Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lamb BBQ in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo

One evening in Tokyo, my cousin took Fougoo and I to a local restaurant in his neighborhood, Jiyugaoka. I apologize for not having an English name, but I unfortunately don't read or write Japanese. I did take a picture of the storefront.
My cousin told us that the restaurant was a style of Mongolian BBQ that specialized in lamb. The restaurant was on the second floor, small, a little dark, but it smelled nice.
We sat in a booth with a large charcoal burning stove with a cast iron grill on top. The grill was then prepped with a sizeable piece of lamb fat smeared onto the heated iron top.

We ordered a few plates of lamb, and the meat looked beautiful. The first plate was of thin strips of lamb, and the quality of meat was so good that we pretty much ate the lamb rare-medium rare from the grill. Unlike Korean BBQ, no marinade was used. It was meat- pure and simple.

The second plate was more of a lamb steak. It came with a sauce made with soy sauce and sesame oil that we could dip the cooked pieces of meat.
We also got several kabob skewers of lamb (below). These were lightly seasoned, as the focus of the flavor was the actual lamb meat.

On the grill, we added onion, mushrooms, and bean sprouts. This restaurant was pretty amazing, something I had never tried before. We all smelled liked smoke and lamb afterwards.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Natto Beans

Now I know the name of the blog is "This is Gonna Be Good" but I just have to write about one of the few foods I absolutely CAN'T eat... Through the past year or so, you've seen us eat tongue, tripe, tendon, kidneys, and all sorts of other innards -- in fact I don't think there is any part of an animal I wouldn't eat. No, this vile foodstuff is actually plant-based: natto beans!

You know how there are certain sounds that a human being actually loses the ability to hear or detect if not exposed to after a certain age. I believe the same for certain tastes... I watched my 4 and 5-year old nieces happily devouring the stuff. My friend rootwoman who grew up in Hawaii loves it.

Let me describe step by step the virtues of natto beans: 1) the first thing that hits you is the smell -- like rotting garbage. I adore fermented stinky tofu that, well, smells like shit, literally. I can deal with durian. I could probably even tolerate the natto bean smell if it got better upon hitting the lips. But, no. 2) as you spoon up a scoop of the beans, you'll see the sticky strands of mucous that await your mouth. Again, I'm one for strangely textured food - I love the gelatinousness of tendon or sea cucumber, but there's something about the little nuggets of the beans floating in the snotty mucous - ech... 3) finally the taste - now you would think that people put up with the smell and texture because perhaps some wondrous delightful flavor awaits. But again, no. Salty pungency gives way to bile-like bitterness. Phew!

The first time I had this delectable treat, I thought I was eating some type of peanut paste and was totally unprepared. I think I dry-heaved a little and had to spit my bite out in my napkin. This time I was able to swallow, but respectfully declined a second bite...

Snacks with Sake in Tokyo

In Tokyo, we stayed with Fougoo's brother, and on one day, they threw a birthday party for his four year old daughter. The kids were playing the the family room while the parents spent time in the kitchen having more than a few drinks.
One mom brought sake from her family's sake brewery. (the green bottle on the left) It was nice, a daiginjŨ-shu I think.
Of course, with alcohol, you have to have snacks. Well the Japanese are not just satisfied with beer nuts. My cousin's wife first busted out some seasoned roe. It's saltiness went well with the alcohol.
Then, one of the parents brought out an item packaged in aluminum foil. Inside, deep fried eel bones and chicken gizzards. The bones were crunchy and easy to eat like pretzels, and the gizzards, sprinkled with lemon were tasty.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Girls Cooking Night 4: Italian

My first post-Tokyo Girls Night was themed Italian. Marian is our resident pasta expert and she outdid herself! She made fresh linguine, tossed with a wonderful lemony-garlicky-parsley shrimp scampi.

Then also spinach-ricotta ravioli, which I had the fun job of stuffing and rolling!

