Monday, August 31, 2009

Tully's Honey Walnut Donut

Two reasons I'm writing this post: 1. I just got an iPhone and wanted to try posting from my phone and 2. to talk about chains in Japan. There are a lot of familiar chains here in Japan and most are worth checking out because of the drastic cultural differences between the East and West expectations and tastes. 7-Eleven is a popular example. 7-Elevens in the States are usually grimy, often times dangerous and always bad for your health. 7-Elevens here are ubiquitous and offer really good food. It's also a bank believe it or not. I'll probably do a post on Japanese Convenient Stores ("Kombinis" in Japanese) in the near future since they play a big role in Japanese life.

I'm digressing. My main point about chains are that they're worth a peak. I am currently obsessed with Tully's. I lived in Seattle for 4 years and probably hit up Tully's once. (Although, it is worth mentioning that Tully's has really good soft serve.) I go to my local Tully's in Tokyo everyday and get a honey walnut donut warm (ワル なっと ドナッと)and an iced coffee (アイス コ ヒ) and read or study Japanese for a few hours. Cafes are very popular hang out spots here, so it's also a great place to people watch. If you're a smoker, you can also sit in the smoking section be honest, is where all the cool people sit. I'm contemplating smoking just so I can join the cool kids. I hardly ever drink hot coffee but am always annoyed that American chains don't carry simple syrup for iced drinks. (Sugar dissolves much slower in cold beverages...) Not a problem in Japan! Gum syrup is everywhere and is just another example of their commitment to customer satisfaction. Also, I finally caved and tried a Swirkle. It's basically Tullys' version of a Frappacino and I think they're trying to play off the word "swirl" but I don't know why there is a K in it. Oh Japan.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

ABC Cooking School :: Low Cal Brunch

In an effort to get out of the house and perhaps make a friend or two, I decided to take a cooking class at a nearby cooking school. I remember when I first visited Tokyo, I was super envious of all the ladies at ABC Cooking Studio at Tokyo Midtown. Upon further research, I learned that it is a popular place among young women and you can learn how to bake bread shaped like pandas as well as classic Japanese food. I was impatient, so I signed up for the first English class available which was how to cook a healthy brunch for less than 350 kcal total. This consisted of seafood risotto, steamed veggies with a cheese dip and coconut meringues.

I was told to arrive with an apron, a hand towel and house-slippers. My teacher for the day was Sumiko and she spoke very good English but I don't think we're going to be friends because she kept bringing up the fact that I don't know how to use chopsticks. There was one other person in the class, Miho. Miho is a Japanese girl around my age that wore a Chanel top to class. This is unrelated, but should be noted. She also is a big fan of Whitney Port from The City and "Rauren" from The Hills. She hates Spencer and Heidi and loves Linkin Park and Dr. House.

For low fat cooking, this meal was very tasty and filling. The seafood risotto used a mixture of rice and barley and was mixed with clams, octopus and prawns in a tomato broth. I've never cooked with clams or octopus, so I was happy to try something new. I learned that I enjoy eating clams and that you have to smash octopus before you cook it or else it will be to gummy. The steamed veggies were nothing to write home about, but they were tasty and inspired me to steam some broccoli last night. Other than helping make my own lunch, I had to wash a lot of dishes in the process, but it was a good opportunity to chat with Miho.

I hope to take another class at ABC, preferably cooking something that looks a little more like a panda.

ABC Cooking School International
Tokyo Midtown, B1F 

Roppongi Station (Hibiya, Oedo) 

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bistro SMAP

I've been watching a lot of Japanese TV to help acclimate my brain to the Japanese language and a few things I've noticed so far are that they love watching people eat and that the same TV personalities and celebrities are seen in commercials. I'd say that 80% of the what is on TV involved food in some way and that is A-OK with me. SMAP is a Japanese boy band that has been popular for decades. They're like the Japanese Menudo except they don't replace any of the members and they are still popular. They're well into their 30's now but they're EVERYWHERE. They have a variety show on TV called SMAPxSMAP and one of the segments is called BISTRO SMAP. From what I can tell, members of the band cook a meal for a celebrity guest in teams of two, then the guest chooses a winner. Most of the time, I have no idea what is going on, but it's fun to see these guys cooking. Take that J-Timberlake!

The clip above is a BISTRO SMAP segment from a few years ago with Cameron Diaz and Jude Law. It's kind of boring but I thought I'd post it because I just watched Lost in Translation and was reminded of Anna Faris' character Kelly and how Sofia Coppola based her off of Cameron Diaz. The similarities are striking.

