This week we discuss what to eat the morning after the night before.
The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below:
NB: Due to unforeseen circumstances (specifically very loud background music during the recording) this episode’s audio quality isn’t ideal, particularly at the start of the show. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the conversation and hope you do too.
Find the Japan Eats Facebook page here. Have something to say? Drop us a line.
Here are some links to what we discussed this week:
- Ochazuke, rice with tea
- Japanese Hangover Cures
- David Chang Demonstrates Instant Ramen Hangover Cure On ‘Late Night With Jimmy Fallon’
You can e-mail us at email@example.com
Upmarket yakiniku on Tokyo’s east side.
Located about a three minute walk from the south exit of JR Kinshicho station, Suehiro is a superior choice for anyone looking for yakiniku in eastern Tokyo.
There are a number of sets and course meals to choose from, and they range in price from 3,980 yen to just over 13,000 yen per person. The circular grills are embedded in the tables, and you cook the meat yourself just like at most yakiniku restaurants.
The restaurant itself has a chic modern feel to it with low lights and lots of two and four-person booths and rooms. There are about 50 seats in total, so be sure to reserve a table if you’ll be dining at peak ours on a weekend.
You can also order as you go from an extensive a la carte meat menu. The karubi-shio (￥1,050) and hotate (￥880) are tender and excellent when grilled lightly. The tokusen harami at ￥1,800 per serving is some of the best we’ve tried.
There’s also a decent selection of sides such as kimuchi (￥480) and chapuche (￥750). We recommend leaving some room for a post-grilling bowl of cold reimen (￥1,000) or hot buta kimuchi chige (￥1,300) depending on what the weather’s like outside.
Draft beer is ￥490, and Suehiro has an izakaya-level selection of everything else that you’d expect to find. Everything from wine by the glass to shochu to highballs are priced at about 500 yen each, and all-you-can-drink plans are available.
Suehiro is the newest of a family-run, two-shop chain. The original restaurant is on the north side of the station, and the shop detailed here was opened a few years ago. Both are excellent, but we prefer this one because the service is quick and courteous, and the kimuchi moriawase is delicious.
All in all, you can expect to spend between four and six thousand yen per person at Suehiro.
Sumida-ku Edobashi 3-8-12
Kinsia Annex 2F
Hours: Mon – Sat 17:00 to 7:00 (L.O. 6:30)
Sun/Holidays 16:00 to 7:00 (L.O. 6:30)
View Sumibi Yakiniku Suehiro (炭火焼肉 すえひろ) South Gate Shop (南口店) in a larger map
This coriander-packed Thai salad makes a great appetizer, but it’s just as good as a spicy sandwich filling.
To give the salad a fresh, crispy texture, it’s important to rinse the sliced vegetables in ice water. It’s also best eaten within 24 hours.
When you mix the ingredients in the bowl, use both hands. The taste will be much better than if you mix using utensils (wood, metal or otherwise).
Ingredients (for 4 – 8 people)
- 500 g of chicken breast
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ½ teaspoon of black pepper
- 2 tablespoons of sake
- 200 – 250 g cabbage
- 120 g cucumber
- 50 – 60 g red onion
- 40 – 50 g celery
- 20 g of roughly chopped fresh coriander
- 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh mint
- 2 red peppers (dried and finely chopped)
- 4 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons of nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
- 1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic
- 3 tablespoons of peanut or vegetable oil
- A pinch of salt
- Roughly chopped fresh coriander
- 4 – 5 tablespoons of crushed peanuts
First we’ll prepare the chicken. Remove any excess moisture with a paper towel then sprinkle ½ teaspoon of salt and black pepper onto all sides of the chicken breast. Place the chicken on a plate then rest it for 5 minutes. Pour 2 tablespoons of sake over it then wrap the plate with cling film (2 layers) before cooking it in the microwave for 5 ½ minutes. Take the plate out of the microwave and allow the chicken to rest until it is cool enough to touch.
While the chicken is cooking, prepare the dressing. Mix all of the ingredients other than the peanut oil and salt in a large bowl. Now add the peanut oil. Do so slowly stirring the dressing with your other hand. Check the flavor and add salt to taste.