We also had grilled peppers, great mushrooms with thyme and a bit of kick courtesy of brownie, and I made a vinegary caponata -- eggplant simmered with tomatoes, onion, a little celery, pine nuts, and capers (from the classic Italian Silver Spoon cookbook)

Brownie also made an amazing Peach Frangipane tart. Debbie liked the peach and almond paste middle, while I liked the crumbly buttery-salty-sugary crust, so no one minded if I just pulled off crust right off the tart!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The best nori-rice cracker ever!

I bought 2 bags of these at one of the train station platform kiosks along the Enoshima-Kamakura-Yokohama line and fell in love. Nori-wrapped rice crackers filled with cheese -- and not the powdery, salty orange kind you get in, say, Combos, but creamy, pungent camembert! We had a debate whether it was the nori or the cheese that really made these, but really it's the whole package - crunchy, creamy, flavors of seaweed and cheese inexplicably melding together deliciously...

I was a big fan of Chinese Combos (one of the few American snacks available back in 1994) which came in flavors like roast pork, American cream, and spicy shrimp, but these blew those out of the water! From that point on in the trip, I stopped at every grocery store and convenience store we passed, but never found them again... I'm on a mission now -- I brought the wrapper home with me, hoping that maybe the elusive snack can be found at the Mitsuwa in Fort Lee, NJ, or the Sunrise Mart at St. Mark's Place.

Just a little different...

More about how they've got all the same shit we've got over here, just somehow it's a little different...

Egg salad sandwich with the orangest eggs I've ever seen.

Mini-hot dogs baked into the crust "pigs in blanket"-style from Pizza Hut. I didn't get pictures of the shrimp and corn, the eggplant meat sauce, or the ham and potato pizzas we had.

Jonathan's, Tokyo

As Vincent Vega notes in Pulp Fiction, one of the great things in traveling abroad is when things seem almost like home, but are just a little different...

Take Jonathan's, for instance. Nice friendly family restaurant, like Denny's or Bob Evans back home. Same laminated color menus, same institutional waiter uniforms, same vinyl booths. But here instead of flounder with lemon-butter sauce, you can get grilled flatfish with saikyo miso sauce.

Instead of spaghetti with meatballs, you can get spaghetti with salmon roe, nori, and scallops.

Instead of meatloaf, you can get hamburg steak with minced daikon, or with creamy gratin cheese sauce and eggplant.

Instead of mac and cheese, baked shrimp gratin.

And instead of chocolate pudding, coffee jelly topped with vanilla ice cream!

We were also big fans of the du-rin-ku ba-ru -- the unlimited soda fountain dispensing such treats as Calpis carbonated or uncarbonated, Melon Fanta, or Cassis juice.

Monday, May 14, 2007

First Kitchen Flavor Potato

To continue in the fast food Golden Week vein, we tried the special "Flavor Potato" at First Kitchen, "A City Convenience Restaurant." They dump the fries in a paper bag and sprinkle seasonings, which you can shake the bag to coat all over your fries. The Golden Week special flavor was ume-nori (sourplum with seaweed) -- salty-sour goodness - yum!

Welcome Back Mega Mac!

So we felt a bit like tourists going to McDonald's while we were in Japan, but the reason for going was more cultural exploring. It being the Japanese holiday Golden Week, all businesses and restaurants were running specials, and Mickey D's was the return of old friend Mega Mac -- a 4 x 4 Big Mac: 4 patties and 4 slices of cheese. As my brother notes, it fixes the poor beef/cheese to bread ratio of the traditional Mac (2:3) tipping the scale to 4:3.

Interesting how in the States McDonald's is trying to shed its fat-promoting image, leaving the pushing of the fat envelope to Burger King, but is happy enough to clog the arteries of Asians.

