Japan Eats

Japan Eats Podcast, Episode 27: “25 Cafes”

We discuss Tokyo’s cafe scene with Brad Stephenson of 25cafes.com.

The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below:

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Restaurant review: Bills (Odaiba)

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.

Ricotta hotcakes, fresh banana and honeycomb butter.

Ricotta hotcakes, fresh banana and honeycomb butter.

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.

Scrambled organic eggs with toast

Scrambled organic eggs with toast

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.

Tel: 03-3599-2100
3F Decks Seaside Mall
1-6-1 Daiba, Minato-ku
Hours: 9:00-23:00 (daily)
http://bills-jp.net/


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Healthy eating in Tokyo

Christopher Pellegrini reports on the capital’s healthy food options.

Foodie’s paradise, Tokyo, is claimed by many to have the most eateries per capita of all the cities in the world. True or not, finding something that is both healthy and easily accessible can pose a dilemma, especially if you’re not comfortable with the all-Japanese intricacies of information gatekeepers such as the excellent restaurant ranking website, Tabelog. Far too many people find themselves restricted to an onigiri, a jelly squeeze-bag, and a plastic bottle of green tea when they’re looking for a low-cal meal.

In order to provide you with some of Tokyo’s more heart and waist-friendly dining options, we talked with Justin Berti, a yoga instructor, fitness trainer and health nut who for years has scoured this fair city for dining options that jive with his strict diet and that he can recommend to his clients.

Soba

Soba: a standby for vegetarian visitors.

Supermarkets

Sometimes it can be a real bear to find healthy food options at the supermarket nearest your train station. Everything seems to be over processed and packaged. The following supermarkets are chains but carry a decent selection of imported items and health-conscious options.

Natural House has 25 locations in and around Tokyo.

F&F has 11 shops in Tokyo with another five in Kanagawa.

Seijo Ishii doesn’t have an English website, but they do have dozens of locations around Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures.

Berti recommends the bentos at Natural House and F&F, and he mentions Seijo Ishii because it has plenty of “fresh salads and healthy options.”

Restaurants/Cafés

Restaurants often have menu items that look like they might be vegetarian friendly, but don’t think that you can always get an informed answer from your server. There’s fish and beef in almost everything (including potato chips!), and you’d be foolish to assume that the folks preparing your dinner accept the same definition of vegetarianism that you do (vegetarians don’t eat fish?!).

The following are some healthy dining options that have at least a little something that’s safe for vegetarians.

Nouka no Daidokoro is a good option for vegetarians as they offer some 100% vegetable course meal options. This chain of earthy restaurants added two new Tokyo locations within the past 12 months and has a salad bar that is not to be missed.

Nataraj is a small vegetarian Indian restaurant chain that has a few options in Tokyo and they occasionally have evening entertainment options such as belly dance shows.

Little Heaven near Otsuka station is a full-fledged vegan restaurant with somewhat limited hours. Dinner is served 6-9PM every day, and lunch is available Tues to Fri from 11:30AM-2PM.

Shamaim is an Israeli restaurant between Ekoda station (Seibu-Ikebukuro line) and Shin-Ekoda station (Oedo line) and is a good source for hummus and falafel west of the Yamanote loop.

Eat More Greens in Azabu Juban bills itself as a vegetable café and bakery modeled after those found in downtown New York City.

Earth Café Ohana in Sangenjaya caters to vegans and vegetarians and tries to use organic ingredients whenever possible.

Crayon House is a vegetarian-friendly restaurant across from Brown Rice Café (scroll down) that also has a veggie shop in the basement. Be sure to specify that you want food with no meat or fish if that’s your prerogative, they’ll understand.

Bio Café in Shibuya claims a menu with organic options.

Loving Hut recently started selling vegan bentos in the basement of Matsuzaka Department Store in Ginza.

Soup Stock Tokyo has more than 30 locations in Tokyo that feature a revolving menu of low-cal soups and a curry or two. They usually have a vegetarian-looking option on the menu, and you can generally get straight answers about the actual ingredients (hint: ask about lard) which is great for people with allergy concerns as well. Soup Stock Tokyo is essentially a fast food chain, perfect for those times when you only have 20-30 minutes to get a meal in, but it should never be grouped with the ubiquitous burger joints and beef bowl shops of this city.

Saishoku Kenbi Okubo is on a back street between JR Okubo and Shin-Okubo stations and features a vegetarian-friendly and affordable lunch buffet. Closed Tuesdays.

