to the Skytree, but decided there were better ways to spend our time there.
Such a strawberry milk soft cream, for example.
There was a nice breeze, so we sat out on the plaza at the base of the Skytree to eat our soft cream (Japanese soft cream is like a mix between ice cream and soft serve).
Then it was back downstairs, where we just had to check out KFC.
We’d heard that it’s better than KFC in the US, so of course we had to sacrifice some precious stomach space in the name of research.
Very important research.
We did this for you, dear readers.
Apparently, in Japan, it is extremely common for families to eat KFC for their Christmas dinners.
And, well, after eating Japan’s KFC, I can see why.
Those “11 herbs and spices and finger-lickin’ flavor” they go on about here in the US is a load of bull. To heck with that. I want what KFC makes in Japan!
We got a drumstick, and a spicy chicken strip with honey lemon sauce.
Both were much more flavorful than anything we get here in the US. And that honey lemon sauce! Seriously. Why can’t we have this deliciousness here?
(Though at a total of 480 yen – about $6 – it wasn’t exactly cheap.)
You’d think after all we’d eaten so far, we’d be done, right?
Like I said, pigging out.
Next we got a crepe with banana slices, cheesecake pieces, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.
Because, well… why not?
(At 550 yen it made the chicken look inexpensive, but it was totally worth it.)
Okay, now we’re done eating.
After a nap back at the hotel, we headed out to Akihabara because Son wanted to look for something.
Akihabara stresses me out. All that noise and light and chaos…
So obviously, I needed doughnuts to soothe my nerves.
(Kidding. We would have ended up at Mister Donut even if I were completely zen… that was half the reason for going to Akihabara!)
We got a glazed pon de ring donut (the one that looks like a string of fat beads) and a whipped cream-filled donut.
For 252 yen (about $3.25) it was totally worth it.
After a bit more walking around, Son decided he was hungry (if you think you’re noticing a trend here, you’re totally right). When he saw this tempura place, he insisted we try it.
This was pretty much the best tempura we’ve ever had. You know how I know that? Because even now, nearly four months later, Son still cannot stop talking about it.
“This is pretty good, but not as good as that tempura place in Japan.” “Man, we should have gone back to that tempura place while we were in Japan.” “Why isn’t there any tempura place here that’s as good as the one in Japan?”
(There is never any doubt that when he refers to “that tempura place in Japan,” he’s referring to this one.)
And then, because Son was still hungry (and had developed a fondness for the bento boxes from Ueno station the previous night), we headed to Ueno station.
For a bento box, of course.
Our second day in Japan began with onigiri. Delicious, delicious onigiri.
We found an onigiri specialty shop in Shimbashi station (when facing the entrance to the JR lines, it’s in the far left corner) called Mai Mai.
(We went there so often, the woman who works there started bringing out the English menu whenever she saw us coming!)
(And what is it with Japanese women taking pictures of posters? Every single time we passed this huge poster in the train station, there was always a group of girls/women standing in front of it, taking photos – no matter what time of day or night. I’m not exaggerating – there literally was not a single time we went by where there wasn’t at least one female (usually quite a few more) taking a picture of it.)
So back to the onigiri. One thing we really loved about the onigiri at Mai Mai was that they used a mixed-grain rice for it.
It was delicious.
The first time we went, we got an onigiri filled with mayo mixed with salmon, and an onigiri filled with miso paste. (The onigiri there are 220 yen each – about $2.75.)
I couldn’t tell you which I liked more, because they were both fantastic. Although now that I think about it, I’m still dreaming about that miso onigiri…
There was a bakery in the train station that we passed by every day, called Kobeya Bakery.
Apparently they’re known for their mango hand pies, so of course we had to stop in and see how they were.
And while we were there, we could’t resist drooling over all the rest of their baked goods as well.
Once we made our purchases, we walked back to a nearby outdoor plaza that had plenty of seating.
