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Category: Japan Page 2 of 3

Sushi (すし)

Sushi is perhaps the most popular exported cuisine type from Japan to Western countries such as Canada and the US. However Japanese sushi is very different from Western varieties. We have taken their idea of fish and rice and to it added avocado, cream cheese, and whatever else we can find to make them bigger, “better”, and more extravagant. It sort of speaks to our culture. Sushi is traditionally a simple affair. Fresh fish is gently seasoned to highlight its natural flavour. There is no “California” roll, no “Philadelphia roll”, no “Dynamite rolls”. No rolls made out of chicken or beef teriyaki. And no rolls with just vegetables. This post is about the traditional fish/seafood on rice.

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Premade fastfood in Yoyogi Hachiman

Given that my partner has an aversion to all seafood, sushi was really never a dining option for us. So when we decided to eat our own thing I jumped at the chance to finally have some sushi in Japan, on day six no less. Time was of essence so I stopped at the only fast food sushi stall by Yoyogi Hacheman station. We have similar kiosks in Vancouver, mostly in mall settings; and they pretty much function the same. A booth serving pre made and prepackaged sushi to go. The biggest difference, the type of sushi offered. Not many rolls, two types and neither of which looked like anything we have at the ready in Vancouver. In fact it was mostly Nigiri, assorted pieces of seafood on rice. You select based on portion and variety. To a novice like myself, they all looked the same and I made my choice based on diversity for photo quality. A medium sized portion sealed in a container with a clear lid.

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And with no guide, I will be guessing at what each piece actually is. Though an IG friend did help me fill in most of the blanks. In order from bottom right to top left.

Salmon Nigiri. It was a lighter colour than what I am use to. Especially, when compared to that which is available in Vancouver.
Based on its tentacles, we are guessing this is some type of miniature squid. It was rubbery like it.
Ebi Nigiri, cooked prawn. Pretty standard and common in Vancouver.
Unagi Nigiri, Freshwater eel broiled and coated with a sweet sauce. Also very common.
Another guess based on texture, some sort of clam? It was waxy.
Tobiko Nigri, flying fish roe.
Ikura Nigri, salmon roe.
Tako Nigri. Not as a chewy as expected. Especially when compared to the ones I have had in Vancouver.
Tamago Nigri, egg omelette. Light and fluffy egg, very well seasoned with flavour. Much better than anything I have had in Vancouver.
Amaebi Nigri, raw sweet water shrimp. I could taste its subtle sweetness compared to the regular ebi version.
Ika Nigri, squid with shiso leaf to give it a minty taste. It is usually served without the green in Vancouver.
Maguro Nigri, tuna. A nice colour and cut. A little fatty.

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It all tasted good to me, not really knowing what to expect. None of this is really anything I order on the regular. I was surprised a few times by the wasabi embedded into each piece, hidden between the layer of seafood and rice. Whereas wasabi is optional in Vancouver and offered on the side, sushi chefs here have take the liberty to season each piece with just the right amount of wasabi. They know the perfect ratio to give the nigiri a kick, while still highlighting the fish. Ginger and soy sauce however is offered as a side, for that extra tang. Don’t deny your cravings.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.

Takoyaki (たこ焼き)

Takoyaki is something that has made its way to Vancouver, and is especially popular at our Richmond Night Markets. Speaking for myself, it is something I have to get during each visit. I don’t really know where else to find it. Traditionally “Takoyaki” are ball-shaped pancakes with a chunk of octopus inside. It is usually topped with a sweet sauce, mayonnaise and pickled ginger. In Vancouver there are variations using shrimp, crab, and even chicken; though all operate under the same title: “Takoyaki”.

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I found some during our visit to DiverCity Mall, specifically their food court. This was one shoppe out of a handful surrounding the exterior of an extensive dining area. I do not have any photos of the shop as I was told to “stop”. As soon as one of the three employees saw my arms with phone in hand go up, I was given the X-factor “X”. The international symbol for no photos.

There were four versions of Takoyaki available. Without English letters and with the inability to make out certain ingredients by sight, I choose the one that most closely resembles what I have had in Richmond. The only one with green flakes sprinkled on top.

The line was brisk. Balls were constantly being prepared across several, familiar iron presses. Cast iron moulds of circles, rows upon rows. A pre made liquid batter goes in on one side. A piece of octopus tentacle follows. The top shuts, and the press is flipped upside down to ensure a coating of batter on both ends. When baked, the press opens, and excess batter is scrapped away before the balls are served. This ensures each pancake is a perfect one bite round.

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The balls are presented in their unique boat shape disposable container. Staged in three rows of two, they are then topped generously. In this case, from what I can tell by taste and sight: a sweet brown sauce, Japanese mayo, and ground green chives. How it differed from what is offered at night market is, no bonito flakes and the inclusion of a hard boiled egg purée.

The taste was as I expected it. A crisp outer shell, a gooey middle, and a surprise of rubbery octopus at its core. The toppings added another level of gumminess. Silky mayo and luscious egg yolk made each bite a decadent one. Great as a snack and better when shared. Though not the most filling when having it for an entire meal, as the taste and texture does eventually wear on you. Don’t deny your cravings.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.

