Tokyo Bar Game Strong AF

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I get how people visiting Tokyo for the first time go through hell and back planning trips. I can also see why it’s hard to believe when I tell people: relax and just get… lost. But I promise, Tokyo is packed to the brim with good food, booze, and everything in between that all you have to do, is walk a few steps and BOOM. Anything you put in your mouth will taste better than whatever you last put in your mouths in your home countries.

Tokyo is so massive that even after living here for almost four years, I still stumble onto new places to eat and booze. If I don’t notate, I usually forget places I randomly find.

Last Friday, I re-discovered a bar I thought I would never find again because I forgot to notate and, well, my IG caption says it all:  “Found this super hidden bar I stumbled onto a while back and thought I would never, ever, ever be able to find again — shocked, delighted, but most of all, elated! My drink of choice: #Yamazaki Mizunara 🥃”

So if you’re planning a visit don’t be afraid to come without hours of research — Tokyo is one of the best places on the planet to wander without a plan. (Unless of course, you are looking to eat at all the Michelin spots).

And just for heck of it, here are some photos from another random bar — every piece of ice is chiseled to fit the specific glassware. So incredible! *pardon the laziness of uploading screenshots of my Insta; as of late, I don’t keep photos on my phone anymore… 

Secret to Shinkansen (Bullet train) Eats

Shinkansen (bullet trains) in Japan are wonderful and as most visitors already know, it’s all about purchasing a JR Rail Pass for unlimited Shinkansen rides to get about Japan. Japan looks small but is actually pretty big and Shinkansen rides are super pricy. Like really pricy to the point where it’s cheaper to fly from Tokyo to another country. 

Anyway. The point of this post isn’t going on and on about Shinkansen because I know nothing about them except I love them. Ride them. Use them to see Japan. Even if flights are cheaper, I still choose a Shinkansen over an airplane because they are really that great. The point of the post is to rave about Shinkansen eats. One of THE BEST things about Shinkansen is you can eat and booze. In fact, it’s the only thing  people do. There are food carts that roll up and down the aisles with beer and sake and High Balls and Chu-Hi.

As much as I love the carts, I only use them to purchase booze and always, always, hunt around train stations for bentos. My personal favorite and addictions are katsu sandos (deep fried pork cutlet sandwiches). I normally never eat them, only when I ride the train.

And here’s the big, huge secret. Big Shinkansen stations are usually attached to mega department stores. And in the basements of big department stores are rows and rows and rows of tasty to-go food. Read: it’s not your typical, sad, dried out supermarket sushi.

So if you’re ever in Japan, do please find the tastiest Shinkansen eats by ignoring the train station / cart bentos and hunt in the department stores. Hopefully this tip will make your trip better. 

Love, your friendly neighborhood Japanese.

PS: The ‘best’ katsu sando are the pork fillet katsu sandwiches. Just look for the characters: ひれかつ・ヒレかつ・ヒレカツ (or simply point down to the sandwiches and ask: “hire-katsu?”)

Trail Mix

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This post has nothing to do with Japan, Japanese food or booze but I had to bookmark somewhere so why not on my blog. Granola and trail mixes are slowly becoming popular in Japan. They are still bucketed under the ‘unfamiliar Western foods’ category though, and sold in gourmet groceries and specialty stores.

The other day, I was in Mitsukoshi (equivalent to Harrod’s or Neiman Marcus). I visit the food floor once every two weeks. In Japan, food items are constantly refreshed to reflect what is in season and or its popularity. The food industry here is hardcore and I am in awe by makers who are constantly and consistently coming out with new products. In Mitsukoshi, I saw a table I had never seen before with younger ladies crowded around. I looked over and was thrilled to discover granola and trail mix! I looked at the price and laughed out loud. $15 USD for a puny not even 8oz pouch of granola or trail mix? NOPE.

Nuts and dried fruits are a bit pricey but accessible in Tokyo. I’d rather make my own. I Googled around and found a bunch of neat tips, tricks and recipes that I’m going to leave here.

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Smoked Cheese – Brilliant

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Saveur has a fantastic column called “What we learned this week” and there was a bit from this weeks I couldn’t help but share. It’s from Chef Amanda Cohen of NYC’s Dirt Candy, a popular vegetarian restaurant. Chef Cohen shares how she smokes cheese:

By using a stovetop smoker lined with tin foil and whatever type of wood chips you like, you can have smoked feta in 20 minutes. Cohen blends her feta with cream to make a smooth spread, but you can also crumble it on salads, eggs, or crusty bread. Try it with feta, goat cheese, or any other firm cheese.

Sounds so delicious. I’ve been hooked on smoked foods for a while — especially smoked edamame and smoked tofu. It’s so easy to do at home and an absolute crowd pleaser.

Here are some tips I found around the Internet on smoking:

  • How to use smoke woods by Serious Eats
  • For those who don’t have an outdoor grill (like me), How to make a stove top smoker on Saveur — with a video. LA Times Food has some tips as well here.
  • For those who rely on multiple sources (like me, more tips on Fire Craft
  • And two stores online that focus on smoking woods to get familiarized with brands (sorry, US only) here and here

One of the neighborhood places I frequent, places wood chips in a small, steep cast iron pot with handles. Hard to tell from the photo, but the pots are mini:

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They cover the bottom with woodchips, place a mini wire rack inside of the pot, place edamame on top, place the lid on and throw it into their brick oven where they bake their pizzas and pastas.