Also special to McD's Japan is the Ebi Filet-O. Like a Filet-O-Fish, but with a shrimp patty. Pretty tasty, actually, and I appreciated that it had less tartar sauce.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Okonomiyaki Food Stand at Aoyama Flea Market

While out at a flea market in Aoyama, Licking Pants, Fougoo, and I saw this okonomiyaki food stand nearby so we decided to grab a bite.
Okonomiyaki is orginally a dish from Osaka, and it basically means "whatever you want grilled up". It starts with a batter like a pancake or crepe and you basically throw whatever topping you want on it.
At this stand, they used cabbage, pickled ginger, and egg. When done, the pancake was folded over and topped with okonomiyaki sauce- which tastes like a sweeter teriyaki sauce. They also added bonito flakes and Japanese mayo.
A great snack to start you off on a day of shopping on Sunday in Tokyo.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Jangara Ramen in Harajuku, Tokyo

Fougoo's and my first favorite ramen shop in Tokyo is Jangara Ramen located in Harajuku. It is right ouside the JR station and always has a line to get in. It's originally from the island of Kyushu, and it's specialty is ramen served in a tonkotsu broth made from pork bones. It's rich, delicious, and hits the spot every time.

Fougoo ordered the straight ahead broth up top, but I am partial to the one with spicy miso just above which is a little heavier. The noodles are yummy, and the pieces of fatty pork floating about are what is so right (and wrong) about really good pork. If that's not enough, there is also a hard boiled soy egg in the soup as well. I admit it, after finishing my bowl, soup and all, I had Fougoo give me her remaining broth and added an extra order of noodles to finish her bowl off.

In Japan, it is considered rude to blow you nose. This label was on the tissue box used for napkins at the shop, but how can you not want to blow your nose after a hot bowl of ramen?

Beef at Takashimaya Department Store, Tokyo

Fougoo posted up pictures from the amazing basement food section of the Takashimiya department store.
I went with her brother over to the most amazing beef selection I have ever seen. If steaks in US stores only looked half as good as these cuts. I have heard the description of marbling of fat, but these pieces of beef are ridiculous. I think the top steaks are equivalent to Prime cuts, but the ones just above are Kobe or Wagyu Beef steaks.
These were thinly sliced pieces- possibly to eat raw or for BBQ.

This was the most expensive beef- it approximates to $50 for 100gm of beef (about $225/pound). It was aged Kobe. Look at the fat! Amazing.

Hachiya Ramen Shop at Yokohama Ramen Museum

So here is my experience at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Musem (or Raumen as they spelled it). Their website calls it a "Ramusement Park" and it was indeed. I loved the throwback 1950's Japan atmosphere where all the Ramen shops were set up, especially the Mechagodzilla billboard.
I agree with Fougoo about the Shinasobaya Ramen from the "Demon of Ingredients"- it was simple elegant ramen.
In counterpoint, I went to the Hachiya Ramen shop because of one enticing work - LARD. The shop's broth consists of pork bone with a taste of fish, but the special ingredient is grilled lard added to the broth and noodles. Needless to say, the broth is very rich and filling. Of course I prefer the "hard" noodles, and the soup included sliced pork and cabbage. I added the garlic paste made by the shop to the broth which added a further complexity to the broth's flavor.
I already want to go back to the museum to try more bowls.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Food section of Takashimaya, Tokyo

I think it's hard if you've never been to Japan to conceive of just how amazing the food sections in department stores are. Forget all your notions of the gourmet sections of Bloomingdale's or even Harrod's. Instead imagine all the floor space devoted to clothing, devoted to food. Imagine, say, the entire Philadelphia Reading Terminal Market, plus an entire Whole Foods, in the basement of a department store.

The variety is astounding -- everything from fresh butchered meats and fish, to bento boxes, to top-of-the-line (and price tag) fruit, to French pastries, to barrels of gizzards and hearts, to mountains of fish roe, to steamed buns, fresh omelettes, freshly steamed tofu, and on and on. You could make a meal just from going around eating free samples. If I lived near a place like this, I could buy a different thing for dinner every night and not repeat myself for years. Words don't do it justice, so here are just a sampling of pics:

More mochi than you can imagine:

Western breads and pastries:

Overpriced fruit -- the perfect melons for $200 a pair!

Fresh seafood:

Prepared foods (including quite possibly the best omelette I've ever had):