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Here it is worth mentioning how different the food court experience is in Japan. It all starts the same, you order at your desired stall and bring your meal to your desired seat, so long as it isn’t occupied. How it ends is where it differs. Uneaten food and dirty dishes are taken to one of several cleaning stations located in the centre of the court. Here sinks are provided for liquid waste, and labelled bins have you sorting between compost-ables and those that have no choice but to wind up in the landfills. Rags are suggested for a thorough cleaning. From there the dish ware and trays need to travel back to their original stalls. This is also for you to do. Each food court shop has a specific corner, out of the way for your to drop off your used and bussed dishes at. It also seems like extra work to eat at a food court. Where if you spend a little more, or even the same amount, all this is done for you at a fast food restaurant.

Hello Kitty Edibles

Hello Kitty Edibles
DiverCity mall, Odaiba.

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A Hello Kitty (HK) fan not only enjoys collecting HK memobelia, but eating items crafted in her image as well. And that is what actually drew me in to the “Hello Kitty Japan” store. This food stall shares its space with the gift store and earns just as much attention. With HK’s face on the awning, her likeness in the banner that lines the front, and stickers of her and a few friends adhered on the walls in the back. But this version of kitty had a fish over her left ear, instead of her usual red bow.

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In the window you can see the metal presses use to make the snack cakes they sell. Rows and rows of little hello kitty moulds front and back. A full figured HK in her trademark overalls and ribbon over ear.

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Each cake starts with the same breading base then differ by their filling. Shame, each flavour doesn’t also earn its own image. Though logistically the cost of that may be too high to do. Especially given that they do have seasonal flavours on rotation. Today there were four flavours, separated in their own crate, dumped in a pile. “Plain”, “Custard cream”, “Chocolate cream and cornflake”, and their newest flavour an “apple and custard cream”.

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On the counter it had the snack pictured in a box, and displayed up right like fries. Guess it was for display purposes only as our serving was scooped into a plastic bag, tied off then put into a paper bag with her face on it. Guess it was so you could keep the paper bag as an collector’s item after? A momento of a cute snack once had at $8 Canadian for a pack of 15.

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With the option, we decided to mix and match and get a chance to try each. Overall it was descent, but nothing special. We were clearly paying for the use of her image. Too much dough and not enough filling. The plain was a waste. The chocolate the best, but there was no crunch of cornflakes to speak of. The custard was great on its own, and did better without the chunk of apple in their newest creation.

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The same cakes are also available as accents in a soft serve parfait. In milk, green tea, or a twist of both. Once again a very viable ordering option if it weren’t so cold outside. I guess its a good enough reason to come back in summer to enjoy it. Don’t deny your cravings.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.

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Then there was a newer addition to the mall. “Cafe de Miki with Hello Kitty”. A British style cafe, with HK as its mascot. The British part was emphasized in their choice of wallpaper, blue and red plaid featuring the Union Jack. The background to drawings of things that come to mind when we think Britain. Teddy bears dressed as the Queen’s Guards wearing the full-dress uniform of red tunics and bearskins hats (Ironic). Tea trays, tea pots, and tea cups; that also spoke to what they serve. And even an old British style taxi cab.

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What attracted the most attention was the a large plush Hello Kitty doll wearing glasses. Her frames helped to promote her line of eyewear that was available in their gift shop. This along with other useful collectables like cell phone cases, stationary, and tumblers; all done up in the same British inspired HK pattern that dressed the exterior of the restaurant.

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Shame we weren’t hungry because if we were we’d be getting drinks and dishes with Hello Kitty’s face on it. A pancake stamped with her image. A tea in her own branded cup. Or a pie with her likeness as an edible decoration. Instead I was content with enjoying what was already available in their showcase. Two colours of mocchi, an individual sized cheesecake, and a slice of apple pie. I had the former in her classic image. A one bite treat filled with red bean paste. Once again, another item you pay more for because it is of Hello Kitty, not necessarily because it is of better taste or value. You pay for the label and the brand. This was about $3 Canadian. Don’t deny your cravings.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.

Tempura (天ぷら)

Tempura (天ぷら) Restaurants

This term is used to blanket all restaurants that serve tempura-ed ingredients over a bowl of rice. In Japan there is a great variety of such restaurants ranging from street vendors to five star establishments. Tempura restaurants can get very pricy, some such places set about perfecting their cuisine to parallel that which is considered to be of fine dining quality. In this post, the term “Tendon” restaurant is more appropriate. “Tendon” is often used to refer to the more inexpensive versions of tempura dishes, as below.

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Tempura Tendon Tenya
Asakusa Tokyo, Yoyogi Hacheman

It’s day four and I can’t seem to escape fried food. In my best efforts to find something out of that wheelhouse I ended up here for some rice. Or at least some rice with my deep fry.

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My partner wanted burgers, so we agreed to order our own things and take out, to eat out, together, else where. Not planning to dine in, I attracted the lone waitress’ attention through the take out window. Peering inside through the automatic door, I could see down the length of the restaurant. A counter stretched the same expanse. On one end the clerk took orders and refilled cups of tea. Across from her each stool was seated. All kinds of people from all different walks, eating in silence.