It’s no wonder the mango hand pies are their specialty – they were fantastic! Not too sweet, and full of perfectly ripe mango.
All sorts of people can be seen sharing a bench there – like a businessman trying to catch a quick nap, next to some schoolgirls enjoying a snack.
But the thing I was really excited about was the tonkatsu sandwich we also purchased from the bakery.
Hooooly cow. (Perhaps “holy pig” would be more appropriate in this case.)
I’m kind of obsessed.
The katsu sando was made with perfectly fried tonkatsu and a tangy sauce between two soft pieces of white bread. So simple, yet so ridiculously freaking good.
(806 yen for the mango hand pie and katsu sando – about $10.40.)
Back through the station…
… and then we were off to our actual destination.
(Not this takoyaki stand, though there is takoyaki in our future!)
No, we were headed to the Tokyo Dome that day. Though not normally much of a baseball fan, Son wanted to find a gift shop because there was some Japanese baseball team jersey he wanted to see if he could buy.
But before wandering the Tokyo Dome, we found we were hungry again (something you’ll find to be a common theme of this trip) so we sat down to eat another onigiri that we had gone back to Mai Mai’s to get after we enjoyed the first two so much.
This time, the filling was grilled cod roe mixed with mayonnaise. Delicious.
And then we got slightly (understatement of the century) sidetracked by a manga store that was right next to the food court we had sat down in.
So… we’re kind of closet One Piece fans.
In the first few years we were going out, we spent a ton of time watching episodes of it together.
It’s unfortunately been a while since we’ve had time to watch, but I’ve been wanting to for a while.
Which meant it was pretty much impossibly not to buy the manga I was holding a few photos up… and a One Piece shaped ice tray. Heh.
I’m going to be the Pirate King!
Aaaaanyways… after that minor distraction, we were off wandering again, trying to find the baseball gift shop Son had found online.
We wandered around Tokyo Dome City, finding some very interesting menus.
And some very interesting bugs. (I nearly sat on that!)
Finally we found the gift shop, attached to the Tokyo Dome (a baseball stadium).
Unfortunately we didn’t find the jersey Son wanted, but it was definitely interesting to wander around.
Then we went to find more food. Of course.
Like I said earlier, takoyaki was to be had today!
Such a guilty pleasure. Just look at those huge pieces of octopus! (450 yen for 6 pieces – about $5.75)
Son opted to get a salmon ochazuke. (750 yen – about $9.50)
Ochazuke is a dish where you pour a hot liquid (I’ve mostly seen it with green tea, but this one had dashi) over a rice bowl.
This is the first time I’ve seen it made with all these toppings, but it was fantastic!
Then it was back to the train station.
We love the train system in Japan.
Especially when there are little dessert shops right near the train tracks!
This one was in Akihabara station, which I believe was the station nearest the Tokyo Dome.
A quarter of a flan-like tart cost us about $4.70.
After that it was back to the hotel for a nap, then we wandered around the area for a bit.
There’s some really interesting architecture near the Shimbashi station.
By then it was late enough that we just wanted to find something to eat and get back to sleep. (Yep, still a bit jet-lagged.)
Son decided he wanted to go check out Ueno station and see what they had there.
Japanese train stations almost always have an excellent selection of pretty gosh darned good food, whether it be in restaurants or take-out.
Ecute is a little food mall in Ueno station that has a bunch of little stores selling a huge variety of both sweet and savory foods.
We looked around for a bit – there were so many options, it was hard to choose!
But we finally decided on a bento box (1000 yen – about $13).
After all the ramen and greasy foods (takoyaki and katsu sando aren’t exactly light foods!) of the past few days, I wanted something lighter, so I got a small salad as well.
Back at the hotel we got into the food… I just love the bento boxes in Japan! So many interesting foods, you can’t possibly get bored with all that variety (and Son is obsessed with all the different kinds of rice).