Lastly, here is the coolest commercial I've ever seen featuring SMAP. I am particularly fond of the guy second from the right with the longish hair. His name is KimuTaku and if things don't work out with my roommate, I'm going to marry him and live in the house where this commercial was taped. Watch the entire clip to understand why.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shaved Ice

It is hot as a fothermucker in Tokyo right now but I've gotten a little used to it. Here's a great link on how Japanese people keep cool in the summertime. (Shout out to Just Hungry, a great blog about Japanese cooking) I've really embraced keeping cool by eating Shaved Ice. I first discovered shaved ice in Oakland, CA on a fun filled high school trip with my girlfriends. It's cold, slightly creamy and there are all kinds of treasures along the way. Boba, mochi, beans, fruit - the list goes on.

I've had 2 in the last 2 days. The first was from a shaved ice truck on Omotesando (a long street filled with designer stores and trendy folk near Harajuku). I opted for the Adzuki Ice but they also offered Ichigo (strawberry) and Mango. This was a perfect treat and I kind of wanted to order another, but showed some restraint. The next day I went hiking up Mt. Takao and treated myself to a Strawberry shaved ice at the summit. I deserved it, right? This was slightly less satisfying taste wise because it lacked the treasures I mentioned above and also did not have condensed milk. I could (and have) drink condensed milk out of the can. Yum.


Here are some random photos I took of McDonald's and Burger King in Tokyo.

The marketing here is quite peculiar. Burger King has decided to promote something called the "Angry Whopper" which is spicy...thus angry. McDonald's on the other hand is going with making fun of white people to hawk their burgers. Point McDonald's. Apparently the Western world has gotten word, but I think most people will just find this funny, not offensive. (Thanks for the link Sarah!) A few things about McDonald's here:
  1. Much like the rest of Japan, McDonald's is clean and friendly. So much so, that when my McNuggets were not ready to be served, they asked me to find a seat upstairs and brought me my piping hot McNuggets waiter style.
  2. They still deep fry their Apple Turnovers. A friend of mine kept telling me this and to be honest, at the time, I didn't find it that interesting. But I finally ordered one and realized what I'd been missing ever since McDonald's USA changed to a baked apple turnover. Amazing!
  3. They have monthly specials that change according to the season. During the World Baseball Classic, they served a McHotdog until 11:30am. Hot dogs because of baseball and only to 11:30am because the games were shown in the morning. They are currently hawking the Tamago Double Mac - double mac with an egg.
  4. His name is Donald McDonald in Japan.

Revelation: Momo Candy

I had an "aha!" moment the other night. My "roommate" took me out for a late night drink at a tiny cocktail bar near our apartment. This place reminded me of all those new speakeasies popping up in New York (Angel's Share, Milk & Honey, Employee's Only) only way more authentic. The bartender asked me what I wanted to drink and started listing off fruit. I stopped him at "momo" because I know that means peach and I love peach. He proceeded to juice a fresh peach and mix it with champagne. It was lovely and oh so classy.

The point I'm trying to make is that up until that first sip, I didn't realize that Asian peach flavored candies really do taste like peaches. If you've ever had a peach gummy or hard candy from the Asian market, you know that though the flavor is tasty, it's not exactly peachy. Oh how ignorant we've been! Peaches in Asia do actually taste like that. Now you know and knowing is half the battle.

And yes, I obviously snatched this image from And no, he's not really my "roommate" but he wanted a cool nickname and I couldn't think of anything better.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Banana Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream

I was hit by an intense snack attack last night so I walked down to the local "kombini" (convenience store) to browse the offerings. Kombinis are very popular in Japan but they're much different than in the States. They're very clean and their ready food section is really tasty! You can get a quick lunch for very cheap without sacrificing taste.

I really wanted ice cream and I ended up with a perfectly sized snack cup of Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream. I usually opt for coffee because that is my pop's favorite sweet of all time but I ended up with Banana Chocolate Cookie. Banana ice cream (yum!), chocolate syrup (oh yeah!) and Oreo cookie bits (genius!).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Go Go Curry!

My first lazy Sunday in Japan got a start at Go! Go! Curry! in Shinjuku. Curry is a really popular dish in Japan, but it isn't like Indian or Asian Curry. The sauce is pretty thick and is not very spicy. It's eaten over rice and normally has some sort of breaded meat on top. The first time I had Japanese Curry (or kare in Japanese), I fell in love.

Go! Go! Curry! is a chain with 8 locations in Tokyo and 1 in New York. The proprietor is a huge Hideki Matsui fan and that is the theme of his shops. (Here is a picture of "Godzilla" holding up sketch of his new bride. Huh?) Go Go means "55" in Japanese which is also Matsui's number. For entertainment, they play 3 things: a Go Go Curry documentary, rap songs about Hideki Matsui and 1 classical tune. I'm not sure if they still do this, but when Matsui played for the Yomiuri Giants, patrons would receive a 55 yen discount on their meal when he hit a homerun.

