Sunday, April 19, 2009

TOP 5: Tokyo Food Themes

My visit to Tokyo was at the tail-end of my trip, and the purpose was really just to eat, shop, and hang out (unlike last time). I did reference this list, but really just for the sweets.

1. Sakura
Cherry blossom season varies all over Japan, and is a bit short-lived and fleeting. Although I caught trees at their peak all over China, I arrived in Tokyo a few days late. It was still beautiful, but the green leaves were already invading the branches, and the petals were already beginning to fall. Oh well! There were plenty of sweets still available - just in time before the season came to an end.

Sakura mochi from Higashiya in Nakameguro. The filling was red bean, and the flavor of the cherry blossom leaves was infused into the rice (I've always thought that mochi used mochiko, but apparently that's only one version).

Sakura ice cream (subtle floral/bing cherry flavor), bread w/ crush cherry blossom + red bean filling, bread sprinkled with cherry blossom leaf powder

2. Hidden treasures
Some places that my friend Taro took us to included this easily missable Okinawan-style Izakaya in Shibuya. Their pork tongue was tender and delicious, their "sea grapes" fresh and crunchy, and it was just a great meal all around. We also hung out at this tiny jazz cafe near Haraujuku/Shibuya... super super cute! We also ran into the makeshift cafe in Nakameguro... while in Tokyo, I managed to go to almost all the places listed in this NYT article without even knowing about it until I got back.

On the street, in front of Madeleine (photo courtesy of Taro)

- hollowed out baguette filled with ice cream (L), fried mountain yam w/ tartar sauce (R)

3. Edible Art
The Japanese really know design, especially when it comes to food. French pastry (and pretty much all things French) is especially adored, and two of the most popular patisseries I had on my list were in Ginza - Sadaharu Aoki, known for its eclairs, and Hidemi Sugino, known for its mousse cakes. I was told to arrive early for the latter, but I didn't realize that getting in line an hour before the store opened wasn't early enough! The store only makes 5-10 individual pieces of each cake, and there is a 6-piece limit per patron. Um, what? Yes, that means they can sell out of one type of cake after one customer. Um, what? !!! That is the dumbest business plan ever! So yes, I arrived almost an hour before opening, and barely nabbed 3 of the remaining cakes. Was it worth it? Well, if I had first selection, maybe I would feel differently, but at the moment I would say no. It's a heart-wrenching process watching platter after platter disappear before you get to the counter. I would consider trying my luck again if I knew I would be one of the first 5 people in line. =P
Outside Hidemi Sugino as they clean up, their famous mousse cakes (mousse had very good texture, but all other components lacked), wagashi from Higashiya

Aoki's famous eclairs (cassis, salted caramel -- very deep and almost burnt, matcha/chocolate layered cake)

4. Upgrades
At any sushi place, my go-to dish is always chirashi. I've seen a few different versions, but at this restaurant in Tsukiji was my first time having it prepared 3 ways. #1: Mix up the raw fish, uni, roe, and rice with soy sauce and wasabi to your liking; eat half. #2: Mix in pickled vegetables; eat half of that. #3: Pour hot tea/water onto the remaining fourth and eat as a soup. I'm a purist, so I preferred method #1, but it was still interesting since the fish was partially cooked at the end.

Taro insisted that I get Kit Kats there, since you can't really find them anywhere else. The Jasmine tea ones were actually really tasty! We also had ramen at Taro's favorite place in Shibuya, Kindenmaru, which has thicker noodles and a deep pork/fish broth.

Kit Kats: Strawberry, jasmine, fried sweet potato w/ honey, and red bean -- all flavored chocolate. There were others like flan and white chocolate, but these seemed to be a little more interesting.

5. Misc. sweets
Super rich ice cream @ a milk bar in Roppongi Hills, Okinawan candy (lime Hi-Chews, dragon fruit caramels and black sugar caramels), a cafe au lait mochi Taro gave me

No comments: