Anthony Bourdain has a foul mouth, likely a drunk, and stirs controversy. But you cannot deny, the man has legit entrepreneurial game. He’s written best selling books. Hosted some pretty damn good shows, and now a household name.
Maybe I can relate to him more as I’ve worked in the food industry. My very first job was as a waitress in a sushi joint — typical — then moved on to bartending. Working in food is where I picked up a lot of hustling skills that consistently help me in my non-food industry life.
In food, it’s about knowing your capabilities and ceasing opportunities. When your salary is minimum wage and you depend on tips, there is no such thing as ‘luck’ — you create your own luck. Not because you want to, but because you have to make the most out of situations in order to make ends meet.
Any business owner, founder, aspiring entrepreneur, and even individuals looking to climb the corporate ladder can learn a thing or two from successful people who have ‘made it’, in an industry as cut throat as food. And Bourdain lays it out best in this Men’s Journal interview.
The other day, I stumbled onto a wonderful okonomiyaki spot so I thought I would share. Okonomiyaki is easiest explained as “Japanese pancake” but it’s not really a pancake. Okonomiyaki is a savory flavor bomb.
On the opposite side of Tokyo from where I normally work and play, there is an indoor onsen (hot springs) known and loved by locals. There are a total of nine hot springs and eight saunas. It’s really great but unfortunately they don’t allow people with tattoos to enter. Tattoos are associated with yakuza (Japanese mob) and Japanese equate tattoos with bad people and bad things. This old school mentality still applies in 2015, even in Tokyo. It’s so stupid but what can you do.
Anyway, I trekked to this unfamiliar area to take a friend in need of massive R&R to the spa. He is tatt’d up so we got rejected which ruined my plan of killing a few hours between lunch and dinner at the spa, then heading to Kagurazaka (a short cab ride away) from the spa for dinner.
Sidenote: Kagurazaka is still a little known area to tourists. It’s a tiny neighborhood with an old Japan feel and a slight European twist. Lots of cafes and little restaurants line the cobble stone streets. Tucked in this area are top quality restaurants (mainly Italian and French). There are several Michelin rated restaurants but Kagurazaka is notorious for restaurant owners rejecting stars because they don’t want attention, tourists, etc. Sounds silly but Japan is filled with amazing restaurants that prefer to remain low key.
A Two-Star Michelin chef and a winner of a coveted spot in San Pellegrino’s The 50 World’s Restaurant is operating a food truck in Tokyo.
Yoshihiro Narisawa who owns Narisawa in Aoyama (a West Village-ish type area, if you’re familiar with New York) is cooking out of a food truck for a limited time. The truck’s food is a bit different than the food he serves in his European haute cuisine restaurant (obviously), focusing on hearty Japanese winter meals.
According to their FB page, they have soups, hot pots, stewed meats and a regional delight from Hakata called motsu no nikomi (stewed tripe and vegetables in a miso based broth — rich, filling and warms you up). The truck is also doing grilled pork and chicken sandwiches on 18-grain rolls, along with deep fried Hiroshima oysters (kaki furai). Yum.
If you happen to be in Tokyo by March 8th, the Narisawa food truck is in Tokyo Midtown daily from 12-8pm.
One of the greatest things about being raised abroad is being able to share Japan with my friends in the US. I have tons of friends who are incredible cooks, so it brings me joy to bring some of the best of Japan into their home kitchens.
Japanese ingredients are a delightful addition to Western dishes too. They bring elements of depth and flavor that Western ingredients can’t achieve. I think that’s the myth they call ‘umami’.
Here is the most recent loot I’m shipping to a friend in exchange for shipping a colossal hardcover book from the US to Japan.
Yokocho’s characters 横丁・横町 means side city, and translates to alleyways off major streets. The origin of the word comes from describing the passages of Tokyo when it was still called Edo (between 1603-1868 wow that’s such a long time ago). These alleyways were garbage depots and sewage canals but as the population of Edo grew, waste required to be properly maintained.
Soon the side-streets were cleared of the waste and sewage. The people of Edo decided to fill the empty space with food stands or tiny eateries. There were even squatters who took the handles and wheels off their food carts and brought them into Yokochos. In modern day, Yokocho means a passageway of food stalls.
The most notable Yokocho is in Shinjuku, called Omoide Yokocho; also known by its unfortunate nicknames “Shomben Yokocho” (Piss Alley – classy) or “Gokiburi Yokocho” (Cockroach Alley – appetizing). The stacks of stands appropriately reflect their names: run down and a bit gross. The restrooms are vile.
In Ebisu, I am fortunate to reside near one of the newer (and more sanitary) Yokochos of Tokyo. I bring all visitors there to experience it at least once.
Next to a 7-11 and a run-down ramen? yakitori? shop, there is a traditional Japanese sliding door with paddles of colorful squares on top. Rolling the door to the side exposes a scene of inebriated salary men, groups of girls dressed to the nine, a sprinkle of non-Japanese faces. Ebisu Yokocho is popular with tourists as of late.
People are cramped around tables made of crates, and benches made for two. The teeny counters where the food is prepared fits one or two people behind them at the most. There are stands on stands, serving a hodge-podge of Japanese small plates. I normally choose any place that has empty seats.
Furikake is a Japanese seasoning typically made from nori (seaweed), katsuobushi (dried Bonito flakes), sesame seeds, dried ground fish, salt, sugar and MSG.
We eat it with rice (sprinkle, make rice balls, etc.)
Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of variations of Furikake Popcorn like Furikake Chex Mix, and Furikake Salmon. I even saw a recipe for furikake fried chicken! Since these recipes are mostly from non-Japanese, I googled to see how Japanese people use furikake aside from sprinkling over rice.
This is the only text message humans should receive from another human on Sunday mornings. Even better when it’s from a person you like. It’s the by-product of spending 10+ years between two of the most amazing brunchifying cities: Manhattan and L.A. Brunch is now weaved within the fabric of my being.
In New York, my typical Sunday started with rolling out of bed, pulling my hair up into a messy bun, throwing on ridiculously over-sized sunglasses and staggering into any random place in my neighborhood. (I lived in the West Village, one of the best eating areas.) Then we would start mimosa-ing from 10:30-11am. Technically we’d order mimosas with no orange juice which is just champagne, Cava or Prosecco but ordering mimosas gave us psychological reassurances we weren’t high functioning alcoholics. And like NYers do, have a never-ending brunch (or, all day booze-fest), be home in bed by 11pm, ready to take on the week. The alcohol would knock us out early.
Brunch foods are glorious. Any sort of egg dish is my favorite, especially with luxuriously creamy runny yolks. From Eggs Benedict, to an over easy fried egg and steak, and even just a simple poached egg, I thank the brunch gods everyday for pioneering such an amazing tradition.
When I arrived to Tokyo in June of 2013, I was concerned: does brunch exist here…?
In 1854, Japan opened its doors to the outside for the first time in over 200 years. Tamamura Kozaburo, a photographer from that period called the Meiji era (明治時代 Meiji-jidai, 1868-1912) was commissioned by an American publisher to take photos for a book.
Some of the photos were retouched and sold at a British auction. Those photos are now making their rounds on the Japanese Internet.
The Snack Bar or Dagashi Bar in Japanese is on a corner of a small street, one block away from the lively food alley of Ebisu. If you don’t know of its existence, you would most likely miss it no matter how many times you walk by: it’s a dump.
In the dark the Snack Bar looks even more tattered. Metal signs are carelessly slathered onto the shack’s walls that are bleeding with rust. The front of the bar is un-inviting like the owners purposely neglected renovating to keep strangers out. I’ve come to learn the run-down look is the Snack Bar’s signature to give a retro feel.
Dagashi Bar is its name in Japanese. Dagashi are cheap snacks ranging from candy to crackers, chocolates to cakes, juices and gummies and sugared powder (like Pixi Sticks) and lots more. They are individually packaged made especially for children to easily afford with their very small allowances.
Don’t be ashamed. It’s okay. We default to Starbucks at one point or another. Especially, when exhausted from traveling or in a foreign land where you don’t speak the language. How can you not? Starbucks is familiar. The menus are mostly the same world wide.
Good news is that Starbucks in Japan is tastier than the ones in the US. The beans don’t taste burnt. Or as burnt, to be accurate.
So if any of you happen to be in Japan and like your drinks with extra-foam, the Japanese term for extra-foam is ‘foam-y’ when you order. Learned something new so I thought I’d share, too.