The fish was fantastic, all the different tsukemono and types of rice were delicious, and I especially loved the little meatball – tsukune – in the lower right corner.
Day 1. Our first full day in Japan. We woke up to find we had quite a lovely view of Hamarikyu Gardens from our hotel room.
Since we weren’t able to get our JR Passes the previous evening when we arrived in Japan, off we went to Shinagawa station, where there was a JR Exchange Office.
And back we went to our hotel room, because someone (we won’t name names, but it starts with “S” and ends with “on”) neglected to bring their passport, and we couldn’t exchange our JR passes without it. (They wouldn’t even take a photocopy! Boo.)
But we weren’t totally empty-handed – since the first time we were in Japan we stayed across the street from Shinagawa station, we became quite well acquainted with the curry pan from a bakery in the station. Obviously, we couldn’t walk by and not get one.
Do you have any idea how impossible it is to resist buying a cream puff when you can smell them, freshly baked, the scent wafting through the train station? It’s like going by Krispy Kreme when that “Freshly Baked” sign is blinking, or In N’ Out when you can smell french fries cooking from across the street. Or smelling bacon, anytime, ever. Instant cravings.
Yeah, so there’s a Beard Papa’s shop in Shimbashi station, right near the entrance to the JR station. And Son has a coworker who’s OBSESSED with Beard Papa’s (hi, Victor!), so of course we had to stop by and see how the ones in Japan compared to the ones in the US.
All in the name of research and being a good friend. Yup. That’s our excuse, and we’re sticking with it.
No comparison. None. At all. Even just the plain custard-filled cream puff blew our minds. (Which unfortunately is, I’m pretty sure, the only one we had there that you can actually get in the US. Come on, US Beard Papa’s! What’s your deal?!) Best. Cream puffs. Ever.
So, after a quick jaunt up to our hotel room to retrieve aforementioned someone’s passport, off we went to Tokyo Station to exchange our JR Passes. (Tokyo Station is in the opposite direction of Shinagawa Station, a little bit closer to Shimbashi Station so cost us less, and also has a JR Exchange Office.)
After attaining our JR Passes, we decided to walk around Tokyo a bit. (When I say Tokyo, I mean the area around Tokyo station.) By then our stomachs were starting to grumble (a curry bun and a cream puff, shared between the two of us, does not make for much of a breakfast.)
Mind you, neither of us read or speak Japanese, and we’re only somewhat familiar with certain parts of Tokyo. So when it comes to finding a good place to eat… we’re pretty much useless. After a bit of wandering, we ended up at a ramen place with a line out the door for lunch – always a good sign.
I got the tsukemen, which is similar to ramen, but the noodles are served on the side and the broth is thicker than normal ramen.
Son had the miso ramen, and we shared an order of gyoza.
The tsukemen was ridiculously good. The weirdness of squishing into a table across from a couple of businessmen was worth it for that tsukemen.
Son’s ramen and the gyoza weren’t bad either, but we were both in agreement that my tsukemen was the winner of that meal. (The meal came out to 997 yen – about $12 – such a deal!)
After lunch, we walked around a bit, then headed back to Shimbashi station.
We couldn’t help but stop by Beard Papa’s again – more research, of course.
We also stopped by the Tully’s inbetween Shimbashi and Shiodome stations (on the way to our hotel).
Hoping for a taste of home, and unable to resist buying boba milk tea (me, an addict? Nah…), we stopped there for a second, and then sat down in the courtyard outside.
We were so, so sorely disappointed.
In the boba, I mean. The cruller-type pastry we bought from Beard Papa’s (filled with the same sort of pastry cream as the regular cream puffs) was fantastic! Quite possibly even better than the original cream puffs.
But that boba… ugh. Such a waste of 150 yen.
After a quick nap – jet lag had us utterly exhausted by that time – we took the train over to Harajuku.