Tenya has shops all across downtown Tokyo and specializes in tempura. This chain can be very helpful for vegetarians who need a quick and cheap bite to eat. The yasai-don is always on the menu, and there are occasionally seasonal variants that get featured as well.

Chaya Macrobiotic has three upscale Tokyo locations and features a menu flush with organic produce and other vegetarian-friendly fare.

Brown Rice Café/Deli in Omotesando adheres to a Whole Foods prep style and specializes in soy, veggies, and of course brown rice. They have a couple of 1,700 yen set meals and a detox juice for 800 yen that purportedly is good for liver overuse control.

Convenience Stores

Konbini are generally not known for selling products that are waist-friendly. However, Berti feels that one chain stands above the rest:

Natural Lawson opened its first shop just over ten years ago, and now there are more than 70 in downtown Tokyo.

“They usually have nuts and dried fruit without added salt. The quality is much better. They also have sweet potato snacks, better fruit cup selections, and a healthier selection of teas–stuff you can’t find in regular convenience stores.”

One of Berti’s biggest pet peeves is the price tags on everything. Even though organic is popular in Tokyo, it can be incredibly hard to find. And when you do find it, you’ll notice that much of it is imported, so “you spend half your rent on an 80% cocoa chocolate bar and almond butter.”

He saves money by ordering from iherb.com, and invites people to freely use his discount code, JUS847, to save five dollars on their first purchase. He also recommends checking out the “Vegan in Tokyo” Facebook group for those that seek strategy tips on finding true vegan fare.

Those who avoid animal products in their food will also be interested in this Google map that details many of the vegetarian and vegan dining establishments available across Japan. The Japan Veg Guide is another resource worth checking out.

So as you can see, there are several health-conscious options available for the vegetarians, flexitarians, weight watchers and pavement pounders among us. Hopefully this short guide has given you a few new ideas for when you’re tracking down your next meal in Tokyo.

Justin Berti is a yoga and fitness instructor at FAB ACADEMY.

An earlier version of this article was originally published by Tokyo Weekender. Special thanks to Adam Gyenes, Mayu Imada and Neill Harper for their valuable input.

Café Review: Phonic:hoop (Shinjuku)

Far from the madding crowd… Marcus Lovitt asks why cafés like Phonic:hoop are so hard to find.

Downstairs at phonic:hoop

Downstairs at phonic:hoop

Grabbing a quick bite in Shinjuku can be frustrating, especially at lunch, when its office workers launch an all-out assault on every café and restaurant within a five-mile radius. All too frequently, the hungry café-goer is forced to wait in line and contemplate such mysteries as why Shinjuku has so little indigenous café culture. The high rent? That would seem unlikely, given that café-rich Omotesando or Shibuya actually charge more on average for a first floor retail space. A preference for big chains? Perhaps. If you’re willing to wait there’s the faux Starbucks, Excelsior, or the smoky Doutor. The much nicer Tully’s even has drinkable drip coffee.

But where are the independent cafés? Where can the harried shopper kick back with a coffee and a snack, safe in the knowledge that nobody is going to run into him or her on their way back from the condiment bar with a oversized cinnamon-dusted full-cream mochaccino?

Only ten minutes walk down busy Yasukuni-dori is Phonic:hoop, a café/bar which goes a long way toward redeeming Shinjuku for its long lines and bland chain cafés. Even better: it’s situated on two spacious floors of an office building only a short distance from Tokyo’s major department stores on Shinjuku-dori.

In front of you as you enter is the first floor bar. It’s a bright, sunny affair thanks to a series of floor to ceiling windows. To the right, a pair of vintage sofas. The high ceiling and polished concrete floor add to the feeling that you’ve stumbled into Tadao Ando’s lounge. Downstairs is more intimate, with a dozen or so non-smoking tables. Antique Singer sewing machines, piled with books and magazines, separate the tables below the stairs. It’s a lot less kitschy than it sounds.

Hanbagu with rice

Hanbagu with rice

But what makes a bigger impression is the music. It figures that any place called Phonic:hoop is going to take its tunes pretty seriously, and here it means a trippy Eno-like soundtrack which somehow never overwhelms conversation.

The lunch set menu (1000 yen) changes daily, but expect to find such things as a “beef plate”, “curry plate” and a so-called “p:h plate”. All are served with a light vegetable and egg soup. As part of the set menu, customers can choose between coffee, tea, and grapefruit juice.

