Monday, January 21, 2013

Tokyu Food Show, Shibuya

As a foodie who loves travelling on of my great pleasures is seeing the foodie meccas around the world. If you're in Shibuya in Tokyo to see the Scramble Crossing and Hachiko then take the time to visit Tokyu Food Show. It's a large food fair in the depachika basement of the Tokyu department store surrounding Shibuya station.

Here's a brief sample of the deliciousness inside!

High end meats like Kurobata Pork and Kobe Beef

Just about every fresh seafood you can imagine straight from Tsukiji. 

Top end precut sushi is available too, and the stock rotation is fast and fresh. 

If you're a tuna fan like I am this is the most amazing sight to behold!

Imported un-pasteurised French cheeses can be bought by the handful.

There's luxury chocolatiers including Swiss and Japanese delights.

If you're looking for something slightly more pedestrial prepared food of all kinds can also be bought to fill bento or provide for a picnic.

Omiyage are food souvenirs that can be bought throughout Japan, they're usually regional sweets packaged in beautiful ways designed to be shared with family and colleagues. A huge range is available including these freshly baked and spun sweets. 

Because we've arrived during the holidays there's lots of seasonal food like traditional New Years offerings. 

But also a few Christmas items creep in. 

My favourite thing to do in Japan is watch the chefs making food in public viewing windows, they're all over Japan and in this case it's someone pinching dumplings with amazing speed. 

Stopping at the Tokyu Food Fair is great for picking up omiyage souvenirs for Tokyo or gifts for visiting friends, wonderful for those who are self catering or just to have a poke at the hustle and bustle. It's also free entry if you're travelling on a budget but be prepared to be jostled by hungry shoppers and screamed at by hawking food vendors. 

Tokyu Food Show

Multivendor food fair, every day during Tokyu opening hours

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review: Ko-hi-kan, Asakusa

One of the surprising things to many people on arrival in Japan is how good the coffee is. You might think being an Asian nation that they're tea-centric but while there are the occasional bubble tea joints coffee is truly king in Japan. Coffee chains are just about everywhere and they're usually a great place to stop while travelling as they often have wi fi access and power points available.

Most coffee in Japan is of the strong long black variety, brewed but espresso strength. European style coffee houses and the influx of Starbucks has also increased the availability of steamed milk espresso drinks.

Coffee is also ubiquitous, they have it for breakfast they have it with dinner, they have it hot and cold, they have it at cafes and they have it in vending machines.

Ko-hi-kan means "Coffee Museum" which is elevating it a little bit, it is a coffee chain just a damn good one. Their standard brewed coffee blend can be bought for 450Y but for an extra 50 - 100Y it's worth investigating their "specialty coffee" which means a choice of siphon brewed coffee or single origin specialty coffees.

Nicaraguan Single Origin Siphon Brewed Coffee 500Y

The coffee is served the same way everywhere in Japan - hot, strong and with cream and sugar. One strange thing I find is that despite the otherwise immaculate approach to coffee they use white sugar with everything, not a raw sugar crystal to be found. 

Nonetheless this coffee is frankly *delicious* and surprisingly so, so much so that I make delighted noises and look at my partner who is looking at his coffee in as much shock as I am. This is easily the best cup of coffee I've had in months, maybe years. Even the china and silverware is fine quality, this is 500Y worth of heaven. 

Kohikan blend Iced Coffee 450Y

Coffee is served the same way whether it's hot or cold in Japan, so be prepared to pick a temperature choice when asking for coffee. This means you are expected to add sugar and cream to your iced coffee to  taste, something I prefer over the 'death by sugar' approach to iced coffee in the US. Sweetness is provided for iced coffee using sugar simple syrup (or "gum syrup" as they call it) since granulated sugar won't dissolve in the cold liquid. 

Other drinks were available like green tea lattes, iced coffees with ice cream and other fancies but honestly that brewed coffee was so damn good we couldn't get past it and it looked like the other patrons agreed. The only people I saw with other drinks were children fed sugary sweet drinks while site seeing. 

Morning Set 150Y with a coffee

If 500Y sounds pricey for a coffee then consider getting it with breakfast. 150Y on top of your coffee will get you a decent sized breakfast. In this case that means 650Y (around 7USD) for toast, salad, eggs and coffee. Delicious coffee. 