As the chicken cools, prepare the vegetables. Rinse the cabbage then slice into pieces 1 – 2 mm thick. Rinse the cucumber and cut into slices approximately 1 mm thick. Peel the red onion then slice thinly, following the grain. Remove the strings from the celery and slice the stems diagonally into 1 – 2 mm pieces. Cut the leaves into pieces 1 – 2 mm thick.
Fill a large bowl with ice water (enough to cover the cabbage, cucumber, red onion and celery) and rinse them for 5 – 6 minutes before draining.
Once cool, break the chicken breast by hand into bite-sized pieces (follow the grain). Add this together with the liquid on the plate into the bowl containing the dressing.
Now add the vegetables to the chicken/dressing mixture.
Add 20 g of roughly chopped coriander and 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mint to the bowl. Combine all the ingredients by hand.
Decorate the salad with fresh coriander and crushed peanuts before serving.
The third incarnation of this Australian café will win over the kids. But will adults see past the shopping center location?
The Irish have been putting up with it for years. Wherever you go, there’s an Irish pub to tempt you with a carefully packaged cultural experience that has little, if any relationship to what you’d find on the street corners of Dublin. With their unread copies of W.B. Yeats, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, and embossed plaques proclaiming the virtues of Guinness, such places are little more than pastiche, inducing a longing for a simpler time, even if that never existed in the first place.
Odaiba, the man-made island in the middle of Tokyo Bay, is the Japanese home of foreign-inspired kitsch. Forget theme parks, chain restaurants or resorts – Odaiba has enough to make even a cryogenically frozen Walt Disney wince. Whether its the VenusFort shopping center, the ‘life-sized’ Gundam or the “Oh-god-what-were-they-thinking” replica of the Statue of Liberty, Odaiba successfully blends commercial interests with cultural naivety.
So we come to Bills. Named after Australian owner/chef Bill Granger, Bills sets out to be “a warm, open interior inspired by Bill’s own home, accompanied by friendly service and a simple yet lively menu centered around the freshest ingredients.” This is Granger’s third Japanese venture, the first being in Shichirigahama, followed by a second branch on Yokohama’s waterfront. A fourth restaurant baring the name opened April 18th in Tokyu Plaza, Omotesando.
When we arrive, the staff quickly guide us to a long bench in the center of the main room. Our waiter is all smiles when he takes our order.
“Friendly service“? Check.
At 11.30, the menu is yet to switch from breakfast to lunch, but no matter. We go with the scrambled organic eggs with toast and a serve of Granger’s signature ricotta hotcakes, fresh banana and honeycomb butter. I order a black coffee, which the Japanese waiter repeats back in impeccable Australian: “One long black…” Granger, it seems, likes a hearty start to the day – there’s also a ‘full Aussie breakfast’ with toast, mushrooms, bacon, roast tomato and chipolatas, and lengthy list of sides to be had with your eggs. At lunch, you can opt for a wagyu burger with lettuce, beetroot, zucchini pickles, tomato relish, and herbed french fries. Room for more? Try the pavlova with passion fruit and cream. The menu is high on calories, and in that respect, very Australian.
“A simple yet lively menu“? Wagyu burger aside, it’s a fair claim.
But as for “a warm, open interior inspired by Bill’s own home“? Well…
Here’s the problem: Bills is at one end of a giant shopping complex. While the restaurant may aspire to bringing the atmosphere of an Australian café to Tokyoites, it struggles to overcome the sterile confines of its location. Clearly a lot of money has been poured into the fit out, but it’s more IKEA cafeteria than suburban coffeehouse. It’s hard not to view Bills as yet another theme park concession.
When the food arrives, it doesn’t disappoint. The rich scrambled eggs are excellent, although I could have done without the extra pill of butter on the toast. The famous hotcakes are pretty darn good – much lighter than anticipated. And that honeycomb butter is the kind of thing you’ll want to recreate at home. Be warned, though: order hotcakes during the lunch hour crush and they will take at least 20 minutes to appear.
Everywhere there are mums and toddlers. Indeed, Bills may be the most child-friendly restaurant of its kind in Tokyo. There’s no smoking section and they offer a kids menu. For a time, I realize I’m the only male customer not under 18 months.
Look past the packaging and there’s a lot of good here. The food’s excellent (although frankly overpriced – lunch will set you back close to 2000 yen), the staff professional and it’s one of the few restaurants in Tokyo that not only welcomes children but goes out of its way to be family friendly.
