Cookpad.com is a household name in Japan, but if you’re reading this in another country, I’m guessing you’ve never heard of it. Well, you’ll probably come to hear of it over the coming months as it has now officially expanded with a new international version of the website currently in Beta. Leading the new project on behalf of Cookpad in Japan is fellow Brit, John Yongfook Cockle. Based in Singapore, he’ll be overseeing operations and very much hands-on in terms of design and production. If the success of his previous recipe sharing website opensourcefood.com is anything to go by, it should be a great success and the site will soon be helping people cook great food on every continent.
The unique selling point is the site’s step-by-step photo guide to each recipe. Recipes are created and shared by the public and photos are necessary, but a new iPhone and Android app will soon make that process much easier, presumably by making use of the device’s built in camera.
I really hope this is a huge success and I take my hat off to Yongfook who I’ve followed for a long time, due to the fact he was also based in Tokyo. I’m looking forward to see where this goes and am also thankful that I don’t need to rely on the clunky Japanese version to find good recipes anymore!
JAL often collaborates with famous brands on its in-flight meal offerings. It was only this April just gone that I was treated to a tub of Häagen-Dazs as a part of my in-flight meal. JAL’s newest collaboration sees it teaming up with Japanese fast food outlet MOS Burger. It will be served in Economy and Premium Economy classes and will be called Air MOS Burger. This is only available on flights departing from Japan to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Frankfurt and London. So if you’re on one of these routes, do your bit to continue JAL’s extraordinary bounce-back from bankruptcy and fly with them. You can try this novel in flight meal and check out the fleet’s new livery having by now gone retro and reverted to their old logo.
It’s about time we had another food post. Frankly any post would be welcome around here as I haven’t been posting much recently, I know. I haven’t been resting on my laurels though, I’ve got plenty of freelance work occupying most of my time not to mention the redesign of my personal site as well as a redesign for this blog which are both well underway. Whilst we’re waiting for those to launch, why not head over to one of the best Tonkotsu Ramen restaurants in Tokyo? Mutekiya in Ikebukuro isn’t very big so you can expect a wait of up to 45 minutes but, once you’ve eaten there once, you’d gladly wait double that in order to gain the privilege of eating what is one of the most well-balanced Tonkotsu Ramen dishes you’ve ever tasted. It’s not much more expensive than average, but all of the ingredients seem to have been poured over by the 3 chefs who run this place. The menma (fermented bamboo shoots) are the best I’ve tasted and the soft-boiled egg is always cooked to perfection (as you can see in the picture above). And then there’s the chashu (roast fatty pork) which is also incredible. People say though, that the most important element of a bowl of Ramen is the soup. Well, this is tonkotsu (pork bone broth) and I honestly think it’s one of the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s not too oily and not too salty so it doesn’t get sickly by the end of the meal. If you do need to cleanse your palette because of pork overload, you can do so with the free jasmine tea they offer on the counter. In that sense, it’s quite a refined Ramen experience and one that I thoroughly recommend to anyone living in, or thinking of going to, Tokyo.
1-17-1 Minami Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
If you don’t want to die from ramen abuse, I suggest switching to soba. This place in Ginza is one of my regular haunts. It’s cheap, fast and actually tastes pretty good. The buckwheat noodles are served in a soy-based soup with spring onions and Japanese pickles. In winter the soup is hot, and I add lots tougarashi shichimi (7 flavour chilli seasoning), eat the noodles then drink the soup. Now that the weather has become hot and humid, I usually get them cold, with less soup, and add lots of wasabi. It’s a healthy lunch, and you can get a dinner set for around ¥500.
About time for another food post, and another ramen post at that – and not just any ramen. We had to wait in line for over an hour to get a seat at this place in Ouji in the northern part of Tokyo. It was worth it though. Insane portions and ridiculous slabs of pork in a broth that was beyond belief. No wonder it’s so famous. The place is called Fujimaru a.k.a. ‘Jiro’. I couldn’t finish mine and I felt like death for the entire evening, but that’s all part of the ramen experience!
So this is how the balcony’s looking on an early spring day. I’m sitting down, looking out over the buildings, and eating Nattou-Maki (納豆巻き) and a salad. Too much fatty pork and beer has been impacting my health recently, so I’m in ‘get fit for summer’ mode. I took a run up the banks of the Sumida river about an hour after I took this photo, so it’s serious.
So, the Tokyo Marathon was yesterday. I cheered the runners as they passed through Ginza, and I also snapped this poster with the camera on my DSi which is instantly identifiable as the work of Groovisions. Now I’m looking at their poster it’s obvious that their style suits this event perfectly. Anyone familiar with their previous work in music videos and their infographics for MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Farming) in Japan, will know their clean isometric vectors and statistical-representation-esque visual style. I like it.
So here’s the video they did for MAFF whist on the subject:
Last night I went to a sushi and sashimi restaurant under the guidance of my fish expert friend Take-san. Whilst there I further expanded my experience of strange and unusual raw things: raw fugu (blowfish – which if you prepare incorrectly causes asphyxiation then death), raw whale meat, raw horse (again), and a fish caught from a huge fish tank that I was sitting right next to, sliced and served so quickly that it was still moving when it reached our table. Now that’s what you call fresh!