While Phonic:hoop is more a licensed café than a fully-fledged restaurant, the portions are more than generous. On my first visit, I tried the curry plate, which turned out to be chicken cooked in a thick, sightly sweet sauce. While it didn’t really register on the heat index, it made great comfort food. On a subsequent visit, we ordered the “beef plate” – hanbagu with rice (pictured) and the curry. The Salisbury steak, accompanying rice and salad was more than filling. The “Vietnamese chicken curry”, meanwhile, turned out not to be very Vietnamese at all – a mild Thai-style dish that (we agreed) was delicious.

Lunch break over, it was back to the less sonorous sounds of the street with it’s shoppers, touts, and tourists.

Directions: From Shinjuku Sanchome Station, take exit C7 and walk straight ahead to Yasukunidori. Cross this street and turn right. Phonic:hoop is approximately 100 meters down, on your left.

Tel: 03-6380-6604
Sky Building. 1F
Hours: 12:00-15:00, 18:00-29:00 (weekdays) 12:00-29:00 (Saturdays) 12:00-24:00 (Sundays and holidays)

http://www.ph-hp.jp/


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Japan Eats Podcast: Episode 7, “Liquid matters”

The panel discuss a new brewpub/pizzeria in Kanda and the World Barista Championship in Bogotá, Columbia

The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt, and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below:

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In this week’s Japan Eats Podcast, Garrett DeOrio, James Steele and Christopher Pellegrini talk brewpubs and baristas.

Here are some links to what we discussed this week:

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Review: Bar Vita, Fukuoka

Our man in Fukuoka, Kupa Hokianga, visits Bar Vita in Nakasu.

In Nakasu, just ten minutes’ walk toward the canal from the Tenjin Business Center, is the chic Italian restaurant Bar Vita, presented by ORTO cafe. My good friend Mat suggested we have lunch there, as Bar Vita is one of only a few non-smoking restaurants in Tenjin.

We arrived just after 12 p.m., greeted by the clatter of plates and the hum of conversation from a relaxed lunchtime crowd. You could tell most were regulars and the staff gestured to the free seating with one hand while holding a stack of white plates and utensils in the other.

An exposed ceiling and dark wood veneer tables dominate the decor. Even on a overcast winter’s day, loads of natural light comes in through the floor to ceiling windows at the front entrance and along one side. A generously proportioned bar with seating runs the length of the exterior window with more tables located in the center floor space. The design really appealed to me and, in fact, Bar Vita would not be out of place on Sydney’s Circular Quay waterfront.

The blackboard lunch menu changes regularly. On the day of our visit we could choose from a choice of spaghetti, pasta, curry, or spaghetti bolognese  for 900 yen. Included in that price was an unlimited selection of fresh breads, salad, soup, and beverages at the service bar in the center of the floor.

I ordered the spaghetti and we found a seat at the bar looking out onto the street. Reading from some printed information, it explained that the bread and sauces are prepared daily at their off site kitchen and bakery in Kego – using only premium ingredients – and delivered to the restaurant each morning. The pasta, along with any additional requests, is cooked to order in the restaurant kitchen. I counted ten different breads available at the salad bar, warmed and replenished by an attentive staff. There were at least six dressings and vinaigrettes to go with the two garden salads. There were several other foods to choose from, including a consomme soup with croutons. This was certainly a step above your average salad bar.

The spaghetti order arrived. My main criticism being that, with the attention to detail everywhere else, I would have liked to have seen a greater attempt to serve the spaghetti al dente and a little hotter. It was not a taste stand-out. My personal preference is for a rustic earthiness in Italian food, but for a city clientele at lunch, loads of garlic at this time of the day may not be wise.

Mat and I spent two hours catching up on gossip with regular trips back to the salad bar for fresh bread, mini pizza slices, and freshly brewed Illy coffee.

I will certainly be going back to Bar Vita and can recommend it to anyone visiting Fukuoka. Overall a 7.5/10: service was wonderful, food presentation faultless, I could taste the freshness of the ingredients, and it was, at 900 yen, fantastic value. The selection of breads and the coffee were my highlights. If they just got a bit more adventurous with the sauce it would have sealed the deal for me.

The serving counter has baskets containing loaves of fresh bread for purchase.

Bar Vita is located on 1F 5.6.25 Hakata-ku, Nakasu. Its open for lunch and dinner, and is non-smoking at lunch time only. Bar Vita is licensed. www.bar-vita.com

Cafe Review: Artisan Coffee, Fukuoka

Kupa Hokianga reviews Artisan Coffee in Fukuoka

Recently, a friend of mine took one of his colleagues to a cafe I recommended for its excellent macchiato.
The coffee arrived at their table, the ham-handed colleague managed to spill his before tasting it. My friend offered to order another, but the guest responded, “Ah, doesn’t matter; I’m more a Starbucks kind of guy.”

