Japan Eats

May ’10 Magazine Roundup

What’s new in Japan’s food magazines? Marcus Lovitt conducts a whirlwind tour of Japan’s culinary rags. This month: dancyu, ELLE à table, Syokuraku and Ryori Tsushin.

May's ELLE à table

May's ELLE à table

Foreign visitors to Japan frequently complain about the limited number of western breakfast options available. And let’s face it: pre-dawn sushi at Tsukiji or a bowl of soba at a train station aren’t for everyone, especially if you have young children in tow.

For those not enamored of chain coffee shops (Excelsior, Starbucks or the ever-smokey Dotour) the only options appear to be expensive hotel restaurants or to pick something up at a local bakery.

It’s an unfortunate fact that Tokyo lags behind other major cities when it comes to breakfast options. While there are plenty of great independently-owned cafes, few open before 10 or 11 am. Why? Most Japanese eat at home, or skip the meal altogether in the rush to catch that train to work.

Things may be changing, however. Much has been made of Australian chef Bill Granger’s latest venture, bills in Yokohama. Renowned for his Australian-style breakfasts, Granger has attracted a lot of attention for his focus on Aussie staples such as Eggs Benedict and buttery pancakes.

Acknowledging the western predilection for a morning dose of cholesterol, this month’s dancyu (860 yen) is all eggs, done every which way. The magazine introduces restaurants offering classic egg dishes (boiled, scrambled, fried) as well as some of their recipes (eggs Benedict, egg sandwiches, huevos a la flamenca and puddings).

Another of dancyu‘s themes is seasonal vegetables – spring cabbage, spring onion, asparagus, green peas, and tomato fruit. The magazine includes seven recipes which make the most of what’s now available in Japan’s grocery stores.

ELLE à table (720 yen), meanwhile, looks at the latest French restaurants to open in Tokyo. The editors write that since the end of 2009 Tokyoites have enjoyed an increasing number of reasonably-priced French establishments. Rents have decreased because of the recession and young chefs are finding it easier to open their own places. ELLE writes about eight casual French dining options. They also focus on 3 locations: Nishi Azabu; what ELLE calls the ‘Art East Area’ (the area around Bakurocho and Asakusabashi) and ‘Ura Ginza’ (Higashi Ginza and Shintomicho). Finally, the magazine profiles seven new restaurants renowned for the quality of their food.

Syokuraku (860 yen) fills much of its May edition with those delectable dumplings, gyoza. The editors recommend gyoza restaurants based on five categories: fried gyoza, large gyoza, crispy gyoza, boiled gyoza and gyoza served on a frying pan. The magazine also visits Utsunomiya and Hamamatsu, two Japanese cities which are famous for the dish.

Finally, this month’s Ryori tsushin (980 yen) examines ‘sake for wine lovers’. The magazine explains how to approach sake by showing a comparison between sake and wine. They also suggest restaurants which provide a high-quality sake line up as well as food. Elsewhere in the magazine is devoted to dashi. Based on the notion that dashi is one of the key elements of Japanese cooking, the editors explain how to cook this combination of konbu (kelp), katsuobushi and water. They also present six dashi-based recipes.

And also…

Otoriyose, the practice of ordering regional specialties online via sites such as Rakuten, is currently a major trend. All of this month’s magazines go out of their way to list websites where readers can purchase items such as gyoza (Syokuraku) and pâté (ELLE à table). The latter magazine even introduces a bar in Ginza (named chikappa) focused on otoriyose from Kyushu.

April ’10 Magazine Roundup

This month three of Japan’s top culinary magazines focus their attention on things Italian. Also, Dancyu tells aging ramen lovers it’s time to go back to basics and Otona no shumatsu presents yet another lengthy best-of list. Its all here in this month’s magazine roundup.

When Hollywood studios simultaneously release similar films (think Deep Impact vs Armageddon) its difficult not to suspect nervous producers spy on each other in search of original film ideas. Similarly, when three of the major Japanese food magazines decide to feature Italian cuisine on their April covers, one has to wonder if it’s more than a coincidence.

Dancyu April 2010

This month, Dancyu courts those in their 40s and 50s

This month’s Syokuraku (860 yen) features what the editors describe as “Italian food and restaurants from a man’s perspective”. They posit that Italian restaurants are not just places for dates and quiet conversation, but can be places for guys to get together and hang out. Our advice: ignore the cultural analysis and enjoy the food porn.