Imagine this: An enormous bowl filled with a garlicky butter miso soup, into which is dumped a huge serving of ramen noodles, some flambéd beansprouts, thick dark bamboo shoots, and sea weed. On top of that they pile up stir-fried pork, crack a raw egg into the soup on one side, sea weed on the other, then place a large knob of butter onto the hot pork (which subsequently melts). What you end up with is a Butter Miso Special from one of my favourite Ramen joints which is located in Okachimachi (opposite Matsuzakaya and just down from KFC). It will set you back ¥1180 and you’ll pay for it dearly in later life, but here in the now, you’ll taste a very indulgent twist on a classic Hokkaido style ramen recipe. You can then use the complimentary garlic cloves and clove crush to taste. Pictured Top: The front of the restaurant.
It wasn’t so long ago now that I went against my own morals in the pursuit of expanding my horizons. I ate horse. Raw.
I feel bad about it, because I thought humans and horses had come to some sort of an arrangement, “I’ll let you ride me, and I’ll pull stuff around for you, providing you don’t eat me”. In Japan, they call a dish consisting of raw horsemeat, ‘Basashii’. Actually, I’d already eaten canned horse when I was in Kusatsu in Gunma prefecture, but eating it raw turned my stomach a bit. The flavour was OK, a little bit gamey with a taste of iron, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what it was I was eating. The thing that made me eat it was the prospect of being able to say I’d eaten raw horse to my friends and family back home. I don’t think it’s widely known that the Japanese eat horses. Next time someone offers it to me, I’m going to have to say “nay”.
A food post was long overdue, I thought, and on that topic I have something to talk about. Having been in Tokyo for 7 months now, I was definitely beginning to tire of eating ramen, tenpura, donburi, etc. People abroad sometimes share the notion that everything you can eat in Japan is good for you. This is true to an extent, but most of the cheap, fast food, while better than a Mickey-D’s or a KFC, is still going to shorten your life if you eat it too often. Really good, healthy traditional Japanese dishes, you can make at home, or treat yourself to at one of Tokyo’s more expensive, formal eateries.
Unless of course you go to my new favourite restaurant chain, Ootoya. The food is excellent and cheap. What’s more it’s healthy! I usually go in of a weekend, normally on a Sunday to unwind. The interiors are laid back and tasteful (at least they are at the Okachimachi retaurant where I tend to go), and they play some cool jazz music. Water is free, like most places, and you get a complementary cup of tea for after your meal.
I tend to go for the yaki saba (grilled mackerel) and it’s as good as you could get anywhere. In fact, it’s the best cooked mackerel I’ve ever had, full stop. I also had another yaki sakana dish in the past, although I’m not sure what variety it was, but again, it was really good. I normally get the teishoku format (set meal), which you get on a tray accompanied by a bowl of rice, tsukemono (japanese pickles), and a bowl of miso soup. It has to be said, the miso is one of the best I’ve had in Japan, and I love miso soup, so that keeps me going back.
Izakaya are a highlight of living in Japan. We went to one the other day and the food was nice, and not really that expensive. We had a boat-load of Sashimi to start with and beers, followed by Tempura. Then a woman came into the private room you get for your group, and showed us the freshest fish they had in stock. They were laid out on a tray made from woven straw and each fish had a small wooden sign with the name written on it. We couldn’t read the names so we just chose a good looking one and asked to have it poached in some sort of soup. You can ask to have it prepared in a few ways, like stir-fry or grilled. When it came it was the nicest fish I’d ever had but wasn’t big enough for everyone to share really. In Japan it’s customary to eat the soft part of the fish’s eye (avoiding eating the eyeball), so I did and it was horrible, but it’s supposed to be good for the brain so I washed it down with beer. We chased this with posh Sake which you drink from a glass placed in a small open top box (like a square cup), and the Sake is made to overflow the glass and run into the cup around it. This means that when you start to drink you have to leave the glass on the table and drink the first bit out from there. Then, after, you use the contents of the square box to top the glass up.
We also ordered Udon and squid ink risotto and maybe something else, I can’t remember. Came to about £70 for three people.
When it comes to Japanese fast food, there are so many restaurants you could mention, but the two that stand out as the most ubiquitous and the most iconic, are Matsuya and Yoshinoya. I go to both often, Matsuya more than Yoshi’s I would say, but only because Matsuya is closer to where I live. Both restaurants mainly serve Donburi (a bowl of rice with food on top), which often include thinly sliced pork or beef, wakame (seaweed), kim chee (korean spiced cabbage), and sometimes a (very) soft poached egg.
Personally, I love this kind of Donburi, and you can get one for between £2 – £3. Not only does this make it cheaper than a UK fast food restaurant (like McDonalds or Burger King), but also a million times healthier. You could probably eat this stuff for every meal, Supersize Me-style, and not suffer too badly from it, and have a good time doing it!
Writing this has got me in the mood for Donburi, so I’m going to finish up here and then go to the Naka-Okachimachi branch tout de suite!