Tokyo Food Tour! Tsukiji Fish Market

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It’s hard to miss the main entrance to the Outer Market in Tsukiji!

Located in central Tokyo, Tsukiji Market is the largest fish market in the world. It’s so large, it’s actually one of the largest food markets of any kind in the world! The Inner Market is where tons (and tons and tons) of hundreds of varieties of fish and seafood are sold to wholesalers and restaurant owners during the early morning hours. The Outer Market is where the action is if you’re a tourist. It’s here, in the Outer Market, where people from all over the world can sample and purchase a seemingly endless variety of products, from fresh and dried fish to exotic spices to every ready-to-eat food imaginable.

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One of many shopping lanes in the Outer Market

Tsukiji Market is a must-see for anyone visiting Tokyo. It is truly a feast for the senses! While you need to taste and see and smell the kaleidoscope of offerings to fully appreciate Tsukiji Market, these photos will give you an idea of Continue reading

Tokyo Food Tour! Pizzaria Buono Buono

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Pizzaria Buono Buono

Nestled into the Asakusabachi neighborhood in Tokyo is Pizzaria Buono Buono, one of our dinner stops during our second week in Tokyo.

“Pizza? On a Tokyo Food Tour?”

Well, if someone visited New York City and raved about a Japanese restaurant, would that seem odd? Of course not. Likewise, Tokyo is a global city, and a hungry traveler can find just about any cuisine as long as they’re willing to venture beyond the narrow lanes of shops that line the immediate area surrounding most train stations. My crew was up for a walk and craving a dairy fix from cheesy pizza. Enter Pizzaria Buono Buono.

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The Menu!

It was a quiet evening, and the owners greeted us heartily, speaking English, before escorting us to a beautiful, rustic wood table. Being asked where we were from and how we were enjoying Japan was nice, as language barriers while traveling often impede such pleasantries. American Rock and Roll from the 1950s was piped throughout the restaurant, which was decorated with musical instruments and memorabilia from the same era. How unexpected and fun!

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Tuscany Pizza

Our pizzas were delicious – I highly recommend both the Genovese and the Tuscany. All in all, dinner at Pizzaria Buono Buono was thoroughly relaxing, not just because our pizzas were cheesy and our beers were cold, but because we spent a few hours reading and hearing our native language while eating familiar food. When traveling to distant places, especially with children, an occasional meal such as this is not a cop-out, it’s a recharge. The very next day, we resumed sampling delicious, traditional Japanese foods with gusto and navigating language barriers with care, our dairy cravings sated. ¬†ūüėČ

Life is short and the world is small. Eat well.

 

 

Tokyo Food Tour! Octopus Senbei

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Crispy octopus chips for sale at Tokyo Solamachi

My travel companions and I spent a rainy day at Tokyo Solamachi, an enormous shopping mall/entertainment complex attached to the Tokyo Skytree. If you live in the US, think Mall of America but more of a feast for the senses!

There it was… a cheerful red and white storefront prominently advertising something called “Octopus Senbei.” My understanding was that senbei were rice crackers… but these were clearly, definitely, octopus! How Continue reading

Tokyo Food Tour! Matcha

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Matcha powder made into hot tea

Matcha tea is an important beverage in Japan, used in traditional tea ceremonies and favored as an everyday, relaxing beverage as well. Before arriving in Tokyo, I understood that matcha was a popular beverage. What I didn’t understand, but have come to appreciate, is that matcha is also a popular food ingredient!

Matcha tea is made from high quality green tea leaves. After the leaves are dried, they are ground into a fine powder (see photo above). Small quantities of matcha powder are whisked (or just stirred) into almost-boiling hot water to make tea. Note that there’s no “tea bag” here – there’s nothing to remove from your cup. Instead, matcha is whole tea, where the leaves themselves are consumed instead of merely steeped. Why is this significant? For starters, drinking matcha tea provides significantly more antioxidants per cup because you are consuming the entire leaf. Remember, antioxidants are¬†powerful little cancer fighters and anti-aging weapons! Also, matcha tea contains more caffeine that steeped tea, making matcha tea a nice substitute for a cup of coffee.

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Barracuda tempura dusted with matcha and salt

Here in Tokyo, we’ve seen matcha powder used as a seasoning. In the photo to the left, a lovely slice of barracuda tempura has been dusted with salt and matcha. Absolutely delicious!

We’ve also seen matcha used to flavor Japanese interpretations of traditional French desserts. I’m reserving those photos, friends, because I plan to recreate a few sweet treats and bring you recipes here at Crowded Earth Kitchen. Stay tuned!