Smoked foods are so delightful, beyond Chef Cohen’s smoked cheese, the possibilities are endless.

So happy to learn smoking cheeses are simple.

Peanuts

Peanuts are a delightful addition to dishes and I’m thrilled to see them making more and more of an appearance. Or I may just be noticing now, as I don’t really eat Asian fusion food in restaurants.

Again, scrolling through Instagram I came across this:

Buttermilk fried chicken, kimchi, spicy peanuts and lime via Chef Ian Borders’ Instagram here

This is a dish from Opposite Restaurant in Bangkok (visit their website here). There’s just something about the combination of tang — be it vinegar, kimchi, anything fermented and even citrus — with peanuts that’s refreshing and so delicious. Add a bit of funk from fragrant ingredients as cilantro or kimchi and the flavors are out of this world.

One of my favorite dishes of all time actually has the same combination. It’s from Animal Restaurant in Los Angeles, CA, that I used to eat at least once a week during my consecutive two years in L.A.

Hamachi tostada from my Instagram

Animal is known for their use of meat (hence the name, duh) but this one non meat dish is so good. A tostada made with raw fish may seem off-putting at first, but don’t be fooled. The crispy tostada with a thin layer of guac, hamachi slices, raw cabbage, crispy fried onions and crunchy peanuts with herbs and a fish sauce vinaigrette not fishy at all is MAGIC. I can eat three of these in one sitting (with a bottle of wine, of course. Animal has a stellar wine selection).

At home, try sprinkling chopped peanuts and spritz lime over salads and even coleslaw. It’s so simple yet can completely transform a boring dish!

Chef Ian Borders by the way, makes salami in Thailand. His Instagram is worth a look and follow.

Also, if interested, I wrote about my experience in Bangkok here and how I was blown away by its food scene.

Julia, Jacques and Martha

What a find! In 1999, Julia Child and Jacques Pépin made Bérnaise Sauce on Martha Stewart’s Living. And today, I stumbled onto it! Stumbled is a lie. I was watching Snoop Dogg bake brownies with Martha and saw this video on the side. Snoop and Martha together by the way are so. funny. 

Anyway.

Bérnaise, is like Hollandaise but uses herbs instead of lemon juice. Bérnaise is most commonly served with steak, fish, even chicken. I prefer it with vegetables. (Serving suggestions on the bottom.)

Julia Child’s Béarnaise

1/4 cup wine vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp minced shallots
1 tbsp dried tarragon
fresh ground pepper
salt
3 egg yolks
2 sticks unsalted or clarified butter at room temperature
2 tbsp fresh minced tarragon

1 bowl of water and ice.

Directions

      1. In a small saucepan combine vinegar, wine, shallots, dried tarragon, some butter and simmer over medium heat. Reduce to about 1 tbsp and cool off by putting the saucepan into the bowl of ice water.
      2. In another saucepan, whisk 3 egg yolks with 2 tbsp of water over high to medium heat. Keep whisking until the yolk becomes thick and sticks to the whisk, gradually adding the vinegar mixture. Then add butter 1 tbsp at a time.
      3. Season sauce with tarragon, salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm by setting the saucepan into a bowl of lukewarm water.

Notes:
— butter can be melted in another saucepan beforehand. Make sure the melted butter is at room temperature or below to prevent from cooking the egg yolk mixture into scrambled eggs
— around 1:55 in the video, Jacques Pépin shares his technique of whisking the egg yolk. He whisks over a fire that is relatively hot, whisk, move saucepan away from heat, whisk, move saucepan away from heat, etc.
— at 2:22 of the video, Jacques shows his whisking technique of using his palm to navigate the whisk to evenly mix the yolk

Serving suggestions:
— steamed artichoke, pulling leaves off, dipping into the sauce and eating the meat; great appetizer
— roasted artichoke. Fantastic recipe here.
— pancetta, asparagus with poached egg
— french fries (frites)
— fried green tomatoes

…I’ve even used it with a lightly steamed broccoli, cauliflower and dare I admit, store bought salmon / crab cakes. The uses are pretty endless.

Enjoy!

Jacques Pépin: How to Chop Garlic

Master chef, legend, and one of the original food television superstars (pre-Food Network) Jacques Pépin’s knife skills are so elegant. Here, he purées garlic with his knife – no processor. I spend more time than I care to admit watching Chef Jacques cook. He is so soothing.

I also love this clip of Chef Jacques on the Rachael Ray show teaching cutting techniques. I hate how it’s on Aol (takes forever to load) but here it is: watch here.

Bonus:
Here is Jacques Pépin’s Classic Vinaigrette recipe. As summer approaches and our salad intake increases, double or triple the recipe, store in a jar and use within two weeks. This tastes identical (or even better) than the $6 bottled dressings bought in stores.

2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup wine vinegar (red or white)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a jar. Shake well before serving. Keeps refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.