Archive for the ‘*Yoko’ Category

A Taste of Spain in Ueno

March 20, 2008

Unplanned excursions should be celebrated. Whoever made up the phrase “Spice of Life” was probably a fan of spontaneity.

Last Sunday, my boyfriend and I decided to go to Ueno park after getting up around noon. I took the Nikon D200 that I am borrowing from a coworker hoping to capture the scenes of the park. Knowing me though, the highlight of the photo session ended up featuring our lunch – a random stumble into a 7th floor Spanish restaurant called Val. It had been over a year since going to Ueno. Just going to the East side of Tokyo is a huge deal for me. Val made it worthwhile.

The mix paella was wonderful – perfect for two for Sunday lunch. Consisting of mainly seafoods, what better place to indulge than THE place for seafood (Tokyo)? With the abundance of seafoods in Spanish food, I would like to see more Spanish-Japanese fusion foods. C’mon Tokyo, wow me with some Uni-Shiso paella!

For now, I’ll settle for Spanish style Spanish food though…

White asparus salad

Hors d’oeuvres plate

Mix paella

A White Christmas Two Months Late

February 12, 2008

What: Mid-winter ryokan getaway trip
Where: Seiryuusou ryokan, Shimonita, Gunma Prefecture (about 3 hours from Shinjuku station)
When: Saturday February 9 to Sunday February 10, 2008
Why: Thaw out, eat, wash away the grub of Tokyo

The food:
In general, the food was unpretentious and featured local ingredients native to the region – big, thick, sweet green onions, mountain animals and konnyaku (a kind of jelly made out of potatoes). I am not a huge fan of konnyaku – but having konnyaku sashimi was delightfully unexpected. Of course, a winter dinner would not be complete without nabe. In this case, it was inoshishi (boar) nabe. In addition, under the recommendation of the owner, we ordered the seasonal special: deer sashimi. This meal was not PC, and was only for one who can handle game meats.
Breakfast was modest (we were baffled by the lack of a fish dish) but alive with local ingredients. Most notable, for me, was the natto – the beans were firm and the taste robust.

The onsen and atmosphere:
There were two onsens – indoor and outdoor. The indoor bath was made completely of wood – therefore, no ugly tiling or slippery rubber. With a huge window overlooking a frosty river scene, I knew I would have to savor the soaking for all the times that I am and will be sitting on the seventh floor of a building in Ginza.
The outdoor bath was breathtaking. After indulging in the ryokan’s homemade sake brew, I hung out in the outdoor bath. With fine flakes of snow landing on my face and the rest of my body happily engulfed in hot onsen water, I was convinced the Japanese were geniuses at the art of vacationing.

Places like Kyoto and Hakone are beautiful, but the more I live in Tokyo, I realize that Japan is full of treasures without the crowds.

Deer Sashimi
The dinner, with inoshishi nabe (top middle), konnyaku sashimi (top right)

Breakfast natto

Frosty beautifulness

Entrance to Seiryuusou

Spill a Little

February 5, 2008

Buying bulk is like sex without a condom. There’s nothing between you and the food, no plastic, no obstruction. Grab a little, taste a little, spill a little and push your way to the front.

During my lunch break on Monday, I set out to Tsukiji (like I do at least once every two weeks). I passed by a store selling mounds of bulk tsukudani. Tsukudani is heaven on rice – a condiment usually brown in color, sweet and sticky. It can be seaweed, clams, tarako, walnuts, even unagi.

The lady urged me to take a pinch of each kind for tasting. My suspicions were true – they were all good. But I had to restrain myself – I could not return to work smelling like I had just feasted on a full-course New Year’s breakfast. The lady then told me that the shijimi (clams) type was superb for takikomi-gohan*. I could add about 100 grams of this stuff to about 3 cups of rice in the rice cooker and… “viola!” shijimi-tsukudani-takikomi-gohan. Mmmm. So I bought 100 grams for 300 yen. I’ll be staying in this weekend.

I also bought 100 grams of fine fishies tsukudani at 200 yen (I don’t know what the real name is), this would probably be excellent just as is on rice – or irresistible as ochazuke (pouring tea over rice).

Here’s to pouring and spilling.

Shijimi tsukudani

Fine fishies tuskudani

*Editor’s note: takikomi-gohan is rice steamed with whatever ingredient you want! Usually mushrooms, or some vegetable, or this tsukudani, as Yoko talks about here. Hearty fare for cold winters.

For the Love of Mushrooms

February 3, 2008

It’s snowing. And it’s going to snow all through the night. It’ll snow through the show I’ll be playing tonight in Asagaya. So I’m staying in until then.

On my stroll back home this morning from Hatagaya, I stopped by the supermarket with a strong urge to make me up a hot bowl of soba.

I bought raw soba noodles, dashi stock and decided to have a mushroom festival. The great thing about mushrooms in Japan is that there is quite a selection, ranging from cheap to super expensive. Today I opted for the cheap end of the spectrum. So I bought enoki and nama-nameko. Enoki has entered the American-English culinary vernacular in the past few years – I’ve seen them on menus in California and catch glimpses of it on the Food Network.

These thin guys with small caps are great butter-sauteed, boiled, steamed, you name it. They’ve got an uber-satisfying texture, chewy with just the right slipperiness. And they are cheap as hell. One 100 gram package is 150yen (a little over 1USD). I decided to grab my other favorite – nameko. Its beautiful mustard yellow color screams fall coziness and it’s slimness is perfect in soups and sautes. Another steal for 120yen per 100 grams.

I get home, thaw my toes and make my noodles (erm, with hands washed in between there somewhere). Boil noodles, heat up the dashi, throw the mushrooms in, and then the noodles, mix it up and top it off with some green onions. Oh yeah, and the kamaboko my grandma gave me from her trip to Hakone was a perfect addition. Rawk.

The ingredients (sans kamaboko from Baba-chan):

USA Bound!

December 6, 2007

(my version of Yamahomo’s post, copyright infringed)

Good bye cold as hell Tokyo, HELLLLLO San Francisco Bay Area! I am going to sunny and warm California in two weeks for ten days. Fruits, cheese, fresh veggies, turkey, In n out, burritos in the Mission, Bouchon (Napa), Zachary’s pizza, mother’s cooking, Berkeley Bowl, Christmas dinner, to name a few, I will be eating good shit!

Happy holidays to the losers who will be stuck in Tokyo for the rest of the month. I will be eating awesome food while you are slurping instant U.F.O. yakisoba noodles by the heater in a beanie. Sucka!

Second House Shimokitazawa

December 2, 2007

My friend from San Francisco was visiting me here in Tokyo last weekend and to cure our 3 o’clock sweet tooth, I did what everyone in Western Tokyo should do: go to Second House in Shimokitazawa. Originally a bakery from Kyoto (never been to that one), this piece of heaven serves up delicious (both in taste and presentation) cakes and coffee delights in a bright, clean atmosphere for half the price you’d expect to pay at a department store or some upscale place in Ginza or Omotesando.

This is the type of place you realize that the French and Japanese have a serious love affair with each other… and are thankful for it.

We ordered the pictured:

Pear Tart

Custard Cream Puff

Probability Out of 10 I Will Eat this Animal Again

October 23, 2007

After hearing this NPR story about the last horse slaughterhouse in the US closing, I thought to myself ARE there such things as horse slaughterhouses in the US? Growing up in California, certain animals seem to be OFF limits, meaning, animals included in “Save the insert animal – usually a mammal with pretty eyes – here” series. In the 80s we saw “Save the Whales”, “Save the Manatees” and “Save the Sea Turtles” to name a few. Anyone caught killing these animals were seen as individuals equally appalling to those listed on the National Sex Offender Registry.

Of course, I am not advocating the clubbing or the brutal treatment of any animal (and my diet rarely consists of animals with legs), but my eyes have been opened to just how brainwashed I was as a westerner. Take eating whale, for example, as an American, this is atrocious and barbaric – insensitivity and carelessness rated on a high scale.

Yet, after living in a country that has been eating whale for thousands upon thousands of years, it doesn’t look as reckless. Something like the headline “Japan and Iceland refuse to give up their right to eat whale,” makes the people of these two countries look like ravenous killers who indulge in unnecessarily gluttonous practices. When in fact, communities have depended on the industry of whaling for thousands of years, and if they had been oblivious to the currents, migrations and breeding patterns of the whales, they’da been gone way before America was there to school the world.

That said, this might just be my argument for feeling better about eating the following foods I would probably never get to eat in America (or announce that I did too loudly in America, especially California):

Kujira – Whale (barbequed whale-steak on a grill)
Setting: Last Saturday at a outdoor BBQ for a friend’s birthday in Shimokitazawa, brought by my Icelandic friend Arnar.

Verdict: Like a perfect combination of T-bone steak and lamb. There was definitely a gamey essence to it – perhaps an aftertaste of grass or some kind of ruffage.

Probability out of 10 I will eat this animal again: 10, the first taste sparked my interest in trying whale prepared in different ways.

Basashi – Horse sashimi (thinly sliced raw horse meat)
Setting: Town izakaya during a festival in Koenji, ordered because my friend Kishi visiting from SF, had one thing on his list of things to do in Tokyo – eat horse.

Verdict: Quite heavenly – like sashimi in 4 dimensions. Again, it gives off a gamey scent that I can’t quite pin point.