All kitsch aside, the curry is really delicious. I had an economy side (the sizes are airplane themed, economy, business class and first class) pork tonkatsu curry. It comes with a side of cabbage and pickled daikon which make for a nice contrast to all that spice!

For those of you in New York, you can give Go Go Curry a try. It truly is an authentic Japanese meal.

* I have to add that I myself have paid homage to a professional baseball player that shares the same number as Matsui, so Go! Go! Curry is pretty special to me. I typically add the number 55 to my email addresses because my name is so popular that it's impossible to have an email address w/out a number. Ramon Hernandez used to be the catcher of the Oakland A's (back when they mattered). I think I liked him because he was really pudgy and felt like no one else liked him so I owed it to the guy to be his fan. Other than being a chubster, he's best known for his awesome walk off bunt against the Red Sox in the 2003 ALDS with bases loaded, 2 outs and 2 strikes. In my opinion, he deserves a chain of curry shops too.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tokyo Treats :: Week 1

The eater has landed! My new IP address causes my Blogger account to display in Japanese, so please be patient as I figure things out. I've only been here for 3 days but I wanted to throw up a quick post so everyone (all 4 of you) can see that I've arrived safe and soundly. First things first, airplane food is just awful. Seriously - please do not serve people Salmon Cream Pasta with a Ranch Dressing Salad and Seafood Curry on a 10 hours flight. Yick.

My first meal in T
okyo was from the local grocery store. I picked up some white rice, potato salad and ham and cheese croquettes. J-peeps love croquettes and there is good reason. They use panko crumbs so there is a nice crisp crust that soaks up the sauce they give you on the side. J-Potato Salad is also a bit different than the classic American. It's very creamy with chunks of pickles and carrots. It's made with Kewpie Mayo which is slightly sweeter than regular mayo.

My Japanese is not that great right now, so I'm too intimidated to go to a real restaurant. Thus far, I've just gotten bento boxes from convenience stores but I don't mind because I get to try a lot of stuff. Day 2's dinner was a salmon bento with flavored rice and steamed veggies on the side. I got an impromptu Fireworks show on my balcony as entertainment which made the simple meal so luxurious.

Day 3's lunch was a pleasant surprise. I stopped by a local Ramen shop but ended up having a Buta Negi-don (Pork Spring Onion Rice Bowl). The pork tasted EXACTLY like Vietnamese Thit Kho without the eggs. It
was amazing! It's too hot to cook right now but I can't wait to whip up some of my mom's dishes in my robot kitchen.

I'll leave you with this lovely Tully's Coffee sign. If anyone can tell me what a Swirkle is, I'll buy you one.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cooking Mama :: Curry Ga (Chicken Curry)

Our family has a lot of parties. We like to party. Most of our parties center around food and this past weekend, I had the honor of contributing a dish to my maternal grandfather's Gio. I'm not exactly sure of the official definition of Gio (pronunced "Zoooooooohhhh") but from my 25 years of attending them, I've come to the conclusion that it is a causal party where you eat double your body weight in Vietnamese food, get teased by your cousins and run around with kids. Somewhere in there, a Disney movie is playing in the background while we burn incense. If anyone else has a better definition, let me know. ANYHOO - my mom showed me how to cook Vietnamese Chicken Curry. You can eat it with rice or with bread. I prefer bread.

  • 3 lbs chicken on the bone (mix of white and dark meat)
  • 2 tablespoons madras curry powder
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped large pieces
  • 1 large potato, peeled and chopped into large pieces
  • 1 white onion, quartered
  • 4 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons ground lemongrass (buy it pre-grounded at Asian Markets)
  • 6 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
Flavor the Bird :: Wash the chicken and pat dry. Marinate the chicken with the garlic, curry powder and salt and pepper. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes. In the meantime, prep the veggies. It's best to keep all the pieces about the same size so they cook at the same rate.

Sear the Bird :: In a large pot, sear the chicken on medium high heat in a little bit of olive oil. You don't need to worry about cooking the meat, just sear the outside to seal in the juices. If you have too much meat, you can sear the meat in batches in a large skillet, then transfer to a pot.

Drown the Bird :: When all the pieces have been browned, cover the meat with water and add the veggies and bay leaf. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes. Salt and pepper the broth to taste.

Turn off the heat and add the coconut milk. Stir it in well. If you want to thicken up the sauce, you can add some cornstarch but make sure to dissolve the cornstarch in water before you add it. It does a weird clumpy thing otherwise.

Eat the Bird :: Stupid Blogger won't let me turn this photo sideways, so sorry for the headache. This is my plate from the gio. As you can see, I got a little bit of everything with the curry in the red bowl. It was a hit and we didn't have any leftover to take home, which is a good sign.