Finally, matcha ice cream is quite popular here. The matcha soft serve ice cream cone shown below is Half-Pint approved!

Want to try matcha for yourself? Here’s a link for you!

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Matcha ice cream – YUM!

Tokyo Food Tour! Plastic Food

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Plastic food on display at an indoor food court

Menu, schmenu. Who needs a written menu in Tokyo? Throughout Tokyo, thousands of restaurants and food vendors advertise their offerings with a display of plastic food. This isn’t the primary-colored plastic food that American children often keep in their toybox. No, this plastic food is so realistic you can stare at it closely and not be entirely sure if it’s the real thing!

Plastic food is surprisingly expensive… really expensive. A plastic nigiri sushi keychain costs around $10 (USD equivalent), and a plastic display of a full dinner platter can cost… wait for it… over $200.

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See for yourself how realistic looking plastic food can be!

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Tokyo Food Tour! Uni

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Raw uni (top) may be eaten directly from the shell

The fragile, edible portion of a sea urchin is referred to as uni, and is a Japanese delicacy. The appearance of uni in any form can be a bit intimidating for new tasters, as¬†uni really doesn’t resemble anything at all in Western cuisine. It’s unique qualities, ranging from its bright orange color to its soft, almost liquid texture, are precisely what make uni such a high demand item for connoisseurs.

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Uni nigiri sushi (raw) with a dab of wasabi

When enjoyed raw over rice as nigiri sushi, uni has a buttery feel and a mildly sweet, briny taste. Fresh, raw uni is more expensive than many other sushi items, but the experience is worth purchasing a taste if the opportunity presents itself!

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Steamed uni vendors at the Vietnam Festival

Uni can also be enjoyed as part of many cooked preparations, as well. At a boisterous Vietnam Festival in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park, vendors were selling steamed uni, shown below. When steamed, the color is more muted and the texture more crumbly. I found steamed uni to have a mildly smoky flavor, and enjoyed steamed uni more than raw.

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Steamed uni

When traveling to exciting, new destinations, don’t be afraid to sample locally popular foods. For those of us here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, tasting regional specialties is one of the most exciting parts of exploring our crowded earth!

Tokyo Food Tour! Kappabashi-dori

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Just outside of the Asakusa neighborhood lies Kappabashi-dori, Tokyo’s “Kitchen Town.” The hundreds of shops which line Kappabashi-dori sell everything, and I do mean everything, a serious home cook or restaurant owner could possibly need.

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Kitchen wares from floor to ceiling!

 

Some shops sell a bit of everything, with deals to be found for those willing to shimmy through narrow aisles, crouching low and reaching high. Some shops sell exactly one product, such as restaurant chairs or noodle strainers!

If you spend an afternoon on Kappabashi-dori, you’ll be sure to find something you never knew you needed but you surely can’t live without. It’s a must-see Tokyo attraction for a traveling foodie like me.¬† ūüôā

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This shop sells everything you need to open a Chinese restaurant. 

Happy traveling, and happy cooking!

Tokyo Food Tour! Uobei Sushi

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Salmon Roe with Cucumber

Is it possible to stumble upon¬†the most fun restaurant in Tokyo during one’s first day in Japan? Let’s put it this way – if I find something more fun than Uobei Sushi in all of Tokyo, I may never go home!

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Spicy Shrimp

My traveling companions and I visited Uobei Sushi in Shibuya, which feels a bit like Times Square in New York City. Upon exiting the Shibuya train station, we were overwhelmed in a fabulous way by the sights and sounds of this booming metropolitan area. The main intersections are a sight to behold. When the crosswalk signals allow, thousands of people cross 5- and 6-way intersections in all directions. Loud music is piped into the intersections, accompanied by flashing advertisements on giant screens mounted on the sides of buildings. Wow.

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Snow Crab with Crab Butter

We may never have found Uobei Sushi without Natsu, a dear local friend who generously helped us navigate our first days in her amazing city. Let’s be honest… without Natsu, we not only would missed out on Uobei Sushi, we might still be standing in the airport!¬† ūüôā

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Smelt Roe

Back to Uobei Sushi… it’s fun! It’s casual! It’s very affordable! And it’s DELICIOUS! This isn’t an ordinary restaurant, friends. At Uobei Sushi, customers order from a vast menu of nigiri sushi, rolls, and sides using an iPad. Food is delivered on computerized, high speed conveyor belts that stop right in front of the customer for whom the items are intended!