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There was no English menu to refer to, but the menu filled with pictures looked easy enough to guess at. And if you wanted a more 3D view; artificial, yet hauntingly accurate displays of the very same dishes appeared behind showcases at the restaurant’s exterior. They were a common sight, and served as a good way to lure customers in. You eat with your eyes first after all.

In general, everything pretty much looked the same, in the same colours. It was all battered in a tempura mix. Tempura meats, tempura seafood, and tempura vegetable over rice. I eat anything, so there would be no worse case either way I pointed.

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Still wanting something not fried. I choose a combo that not only had the tempura and rice base, but came with side of udon soup as well. This I hoped would balance my need for something less greasy. That and it was the only combo with an egg pictured, and that I could make out beans and lotus root as part of the vegetable tempura mix. From taste alone, I am guessing this is a teriyaki and wasabi mayo, tempura-ed chicken cutlet, with tempura-ed green beans and lotus root, on top of steamed white rice. Served with a side of udon and a soft boiled egg. Some assembly required. Gathered in my take out bag were three individual containers. A bowl for the noodle soup, a box for the rice dish, and a small container just for the egg, still in shell. Everything except for the napkins and cutlery I excepted, and took for granted would be a given.

There isn’t many small restaurants that offer in store seating, nor are there really any public spaces to rest and picnic at. There weren’t many parks in our area, neither were there any benches. So we found a ledge with a little ray of sun and proceeded to unpack. This is where I learned a few valuable lessons. Tables are not always available, take out may be a complicated affair; and judging by the stares from pedestrians passing by, eating curb side may be a faux pas in Japan.

The dish was amazing. It was everything I had hoped for and more. Though shame it wasn’t in its intended presentation, and I mistakenly cracked my soft boiled egg into the noodle, instead of over the rice. Yolk on rice is ever so nice. It was not until I took my first bite did I realize the meat was not pork, but chicken; and that the mayo had some wasabi spice to it. The sauces were the most appealing part of the dish, as I knew they would be. In Vancouver I have had many delicious rice dishes coated in Japanese mayo and topped with a soft boiled yolk. The combination of a creamy sauce and runny yolk, partnered with crispy battered tempura over soft rice is one hard not to enjoy.

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So I came back again, to enjoy it as how it was intended to be. Freshly fried pieces of tender white chicken breast, breaded to a crisp. Enjoyed with sticky rice soften by a runny yolk. It did not disappointed.

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I came back a day later to enjoy their shrimp tempura rice bowl and noodle soup combo. This time doing so in house. I grabbed an available stool by the bench, and pointed to what I wanted from one of the menu situated between every two seats. With it there were an array of condiments and utensils available for self serve. A caddy of chopsticks, a jar of additional pickles in green and pink, a jug of soy sauce, a shaker of salt and one for seasonings, and tooth picks with napkins in their own cases.

The food came fast, as intended. This is Japanese fast food after all. You come in, dine in silence, then leave. I suspect such places are popular as many individuals do not have a full kitchen in their apartments, like the one we were staying at for the week. Either that, or with all the hours of work they were clocking in, they rather not spend any free time cooking. It’s easier to let someone do that for you. There is so much of it available all around, after all.

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It wasn’t until I started picking through the rice bowl did I realize there was only one piece of prawn tempura. What was left was a tempura pancake of tiny fish. I believe they were dace, I made them out from their eyeballs. This was new to me. They didn’t really have a taste, instead they picked up their flavour from the teriyaki sauce that coated them. And sadly this bowl did not come with a drizzle of mayonnaise. Though the sauce used was plenty, giving it more than enough taste. I just missed the creaminess and the sweetness of Japanese rice over such dishes.

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The noodle in my side dish was also not what I expected it to be. I think it was a buckwheat noodle, cooked in a light chicken broth. The side of pickles and slice of fish cake went right in. They gave the noodle a different texture. And a shake of seasonings gave it additional spice. This was great bowl to have on this cold and rainy night.

The bill comes with your meal, it even has its own acrylic. As soon as you have had you fill you take it to the register by the door to pay. I felt the clerk’s eyes on me as she waited me to do just that. The norm is to eat and go, and here I was sipping my complementary tea.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Yes and yes! It was delicious. And at 900yen, approximately $9.50 Canadian for the first meal and 740yen, $7.90 cdn the second both were a deal. All this good food, at a price I can afford daily. After two times I would indeed return a third, to try more. I was left content and full for hours to come. No complaints. Don’t deny your cravings.

Yakiniku (焼き肉)

This is best described as the Japanese equivalent of Korean barbecue. Both have similar principles: you cook your own meat, over your own grill, at your own table. “Yakiniku” translates directly to “grilled meat”.

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Japanese BBQ in Nakano

Its day four and I finally get an authentic Japanese experience. Perhaps even the most authentic I will get during this entire trip. We had Japan natives guiding us on this culinary tour. Our hosts took us to their neighbourhood of Nanako. They led us beyond the Nanako Broadway, pass its narrow allies and bold lights, to this very traditionally Japanese dressed lane way. Tiled roof tops, cloth banners, red lanterns, and bamboo poles. The kinds of buildings I expected to see and wanted to see more of. There was even a panoramic photo taken to commemorate this.