My heart sunk when told. I’m not sure what the moral is here, something about a horse and water.

Artisan's Rocket espresso machine in action (Photo: Neil Witkin)

My wife’s friend recommended I try Artisan Coffee, a 12-seat, slightly bohemian cafe in Hirao (Fukuoka). It’s off my normal route, but the sample of their beans I received suggested it was worth a visit.

Takamiya-dori is a busy road in a prosperous residential part of town. When we arrived, the small cafe, which could be described in a 1980 Vogue magazine as “shabby chic”, was empty of customers. I ordered an espresso and my wife selected a caramel latte.

While making polite conversation with friends, I watched the barista out of the corner of my eye as he calibrated the grinder setting one notch to the right before a quick test into the palm of his hand, then fresh ground a dose of dark roasted beans before effortlessly swiping the port-a-filler level; a gentle tamp and tap and a few seconds later the extraction had started. My demitasse arrived with a perfectly proportioned warmed spoon on the side.

The espresso was near faultless – the crema maintained structure, the temperature was perfect, and the caramel sweetness from the bean came through with just a hint of bitterness. The macchiato I ordered next was excellent and is now my coffee of choice.

I cannot comment on my wife’s afternoon caramel latte as that drink at that time of day goes against everything I believe in. I took her word for it when she said it tasted fantastic and the rabbit face latte art was kawaii.

Artisan Coffee is a must-do, mainly because they consistently get the coffee basics right and to a high standard and the starchy Japanese cafe culture is tossed out the window.

The barista critique and my coffee snobbery aside, if you just want nice coffee and don’t mind mismatched decor, grab your favorite magazine, turn off your phone and enjoy this small indulgence. You will not be disappointed. The cappuccinos are creamy, the macchiato is full-bodied and the barista is working on his flat white.

Food selection is limited, so don’t arrive hungry, but there’s a relaxed, informal ambiance and outdoor smoking tables. Coffee prices start at 380 yen, which is exceptional value. Surprisingly seating always seems to be available. Their primary bean is Fidalgo Bay (organic shade grown), the espresso machine is a single-head Rocket.

This article has been edited. The original version misspelled Fidalgo. This has now been corrected.

Artisan Coffee is located on Takamiya dori. If accessing from Hirao station, it’s about 5 minutes’ walk on the right as you head towards Yakuin station. Open 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., six days a week. No website.

2010: Year in Review

Marcus Lovitt looks at the culinary trends of 2010.

2010 was all about cheap eats. So called ‘B-class gourmet’ dishes became a fixture on Japanese TV screens, McDonalds Japan enjoyed record profits and shoppers bought their food in bulk from such places as Costco and Niku no Hanamasa. The reason? Japan’s ongoing economic woes. A torrent of bad news on the economic front (falling prices, massive government debt, a rapidly aging population) put The Fear into consumers. Put simply, nobody was willing to spend more than necessary eating out or at the supermarket.

Lawson's Premium Roll Cake

Lawson's Premium Roll Cake

Perhaps its to be expected that amidst all of this doom and gloom, the fantasy of eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant had enormous popular appeal. Japanese variety shows boasted that Tokyo has the most Michelin-starred, together with the most three-star-rated restaurants in the world. Needless to say, few of those watching at home could actually afford to patronize them, but their very existence was a point of pride.

What Japanese could afford were little luxuries such as Lawson’s Premium Roll Cake. Convenience store patisserie items were big news this year – the three big chains (Lawsons, FamilyMart and Seven Eleven) figuring that there was still money to be made in pre-packaged sweets.

Conversely, another bright spot for manufacturers were healthy and/or low-calorie products. This was particularly evident in the drinks market where products like black tea and non-alcoholic beer increased their share of the market.