We walked around Harajuku for a bit, then through Yoyogi park – one of our very favorite parks in Tokyo. This time it was too late to see the Rockabilly dancers or visit food stalls, but it was still nice, a moment of calm in the middle of a busy city.
We searched for the Sword Museum on the other side, but it ended up being closed by the time we got there.
We got to meet Boom, another Japanese-American who began working at Bassanova after Keizo mentioned on his blog that they were looking for more employees.
Son got the Tom Yum Ramen, a spicy Thai-style ramen. It was fantastic. Seriously, we haven’t had anything here that wasn’t amazingly good.
But that wasn’t what I was here for.
I came to Bassanova looking to get my Green Curry
Ramen Soba fix!
Ooooh, baby. That’s some freaking fantastic soba.
I’m still working on convincing Keizo to open a branch of Bassanova in LA, so I don’t have to travel all the way to Tokyo to get my fix!
I swear, it’s like a drug.
And 1800 yen (about $23) for 2 bowls of ramen makes it a very affordable drug.
After hanging out at Bassanova with Keizo for a bit, we took the train to Shibuya to walk off all that ramen.
Then back to the hotel to pass out. Day 1 was a ramen-filled success!
As some of you might know, in January of this year I started a podcast – Miso Hungry Podcast, all about Japanese food! – with Rachael Hutchings of La Fuji Mama. (And if you didn’t know, then you should definitely go listen to one of our 25 (plus 2 mini) episodes! Seriously, go. Now. This post can wait, promise. ^_^)
A couple of months into the podcast, Rachael mentioned that she was planning a trip to Japan with her husband in the summer, as she does every summer. (They lived in Japan for a while a few years back, and his job takes him back to Tokyo for a few weeks every year.)
Half-jokingly, one of us proposed that I should go too, as a “research trip” for the podcast. The more we talked about it, the more it sounded like an awesome idea… and when I mentioned it to Son, he was totally on board.
So what started as a wild, “that would be cool” sort of idea, ended up as a full-fledged trip to Japan. In the middle of June, solidly in typhoon season, six of us (on three different flights) headed off to Japan – Rachael, her husband, and their two daughters, and Son and I.
Son and I booked our flight on Singapore Air. It’s the same airline we flew the first time we went to Japan, and we highly recommend it. Even though we fly economy, they have great service, friendly flight attendants, and food that’s actually pretty good.
To say I’m a bit out of touch with what’s trendy/cool/”in” would be an understatement. Especially when it comes to anything having to do with any sort of alcohol.
The super-sweet flight attendant who took care of our part of the plane recommended that we get a Singapore Sling, on one of the instances when she came by with the drink cart. (I think she thought Son and I were on our honeymoon.)
So we got one to share, which she made super-weak (I’m pretty sure it was practically a virgin cocktail) because neither of us ever drink.
Of course I, the dork that I am, was sitting there thinking, “How cool, they have a cocktail named after their airline! And it’s not half bad, either… actually pretty good, for something with alcohol in it.”
(Remember the part where I said I don’t drink… and I’m waaay out of touch? Yeah…)
Dinner was buta kakuni (Japanese braised pork) with rice, which came with tamago and shrimp on the side, a rice cracker, a roll w/ butter, soba with dipping sauce, and chocolate brownie ice cream. For airplane food, it was damn good.
(Asian airlines always have the best food! I’m told food on the American airlines can’t even compare. Word to the wise – although both options offered by Singapore Air at each meal are pretty decent, the one with Asian food is almost always better.)
After a few hours of “sleeping” – aka Son watching various movies and me reading an entire Robert Jordan book on my Kindle, we got another light meal – this time chicken curry with rice, which came with a roll with butter, seafood salad, and a mocha cake. Again, delicious (although the cake kind of sucked.)
We landed at Narita Airport around 7pm Japan time… which unfortunately was juuust too late to exchange our JR Exchange Order for a JR Pass.