If only it weren’t in a 600 ft long shopping center.
Directions: Exit Kaihin Koen station (Yurakamome line) on the water side and follow the signs to Decks. Bills is just inside the glass doors in the building to your right.
3F Decks Seaside Mall
1-6-1 Daiba, Minato-ku
Hours: 9:00-23:00 (daily)
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Escape busy Waseda Dori and discover one of Kagurazaka’s best kept secrets.
Getting there is half the fun. Across from Zenkokuji Temple in the center of Kagurazaka, between a fire escape and a clothing store, there’s a claustrophobic alleyway just wide enough for a person to squeeze through. Walk twenty meters along this narrow path and you’ll come to Teppei, a bar which combines serious drinks with obanzai style cooking.
The interior is attractive wood panel affair, and while somewhat cluttered, it wouldn’t be out of place in small-town Kyushu. A wooden counter runs the length of the downstairs area. Directly opposite, shelves lined with some two hundred bottles of shochu. Take a seat at the bar and not only can you nod to your drink of choice, but you can look on as the staff work the charcoal grill in the kitchen. Behind the barstools there’s also a raised tatami section with shoes-off table seating for about a further dozen or so.
It’s a safe guess that for many customers, Teppei is all about the shochu. Devotees of Kyushu’s famous spirit will have no trouble locating familiar favorites – all of the top Kyushu distilleries are represented. Those seeking something sweeter will no doubt be happy with a three page umeshu selection. Elsewhere, there are beers, four types of sake and five types of chuhai on offer. Oh, and let’s not forget Teppei’s range of seasonal sours (right now it’s sudachi, yuzu and daidai from Tokushima, squeezed by hand and served with honey). Suffice to say, the bar is well stocked.
But what elevates Teppei above most of Tokyo’s other shochu bars – in fact, Tokyo’s bars in general – are its vegetable-oriented otsumami. Yes, meat on a stick may be Tokyo’s go-to bar snack, but there’s a lot to be said for pickles, fried vegetables and salads when you need something to cut through all that alcohol. Few bars take their finger food as seriously as this one, and if you’ve dropped by for a drink rather than a full-blown meal, there’s plenty to choose from. Teppei specializes in sun-dried fish, some of the more eye-catching items being the anago, nodokuro, kinki and sardine nukazuke. Then there’s the yasaiyaki (grilled vegetables) which customers select from a basket of fresh vegetables brought right to your table.
On the night we visited, still recovering from a lengthy lunch, we’d planned for nothing more than a quick drink. All that changed when we saw what our neighbors at the bar were eating. We promptly ordered the chopped cucumber with homemade rayu, followed by the spring cabbage seasoned with jako (dried baby sardines) and sesame seeds. Both were excellent, the rayu lending the cucumber dish plenty of flavor and the ‘salad’ the kind of dish you can imagine your Kyushu grandmother preparing alongside family meals.
The bar does have its flaws – our barman radiated ‘new guy’ and more than once had to be directed to a particular bottle on the shelves. Then again, it’s probably not everyday some Australian comes in and starts ordering off menu. A slight lack of space between the bar stools and the tatami area was our only other gripe.
Teppei offers excellent food, a lengthy drinks menu and plenty of atmosphere. Those who prefer their bars neither rowdy nor restrained will find much to like in Teppei’s brand of stiff drinks and unpretentious cooking.
Directions: From Kagurazaka station (Tozai line) follow Waseda Dori down toward Iidabashi station. When you reach Zenkokuji Temple turn left at the tiny alley hedged between the wine bar and the clothing store. Teppei is 20 meters ahead, on the left just before the T.U.C window.
4-2-30 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
17.30 – 23.00 (L.O.)
Solid Thai food for those who prefer to be stirred rather than shaken.
A couple of years back I was fortunate enough to see a musician friend play Tokyo’s famous Blue Note Jazz Club. It was a great show, and afterwards we sat down to talk about how the gig went. As we ran through the set and talked about the players, I made some off-handed remark about how much I loved the opening piece – a wild, cacophonous explosion of sound, the likes of which is rarely heard at a Japanese club. “Yeah, the chaos,” he replied “it’s the one thing we’ll play like that in Japan. Back in the States, most of our set is like that. But after years of playing here, we learned that Japanese audiences don’t go in for chaos. Now we dial it down when we play Tokyo.”
