Freshest of the Fresh: Seafood from the Sanriku Coast

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Sanriku refers to the three northeastern prefectures facing the Pacific Ocean: Aomori, Miyagi and Iwate. The Sanriku Coast is a bountiful fishing ground, supplying huge amounts of fresh, quality fish throughout the country for hundreds of years. In autumn and winter, fish and other sea creatures gorge themselves in preparation for the long cold season, enriching their flavor. As an example, Iwate’s donko hot pot features locally caught white-spotted greenling that release an intense, robust flavor of the sea. Miyagi and Aomori also are known for juicy seafood dishes bursting with remarkable flavor and served with exceptional creativity. Every city located along the coast has a fish market or two, so take a chance to taste the freshest of the local specialties on the spot – or bring home some fantastic seafood as souvenirs!

Make your own “Nokke-don (a rice bowl with toppings)” by adding the freshest seafood at Furukawa Fish Market.
Make your own “Nokke-don (a rice bowl with toppings)” by adding the freshest seafood at Furukawa Fish Market.
Aomori: Tuna butchering demonstration at Oma Town Tuna Festival
Aomori: Tuna butchering demonstration at Oma Town Tuna Festival
 Ippachizushi  Address: 1-10-11 Shinmachi Aomori-shi Aomori  Hours: 11:30am – 10pm (Mon. to Sat.), 11:30am to 9pm (Sun. & Holidays)

Ippachizushi

Address: 1-10-11 Shinmachi Aomori-shi Aomori
Hours: 11:30am – 10pm (Mon. to Sat.), 11:30am to 9pm (Sun. & Holidays)

Looks Great, Tastes Even Better: Kozuyu Soup, Fukushima Prefecture

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Originally developed for the samurai class, kozuyu later spread among the common people and has become a must for festivals, celebrations and momentous occasions in Aizu. In the past, fresh seafood was hard to come by in the landlocked region, so dried scallops and bonito were used to add flavor to the soup, which contains taro potatoes, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and tiny balls of wheat gluten called mamefu.

Salmon Harvest: Delicacies Abound, Niigata Prefecture

Murakami, dubbed “the Salmon City,” has a long history of catching and processing salmon. Over the centuries, the area has accumulated hundreds of homemade recipes that range from fermented, salted and sake-marinated salmon to salmon simmered in miso broth. When preparing fi sh, the locals make sure nothing is wasted: heads, bones and entrails are used either as main ingredients for stock or grilled to the perfect texture. During New Year’s season, many households hang rows of salmon upside down from the ceiling to dry; it’s a truly unique spectacle well worth seeing!

“Hizu Namasu” pickled salmon head with radish and salmon roe
“Hizu Namasu” pickled salmon head with radish and salmon roe
“Shake no Sakebitashi” sake-marinated salmon
“Shake no Sakebitashi” sake-marinated salmon

Heart Warming, Soul Lifting: Imoni and Konnyaku, Yamagata Prefecture

Imoni

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Imo, or tubers in Japanese, are traditionally a staple food in Tohoku. It is dense in nutrients and an ideal source of carbohydrates. The root vegetable is often cooked with meat and served in a thick soup for visitors, family and friends. In autumn, locals often gather near a river and enjoy imoni together, a tradition called imonikai.

Konnyaku

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Konnyaku has been known as a “miracle food” in Japan since about 1,200 years ago. The jelly-like substance is said to have many significant benefits, such as detoxification and beauty enhancement, and is loved by all generations. In Yamagata, people like to have their konnyaku in a round shape and skewered on a bamboo stick. The savory snack is an essential part of festive activities in Yamagata.

Photos provided by Miyagi Prefecture Tourism Division

Scrumptious Winter: Iburigakko & Kiritanpo Hot Pot, Akita Prefecture

Kiritanpo

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Kiritanpo, mashed, steamed rice in the shape of a cylinder, is a specialty that is welded strongly on the identity of Akita Prefecture. In the past, kiritanpo was an easy-to-carry preserved food used primarily by hunters. Today, however, the delicacy is cut into bitesized pieces and served in a hot pot with chicken and a variety of vegetables.