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With just my partner and I, tourists in a foreign country, we would never approach such a place hoping for service. First its name was only in kanji characters; and with only a showing of black cast iron pots on display, we couldn’t be sure if it was even a restaurant. There were also no menus posted out front, no photos to refer to. Just looking at it you couldn’t tell what they offered. And even if we ventured in to look, how could we have asked?
And let’s say we managed to get seated, the language barrier alone would have prevented us from ordering anything. As was the case with the exterior, there were no photos to refer to, just lines of script on an black and white sheet of paper. Luckily we were not alone, and our hosts lead us through this truly authentic Japanese meal.

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The first floor was their bar, with stools circling the room. Those behind the counter greeted you in unison. Our hosts, having been here before, led us straight up the flight of stairs. At the top you remove your shoes. You either leave them on the shelves and in the bins provided, or borrow one of their plastic bags to keep them in and off the floor at your table side. Here inside and outside space is differentiated, a concept explained to me when I took Asian Studies at UBC. You keep the inside clean, meaning public articles like shoes need to be removed. The room we were about to enter in to was an elevated platform of woven fibres. Each table had its own pit, with a recess allowing your legs to hang in comfort. Sort of like sitting on the floor with an extra place for your feet. Thankfully, as not everyone can cross their legs for an extended period of time.

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To start you are given a hot towel to wipe up. Though because of the delay in busing tables it remained table side and was available to use well after it cooled. Looking around the room, some patrons even more bibs. I guess barbecue is a messy affair. The space was traditional in look and feel from the seating, to the setting; from the removing of shoes, to the charcoal grill being used. However the restaurant was modern in its method and technology. Our server used a held device to input our order.

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The room quickly became hot like a sauna. A high level of cheek redding heat from the confined space and a grill firing up at each table. Though above each table there was ventilation system in place. A black pipe hanging low to alleviate some of the smoke created by the cooking process. None-the-less it had us sweating and finding that eating became more and more difficult. Though our hosts kept us lubricated with tall pints of Sapparo. This kept us cool, along with slowly removing our multiple layers.

Given the language barrier between our hosts and ourselves, and the lack of written English on any menu, I can only assume the below is what we had. Using my best to guess at the dish from what I saw and what I tasted.

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We began our meal with a light salad: spinach greens dressed in a miso vinaigrette, topped with homemade mini croutons. I don’t normally eat salads as I don’t prefer the texture of all those leaves in one bite. But in order to be polite I did finish the portion I was given. The leaves were fresh and the sauce salty, leaning on tangy. I can see the value in such a dish as more of an add on, a side to later accompany all the meat.

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A humourous mis-translation had this dish introduced to us as “hormones”, whereas by its looks we decoded it to be beef tripe. I have never seen any meat product this shade of grey before, let alone try any of it. Though this off putting colouring was improved by the presence of the cucumber slivers and sesame seeds. I am familiar with tripe and knew what texture to expect, a ridged rubberiness. But got those who have never seen it, let alone try it, this may be a texture that is hard to get past. The dish came with a serving of chilli sauce and sweet soy for dipping. Both gave the tripe a more palatable and familiar flavour.

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Kimchi flavoured rice cooked in a stone bowl. It looked and tasted like Korean-style bibimbap. A stone bowl is heated. Inside, many ingredients are presented neatly over a bed of rice, and finished with an egg cracked overtop. In Vancouver the rice is mixed immediately by a staff member, here it was a self serve affair. Better for me as I got a before and after photo this way. One of our hosts took the responsibility of stirring the pot. Using the spoon provided she mixed the lot, coating it in egg. Then flattening the mixture to further cook it with the resonating heat from the bowl. It also tasted like Korean style bibimbap. Crispy rice flavoured in pickled kimchi.

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The rice came with a side of soup a light broth that we were too full to touch.

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Once again and unfortunately, without an English menu, and even with our host’s best attempts I was unable to identify all the beef parts we had over the barbecue. So below are photos of how they were presented raw, and of them being cooked on the grill. In general they were all well marbleized with plenty of fat. A few more than others. These were not cuts we were use to, and we both secretly wanted leaner cuts.

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The first was the most similar to the beef we enjoy on similar barbecues in Vancouver.

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Beef tongue. The tongue was the next leanest protein, but even then it was ridiculously chewy because of all the sinew. I forced the metal image of a large tongue out of my my and the ironic thoughts of me using my tongue to eat this tongue, to be able to get this one down. I have never had to chew my food more, and longer it took to break down, the more nauseated I felt. In Vancouver I have only had this served in paper thin slices. This was a hunk. Surprisingly my squeamish partner was able to get it down and keep it down better than I.

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From here the pieces of beef got fattier and fatter. The whiter its shade the fattier it was. Most strips just melted in your mouth, I am not sure I like my meat doing that.