(PRO TIP: if you are going to be staying in one city, without traveling elsewhere much, then the JR Pass may not be worth it for you, since local trains usually aren’t too expensive. However, if you’re planning on using the Shinkansen a lot – we used it to go to Kyoto and Osaka – then it might be worth buying one before your trip to Japan.)
So, since we were too late to get our JR Passes, we ended up spending 2800 yen (about $35) for tickets on the Rapid train to get from the airport (which is about 1 hour away from Tokyo) to Shimbashi station (which is the closest big station to the hotel where we were staying.)
By the time we got to our hotel, we were 100% completely and totally exhausted. Also, kind of lost. (Park Hotel Tokyo, which is where we were staying, is kind of hard to find from the subway station level, and the lobby is on the 20-somthingth floor.)
And by that time, everything was closed. Luckily for us, there was a Family Mart convenience store (aka “combini”) on the subway level of the hotel building, which our bellboy was kind enough to point us to.
Thank goodness for Family Mart. Open 24-hours, always brightly lit, and always with plenty of food… it became our favorite place over the next two weeks. Every morning we would buy a bottle of water there, every night a tuna with mayo onigiri for the next morning’s breakfast… and any time we found ourselves still hungry when most restaurants were already closed (or we were too exhausted to go out), Family Mart was there with plenty of good food.
Seriously. I’m not kidding about it being really freaking good food (um, hello American convenience stores, get your act together please!)
For our first meal back in Japan, we ended up with inari sushi and futomaki, fruit jelly, and a cherry soda. (Sushi was good, Son ate the fruit jelly, and I’m generally not a fan of cherry-flavored things so I didn’t really like the soda, but Son says it was good.) All for about 800 yen (about $10). Only in Japan will I ever advocate getting convenience store sushi! ^_^
Okay, so our “first” day in Japan wasn’t so exciting… hence it being labeled “Day 0″. But the next day included ramen, cream puffs, and more ramen… so stay tuned for the next post!
Over the years, we’ve all seen the American flag cakes, the patriotic fruit kabobs, the everything red, white, and blue for Independence Day. Heck, even Pocky sticks have been decked out in patriotic colors!
So, considering this is a sushi blog (and completely disregarding the fact that I have hardly posted in ages, thankyouverymuch), I’d be awfully remiss if I didn’t make something sushi-style for the Fourth of July.
For the red and white, I used sashimi, of course. (I made this as a chirashi – sashimi on top of a bowl of sushi rice – so there is a layer of sushi rice underneath.) The red is ahi tuna, and the white is made up of bay scallops.
For the blue, I decided I wanted to make something with blueberries. I hemmed and hawed between pickled blueberries, some sort of blue tsukemono (Japanese pickles), or this blueberry salsa. Since it was only a couple of days before the fourth, I ended up not having enough time to make pickles, and no time to go to the Japanese supermarket to search for blue tsukemono. So salsa it was.
(I used red jalapeños instead of green ones, and lemon juice instead of lime – funny story, I thought I had run out of lime juice, then found it in the very back of the fridge several hours later. Oops.)
This recipe can easily be adapted to make however much or little you would like. As written, this makes a 12″ square chirashi “bowl”, which could probably feed 4 people on its own, or a whole lot of people as part of a potluck.
Tataki and Mindshare, bringing sustainable sushi to Los AngelesPosted on March 26th, 2012 · 8 Comments »Other Sushi Randomness
Sustainability is an important food issue these days. But what people don’t always realize, is that it can also be a very delicious issue.
Last week was a perfect example of this. There was an event in Los Angeles – A VIP Mindshare LA Sustainable Sushi Experience with Tataki Sushi at the very cool Project Butterfly Loft that Son, Rachael, and I were lucky enough to get to go to.
Tataki is a sushi bar in San Francisco… actually, three sushi bars in San Francisco. And now they’re looking to open a branch in Los Angeles.
Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about it. A sustainable sushi restaurant in LA? You can bet I’ll be there quite a bit… and I’m going to be doing anything I can to help them do well. Want to help? Email me and I’ll get your info to Casson.
But as much as the dinner was about getting the word out about bringing Tataki to Los Angeles, it was also just as much about the food. And oh boy, was it ever about the food… amazing, delicious, creative food!
The first course was made up of a pumpkin-carrot soup, and a coho salmon salad that had three types of seaweed in it. The soup had the sort of flavor that seems like a new, different flavor, but you just cannot stop eating it. The seaweed in the salad was a new experience for me – more than your typical wakame seaweed that you find in many Japanese applications. It was texturally fascinating, and the salmon, of course, melted in your mouth.
Coho salmon is generally considered a good choice in terms of sustainability, because of how it is fished – especially when it uses trolling methods (a hook-and-line method that tows fishing lines behind or alongside a boat, which is considered an environmentally responsible fishing method.).
The second of nine courses consisted of Canal oysters, topped with tobiko, basil chiffonade, and a Sriracha ponzu sauce. I only recently developed a taste for oysters – three years ago, at the first sustainable sushi dinner I attended at Mashiko. (It’s all coming full circle!) These were delicious. Of course. (There’s a good chance I will be trying to make these at home, soon.)
Oysters are one of the best types of seafood you can eat. They are almost always farmed, and according to the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, most of these farming operations are very well managed – so as consumers we have little to worry about here.
The third course was a Hawaiian-influenced albacore tuna poke, with nori and endive. I really want more of this. I had never considered endive as a pairing for sashimi, but when you spoon a little of the poke onto it and take a bite, it’s entirely addictive.
Albacore tuna is a great choice, especially when compared to unsustainable options like bluefin tuna. The albacore tuna is much smaller than the bluefin, and something that Casson constantly says is that the smaller the fish, the better option it is. (Sardines are a great option.)
The next course was a vegan tsukune, made of mountain yam, panko, water chestnuts, and bean curd. “But,” I’m sure you’re wondering, “if it’s vegan, then that means there’s no fish. How does this fit into a sustainable sushi dinner?”
Part of what Casson and the chefs at Tataki are trying to show is that sustainability is about more than just eating the right fish – vegetables are a vastly overlooked solution. As you’ll see later (and as I’ve mentioned in the past), vegan sushi can be so good, that even meat-lovers crave it.
That goes for these meatballs two-fold. Tsukune are usually meatballs made of chicken, but I’d claim that this vegan version is even better. You have no idea how much I am still craving them. (Casson, when you guys open a LA branch of Tataki, these had better be on the menu!)
Course number five consisted of arctic char sashimi with dill and capers. Although obviously not a very Japanese dish, it utterly melts in your mouth.
I’ve been talking about arctic char as a sustainable substitution for salmon for quite a while, and for good reason – it’s delicious. And sustainable! Most of the arctic char sold in the US is farmed, and luckily for us, done in closed systems – land-based systems that prevent a lot of the issues that come with open farms.
It wouldn’t be a sustainable sushi dinner without a sashimi course, and Tataki definitely delivered. The course included horse mackerel sashimi with ginger and daikon, kampachi, skipjack tuna with mustard and scallions, and hokkaido scallops layered with lemon slices. The skipjack tuna melted me, and in my opinion you can never go wrong with scallops. The horse mackerel and kampachi? Also amazing.
The seventh course had everyone sighing happily. This course consisted of four nigiri, but Casson had very specific instructions about the order in which you were to eat them. Traditionally, you are supposed to eat sushi in the order from the most delicate to the fattiest/most flavorful, and this was no exception.
We were instructed to start with the suzuki (striped bass) nigiri, that was topped with tobiko.
Then we were to sample the seared albacore belly nigiri – this was when the room lit up with ecstatic groans. (Although everything was amazing, if I had to pick a single favorite bite from the evening, it would have been this.)
