Happy Year of the Horse from Tokyo, Japan. My husband, Dick and I are on our annual (well almost, we skipped last year) January visit this time only for less than 2 weeks instead of our usual 1 month stay making it is really difficult to see all of our friends this time. January is usually clear and although cold, milder than Boston! Deep fuchsia camellias are always in bloom and the shinto shrine Yushima Tenjin, which is just 3 minutes walk from our apartment is filled with students and their families praying for good results on school entrance exams. Wooden plaques called ema are sold by shrines for people to write their wishes and then hang them on stands within the grounds to be received by the Gods.
The entrance way is lined with food stands and stalls selling talismans for good fortune. The day I arrived I went straight to the shrine and had my favorite street snack takoyaki, octopus fritters. So delicious! And of course okonomiyaki – stuffed savory pancakes.
A big highlight of the week was finally meeting Yukari Sakamoto, the author of “Food Sake Tokyo,” one of the best guide books to eating, drinking and gourmet shopping in Tokyo. Although we have communicated by email for several years, we had yet to meet. Yukari was kind enough to do a blurb for my cookbook.
Even for an old Japan hand like me, who has spent many years here over 4 decades, there was plenty of information and places(new and old) to go that I never knew about. We met at Tsukiji and Yukari showed me around her favorite shops of the outer market that has everything from prepared specialty food items like thick tamago yaki (round egg omelets), handcrafted knives, cutlery, dried beans, dried fish and seaweed,
kitchen and tableware,
and fresh fish,of course!
Bicultural and bilingual, Yukari was born in Japan and raised in Minnesota. She has the unique ability to connect and communicate, on top of which she is one very friendly and open gal. Everyone in the market seems to know her and she has a smile and a greeting for all. Add to that a deep understanding of Japanese cuisine, foodstuffs and spirits ( she is also a wine and shochu sommelier!) and it is a powerful package of knowledge and know-how. We made our way around the market as I bought hakkoku-mai a unique 8-grain and bean mix (adzuki beans, black rice, millet, oats, quinoa- to name a few) to cook with short-grain white rice, thus enhancing its nutritional value. You soak the mixture and then add it to the rice just before cooking. I tried it as soon as I got back to the apartment and it was delicious, had varied texture and was colorful.
We had lunch at Trattoria Tsukiji Paradiso a relatively new addition to the restaurant scene there. Yukari snagged a reservation for 11:00AM and she was thrilled. The restaurant has a Sicilian feel with colorful blue and yellow folksy tiles. In keeping with its surroundings it has many seafood offerings. I had a fantastic al dente pasta with shellfish that was cooked to perfection. The menu is limited which means everything on it is a specialty… in my eyes.
If you ever have the opportunity Yukari does private tours (2 people maximum) of landmark food and shopping destinations in Tokyo: Tsukiji Market, depaachika – the wondrous lower level gourmet shops of department stores, artisan shops in Nihonbashi and the restaurant supply district Kappabashi. You can contact her directly through her very informative website/blog:
Stay tuned for week 2 in Tokyo…….