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The entire process reminded me of the Korean barbecue experience in Vancouver. Except, the grills there are often built into the tables and sprinklers are always installed above, mostly as a precautionary measure. Also the cuts of beef used and the flavours in which they are seasoned set the two a part. Here, it is fattier beef dressed in simple seasonings, to really allow its natural flavours to come through. A dish of lemon juice is available for dipping into. The zest of the lemon helps to better accentuated the salty marbling of the beef. Though if this is not enough flavour for you, there is also a sauce available for use. Although we personally found the meat to be already pretty tasty. Plus we didn’t want to mask any of it, so enjoyed it as is. We were paying top dollar for this after all.

When needing to use the facilities, slippers are provided for you within. An important fact, given you had to remove your footwear before you entered the dining area. And an interesting note, smoking is allowed indoors here.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Our guests promised us an authentic Japanese dinner, and they certainly delivered with this one. It was quite the experience, with the spaces we were able to visit and the variety of dishes we were able to try. One for the books, and one that I could not hope to duplicate. Not just because of the communication issues, but more I wouldn’t know how to get back, and I don’t even know its name. Plus, like my partner we deemed this cuisine not really our scene. Good to try, but at the predicted price (our hosts wouldn’t let us see the bill, let alone pay for if), this is not something I need another go at anytime soon My partner especially so, as he had a hard time digesting it all after he left. Don’t deny your cravings.

Gyuudon (牛丼)

Gyuudon (牛丼) Restaurants.

“Gyuudon” is used to refer to pan fried, thin cuts of beef over a bowl of rice. Such restaurants also offer a pork variation, and less seldom a chicken one. Gyuudon chains are usually fast and cheap.

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Yoshinoya, rice bowl
Shinjuku

The allure of teriyaki and something not deep fried for lunch lured us in. These bowls of meat and rice were a familiar sight on the photographic menu out front. Something my partner and I felt we could be sure of when we ordered it. 

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On the busy intersection outside of Shinjuku station it seemed to be a hot spot for those looking for a quick meal. As a group of two we were directed to the second floor, with a point. The restaurant had two levels, both serving the same function with similar layouts. We grabbed a seat on one of the bar stools that snaked around the room. The lone clerk approached us with her hand held device to take our order. She worked fast and spoke with purpose. She even had enough English vocabulary under her belt to clarify that what we wanted was indeed beef and pork.

Each bowl comes with your choice of size: small or large, with the possibility of making it a combo. A combo with soup and a variety of side dishes. We didn’t want to push our luck by asking what the little bowls pictured were so just stuck to meat and rice. 

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Our food came a little later, despite others around us getting their’s first, and seating after we did. I suspect that they were regulars, or their orders were placed ahead of time. As soon as the faces walked in their orders were acknowledged and their trays came minutes after they settled into their seats. We suspected they were on lunch break and had a very minimal window in which to walk to their destination and dine within. And at 1040yen for two smalls, about $5.50 each Canadian. This is definitely something that can be enjoyed every work day.

We had no place to go and no issue waiting the five more minutes the clerk assured us it would only be, she did so with palm opened, five. Our bowls came on trays sent up from the lower level, with a push of a button and a ride of a mini elevator.

You are presented with a small cup of water. If you want more, a jug across from you is there for you to help yourself with. Water, along with everything else you would need to eat with is available for sharing between every two seats. Chopsticks in a box, a container filled with pink ginger, a jug of soya sauce, and a shaker of mixed spices. We found that we didn’t need additional seasonings, that what we had was already very flavourful.

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Beef teriyaki bowl with sesame seeds. Chewy slices of tender beef over steamed rice. Coated in just the right amount of sweet and salty teriyaki sauce. 

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Pork teriyaki bowl with green onion. Thin sheets of pork, some drier than others, others fattier than some. The green onion gave things a nice freshness.

The speed in which the bodies dining rotated was amazing. Customers sat, ate, others took their place. There wasn’t even a wait, the line moved so quick. I felt slow in my eating and was forced to keep in step, using chopsticks to shovel food from bowl to mouth.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The food wasn’t super amazing, but it sure did hit the spot. A well needed break from deep fried foods and a reprieve from the fatty cuts of meat the night before. It was the best thing that I have had in a while in Japan, because it was what my body had been craving. Don’t deny your cravings.

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This is the version of Gyuudon we has at the DiverCity Mall food court. It came as quick, cost as inexpensive, and tasted about the same, just with green onions instead of sesame seeds. And with this portion we ordered a piece of fried chicken on the side.

Laudree Macarons

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The famous French Patisserie located in “Lumine 2”, an indoor mall by Shinjuku station. A very popular bakery at a very prominent location. The display window by the ticket machine is what drew us in, we recognized the name and acknowledge our cravings for their most well known treat, the macaron.

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Closest to the door is their ice cream bar, but with the colder weather this didn’t garner much attention. Though during the hot and sticky summers of Japan, I can see their ice cream cups topped with your choice of macarons being a big hit. But for today, we, along with everyone else would be venturing deeper for their regular desserts and delectable macarons.

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Photography is kind of necessary at a place like this. Its name and brand proceeds itself. I joined the others who snapped shots and posed for selfies. And the great part is that they allow this behaviour with but a smirk. I went from each glass windows to the top of counters, zooming in on the back shelves, and trying to capture all they had to offer. This would be my way to remember and prove my visit.