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Conveyor Belt System

Green tea and ice water are self-serve and complimentary. Most varieties of nigiri sushi are just under $1 (USD equivalent) for 2 pieces. How can I not go back? If I don’t come home, friends, you know where to find me!¬† ūüôā

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Tuna and Salmon

 

 

Tokyo Food Tour! Part I: Airplane Snacks

airplane snacksOur bags are packed, our flat has been rented, and our airline tickets have been printed. Crowded Earth Kitchen is off on a Tokyo Food Tour! We promise to bring you lots of amazing photos and delicious foods to recreate… but first,¬†there’s that little detail about needing¬†to travel halfway around the world. Spending over 12 hours on an airplane with children – after hours spent driving to Chicago and flying to Toronto to catch the flight to Tokyo – is not for the faint of heart. That said, it’s not impossible, either. Here is the two -part method to our madness:

  1. Pack really light. Don’t be that goofy American in an international airport, trying to drag 100 pounds of nonsense behind you to the train station. Seriously, reconsider every item you pack! Nobody needs 3 pairs of shoes on vacation. Most people in the world don’t even own 3 pairs of shoes. People will notice your accent… they won’t be looking at your feet.
  2. Pack your own travel snacks. While all of those shoes are silly, travel snacks are smart. Just try a 12 hour flight without snacks for children… that’s taking your life in your hands, my friend! Snacks in airports are outrageously, sinfully expensive. Bring a carry-on with healthy food items to get you through your travels and hold you over for¬†a first meal of two¬†(if needed) in a foreign country. Use the carry-on to bring foreign foods back home!

granola barsHere’s what we pack:

Homemade granola bars (dense and satisfying, these pack well)

Cereal bars (these are a great way to use up open cereal boxes before you travel)

Vegetable chips (provides crunch without making you feel icky on an airplane)

Fruit pockets (ever popular with kids)

Whatever you decide to pack in your carry-on, make sure it can stand up to a bit of jostling and squashing. Also, avoid foods that are too fragrant – the people seated around you may not appreciate your love of curry or aged cheese! Finally, make sure not to pack foods that can be considered liquid (applesauce, gelatin, etc.) – these will be confiscated by airport security.

The world is your oyster. Enjoy your trip!

Canning Jar Cookies

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Watching my garden grow is making me anxious for canning season to begin! Alas, unless I want to preserve kohlrabi in jars (not very motivated by that idea), I’m going to have to wait for additional vegetables to appear.

Here’s a whimsical idea – canning jar cookies! I found this adorable canning jar cookie cutter and made a batch of “pickle relish” cookies, shown above.

Ann Clark Mason Jar Cookie Cutter – 4.5 Inches – Tin Plated Steel

For Canning Jar Cookies, I started by mixing up a batch of the same dough I used to make cute little snowflake cookies¬†last December. It’s a satisfying sugar cookie dough that rolls well and holds its shape – perfect for these canning jars! I rolled the dough about 1/3 inch thick, and baked these cookies for about 14 minutes.

WIN_20160605_104951Next, I diced up a few green gumdrops to make “pickle relish.” I used a pastry brush to coat each baked cookie with a light icing made from 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar, 2 tablespoons of milk, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. I sprinkled diced gumdrops on each “jar” and finished with a few gold dragees near the top for the lids. I would have used silver dragees, but I didn’t have any in my pantry.

Aren’t these canning jar cookies cute? They would make a tasty gift, I think!

Kohlrabi Roll-Ups

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One Kohlrabi Roll-Up makes a lovely side dish. Two Kohlrabi Roll-Ups sprinkled with cheese and served with crusty bread makes a delicious vegetarian dinner!

It’s kohlrabi season in my neck of the woods. As excited as I am to see farm stands re-opening for the summer season, the selection in early June is pretty limited. Kohlrabi, peas, more kohlrabi, more peas… you get the idea. It’s a shame so many cooks discard the leaves from their kohlrabi. The leaves are both nutritious and delicious! Today we’re using them a bit like cabbage leaves, and are using fresh kohlrabi leaves to roll up a hearty filling of seasoned rice, tomatoes, corn, and peppers. Feel free to add ground beef and/or top with grated cheese if you’d like.

This is a frugal recipe, and makes use of an ingredient that many people overlook – my grandmother would approve. (Grandma might have used different spices and found a way to work in a dumpling or two, but she’d still approve.)

Let’s make the most of our early summer veggies!