Anyone who’s explored Tokyo’s so-called ‘ethnic’ food scene will spot the similarity to what happens when a Thai, Indian or even Vietnamese restaurant opens. Strong flavors, be they spices like chili or cumin, or herbs such as cilantro (coriander) are quickly brought down to a level more acceptable to the majority of Japanese customers.
Prior to visiting Old Thailand, we were assured that despite being part of a restaurant chain, their dishes were pretty authentic, and certainly the familiar ‘chili scale’ illustration (one chili meaning not particularly hot, three meaning pretty darn hot) suggested that we’d be swabbing our faces with oshibori in no time.
The lunch menu offers all the Thai standards, and then some. Khao man gai (boiled Thai-style chicken with steamed rice), kaeng khiao wan (green curry), and tom yam-flavored noodles head up the menu. Elsewhere, a ‘new lunch menu’ offers a green curry with shrimp and avocado, as well as a personal favorite – khao soi (noodles in a soupy chicken curry).
We ordered khao soi and pad ga prao kai (minced chicken cooked in basil) and were impressed when both dishes arrived in a matter of minutes. The khao soi was a pretty good approximation of what one would find on the streets of Chiang Mai, albeit somewhat oilier and containing the kind of thin ramen noodles which tend to clump together. Still, pretty good for a dish that many Japanese are yet to discover.
But it was the ga prao that dominated conversation. It was surprisingly bland, with none of the flavor we were expecting. Where was the promised ‘three chili’ spiciness? Clearly, this was a case of a Thai classic being modified to suit local tastes. Now, this isn’t always a bad thing (the Japanese have reworked countless foreign dishes to great effect) but here the result was mildly disappointing.
Old Thailand delivers plenty of ambiance, and the long lines suggest this is a popular destination for Iidabashi’s office workers come lunchtime. But if, like me, you like your Thai liberally seasoned with chaos, I suggest you ask ahead.
Directions: Turn left from Exit B2A of Iidabashi station. It’s 3 minutes walk across the bridge and on the second street to your left.
2-3-8 Fujimi, Chiyoda-ku,
Hours: 11.30 – 15:00 (L.O. 14.30) and 17.30 – 23.00 (L.O. 22.00)
Tokyo has plenty of burger restaurants, but few as good as Gaienmae’s EAT.
What happens when you pair Kobe beef with a decent chef? Hands-down some of the best burgers in Tokyo.
The chef, MICHI, who has brought his talents back to Japan after opening a successful fusion restaurant in Los Angeles, found a hip little space in the ritzy Gaienmae district of downtown Tokyo to open his American dining burger shop, EAT.
The restaurant seats about a dozen people at one time, but the casual and bar-like nature of the place belies the quality of the fare. Yes, it’s an American burger stand, but EAT specializes in Kobe beef patties, and that alone sets it apart from the small upper echelon of burger joints in this town.
We started with a garden salad of fresh greens, mushroom slices and tomato wedges, and then moved on to a dish of EAT’s fresh French Fries. Don’t be alarmed by the counter-rattling thud. That’s just the sound of the cook running a whole potato through the slicer.
After that, it was on to the burgers. We sampled a cheeseburger and an avocado burger, and both were delicious. The Asanoya rolls are toasted until firm on the grill, and the vegetables are as fresh as everything else on the menu. MICHI’s burgers are stacked so that the juices from the beef patty and the sauce on top won’t waterlog the bottom half of the roll so long as you eat at a normal pace. For those that eat more ponderously, there are paper burger sleeves available to help keep your meal out of your lap.
EAT also has lunch sets that include a small portion of homemade fries with your burger of choice. The few times that we’ve visited, there have always been customers coming in to take advantage of the restaurant’s takeout service.
The only thing that we could fault the place for was the English translations on the menu. The misspellings were thorough and comical. But perhaps that just adds to the charm. And one thing to be wary of, especially if you have English-speaking children with you, is that the music selection is uncensored (Internet radio channel, perhaps).
EAT has a brief bar menu that features a few imported bottled beers and lots of cocktails. Expect to pay between 1,700 and 2,500 per person for the three dishes mentioned above plus one drink. As with many places, the cost drops if you stop by for lunch.