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We were here for the macarons but they offer so much more all wrapped up in their elegant bags, decorative boxes, and collector’s cases. This season a black and green pineapple shaped box was the hot ticket. Their lesser sought out items included candies and cookies in cans, chocolate in boxes, teas in tins, and compotes and jellies ready for gifting. There were even non edibles for sale like key chains and reusable bags. I was tempted by the keychain with macaron coin purse attached.

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Though it was the individual sized desserts that would be taking my money today. “Fraise Laudree”. How could I pass up eating a strawberry shaped cake? Never mind what it was or how it tasted, it was adorable; and that is as good enough of a reason as any for me. I imagine each was spray painted its red to achieve such a bright and solid colour. Then decorated with candied balls for the detail of strawberry seeds, and finished with green fondant shaped as a stem and leaf.

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I almost felt bad breaking into such a work of art. Though was happy to have tasted for myself that the flavour definitely backed up the look. It was as even on the inside as it was decorated on the outside. Layers of cream, jam, and cake repeating twice. Though I could have used more cake to balance out all the sweet cream, to give it more of a spongy-like texture.

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My partner selected six macarons, as its common in Vancouver to purchase them by the half dozen. Though the box they came in had room for two to three more. He choose two of the “L’ Incroyable Guimauve Chocolat Coco” (Incredible marshmallow chocolate) flavoured with coconut, “vanilla”, “Rhum Vanilla”, “L’ Incroyable Guimauve Fraise Bonbon” (Incredible marshmallow strawberry), and “Caramel Fleur de Sel”.

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The “incredible” ones featured a gooey marshmallow centre. With the exterior of the pink’s dusted with sugar crystals, thus earning it the “bon bon” in its title. Similarly to the marshmallow filling, the salted caramel had a stringy real caramel centre.

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The Vanilla rum was one of three “new flavours”. It did not disappoint on its promise of rum. It had a strong stab of alcohol with each bite. Though got sweeter towards the ends. The first taste was a shock, how was this dessert, that is suppose to be sweet, be so loaded with rum?

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The other flavours available today included lemon, orange blossom, raspberry, red fruits, Rose, pistachio, chocolate, and the “new” “pure origin chocolate Grenada” and pineapple.

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Although both the boxes for the cake and macarons were printed in the traditional Laudree pattern and font, by its feel and weight you could tell these weren’t the gift-ready boxes. Those boxes are glossed in gold and available in your choice of colours and sizes, at a cost.

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If you decide to eat in you can make use of their dining area. Three tables in front of a handsome shelf display. The furniture is fine, as fine as you would expect from a designer French patisserie, with as rich of a history as Laudree. Things were ornate with a pretty princess-like feel. White chairs detailed in silver baubles and matching tables with faux marble surfaces. Even the garbage can was lovely, an inconspicuous pillar ending at waist level.

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Interestingly, my partner received many side way glances as he indulged in his treat. I guess it is not a common sight for men to want and enjoy such sweets, or at least in public dressed in hoodie and ball cap. None-the-less he paid no attention and fully enjoyed his dessert. In reality, he actually likes macarons more than I do.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
As the original creators of the macarons, as we know them to be today, (two macaron shells sandwiching ganache) there is something so satisfying about enjoying a Laudree macaron. Though at about $28 Canadian for all that we had, this isn’t an every day thing. A little less than $3 each. Ironically we ended up spending three times more for our desserts than our $10 lunches before. Don’t deny your cravings.

Manneken, Belgium Waffles

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A wrong turn and a walk too far had us stumbling on this gem. Fading from a walk in circles, the thought of fresh and fluffy waffles drew us in, and the smell of them wafting out had us hooked. The shop was just a tiny store front. Just enough room to fit a hand full of guests. Not that any more was needed. You lined up and purchase your waffle. You either ate and walked, or stood still outside to finish it in five to six bites. It was a quick operation.

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The best part is contemplating which waffle we should get. You make your choose visually from the counter. They are prepared ahead of time, and depending on the variety heated to order and served up to you in a paper pouch.

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Naturally I went for the one most out there, a purple coloured waffle labelled as “murasaki imo”. It tasted like berries and jam, though later I learned it was a purple sweet potato waffle. It was served warm, each bite was a bite into fluffy breaded goodness. You can taste the sweetness and feel the texture of the sugar crystals on your tongue, a point most enjoyable of Belgium waffles.My partner naturally went for the chocolate one. I adore the fact he loves sweets and can enjoy such with me. This one was left cool at room temperature. I suspect it had something to do with the solid dipped chocolate. Not as good cold, but the think coating of chocolate helps with that a little.

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Other flavours included plain, cocoa, maple, white chocolate, and honey custard. And from what I can tell there are seasonal offerings and flavours on rotation too. On top of regular waffles they also offer cream waffles. Rectangles of waffles sandwiching cream in either vanilla, chocolate, custard, and even tiramisu flavoured.