Lunch set 780Y including coffee

We came back to Kohikan for the coffee a few times so we investigated their lunch menu as well. It's not as good value in my mind but if you're looking for something predictable and good quality or you're just sick of Japanese food this would make a good option. In this case it's a ham and egg salad toasted sandwich, salad and a drink for around 8.50USD. 

All in all? Amazing coffee, worth stopping for if you find a location, good service and immaculately clean (but you begin to expect that everywhere in Japan). If you're looking for a decent quality breakfast with a good cup of coffee to fuel you before site seeing I almost can't recommend better in Japan. A++ would buy again. 


High end chain coffee
Multiple locations throughout Japan

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: La Tasca, Baltimore MD

I am always excited when I find decent food near tourist centres, it affords a great place to rest after a long walk and usually affords some great people watching.

In the US it can be difficult to find genuinely Spanish food as you usually end up with some Latin hybrid. La Tasca then surprised on two counts! We were here at lunch time so we decided to get a range of tapas to pick at.

Charcuterie and cheese with 5 Choices $22USD

Who doesn't love a big pile of meat and cheese? The choices here are good imported Spanish and French products. 

Chorizo alla Parilla $7USD

Simple but delicious, the hot paprika oil dripping off is always a good sign. 

Panceta de Cerdo $8USD

A big crispy serve of pork belly for $8, I'm a little surprised by the size but it's possible I'm still not used to US food servings. 

Albondigas alla Jiardinera $6.50USD

Albondigas are the Spanish version of Polpette and like all meatballs are a comfort food classic, this one is served in a Spanish style sauce made with red peppers and herbs. 

Espárragos Verdes a la Plancha $6.50USD

Again I'm surprised at the size of the plate for under $7 but the combination of cheaper US food and the lower cost of locally produced asparagus make for one happy foodie. Simply grilled with salt and lemon, it's a great offset to all that meat. 

The food was pretty good and the prices excellent, particularly when you think that La Tasca is right on the Inner Harbour in Baltimore and stones throw from tourist delights like Ripley's Believe it or Not. Usually this kind of area is home only to Ruby Tuesday's and chain BBQ joints so I'm happy that there's real food and it's reasonably authentic. 

That being said despite the fact that there's a lot of staff in the restaurant the service is spotty at best, it takes me a long time to get attention for drink refills and the person I do talk to blinks at me in lack of comprehension regardless of what language is used. Not a good sign. 

Given that we were in the restaurant on a gloomy quiet day I would hate to see what the service was like when they were busy, but if you're in the area for site seeing then poor service is better than eating at The Cheesecake Factory!

La Tasca

Casual tapas and homestyle Spanish cooking

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Snapshot: Hidakaya Asakusabashi

Want reliable cheap food in Japan? Hidaka-ya is a budget delight peppered all over Tokyo in convenient locations.

We discovered this chain on arrival in Asakusa, it was freezing and we'd spent a day in transit from Australia so the brightly lit signs and packed dining house seemed like a good sign. 

Spicy minced pork ramen 490Y

The ramen here is cheap, not great but warm and decent quality. There's plenty of spices and oils to mix to your delight. 

Tantanmen 580Y

They have a Tantanmen, the broth is a little thin on collagen but it makes up for it with great chilli sesame flavour, chewy noodles and fresh vegetables. 

Gyoza 200Y for 6 or 300Y for 12

The gyoza here are the real winner though, the first trip to a Hidaka-ya we got them in a ramen set for the steal of 600Y a meal for noodles and dumplings but on their own they make a great cheap snack. They're not too oily, have a light thin wrapper and a mild pork and cabbage filling. 

Kirin Ichiban Shibori Beer 300Y

Hidakaya became easier to find than public smoking areas while site seeing and so it became our default pitstop. At 900Y (around $10USD) for 2 beers, 12 dumplings and a warm place to sit and smoke? Just perfect on a cold Winter vacation. Not a smoker? No worries they have smoke free areas and all their shops are smoke free before 5pm.


Ramen and pan Asian comfort food chain
Cheap and cheerful!

1-13-4 Yanagibashi Taito
Tokyo 111-0052 Japan‎
+81 3-5835-1531

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