Singaporean Chicken Rice

Recently my good friend and I decided to have lunch together and she suggested her favorite Singaporean restaurant.  Having a husband who is from Singapore, and having lived there herself for a number of years, I deemed her the authority on the cuisine and eagerly followed her lead.

The name of the restaurant is Hainan Jeefan Shokudo and it’s located in the Azabu Juban section of Tokyo, just behind, sort of catty-corner to the big Lincos Supermarket and Tsutaya that are at the bottom of Keyaki Zaka – Roppongi Hills.  It has a neat stone entry and about three tables outside.  Inside it is sparsely decorated with dark wood and simple, spare tables and chairs.

At lunchtime at this restaurant,  there really is no other choice of fare besides chicken rice.  Oh, there’s one other dish of the day that’s usually spicy, but most people go there for the chicken rice, which, according to my friend, is pretty much the national dish of Singapore. It is a full plate of tender, steaming chicken which is tender enough to cut with the side of a fork (one only receives a fork and a spoon for utensils) along with a refillable (free) dollop of sweet jasmine rise, and pickles.  One the side, also refillable, is a dish of three sauces – one sweet, one spicy and one ginger.  The idea is to cut the chicken, scoop it and some rice onto the spoon, and then dip it into one, two or all three sauces before putting it into your mouth. Also on the side is a bowl of very plain chicken broth with a hint of pepper in it – that’s for drinking.

At each space is placemat that details precisely HOW to eat Singaporean Chicken Rice. Make no mistake: there is a proper method to eating this dish.  There’s a way to use the utensils in tandem to get the most flavors into your mouth at once so you can fully appreciate the “complexity” of the tastes as they cover your taste buds.  The soup is so you can cleanse your palate between bites.  I’m not sure what the pickles are for – they could be a side dish that lends it a little Japanese ambiance – pickles are very Japanese.  But they, too, are so mild that they could be meant for palate cleansing.

It was all delicious.  I tried my best with the method, but I ended up looking mildly ridiculous, of course.  But in the end, they are right – the mix of tastes does wander around on the tongue so that each flavor stands out at a different time in the chewing and swallowing process.  I could taste every bit of of the sweet and savory mix.  The serving was perfect too – just enough to be filling without over-stuffing.  Some people had extra rice, and we did have extra sauce (which just somehow appeared before us – the staff is quiet, but omnipresent)  but otherwise it’s the perfect lunch portion.

I’ll have to go back for dinner and report on a hopefully expanded menu, but with just as good service and food.

My favorite thing about eating in Asia is that every meal is experiential.  It’s not about just taste or smell; often there’s elements of touch and sight involved also.  The method of consumption is just as important as the dish itself.  A big thank-you to my friend who took me there – I’m sure to go back!

Summer Pepsi in Japan

Every summer, Pepsi comes out with a new flavor in Japan.  This summer it was, as you can see here, salty watermelon flavor.  It’s a limited engagement type of thing – it only lasts from late June through August, and then it is gone from the shelves.  A follower of mine on Twitter, @TheTokyoFiles, (See his blog at The Tokyo Files) tells me that it tasted like mild pickle juice.  I am not sure that’s such a ringing endorsement, but it is descriptive.  Most often these summer sodas have less carbonation than other sodas in order to enhance the flavor.  I’m sure it was an interesting, if not fully enjoyable, experience.  I can’t wait til next year to see what the Pepsi company will come out with next!

Making Umeshu – Take Two!

This is our second year in a row of making umeshu (plum wine) from scratch for my good friend Saori and me.  This year we got serious.  We bought the “right” type of containers, the perfect amount of plums and alcohol, and found good directions.  We were determined to follow the directions to the letter, thus making the very best wine possible.  We carefully washed, dried, and de-stemmed each tiny plum by hand.  We carefully layered the plums and the special rock sugar as described.  And then – only then – did we QUIETLY pour in the alcohol.  I am still unclear on how exactly one pours “quietly” but we did the best we could.

Both of us put our containers under our respective kitchen sinks, a cool, dry place, and they will remain there throughout the summer.  The plums need about 3 months to ferment properly, so we will see what happens in late September!  Stay tuned.

British Pub Humor in Tokyo

From the little bathroom in the pub

I have an American friend here in Tokyo whose mission it is to try all of the smoke-free craft brew places that she can.  Her hunt led us to the Aldgatein Shibuya.  It’s a great little place off the beaten path on the second floor of a building that is behind the main drag.  They have more than twenty beers on tap, including hard cider, a favorite of mine.  The cider was a bit sweet for my taste, but the amber ale was a delightful mixture of hoppy and bitter, with a bit of wheat taste.  A group of us went together and it was like a time warp.  There were a lot of foreigners in the bar, but it wasn’t exclusive, and there were soccer matches going on on all the TVs in the joint.  It really was a proper British pub, serving bangers and mash along with fish and chips with their craft brews.

Don’t piss off the bartenders!

My favorite thing was the signs, however.  Here is just a sampling of one behind the bar and one in the bathroom.  Funky signs abounded and kept us chuckling all night.

If you like craft brews, British wait staff, soccer and a good chuckle, then this is definitely the place for you!