A big part of their business is waffles as gifts. They offer box sets of waffles individually sealed with various amounts and assortments, a mixed bag of mini waffles, and individually wrapped units ready for travel. The latter can also be found at convenience stores like “Lawson” and “7 & i-holding”. We have had a few such packages, kept cool in open refrigeration displays. Though after seeing them made on location and enjoying them fresh, it is really hard to go back to the day old ones. The texture isn’t the same. Though the taste is at least consistent.

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Our nose led us to another location of Manneken, Belgium Waffles. We turned the corner at Shinjuku station, and to our delight there it was. Similar to our first experience, they make waffles on site and offer the ones that have cooled down to guests in wax paper envelopes. But this time we weren’t going to make the same mistake and get only one each. My partner insisted on a box of seven to go. Since our first visit above, he has been eating the ones from 7-Eleven, and finding they just aren’t the same as having them fresh.

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The flavours were about the same, except here they had a shredded nut topped almond; and were advertising a very timely chocolate waffle with pink strawberry icing and chocolate syrup drizzle, as a special for Valentine’s day. But the latter seemed to be something only attainable if you requested it in advance.

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We filled our box of seven with plain, custard cream, almond, sweet purple yam, maple, and two chocolates. To enjoy one on the spot and more, later at home. Each branded, travel ready box, with its own handle, is taped shut with a sticker marking its date of packaging.

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Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Waffles make a great breakfast item, a nice dessert, but best as a snack. And these were some of the best I have had. In our case, it gave us a good reason to take pit stop from our long walk. With so many flavours you want to try them all, to see how they stacked up to one another. Though I preferred to get one of each and literally stack them up. In hindsight now understood why the clerk seemed surprised and checked a few times to make sure we only want one. They are so good and so small, so for about 160yen each, $2 Canadian, you can afford to have multiples. And you should. We couldn’t stop talking about them and our regret of not getting a box worth’s. Don’t deny your cravings.

MANNEKEN
0120-614145
manneken.co.jp

Bien-Etre Patisserie

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When I saw this French named bakery, I thought, there may be a good chance of some language over lap. Perhaps an employee who is able to communicate with some key English words? I was optimistic. Looking into the window, I figured worse case scenario, I can just point at the desserts I wanted behind the glass.

To enter you pull the wood sliding door open. With one on each opposing side, staff need to be at the ready incase either ends have guests coming in. Which was exactly the case as I entered and a group of four older gentleman did the same across from me. Our presence sandwiched the clerk behind the counter. I was in the right place, staring down at individually sized pastries and cakes behind the counter. Where as they had to negotiate around tables and chairs to line up behind me.

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Behind the glass were rows of colourful cakes in rounds and others by the slice. Each one was meant for a single serving and decorated to be visually appealing. At a place like this you definitely order with your eyes. Given that their names were only written in kanji I cannot be sure of the extent of their offerings. But from looks alone I think there were cream puffs, apple pies, raspberry jelly cakes, chocolate cakes, chocolate mousse, cheesecake, and white angel food cake; just to name a few. There were also cream filled logs and whole cakes ready for an occasion. And if you are looking for something more travel friendly and/or giftable they have a counter and shelf dedicated to prepackaged treats. Colourful candied bon bons, chocolate spread in jars, a variety of cookies and biscuits, and single serving teas by the bag and as loose leaf in bottles. All very pretty as well.

Two young women were working in the kitchen, located in the second half of the cafe. A view most visible looking in from the sidewalk. They wore bananas over their heads, and I believe more for sanitary reasons, surgical masks over their nose and mouths. As soon as any customers entered, either one of the two took a pause in what they were doing to approach the counter and serve. Leaving the other to continuing mixing ingredients or rolling out dough. The one ended who up helping me knew her baked goods. She was able to call each of their handmade French desserts by their English name, though I now wonder if she knew their French names too. I guess it added to their patisserie’s authenticity. This along with its name and their choice of Parisian music playing overhead.

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The cafe was a tiny suite with birch wood counters and tables. It’s limited seating meant no obligation for public restrooms. I grabbed one of two individual seats facing their tea and coffee bar. Leaving the rest of the two person tables for the group of me to share.

Given all that all the dessert labels and their descriptions were in Japanese I went with something I found aesthetically pleasing and that I sure of what it was. And the baker confirmed it was indeed a “fruits tart”. The bright and shiny colours of the glazed fruit drew me in immediately. Though in hind sight I should have gotten something more unique to where I was. But I do not regret my decision as it was delicious. I was asked to take a seat and my chooses dessert was presented to me on a square plate, along side a metal knife and fork for eating and a sealed wet napkin for cleaning myself after.

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Like all the other cakes, this too sat on a paper liner and was wrapped in a plastic sheet, to ensure it would be kept picture perfect ready for the one who orders it. The tart had a hard crust and a buttery base. On it sat luscious custard, holding the fresh fruit in place. There was a mix of strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and peach. Once again all glazed and then dusted with powdered sugar. The sprig of green and their logo in cardboard was a nice decorative piece. It gave the slice a more formal touch. The cake was a little dense, and hard to cut into, especially when compared to the fluffy cream and juicy fruits.