Directions: This burger stand is about three or four minutes on foot from Gaienmae subway station. Using the route-finder on our smartphone, we walked to EAT from JR Harajuku train station in 20 minutes.
2-12-27 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku
Hours: 11:30-15:00 and 17:30-22:30 (Weekdays), 11:30-15:00 (Sundays)
Senior Yuletide Correspondent Garrett De Orio shares his tips for Christmas in Tokyo.
To begin this piece on Christmas in Tokyo, I attempted to add to what I knew by sending out a request for recommendations to a number of long-term expat residents – usually a surefire way of getting ideas.
This time, every single person who responded either pined for the Western locales they knew from days of yore or quipped that the best place to celebrate the holiday in Japan was New York (or London, or Miami, or Munich, or Monowi, Nebraska—you get the idea).
Indeed, Tokyo is not seen as a Christmas destination. For the parents of young kids, it’s a time to buy toys, which is a lot less endearing when not experienced through the hoary brume of a Burl Ives record. For young couples, it’s almost identical to Valentine’s Day in the Anglophone world. In this light, my expat friends’ response isn’t entirely unfair.
Well, put on your Bing Crosby, your Nat King Cole, or even your Chipmunks or your Percy Faith if that’s what floats your boat, and get into the spirit, friend. There is hope.
DECK THE HALLS
The giants Costco (¥4,200 annual membership required) and Ikea carry a variety of holiday items, including real fir trees, Ikea’s being a particularly good deal at ¥1,990 plus a coupon for the same amount if you bring the tree back.
In-town favorites Tokyu Hands and Don Quijote have numerous locations and an array of artificial trees, ornaments, lights, and decorations ranging from classic green saplings to huge tacky light-up giant Santas to items best-suited to decking the halls of your bordello. The always handy Foreign Buyers’ Club can also help with décor if your order soon to account for shipping time.
NOW FOR THE FOOD
If you’re being traditional and cooking at home, you’re in luck. Many of the dishes you love are just as possible here as at home. Check the aforementioned FBC or The Meat Guy to order a ham or turkey. Both also carry appropriate sides and pies. Niku no Hanamasa also carries whole turkeys and hams. Import mini-market chain Seijo-Ishii carries a respectable assortment of holiday dishes, including turkeys (by order), pie crusts, mixes, and more. Import markets Euroseed and Jupiter, a relative newcomer to Tokyo, but long popular in the Chubu and Kansai areas, have similar offerings. Of course, the good old depachika (department store basement) near you is sure to carry a selection of seasonal items, especially desserts, albeit at a price.
It’s worth keeping your eyes peeled, too. In years past, roasted turkeys have popped up for sale in locations as unlikely as fashion retailer Comme ça du Mode.
Tokyo is a veritable paradise of date spots around Christmastime. Virtually any restaurant with even a vaguely Western menu, and many without, will offer some kind of Christmas course for couples.
If you and your date are looking for something special, the city’s top tier hotels are a good place to start. The Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel has options ranging from a European Christmas Buffet (¥3,500 lunch/¥5,200 dinner) to a Christmas Dinner Course (¥15,000). Special room packages are also available, from the “Joyful” or “Shiny” Christmases (¥20,000-¥25,000) to the “Christmas Dream” in the Presidential Suite (¥300,000). (All December 23rd to 25th.)
In addition to its “Stylish Christmas” illuminations and décor, the Hilton Tokyo Bay offers room packages and dining options ranging from a Christmas Buffet (¥3,900 lunch/¥5,500 dinner) and a World Christmas Dessert Buffet in the lobby lounge (¥2,700 weekdays/¥2,950 weekends and holidays) to a Chinese Christmas Special Course (a Christmas Day tradition for a number of Americans, ¥3,800 lunch/¥10,000 dinner), all of which run from the 22nd through the 25th, except for the Dessert Buffet, which starts a week earlier.
The Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi offers an elaborate six course dinner in its Executive Dining Room (¥30,000) from the 23rd to the 25th. Also available, from the 19th to the 25th, are a Christmas Dinner (¥13,000) and a three course Christmas Lunch (¥3,900). From the 1st of December, sample a Christmas Cocktail (from ¥2,100) or Christmas Afternoon Tea (from ¥3,500).