Third of the nigiri we were instructed to eat was the saba (mackerel) mackerel with candied kombu.
Lastly, something that I’ve made and posted here in the past – Tataki’s black cod “faux-nagi”. As we know, unagi is a bad choice when it comes to sustainability… the problem is that everybody loves it. So Tataki came up with this black cod-based substitution… try it, and you’ll see that it does quite well in place of unagi.
Then we moved on to the (ura)maki sushi course. Or rather, courses. Although this was billed as a 9-course dinner, it really turned out to be more like 12 courses after all the maki rolls!
Like I mentioned before, they started the maki course with a vegan roll – the Reggae Roll. Filled with asparagus and cucumber, and topped with avocado, cherry tomato, and shaved pumpkin, then served with avocado puree, Sriracha aioli, and Sriracha sauce for dipping… it’s so flavorful, you have no opportunity to miss the fish.
The second of the four rolls was the Golden State Roll – an uramaki filled with scallops, Sriracha, and green apple, and topped with avocado, albacore, masago, and an apple spice reduction. Everyone really liked the use of apple in a sushi roll… and I always, always love anything made with scallops.
Another concept that Casson speaks of often is the idea that using ingredients that are local is more sustainable than using ingredients that have to be shipped from very far away. Every ingredient in the Golden State Roll is local to California. It’s common sense, if you think about it. Local uses fewer resources, and keeps demand for ingredients more spread out (instead of, for example, everyone buying tuna from a single source like Japan).
“When you think about the Rainbow Roll, it’s pretty much carnage on a plate (in terms of sustainability).”
Casson said this as they brought out the Tataki Roll, and it’s true – you often have every sort of popular, unsustainable fish packed on top when you order a Rainbow Roll. So as a sustainable replacement, he offers the Tataki Roll – uramaki filled with avocado, cucumber, and topped with albacore, arctic char, black cod ‘faux-nagi’, and multi-colored tobiko. All sustainable ingredients that we’ve already seen, and entirely delicious.
The last of the sushi roll courses was one that, quite frankly, terrified me. They brought it out, and our entire table just sat and stared at it, no one daring to touch it.
“Why,” you ask? Well, the name tells all. This is known as the Russian Roulette – a roll with asparagus, scallop, crawfish, sriracha, kewpie mayonnaise, and soy-marinated masago. It all sounds innocent enough, until Casson warned us that one of the pieces had been filled with habanero oil… hence the glass of sake included with the plate.
We all stared at the plate warily, as if it held a poisonous snake. Other tables had already started eating the Russian Roulette, piece by piece. You could tell when someone got the loaded piece of sushi – they would go red in the face, and the room would erupt in a ruckus.
Finally, Rachael was the first one at our table daring enough to reach out and take a piece. We all watched her with bated breath… until she smiled and admitted, “I got it.” Not that you could tell – the spice had no effect on her at all. (Have I ever mentioned that she’ll eat anything? I’d even venture to say she can handle spicier foods than Son can, and that’s saying a lot.)
Needless to say we were all relieved, and were able to enjoy the rest of sushi without the sense of dread that had previously haunted us.
Last course was dessert – a shiso and lychee granita with plum wine and yogurt. To me, it tasted like Vietnam – not a bad thing at all. (Son was convinced it had fish mint in it – a Vietnamese herb that apparently tastes quite similar to shiso.)
All in all, the dinner event was a grand success. We met a lot of interesting people, ate great food, and Casson gleefully embarrassed me in front of the entire dinner.
I’m really excited about the future of sustainable dining (seriously – bouncing-off-the-walls, dancing-around-the-room excited), and eagerly anticipating the arrival of Tataki in Los Angeles!
P.S. This is an excellent time to go check out my Miso Hungry Podcast… this week’s episode is all about sushi! We talk about this sushi dinner, and also talk quite a bit about the new documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, that I highly recommend all of you go see.