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The clerk also suggested tea with my dessert. I obliged, not being able to read the all Japanese menu I shook my head yes for her ask of hot tea. From the brew, the colour of the leaves, and strength I believe this was a black tea. But they also have herbal and fruit varieties available. Each kind visible through their own glass jars. The tea set use was a dainty glass pot and cup for one. Adorable. Their use definitely added to the appeal of having tea here. Together both my tart and tea came to about 900yen, $10 Canadian.

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The gentlemen that came after me ordered coffee; and being at the beverage bar, I got a front row look into its creation. Each cup was specialty brewed in miniature coffee pots. It was a tedious affair and the clerk did it with such a gentle stillness. Hot water carefully added pour after pour, drop after drop, dripping through miniature coffee liners. They were another visual piece that added to this bakery experience.

It is interesting that such places in Japan are not gender exclusive. That both men and women find love and satisfaction in having sweets. Where as in Canada you don’t often find men lining up for macarons or siping hot tea from a pot with a cozy. But here, it being the high tea hour I saw men and women alike coming in and taking their sweets to go. Not one person left with less than three different desserts. After you have made your selection, the clerk chooses the right box to ensure everything is packed tight and that there is very little movement. If it’s for a gift you have the possibility of wrapping the box in coloured ribbon of your choosing. The travel ready package is then gingerly placed in one of their branded bags, once again to ensure minimal jostling. These were works of edible art after all.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
These were beautiful pastries and cakes. Shame the glare from a sunny day bouncing off the glass case prevented me from capturing a full look at their dessert line up. I would like to return to try more of what they offer. The staff were so polite, the setting was so serene, and there is just something so special about using all glass dishware. Don’t deny your cravings.

Calbee Plus

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I recognize this brand as chips sold at “T&T”, in Vancouver. Their unique, Asian influenced flavours include seaweed and salt, BBQ corn, okonomiyaki (a Japanese style savoury pancake), and shrimp chips in the traditional twisted straw shape. They also do their own rifts on the classic flavours of original, barbecue, sour cream and onion, and pizza with actual melted cheese. Their chips are paper thin and extremely light. Most comparable to “lays” potato chips in both regards. Though oddly none of the above were for sale in the store that we were in. Instead it was chips and crisps that I was unfamiliar with. Vegetable straws, shrimp crackers covered in chocolate, and potato slices; just to name a few. The space was too large for what little variety was offered. Tables dedicated to the same item row after row, and quadruple facings of them again on the shelf by the wall. And when you ventured upstairs you would see all of it presented the same all again. 

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Each of the above selection of snack foods came with its own mascot. The same mascots that decorated the exterior of the two story building. A potato chip kid, a Giraffe dressed in her Sunday finest sipping tea, a pudgy yellow round of a creature looking content, and two green monsters with yellow beaks wearing red lobster hoods. It was an odd assembly. Someone had to have a good imagination or was on an awesome trip to have come up with this lot. Though these characters and their colours well matched the fun this building exuded. Cheerful and happy in the use of rainbow patterns and rainbow colours.

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We were here for the snack portion of their business. The “plus” in their name. Not only do they offer bagged and travel ready junk food, but you can enjoy their chips fresh out of the fryer as well. Towards the back, behind glass you could see their deep fried operation in motion. Here freshly cut potato slices were dunked into bubbling oil and served to hungry enthusiasts.

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Each order was served by the cup in either savoury or sweet flavours. The salty ones included “hot & spicy”, “salt and butter”, and “double cheese”. There was even the option to make it a combo with a drink. If you are looking for more of a dessert chip, their chips are also available coated in maple syrup and cream cheese, drizzled over with a chocolate sauce, with a side of soft serve, or with both chocolate and ice cream.

First you choose the type of chips: thick and wavy or thin and flat. The photo menu shows you how each flavour would look as either. From there you decide on your toppings. Those with heavier toppings partnered best with the more dense and wavy chips, those slightly seasoned in spice would find the lighter chips a better pairing.

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We went for gold with their house made potato chips drizzled in chocolate with a side of soft serve ice cream. “Potato chip “Royce” chocolate and soft serve ice cream”. At 460yen, about $5 Canadian. I suspect that “Royce” is the brand of chocolate used. Given the need to dip the chips, there was no option on chip type. You need a strong chip that would not bend under the pressure of being a scoop for ice cream. Though we were more than happy with the rippled ones anyways. It was nice to have the soft serve separated from the hot chips in a side cup. It allowed mixing only if you wanted to and kept the ice cream from melting as quick. It was salty and sweet, toasty and cold. This snack ate like a dessert and had it all. Good with just chocolate and chip, but best with a scoop of ice cream ending each bite.

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As is the case with such places, the eating area was available upstairs. And like most places there were no chairs. Tables and counters set at various heights allowed you to stand, lean, and eat. This was obviously not meant to be an elongated stay. Along with the lack of chairs there weren’t any napkins to be found. However at least a toilet and two sinks were available for customer use and wash up. Your hands do get sticky.

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Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
What’s not to love? Its a winning combination, everything you’d want when you have the muchies. We both agreed that if such a concept opened up in Vancouver they would make bank. It doesn’t have to be this particular brand of chip. Just potatoes, chocolate, and ice cream. Don’t deny your cravings.

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