Here’s our take on 2010, and our forecast for the coming year:

Momoya's 'edible raayu'

Momoya's 'edible raayu'

Our Top Japanese culinary trends for 2010

  • Raayu, that spicy red oil you drizzle over ramen and gyoza, hit the big time in 2010, but this time filled out with such ingredients as fried garlic, fried onion, and ground sesame seeds. First developed by Momoya, ‘edible raayu‘ was popularized by appearances on television as a way to flavor rice bowls. Like any true Japanese culinary trend, demand quickly outstripped supply and Momoya was temporarily forced to stop advertising. Other companies such as S&B Foods Inc. have since entered the market and are now making competing products.
  • B Class Gourmet: True, this one has been around a long time. However, the Fifth B-1 Grand Prix held in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture this year really captured the public’s imagination. What is B Class Gourmet? The name refers to tasty dishes which are also inexpensive, such as Miso katsu from Nagoya, Yokote yakisoba and Atsugi Shirokoro Horumon. There’s little doubt this trend will continue in 2011.
  • The rise and rise of all things organic. Supermarkets continue to devote more and more shelf space to organic produce – particularly products grown without pesticides, aren’t genetically modified and are wheat/gluten free. Meanwhile, in wine bars (themselves something of a trend this year) so-called organic wines began to appear on the menu.
  • Roll Cakes: The popularity of the convenience store patisserie section came as a surprise to many people. However even in bad economic times, people still want a taste of luxury, even if it is from the local combini.
  • Komeko (rice flour) has traditionally been used to prepare Japanese sweets. This year it began to be used to prepare western-style bread and cakes. It is hoped that Komeko might raise the degree of Japanese self-sufficiency; the government is now promoting the use of locally produced rice flour. Many companies (Seven Eleven, FamilyMart, Lawson, even Starbucks) have begun to sell komeko, marketing it as a healthy alternative to wheat flour.
  • White taiyaki: It seemed at one point this year a taiyaki shop was going to open at every train station in metropolitan Tokyo. What appears to have set off this real estate bubble was the popularity of ‘white’ taiyaki – fish shaped pastries filled with custard. The fad wasn’t to last, however, and by the end of 2010 many of these new taiyaki-ya had already closed their doors.

Honorable mentions: The increasing popularity of tagines in Japanese homes, tomato vinegar, gourmet gelato, wine bars and cooking magazines aimed at men.

What we’d like to see in 2011

  • Vegetarian dishes: Being vegetarian in Japan (and  Tokyo in particular) is never easy. We want to see more vegan and vegetarian options on izakaya menus.
  • Cafes for breakfast: Most Japanese eat breakfast at home or skip it altogether. We’re hoping 2011 will be the year Japanese discover the independently run cafe. A decent cooked breakfast before 10 in the morning please!
  • Creative sushi: Tired of the same-old sushi at your local kaiten place? We’re hoping for more of the playful innovation that makes a visit to Nakameguro’s Koi-sushi such a lot of fun.
  • Middle Eastern food: If Japan can get over its fear of coriander, then surely chick peas and garlic shouldn’t present too much of a problem? Kebab stands notwithstanding, Japan is yet to truly embrace Middle Eastern cuisine. At the very least we want to see containers of hummus appear on supermarket shelves!

Our predictions for what will be big in 2011

  • Toronama donuts: Japan seems to have an affinity for donuts. For the first year or so of Krispy Kreme’s Japanese venture, customers braved long lines to buy a box to take home to their families. Neither baked nor fried, Toronama donuts are a combination of mousse and sponge which are served cold. The company responsible for this latest donut fad – Nagoya’s Love Sweets Antique – has now opened up shops across the country, and toronama donuts are set to take off nationwide.
  • Bread cookers, specifically machines designed to cook with Japanese rice flour (such as the Sanyo ‘Gopan’) are going to be big in 2011. ‘Go’ stands for gohan (cooked rice) and ‘pan’ for pan as in bread. Expect to see your favorite talento filling the airwaves with demonstrations of how to cook with these machines during the first half of 2011.
  • Pretzels: Anyone who has wandered past Ikebukuro station in recent weeks will have noticed the long lines outside Auntie Anne’s, the American pretzel retailer. Is this the start of something big? We think so.
  • Makgeolli, that milky looking Korean beverage, is becoming increasingly popular with young Japanese. While its unlikely to equal the recent highball craze, we think makgeolli‘s stock is rising.
  • Asian spicy nabe: Every year sees a different nabe (Japanese hotpot) craze. For the past year curry nabe and tomato nabe have led the field. We’re going to go out on a limb and predict south-east Asian flavors are going to be big in 2011.

What did you think were the biggest culinary trends of 2010? What will be big in 2011? And what would you like to see? Leave your comments below.

Recipe: Dry curry

The other curry

Ask any Japanese for a list of their favorite dishes, you can be sure ‘curry rice’ will be one of them. Introduced to the country by the British during the Meiji era (1869–1913), this mix of curry roux, meat and vegetables is typically served alongside Japanese rice, and has since become something of a national obsession.