 

Pizza Strada – The Best in Tokyo (according to some)

Sources close to the writer (a very pizza-knowledgeable 12-year-old who I adore, but is not my child) insist that the best pizza in the city is at Pizza Strada in Azabu Juban.  He might very well be right.  The crust is thin and alternately soft and crunchy in the right spots.  The sauce has a touch of sweetness but not overly so.  The best part is the place itself.  It has a beautiful terrace and inside the atmosphere is cozy and warm.  The pizza chef makes each pizza to order and apparently loves to chat as he shifts the yummy goodness in and out of the stone pizza ovens.  There are only four pizzas on the menu and the ingredients in them are very specific.  If you want cheese on the marinara pizza, it’s 500 yen extra.  If you want sauce on the Tamaki or pepperoni, it’s 500 yen extra.  Like most menu items in Japan, there are no substitutions.  The way it’s written is the way it comes, and asking for it otherwise is generally quite an ordeal.  In fact, the night I went with my favorite pizza-buff, I ordered the Tamaki pizza, which is an interesting mix of smoked mozzarella, peccorino cheese and cherry tomatoes.  As I mentioned, it does not come with sauce.  When I asked to add sauce, the waitress went to ask the pizza chef if that was possible.  I felt terrible, as if I was insulting the chef.  But the waitress came back and replied in the affirmative that it would be okay to add the sauce – for the extra charge.  Of course.

Pizza Strada has a few wines, a few beers and a great sangria.  The menu in general is not extensive, but each item is made to perfection with a fair price to boot. Be sure to look at the menu pictures carefully – they’re very specific.  And then look at the rules – only in Japan could a joint post rules like that and expect them to be followed.  Almost anywhere else, they’d be laughed at – really – let’s not drink too much??  Who ever heard of pizza without a few beers?  Well, perhaps my twelve-year-old, but he’ll learn in time.  Enjoy!

 

Zurriola – An Amazing Restaurant

This past weekend we had occasion to go out to dinner with good friends to a great, new restaurant called Zurriola in the Azabu Juban neighborhood of Tokyo, which is right near our home.  It’s Spanish food, but of course with a Japanese flair.  The combination of flavors excited the palate in a way not often experienced.  It has been given one Michelin star, and it’s no wonder.  Each dish was more delicious and beautifully presented than the one before. The actual plates were beautiful and different.  It hosts a fine wine list of mostly Spanish libations, and we were able to start with Cava, go to white wine and finish off with a spicy red wine that perfectly matched the flavors of the final courses.

There is no a la carte at Zurriola, but the set is not horribly priced – for Tokyo.  Each dish is so perfect that I cannot imagine what I would have removed to lessen the number of courses. Each dish was beautifully appointed and it was clear that a chef had taken the time to see to it personally so that the flavor fairly exploded as soon as it touched your lips.  But not only that; the presentation was so lovely that for the first few courses, we just wanted to look at them for a while before eating them.  After the first three or so, we realized how yummy each one would be and we just wanted to take that first, best bite.

The atmosphere at Zurriola is cozy and intimate.  We felt like we were getting personalized service.  The decor is sort of nondescript, but the place was well-lit and warm.  There were plants strategically placed to be welcoming.

There is no way to pick a favorite among the eleven courses, so I’ve taken a photo of a few that I loved.  You’ll just have to go there to see for yourself.

This decadent piece of heaven is foie gras with praline inside. Yes, praline. Hazelnut chocolate.

 

The fish course, Angler fish, settled lightly in an olive soup. I do not care for olives, and I loved this dish.

 

The slice of pork tenderloin was lovely, but the gently roasted and seasoned vegetables outshone the dish in this course.

 

The tenderest, sweetest, most artfully prepared scallop I have ever eaten. That's a whipped almond puree on the side, by the way.

 

The beef course - beef tail, to be exact. While it wasn't my favorite dish of the night, it was delicious and soft and succulent wrapped in its bit of pasta.

 

No meal is complete without a bit of sweet and this is no exception. A light bit of brownie and ice cream with a Basque sauce. Scrumptious!

Run don’t walk, to Zurriola.

 

Thanksgiving in Tokyo, Take 2

I say “take 2” but that is just because it’s my second blog posting on the topic.  In reality, this is our seventh (!) turkey day in Tokyo.  Each year has been a little different and this year is no exception.

Our lives are different this year, having been through a number of new beginnings in September.  One of the biggest was my return to work.  It has been an interesting experience from start to finish, but one of the biggest things I’ve found is that teachers at a secondary school are different than those at a university, most notably regarding the formation of a collegial atmosphere.  I love the camaraderie and sharing.  I love the community.  I love being able to run next door to ask another teacher a question if I have one.

Since much of the faculty and staff is American, we are celebrating Thanksgiving Day together.  To be sure, we will all work a full day and then have an early dinner so we can get up Friday morning to head back to work.  The Japanese have not embraced the Thanksgiving spirit like they have for Halloween and Christmas, which is really fine with me.  It’s not the same having a truly American holiday while NOT in America and I don’t want to pretend that it is even close.

We are going to a restaurant called Addis.  Here’s the menu:

  • Brown Lentil Fresh Thyme Soup
  • Cranberry mustard and cream cheese canape
  • Roasted Beet, Goat Cheese and Fennel salad
  • Roasted turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce
  • Pumpkin Cheese cake
  • and of course a vegetarian option that’s very Japanese: Grilled tofu wrapped with eggplant in a port wine cardamon reduction

We will have bottle after bottle of wine, I am certain.  We’ll be about 12 for dinner. The cafe is close to school, and pretty casual.  It should be a wonderful time.

I am thankful for so many things this year, many of which are new and different, so mostly I am thankful for the wonderful things that ARE new and different.  I am delighted to spend the holiday with the people with whom I work, along with my husband and kids.  What a year it has been.

Wherever and however you are celebrating, I wish you a dinner full of love and peace.