Thursday, March 27, 2008


Free-range chicken and daikon radish udon.

Wow--gorgeous in looks and taste. The chicken was meaty, juicy and melt-in-your mouth good. The two daikon pieces were huge, which is great, but soft from being steeped in broth and seasonings for pobably an hour or so. There was even a large carrot which had also been pre-cooked and was just as good. Gorgeous orange color.

The broth and udon were less impressive. But I am biased.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Unexpected Coffee Break 2

Twice in one week!

On Sunday the haru-ichiban winds were out of control. (Haru-ichiban are very strong, slightly warm gusts of wind said to be the start of spring. Think: Mary Poppins.) They stopped traffic, literally, halting and delaying JR trains all across Tokyo. Of course, as God (or Murphy or Christophe) would only have it, Ninapod and I were scheduled to arrive for luncheon (that was on purpose--a mere lunch? No, this was a *luncheon*) at a long-time family friend and former neighbor's house about an hour away. In fact, this was even a rescheduled luncheon from two weeks prior when a (get this) a snowstorm (in how many years in Tokyo??) intercepted our gathering, icing the roads and even making sure Nina caught a cold.

The journey one-way took just over two hours. As I waited for a train to get ready I ducked into an adjacent Doutour cafe and ordered a matcha latte, my recent drink of choice. The verdict: It is better than Starbucks'. I like lattes scalding hot and this was unexpectedly so, without me asking the barista for it to be. The matcha syrup was not too sweet and the dollop of cream and sprinkle of real matcha powder on top was fun. It was the perfect coffee break for a windy day when everything is unexpected.

Photo: As I waited in line I noticed little bags of dried fruit selling for a few hundred yen.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Power Shortage and an Unexpected Coffee Break

Just as I was tranfering train lines at Iidabashi today, a man's voice announced the electricity had gone out on the trains. Luckily it was a mere 5-10 minutes until the power came back, but unsure of how long I'd be standing waiting and since I was not rushing anywhere I took refuge at a small Starbucks within the station.

I had an iced coffee and a small-ish sandwich, one half filled with a crunchy (cucumber?) potato salad, and the other a slighty soggy-ed shrimp and tomato combination. As is usually the case in Japanese sandwiches, the bread was nothing special.

I always enjoy coffee breaks, all the more if they are unexpected. And I'm also always surprised at how unimpressive food is at Starbucks in Japan, especially considering the plethora of good food available on almost any budget level everywhere else in Japan (except sandwich bread). What's up??

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Din Tai Fung

You know you're lucky when your favorite restaurants are also cheap date locations. I am one of these people who (or perhaps Tokyo is one of these cities where) to satisfy my tummy, you don't need a lotta munny. Din Tai Fung, originally from Taipei, is one of those joints. Heck, I've already been there twice this year! Unfortunately neither times were with a date. But anyway...

What is Din Tai Fung? It's where they serve the most delicious shoronpo in the world. The store made its international debut over 10 years ago, unveiling its flagship store within Shinjuku Takashimaya. What was then a small eatery tucked between a gift shop selling soap, and some kitchenware pots has since expanded to dozens of stores across Japan, China and the US.

Amazingly, a 30 minute wait is still considered relatively short at many of these locations today. The little steamed sacs of juicy minced pork are full of clear, rich broth ; Place a few thin strands of flavored shredded ginger on top and... Well. That's a sure way to woo me, and girlfrien' I'm not even tryii' to sound Chinese (snap snap).

First-timers, fret not. Although eating these delicate morsels of BLISS might sound complicated (soup? pork sacs? I don't get it), there is a friendly laminated illustrated guide that explains these steps on each table.

Pour soy sauce vinegar (they already mixed them up for you) onto your small dish of ginger strips.

As soon as steaming hot shoronpo are brought to you, gently pick one up by the pinched area of skin on top (where the dough overlaps), and crate it over to your ceramic spoon. Note: The skin of these dumplings is very thin, so if you are too rough or let the dumpling cool, it will stick to the bottom of the steamer and rip, spilling the precious, precious soup.

By now you will notice that I am completely not following The Friendly Laminated Guide For How To Eat Shoronpo, but who gives, my way is just as good. Once the dumpling is safely nestled into its mini-tub, take a few strands of ginger placing it on top of the shoronpo. Just the right amount of soy sauce and vinegar will trickle down into its folds and crevices. Immediately break the skin on the lower side (where it's thinnest) and let the precious (precious) soup flood into your spoon. Wait a split second to cool to slightly less than scalding and sip longingly. **BLISS**. Note: Shoronpo has a very short life span. For most of its life it's either too hot or too cool, with the exception of an approximate 14.7 second interval where it is immaculate. But that's all you get, 14.7 seconds.

After you've drank the soup, tip the deflated shoronpo into your mouth--ginger and everything--in one bite. Savor. Repeat. This is no time to be dainty or polite, as your friends will be vultures as soon as they realize how good these dumplings are.

See, I blinked and four shoronpo disappeared.

Two other dishes that are must-haves here are the hot and sour soup "san raa tan", and the chinese noodles topped with deep fried pork cutlets called "pai kō men".

I used to be a hot and sour soup fiend. Now I am a paiko men DEMON. It is so good. Just look at how beautiful it is!

This is one restaurant where you can eat to your heart's content and just barely top ¥5,000 for two. That's including a drink or two. To quote a South Park character that I saw while on vacation over the holidays: Nicccccceeee.

Til next week time, Din Tai Fung...

小龍包 steamed pork dumplings
酸辣湯 hot and sour soup
パイコー麺 Chinese noodles with fried pork cutlet

Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豊
5-24-2 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku Tokyo 151-8580
(12F, Shinjuku Takashimaya Department Store)
T/ 03-5361-1381