There is, however, another type of curry which has gained popularity as a regular addition to Japanese cafe menus. So-called ‘Dry curry’ is made from minced meat and vegetables which are squeezed to remove any excess liquid. It is easy to prepare and makes an excellent (read ‘less messy’) addition to an obento.

Curry

Ingredients (serves 3 – 4 people)
200 g cucumber
300 g tomato (2 tomatoes)
50 g celery
70 g onion
40 g radish

200 g minced pork
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
20 g of ginger
10 g garlic
2 tablespoons of curry powder
1 tablespoon of soy sauce

Method

First, prepare the dry curry itself. Warm a pan with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and cook the finely chopped ginger and garlic over a low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until you sense the smell rising from the pan.

Add the minced pork and cook over a medium heat until the color has changed. Next, add curry powder and mix well, then turn off the heat. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce as soon as you turn off the heat. Stir.

Cut off both ends of the cucumber and thinly slice like an accordion. Cut again into bite-sized pieces (3-4 cm in length). Slice the celery diagonally into 5 cm pieces, and the onion into bite-sized wedges.

Places each of these vegetables into individual mixing bowls. Sprinkle half a teaspoon of salt over them (preliminary seasoning which removes some of their harshness). Let the vegetables stand for 5 minutes until they become a little soft.

Slice the radish thinly and cut the tomato into quarters or smaller-sized wedges. Now, squeeze the cucumber, celery and onion to extract any excess liquid.

Place the cucumber, sliced onion and sliced radish into the dry curry and mix the ingredients together. Add tomato to the curry and mix one last time before serving.

Bar/Café Review: Pagliaccio Trattoria (Tokyo/Marunouchi)

This trattoria is a wonderfully decorated café/bar in the middle of the decidedly swank shopping streets behind the two Marunouchi towers keeping watch over Tokyo train station.

If you’re looking for a nice place for lunch, Pagliaccio is an excellent choice. The café menu consists of nine pasta dishes and one salad. The green salad is very generous at 780 yen and will easily accommodate two light eaters if teamed with one of the pasta dishes or a dessert. As for pasta, try the green tagliolini with sausage and broccoli (980 yen) or the linguine with clams and mussels (1,500). You won’t be disappointed.

And the desserts are quite nice as well. All priced at 700 yen, selections such as the tiramisu and the strawberry raspberry blueberry tart are worth repeat visits. An assorted dessert plate is also available for those that have walked enough to deserve the extra calories (1,500 yen).

This trattoria sports a full bar as well. Draft beers such as Hoegaarden cost 900 yen while their 14 bottled beers range in price from 600-950 yen. Cocktails start at 750, and wine by the glass will set you back at least 700 yen. Whiskey is priced on the steep side with a single pour of Jack Daniel’s tagged at 800 yen. The top of the price range is Hibiki 17 yrs. at 1,800 for a single and 3,400 for a double.

Coffee and tea average 600 per cup, and soft drinks are priced in the 500-800 yen range.

This is a great place to meet friends, clients, or colleagues, but there’s very little privacy, so look elsewhere if that’s what you’re after. Including the seats out front and the stools at the bar, Pagliaccio Trattoria can seat around 100, and you’ll feel right at home if you’re wearing a suit. You’d do well to hope for a bit of a crowd as the staff has been known to play poppy American country music at a level that people can actually hear.

Regardless, this is a wonderful café in which to spend a slow lunch or down a few before moving on to the Cotton Club for a jazz show. Expect to pay around 2,500 yen per person for lunch or 1,500 for coffee and dessert.

The café is completely non-smoking during lunch, but it switches to pro-smoking at around three. That said, if you arrive before the lads get out of work, then the English-speaking staff might be able to find an area where you’ll be relatively untouched (the place is big enough).

Directions: From Nijubashimae station (Chiyoda subway line) take exit four and walk straight when you hit street level. Take your second right and walk straight.  From the South Marunouchi exit of Tokyo station (JR, Marunouchi subway line, etc.) find the Marunouchi building and walk down the street on the left side of it (heading perpendicular to the train tracks). Turn left on the street that runs behind the Marunouchi building. Pagliaccio Trattoria is at the end of the block on your right. It’s on the corner next to “Tumi”, right across from “Kate Spade”.

Website: http://www.kiwa-group.co.jp/restaurant/a100446.html

Guru Navi: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/a634284/

Directions: 100-0005 Tokyo-to Chiyoda-ku Marunouchi 2-2-3 Nakadori Bldg. 1F

Telephone: TEL 03-6273-4486