Ryori Tsushin (980 yen) also stretches the bounds of thematic credibility with an edition focusing on the role flour plays in Italian food. Put differently, the magazine’s editors want to discuss pasta and pizza, and to hell with that other stuff.

April’s Cuisine Kingdom (970 yen) is the last in our trio, the magazine exploring  “the Italian mode”. More cultural background than recipes, this issue covers luxury brands as well as restaurants. The editors also ask where Italian cuisine is headed.

Ramen nerds rejoice! Dancyu (850 yen) has you in its sights. The April edition of the magazine is a veritable cornucopia of ramen, specifically aimed at self-appointed ramen experts in their 40s and 50s. April’s issue features 14 ramen shops – 12 in Tokyo, 1 in Osaka and 1 in Kobe. Urging readers to go back to basics, the magazine also discusses Tokyo’s trademark soy-sauce ramen and recommends 10 restaurants in which to sample the dish.

And where would we be without another best-of list? Otona no shumatsu (580 yen) lists the magazine’s “best 102 restaurants in the past 5 years”. The editors claim to have visited some 18, 000 restaurants in the past 5 years, and to have introduced 3600 in the magazine. Of these, they write, 350 were rated highly . After what must have been much soul-searching at the Kodansha offices, they finally whittled this list down to a (curiously unrounded) 102. All were tested in secret and come recommended for taste, price and great service. They are in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Nagoya.

And also…

Nakameguro is Tokyo’s version of Little Italy? So say our friends at Shokuraku. They map 25 Italian restaurants within walking distance of Nakameguro Station. Worryingly, this figure includes the local Saizeriya. What do you think? Is Nakameguro Tokyo’s answer to Mulberry Street? Leave your thoughts below in the comments.

March ‘10 Magazine Roundup

Sake, seafood and… sumo? It’s time once again to take a look at the month’s food and drink magazines.

Another month, another ambitious ‘best of list’. This time it’s Syokuraku (860 yen) with their “42 best restaurants in Tokyo”.  Dividing restaurants into 7 categories (yakitori, Japanese cuisine, tempura, shabushabu, rice bowls, tonkatsu and okonomiyaki) the magazine’s editors award marks for “the quality of food, cost performance and service”.

The March issue of Ryori Tsushin

Syokuraku takes a more radical approach toward ranking sake, doing so by comparing various types of rice wine to sumo rikishi (come on… what could be more obvious!) It’s east versus west, with the sake divided into yokozuna, ozeki, sekiwake, komusubi, maegashira and jyuyo. The magazine also features 10 Tokyo restaurants which make creative use of nihonshu.

This month’s dancyu (860 yen) continues the sake theme. The magazine introduces upcoming sake breweries in places such as Akita, Tochigi, Hiroshima and Saga. And for those who love seafood but also think cooking fish is difficult, dancyu offers a selection of quick and easy seafood recipes. Dishes include Japanese, Western and Chinese otsumami.

Coffee is flavour of the month in Cafe-Sweets (1300 yen), the editors noting that the cafe scene in Japan is rapidly becoming more sophisticated. In particular, they note that coffee schools are growing in popularity – students can take classes for beginners through to advanced. The March issue features a number of coffee schools, from industry giants Starbucks and Tully’s through to small privately-owned cafes such as Tokumitsu Coffee in Hokkaido and the mail order coffee beans shop Unir in Kyoto.

Ryori Tsushin (980 yen) meanwhile dedicates its March edition to what they are calling “The age of Women”. The editors introduce women who are active participants in the Japanese culinary scene. The magazine features restaurants where all meals and service are provided by women, those restaurants which are owned by women as well as female innovators in areas traditionally dominated by men – sausage and ham artisans, coffee roasters and pizza chefs.

The Wine Kingdom (1500 yen) offers a list of “The best 30 winter reds from Italy”. There’s also a special feature on Sauvigon Blanc and a pull-out section of the magazine introducing 50 brands of wines from Washington. The booklet has information about each winery, their products and personalities.

And also…

The March issue of dancyu sees the announcement of a sake tasting event to celebrate the magazine’s anniversary. 74 different sake breweries will present their wares at the Grand Prince Hotel, Shintakanawa on March 27th from 13:00 to 15:30. Tickets are 5000 yen per person. See the dancyu’s March issue for further details.