Probability out of 10 I will eat this animal again: 8, I wouldn’t order it – it’s actually quite delicious but it’s a bit intense psychologically. However, it’s probably gonna be hard to avoid given that this is pretty common most Japanese-style restaurants.

Suppon – Snapping turtle soup
Setting: Chinese restaurant in Hatagaya. I reviewed this visit here

Verdict: A bit too knuckly for my taste and the meat was extra chewy and dense. I was told it’s good for you when you get sick and I believe that.

Probability out of 10 I will eat this animal again: 3, I am not into knuckly things. I would however, happily indulge in Suppon broth.

Judging by how exciting these culinary delights were, I hope this list grows…

How One Becomes Spoiled in Tokyo

September 27, 2007

This sushi was mediocre. But you can’t expect that much from Bikkuri Sushi – a chain restaurant. There was a bit too much rice for each nigiri. However, this is relative – if I had this in the States, I would be ranting about it for weeks. My taste buds have become extremely discriminating since living here for a full two years. The stuff on the top left were a bunch of little slimy baby fishes that were a bit disappointing. I had never tried this before and was expecting a texture/taste explosion, but it didn’t leave much impact.

This was NOT enough for 6 people (5 hungry guys PLUS me). We killed this in less than 10 minutes and they satisfied the rest of their hunger by blowing this pop-stand and going somewhere else (I had to split at that point).

Tokyo DisneySea Food Report

September 18, 2007

Unfortunately (fortunately maybe), I don’t have the pictures to prove it – but I ate three meals just to confirm that Disneyland and its affiliates (DisneySea in this case), regardless of which shore it’s on, serves food so mediocre that it sides on bad.

I ate the following:

Lunch at the Mediterranean Harbor:
Potato Salmon Pizza – definitely previously frozen
Prosciutto salad – iceberg lettuce, reminiscent of Denny’s

Excellent view of the Tower of Terror and “Harbor” – I have to give it to Disney as far as really trying their best to make everything perfectly Disney to the bone. Disney knows itself better than I know myself.

Early Dinner at the American Waterfront:

Fried Fish burger with fries – really unoffensive, semi-enjoyable. At least you could have unlimited ketchup. Anyway, you’d have to try really hard to fuck up fried food.

Meal interrupted by two schizophrenic 5-minute sets involving Donald and Goofy fighting over a mermaid and then Donald giving a diving lesson quickly leading to Chip & Dale breaking out into song and dance (in Japanese, very surreal).

Late-ish Dinner at the Lost River Delta:
Fajita plate with beef, shrimp and chicken – precut meats anally placed on an “Aztec” patterned plastic plate – this was across the way from the Indiana Jones ride.
Tequila slammer – alcohol, yes, alcohol is served at DisneySea, I had two and proceeded to ride Stormrider and got mildly sick.

Impression: Japanese people really don’t have a thing for Mexican food – this was the only place the whole day we didn’t stand in line for (including restroom visits).

Pictured are some dessert thingys I didn’t eat. It probably looks better than it tastes – given the above report:

Tower of Terror at the American Waterfront:

Mediterranean Harbor (if you look closely, someone is actually getting married on the deck – eeeeek! – I just wanted to eat ice-cream):

TPS Report: TGIF

September 14, 2007

I realize how slobbish I am when I am at work – self-consious that my colleagues turn away from my desk in disgust. When you pretty much live at your desk, habits are revealed, you get lazy in your own routine and bottom line, you get comfortable and think no one is looking.

My worst habit is putting food on documents I am working on. Although I have enough sense not to put lasagna, curry rice or other “wet foods” on papers, I find myself pushing the limits. Nuts and dried fruit are no problen – casually strewn across TPS [sic] reports without a concern. These foods hardly leave a trace and do not reveal any slobbish behaviors.

But perhaps the most embarrassing foods are fried and oily – namely potato chips, fried flourish snacks like Japanese “karintou” and cookies, that you think you can get away with. But not only do these foods leave a big splotchy, translucent mess on the confidential files that the client gave you that morning, but you are left making a ruckus dusting off the crumbs that ultimately don’t make it into the garbage can even though you strategically bend the stack of papers and tap lightly. So your slovenliness is apparent on the papers you were grazing off of (which can be put away) AND all over the floor that surrounds you (which can’t).

I recently tested the limits when some sweet, saintly soul placed bite-sized pieces of green tea cheese cake by the coffee maker. There was a gram-cracker crust cradling this pale green piece of heaven which was quite effective in preventing total saturation. Still, there were traces left on the papers – like smeared creamy, green boogers.

But then again, when there’s cheese cake involved –
F*** TPS reports.
Long live creamy, green boogers.