The Park Hyatt’s New York Grill offers a five course Christmas menu (¥22,000), and selections from its 1,600-bottle wine cellar, served in its famous 52nd floor premises overlooking Shinjuku from the 16th to the 25th.
Stylish Swedish establishment Aquavit has an artful holiday menu on offer (¥12,000) from the 22nd to the 25th. For a meal cooked by a proper Swedish chef in a more relaxed atmosphere, Kokubunji’s Lighthouse is offering a Christmas dinner for a bargain ¥2,000, in addition to their fine collection of regular and guest beers and ales.
Of course, the much-touted four course Christmas dinner at Wine Bar Davis (03-3440-6007), which boasts roast goose and British Christmas pudding, is available for one sitting on the 23rd and 26th and two sittings each night on the 24th and 25th.
For those who want something more casual, the Pink Cow will be serving its customary popular Christmas dinner (¥4,200) on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. One of the highlights is that the Pink Cow’s holiday feast includes vegetarian-friendly offerings. If a communal feel, tofurkey, and some live entertainment appeal to you, this would be the place to go.
Good Honest Grub also serves up a traditional meal, with vegetarian-friendly options, in a casual atmosphere. This has long been a favorite not only with hungry expats, but with those interested in organic food or in knowing whence their fare hails.
The ever-popular Hobgoblin has a three-course ample Christmas dinner available on Christmas Day (¥5,000) and is also hosting a Charity Pub Quiz on the 14th at which a turkey dinner will be available.
This article first appeared in the Tokyo Weekender.
The ladies of Mie offer the freshest catch in town
What makes the pursuit of fantastic and original cuisine so enticing is that it’s inseparable from the unique culture in which it was conceived. In an era where nearly everything that we dine upon is primly packed, shipped, and plainly arranged to follow the path of least resistance to the consumer, somewhere in the recesses of our consciousness we’re aware that what our palate is experiencing is no mere accident. Someone, somewhere was in a position to conjure up a flavor or a dish because it made sense given a situation and resources and people cross cities, states, provinces, mountains, nations, and oceans with their sights set on tasting “the real thing”.
For many, one early morning excursion to the Tsukiji fish market followed by a sushi breakfast in the charmingly rustic shitamachi is an authentic enough experience of Japan’s culinary obsession with the treasures of the sea.
However, for the inquisitive and adventurous, I can point to about 1,000 women in Mie who can further satisfy your appetite.
To this day, in the small fishing village of Ōsatsu in the southern port of Toba City, Mie prefecture, nearly 1,000 fully active and hard-working ama-san (海女さん – literally “sea woman”) forage for the ocean’s offerings the old-fashioned way – by diving for them, leaving the air supply at home.
While the distinctive white garb and physically demanding practice have history in some other isolated regions of Japan, as well as in Korea, Toba City (including Ōsatsu) is the home to nearly half of the roughly 2,000 active Japanese ama-san – a significant figure in a city with a population of approximately 20,000. Put simply, 1 out of every 20 people in the city (roughly one out of every 10 women!) spends a good 2 hours in the frigid ocean waters most mornings foraging the key constituents of the local diet. The a.m. session was for a long time followed by a bit of rest in the ama-koya, or “ama hut”, with a second outing, once rejuvenated. Nowadays, dives are limited to just one in the morning, partially for safety reasons, but primarily because there are other options for the working woman today. Indeed, most of the ladies pursue other activities in the daytime. Somewhat unique for a fishing village, there’s a reasonable spread of rice paddies which allow for local farming in conjunction with the diving.
The other reason for the more “relaxed pace” may well be the fact that most ama-san are in their 60s and 70s, with the oldest active divers in their mid-80s. A handful of up-and-comers are in their early to mid-20s, though. While certain scenes in Ōsatsu may feel frozen in time, these hard-working ladies on the front line are combating the same social issues as the rest of the nation. One can easily forgive them for limiting their active duty to a “mere” morning dive. That said, with the village gradually making its way into the public eye, and with a surprising number of young women now actively seeking to succeed their mothers and grandmothers in the trade (the opposite of the trend we’re seeing in Japan’s struggling farming industry), it’s entirely possible that the vitality of a new generation of ama-san may bring about an entirely new image and lifestyle for women and the local fishing industry.
