Saturday, 28 November 2009

time flies...

Although my family moved out a while ago, I was born and grew up on Omotesando Street in Harjuku, that was originally an approach to Meiji-jingu Shrine through the Aoyama area.

This highest street in Tokyo is now known as the “Champs Elysees” in Far East, the epicentre of shopping and fashion trends. In the pre-booming period of a couple of decades ago, however, the atmosphere had a different face. According to my mom, she hardly passed her neighbours when taking an afternoon walk with me in buggy. Low-rise buildings and houses were dotted around, and our apartment was located next to a birds-singing garden attached to a big Catholic church. All were in peace and tranquillity, but, those days have gone...

If you say that giant metropolises like London, Paris or New York are changing “monthly”, Tokyo is changing “minutely”. So, it happens that your Tokyo guide book (even Michelin's) is turned into rubbish easily. Beware!

In my childhood, eating out was still a special activity because the food-service industry was limited in variety such as sushi restaurant, hotel dining, ramen (Japanese-born Chinese noodle) bar, Korean BBQ, coffee shop (not chichi cafe yet) and some McDonald’s & KFC outlets. It is quite recent phenomenon that Japanese became fussy for international cuisines with incomprehensible words of “patisserie”, “boulangerie”, “gelateria”, bla bla bla.

My sweet reminiscence is traced back to American 70’s style “Olympia Diner” on the ground floor of Coop Olympia Apartment near Harajuku station. (Obviously, both were named after Tokyo Olympics in 1964, when the building was founded.) We used to stop by there before or after shopping at the supermarket in the basement. For me, that's such a grown-up space to offer “decent Western foods" including burgers with chips, coleslaws, sugary doughnuts and chocolate shakes. The diner has gone too, though.

Today, my burger recipe is a homage to the diner’s chef.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


Hot lemonade saves my body and soul around this time of year when Xmas is almost upon us.

The simple combo between freshly squeezed lemon juice, pure honey and hot soft water gives me warming, relaxing and soothing effects. The sourness of lemon, at the same time, kicks my dozing brain in the lazy afternoon. What a winter magic!

Winter lemon is good indeed, for its skin becomes so thin that more juiciful flesh is expected against its summer stony version. (So is in your country?) I often encase each quarter of a whole lemon juice in a teeny plastic container and keep them in a fridge to cope with any urgent use.

Honey. Well, there’s four bottles of honey in my cupboard. American bear-shaped SueBee Clover is my daily company while French Les Abeilles Amandier (Almond flower) is pricey one in case that I need more kitchen therapy. Chestnuts flavoured Italian honey rich in herbal-like aroma isn’t a close friend with the lemony tang, but, goes fine with buttered toasts. French Hediard All Flower Honey, I don’t know yet.

In her dictionary, Nigella L defines the “soothing, pure, would-be restorative food” as “Templefood”. Lemonade is “Templedrink” in mine, accordingly...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

not apple, but soy

Without fail, “soy sauce” (shoyu) is a desert island item for Japanese. Miniature bottles of soy are our standby in travelling abroad. Amazing.

There are always 20 to 30 varieties of soy lined on supermarket shelves in Japan. Most are from the giants while some are locally produced, matured in taste like Italian aged balsamic vinegar. If..if you’re a soy virgin and confused which to choose, try Kikkoman’s “Premium Soy”, which is my family’s regular. That gives not only a proper quality, but friendly price for daily use.

I felt so proud to find Nigella Lawson on TV sprinkling her Kikkoman over her simmering middle-eastern lamb stew to give depth of flavour in place of salt. My action was nearly to call them to sponsor the international domestic goddess... Soy could have taken its throne in the seasoning kingdom!!

As well as Chinese counterparts, Japanese soy is very briefly categorised as two groups; “dark-coloured” (koi-kuchi) and “light-coloured” (usu-kuchi). The first soy is referred to as what is called “soy cause” used for both cooking in the kitchen and seasoning dishes as you like at the table. We, on the other hand, use the second soy to add saltiness without colouring a lot “in cooking”.

Japanese also has “tamari” soy originated in Central Japan, with more robust flavour suitable for sushi and sashimi, but for long, I haven’t seen anyone interested in tamari in Tokyo. Although sweeter version of soy is totally a stranger to me, it seems standard in Southern Japan. Well, family members of soy are countless.

Do you know “murasaki” literally meaning “purple” is the sushi terminology for soy? If you ask at a sushi restaurant in Japan, “please pass me murasaki”, your server will treat you as a gastronomic traveller, I promise...probably 80%.

Soy is rich in vitamin B, amino acid, mineral, etc. One teaspoonful of soy a day keeps the doctor away?? Maybe, we don’t need an apple.

PS. I personally think Kikkoman’s export soy doesn’t work well as it once required far more quantity than expected in my cooking. So, try to get the domestically-circulated bottle in a Japanese or Asian grocery. Final tip!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Beaujolais, Beaujolais, Beaujolais

The release day of the freshest French wine has come!

It is odd enough that Japanese can’t wait for this foreign-made alcohol every year, but, thanks to TD, Japan is the first guest to be offered Beaujolais Nouveau in the world. So, we deserve it.

At midnight on the third Thursday in November, some locations in Tokyo are turned into party venues to celebrate the arrival of the French beauty, with celebrities smiling and holding up ruby glasses. From the day on, wine shops, department stores and Seven-Elevens are busy selling them out through their tasting campaigns. This festive mood seems calming this year due to the severe recession, but, has still been marked as a must-have winter event before Xmas since the golden “bubble” era in the 80s.

In a spa complex called “Kowaki-en” in Hakone, Kanagawa pref, more surprisingly, one large bath is filled with spring water and real Beaujolais Nouveau so that bathers can enjoy its colour as well as aroma (some might taste… alas!). Hope… hope that French is not peeping my blog.

Well, my family pre-ordered three bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau Ch√Ęteau de Boisfranc (JPY 3,600 per bottle) from “Mavi”, the pioneering organic wine shop in Tokyo. They’re already at hand and just a minute to go with supper. Oops! don’t miss a toast to “2009”, which is the best grape producer in 50 years.

Cool or uncool, everyone adores something jolly on cold winter days, right?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

about me

Tokyo is a huge capital with the population of nearly 13 million. People come in the city from every corner of Japan, and they never leave… because the sleepless city is full of temptations; theatres, galleries, hotels, clubs, fashions, restaurants, swings of jazz, and all other indulgences. Who cares the bad economic climate???

Is the life of real Tokyoite, then, fancy enough?? I was born and grew up in the centre of Tokyo as the third generation of Tokyoite. I work, sometimes drink out, but often cook at home with fresh ingredients. Daily eating is "simple" as well as healthy even in the “gastronomic crucible”.

“The lacquer spoon” is to deliver the simple lifestyle of one Tokyoite focusing on its food culture. It opens tips which guide books don’t speak up. No fancy words here, really.

the lacquer spoon x
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