Friday, September 7, 2007

Yanaka Coffee

A recent excursion into the Yanesen* area (a triangular section of northeastern Tokyo, the three points being Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi) found me a damn good coffee shop. I define damn good coffee shop as a) delicious b) reasonably priced, and c) good vibes. And if they roast your beans for ya too, well, you just earned yourself some extra credit, mister!

The iced cafe au lait at the top of this post (I think they called it iced milk coffee here) was about ¥250, if I remember correctly, and was very good. While I sipped on it I browsed the 30+ coffee beans from around the world on display, chose 200g of a Columbia extra dark blend (¥1,080), and watched them roast the beans in their roaster. It takes 20 minutes, the lady told me, so I left to take a walk aroound the neighborhood.

When I returned, a warm bag of aromatic, almost chocolatey beans were waiting for me, which perfumed my handbag quite nicely for the remainder of the evening, thank you very much.

Look for this kind of entrance with dark wooden planks, spot lights and large script characters that spell out the cafe's name, やなか.

* Yanesen is perfect for a day-off or afternoon adventure. For a better explanation of the area and some very sound recommendations for spots to visit, refer to this Metropolis article.

谷根千 yanesen

Sendagi Shop
2-31-3 Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku
T 0120-(877)-281 F 03-5815-8982

Koiwai Gourmet Fan expensive. At ¥349 a carton, it's like Christmas Day compared to the economical ¥149 Bulgaria ones. But, man it is soo good! Over coffee and a splurge over the G.S.* recently, I seriously contemplated this tendency of mine to not purchase regularly the Gourmet Fan due to the additional ¥200--and then weighed it with the joy that very same ¥200 buys me when I have a carton of it in my fridge. And guess who won? Yes, peeps, it's Christmas Day every day now!!

On the whole, Japanese yogurt is all delicious and far superior, I hate to say, to their American cousins (Tokyolites, what do you think?). The reason is simple: it is not pasteurized to death. I think in the US there are extremely strict regulations on pasteurizing dairy, and in Japan, not. (I'm not sure if there have been problems arisen from that.) So anyone who ever lands in Japan, the first thing I enthusiastically recommend you do is buy yourself some yogurt--any yogurt--and bask in its deliciousness. You will thank me. Or the yogurt company, that's fine too.

My favorite yogurt in the world (not even exaggeratin'!) is this Gourmet Fan. The stuff is made with fresh cream! How can you go wrong??

The thickened yogurt on the edge of the carton is the best.

* Oh c'mon. The Good Shit!

小岩井プレミアムクリームヨーグルト グルメファン Koiwai Premium Cream Yogurt Gourmet Fan

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Curry Dorayaki

Soooo sorry for the long absence, readers!! >_< The heat, it seemed, affected my ability to blog. That, or Facebook (it's all close call).


Dorayaki are two palm-sized castella pancakes that sandwich something sweet, traditionally anko, or sweet red bean paste.

Castella itself is sweet spongy cake* (traditionally Spanish and/or Portuguese in origin but now a ultra-standard Japanese sweet which can be found virtually anywhere from fairs, conbini's to depa-chika's**), brought over by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century to Nagasaki, the international trading port at that time. Even today, it is said that the best castella in Japan come from Nagasaki.

Anko, is made by boiling heaps of azuki beans, dumping in what should be illegal amounts of sugar, and then mashing them all up until they are of your desired consistency (chunky? Smooth? Who knew Skippy had such a global perspective on his recipes?), and then cooled. Anko is used in a plethora of Japanese sweets (I'm not even exaggerating. Go ahead, count 'em! One plethora, two plethora, three plethora...). The funny thing is, lots of people don't like anko, because--here's the paradox of the century--it's too sweet. Even for Japanese people, and they're the ones who are all "ooooh, milk shakes, it's just sugar!" or "M n M's?! How can you eat so much chocolate it's so sweet!" It's like, harrro! Have never had anko you crazy person? That stuff is like diabetes to go. And the icing on the cake, of course, is that we sandwich anko with castella. (I recommend green or hojicha tea straight-up as your accompanying beverage.)

So, me. I am not a huge fan of anko, so dorayaki is something I don't buy for myself unless my Japanese sweet tooth is begging for it (my left is Japanese, my right is American). But over the summer a friend kindly brought with her extra-special dorayaki, each with a different filling including custard, pumpkin, the standard anko and--whaaat's this??--curry. As a certified, die-hard, no-nonsense curry freak (not to mention castella fan), I was elated when nobody claimed the curry dora-chan as their own and I was left to taste-test it. Dear God, please don't let it be a sugared-up curry! ...I thought, truthfully, just as I unwrapped it. But on the other hand, I was just as anxious about it being a regular salty curry sandwiched between castella.

Oh hell with it, just bite into it already!!

The only-mildly spicy curry was complemented well by slivers of almonds--it all worked to be classifed, still, as a sweet! And definitely a stylish omiyage (souvenir/gift) to give. (Especially when they are assorted so well. Thank Kahori!!)

Oh readers, you are going to kill me, I have no idea where they are from!! I'm pretty sure its in the Nihonbashi/Mitsukoshi-mae area. Anyone who finds out, do let me know!!

* To be absolutely fair, castella deserves to be called more than "cake". In fact, it's one of the best things in the world. And as a true castella lover, I'd like to refer you to the outstanding video illustrating the process of making this cake by Fukusaya, hands-down my favorite castella maker in Japan. And now I see why they're so great; they have robots working for them!! Human-looking ones!!

** Depa-chika are department store basements--"chika" in Japanese--and that's where the Japanese goverment hides all the good food from the North Koreans. Just kidding, but that is where all the good food is. From bento to deli items to designer fruit baskets to Belgium chocolates to wagashi, it's all here.

どら焼き dorayaki
あんこ anko
カステラ castella
デパ地下 depa-chika