Don’t expect these ladies to don diving gear anytime soon, though. While “protecting tradition” and suppressing certain costs associated with gearing up may be the obvious reasons, the major factor is more simple: balance. The natural limitation placed on the divers in these conditions places a natural limit on just how much can be caught on any given day during any given season. It’s this balance that has sustained the city and the culture for generations, and the people of Toba see it as the key to continued sustainability for generations to come.
What does this have to do with your insatiable appetite? Well, where there’s a congregation of individuals partaking in a unique and impressive, but largely extinct cultural practice, you’ll also often find open arms welcoming the curious traveler – particularly when there’s food involved! So it is in the ama-san village of Ōsatsu, currently making the push for recognition as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity‘.
Although a significant step up in terms of comfort compared to the real thing, a special ama-koya has been constructed specifically for those adventurous individuals who wish to dine only on the freshest morning catch, consisting of freshly grilled sazae, a form of conch or “sea snail”, abalone, as well as the occasional ise-ebi (a member of the lobster family).
It should be noted, however, that while it’s common for clams, scallops, and squid to also appear on the menu, these can’t be classified as part of the “ama-san catch”, as these are left alone by the brave divers. In fact, the primary target for ama-san is seaweed and sea grasses, including ise-hijiki, wakame, as well as awame, a particular variety of kelp which can only be found in local waters, typically only used in local Mie and Kyoto dishes. The varieties of local kelp and seaweed are most commonly prepared boiled or stewed with combinations of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin, often becoming part of soups.
The experience as a whole is most certainly one worth seeking out, as a comforting veil of both vitality and mystery seems to hang low over the waterfront village. Although technically a tourist attraction, the ama-koya offers a chance to get one step closer to the cuisine of local waters than you’ll find just about anywhere else, and the its location far down the oceanfront jetty will conjure a sense of discovery in even the veteran explorer. It’s worth noting that the real ama-koya are not open to the public – the coals burning there are used primarily as a heat source for the small enclosure rather than for preparing meals.
In Japan, quality seafood is never hard to find, but those with curious taste buds and who long to know just where their meal is from would struggle to do better, even in Tsukiji, making the ama-koya dining experience one you’d have a tough time duplicating just about anywhere.
Special thanks to Asami Murata for the photos and wealth of additional information.
Soupless in Shinjuku
Abura soba shops are popping up all over town these days. A lot of the shops that specialize in this soupless style of ramen serve abura soba and not a whole lot else. The fact that restaurants can have only one item on the menu is clear testament to the popularity of this dish.
Yama to ten (山ト天) in Shinjuku diversifies a bit by featuring a few in-house versions of abura soba as the centerpiece of a modest izakaya menu.
Highly recommended is the spicy abura soba (辛味温玉) which will set you back 600 yen. Heap some freshly chopped onions on top, douse the whole thing with vinegar and raayu, and then mix it all together with your chopsticks. The soft ramen noodles soak up the oils nicely, and they play well with the onions, chashu, bamboo shoots and shredded bits of dried seaweed.
There’s also the standard abura soba for 500 yen and a couple of other options that usually run in the 600-700 yen range. For those who are better with colors than with kanji, the spicy abura soba is the big button at the top of the ticket machine that has a red background (second from the left).
The shop’s modest menu is also tucked full of izakaya-style dishes that go well with a beer. Everything from gyoza (380-480 yen) to a side of kimchi (290 yen) to sausages (480 yen). A draft beer goes for 420 yen, and the rest of the drinks menu mostly deals with shochu-base drinks such as sours, hais and umeshu (most are 380 yen). You can also order a half bottle of house wine for 980.
Because it’s an izakaya, the whole place is smoker-friendly. If you’d like to avoid the fumes, then we suggest stopping by after the busiest lunch hours and before business picks up again at around 6 PM. They have some tables off to the sides of the counter that are mostly untouched by smoke when the place isn’t busy.
Directions: Yama to ten is part of a new izakaya-themed, mostly open-plan dining area on the MB3 floor (the ‘M’ is not a typo) of Odakyu Halc. In other words, go to Bic Camera near JR Shinjuku west exit and head downstairs. The main entrance is down the stairs that are located near the B2 entrance of Odakyu Halc supermarket.
Odakyu Halc (Haru Chika)
Hours: 11:00 – 24:00 ( LO 23:30 )
Tabelog review (Japanese): http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1304/A130401/13119474/
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