WIN_20160501_135603Ingredients (Serves 6)

12 – 18 large kohlrabi leaves

1 cup basmati rice, uncooked

2 cups diced tomatoes with juice (fresh or canned; either way, keep the juice)

1 cup corn kernels (I used frozen)

1/2 cup bell pepper, red or green, diced

1 tablespoon onion, finely diced (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder (mild or hot)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup water (or chicken broth)

1 cup tomato juice

WIN_20160501_142617Directions

Step 1) Combine rice, 2 cups diced tomatoes with juice, corn, bell pepper, onion, cumin, chili powder, black pepper, and water or broth in a large skillet. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook over low heat for approximately 20 minutes (check after 15 minutes), until liquid is absorbed WIN_20160501_140920and rice is tender. Remove from heat.

Step 2) While rice mixture is cooking, carefully cut the center stem (sometimes called a vein) from each kohlrabi leaf. Overlap the two sides so that each leaf forms an approximate oval shape without a visible hole in the middle.

WIN_20160501_142747Step 3) Place a small amount of the rice mixture (about 2 tablespoons) on the center of each kohlrabi leaf. Fold the sides of the leaf in toward the middle (shown), then carefully roll up the leaf from the bottom. Place each kohlrabi roll-up seam side down in a lightly greased baking dish (I used two small baking dishes and froze one to enjoy later).

WIN_20160501_143930Step 4) Pour 1 cup of tomato juice over the top of your kohlrabi roll-ups. and cover the baking dish(es) with foil. Bake in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. If desired, uncover and top with shredded cheese for the last 10 minutes of baking time.

 

Like Ramen? You’ll love this book!

Ivan RamenIvan Ramen

Written by Ivan Orkin, Foreword by David Chang

Published by Ten Speed Press (2013)

It has been two years since Crowded Earth Kitchen embarked on a European Food Tour, and it’s time for new culinary adventures. We are happy to announce that Crowded Earth Kitchen will soon be heading to Japan!

Among the many foods we are eager to sample, photograph, and (attempt to) recreate for you, authentic, made-from-scratch ramen is high on the list. We borrowed a copy of Ivan Ramen from our local library, based upon the cover alone. Lo and Behold, the book is fantastic! After reading the book cover to cover, we purchased a copy to keep for ourselves!

Click here to obtain your own copy of Ivan Ramen 

Right from the Foreword, the unapologetic prose of Chef David Chang had me laughing out loud. In discussing Ivan’s plans to open a second ramen shop in New York, David Chang quips, “People are going to look at you like you’re this weird thing, like the Eminem of ramen. I can almost get away with doing ramen because I’m Asian. You’re probably f#@%ed.”

A few pages into the memoir in Ivan Orkin’s own words, I knew this was a 5 Star book. Often hilarious but at times deeply personal, Ivan’s story is much more than the story of opening a ramen shop in Tokyo. In equal parts, it is also a coming of age story and a fascinating glimpse at the realities of a foreigner working to become accepted into his local community¬†in Japan.

While the first half of Ivan Ramen is a memoir, the second half is a cookbook… a remarkable cookbook. Against the advice of his assistant, Ivan Orkin included the entire recipe for his signature Shio Ramen. This recipe is not for the faint of heart! As Ivan says, “The inhumanely ambitious can try to make a bowl in one all-day marathon (you’d better get up early). The slightly less crazy will try it over the course of several days or a week.”

Who wants to try it with us?

 

 

Cheesy Hot Crab Dip

WIN_20160530_172010Seriously friends, Cheesy Hot Crab Dip is awesome. Set a dish of this on the deck with a bowl of tortilla chips at your next cookout, and it will surely disappear before the grill is ready. Summer is short. Have some delicious fun!

WIN_20160530_164641Ingredients (Fills one pie plate)

8 ounces light cream cheese, softened

8 ounces light sour cream

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (optional)

12 ounces imitation crab meat, diced

1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper

1 tablespoon finely diced onion

1/2 teaspoon ground paprika

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese

WIN_20160530_165427Directions

Step 1) Use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese in a medium size mixing bowl for about 30 seconds. Add all remaining ingredients except for the shredded cheddar cheese, and blend well.

Step 2) Transfer the cheesy crab dip mixture to a pie dish (9 inch diameter). Spread so that the top is even, and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese.

Step 3) Bake your Cheesy Hot Crab Dip in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until the dip is bubbly and the top begins to turn golden brown.

Step 4) Allow to cool slightly (5 minutes or less) before serving.