Traditionally, kiritanpo is grilled over an open hearth.

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Iburigakko

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Iburigakko, smoked radish, is one of the most famous pickled vegetables in Tohoku. Smoked with cherry blossom wood then preserved with salt and malted rice, the appetizer gives off a fabulous aroma and goes perfectly with any variety of sake.

Hellish Hot Pot @ The Lockup

This winter, prison themed restaurant The Lockup offers a new super spicy nabe (hot pot) menu from hell for their fearless guests. Are you brave enough to try its burning hot soup with so much chili it looks like a bloodbath?

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Meticulously decorated like the setting of a horror movie, not only the food, but also the staff are waiting to torture and suffocate you, so be prepared!

 

The Lockup Shibuya Outlet

Address: Utagawa-cho 33-1-B2 Shibuya

Hours: 5pm-1am (5pm – 4am on Fridays, 4pm – 4am on Saturdays and the day before public holidays, 4pm – 4am on Sundays and public holidays)

Overnight trip from Tokyo- (2) Nostalgic Nagano

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Located to the northwest of Tokyo, Nagano is easily accessible with Hokuriku Shinkansen and serves not only as an ideal overnight trip from Tokyo, but also a great stopover on the way to Kanazawa. In this article we will bring you to Iiyama, Zenkoji Temple, and Karuizawa and show you what they have on offer. Join us and expect to discover a different Japan!

Suggested itinerary

Day 1: Tokyo Station 7:52 – (Shinkansen) – 9:32 Iiyama Station – (8 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio – (15 minutes on foot) – Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art – (10 minutes on foot) – Rokubei for lunch – (7 minutes on foot) – Tanakaya Brewing – (1 minute on foot) – Patisserie Hirano – (15 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Station 16:28 – (Shinkansen) – 16:39 Nagano – Check in at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano – (20 minutes on foot, or take a local train to Gondo and then walk 10 minutes) – Azumaya for dinner – (back to hotel) – Bar APOLLO of Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

Day 2: Nagano Station – (7 minutes by bus) – Zenkoji Temple – (7 minutes by bus) – MIDORI Nagano / Nagano Station 13:05 – (Shinkansen) – 13:36 Karuizawa Station

Option 1 (love nature): Karuizawa Station 14:00 – (bus) 14:23 Shiraito Waterfall 15:30 – (bus) – 15:53 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 18:51 – (Shinkansen) – 20:00 Tokyo Station

Option 2 (be sporty): Karuizawa Station 14:15 – (bus) – 14:35 Karuizawa Ice Park 17:02 – (bus) – 17:32 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 19:41 – (Shinkansen) – 20:52 Tokyo Station

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Day 1: Iiyama

Tokyo Station 7:52 – (Shinkansen) – 9:32 Iiyama Station

Located to the north of Nagano city, Iiyama is a compact small town reminiscent of rural Japan. Especially suitable for a walking tour.

Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio

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Iiyama Station – (8 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio

For over 350 years, craftsmen in Iiyama have been making the durable Uchiyama washi paper. Here you can try your hand at making washi and creating your one-of-a-kind postcard.

Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art

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Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio – (15 minutes on foot) – Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art

Based in Iiyama, Mayumi Takahashi seems to possess an innate ability to capture the essence of countryside life in the good old days. Once you step into the museum, you will be impressed by the dolls’ amusing facial expressions and thoughtfully designed details that recreate the heartwarming scenes occurring in everyday countryside life.

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Though it was the first time I visited the museum, I had a feeling I’ve seen these dolls somewhere sometime in my life. Maybe because they are so real that I had this déjà vu kind of feeling?

RokubeiJapanese traditional cuisine with a local twist

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Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art – (10 minutes on foot) – Rokubei

If trying local food is important to you when you travel, this is the place to be. Because of the harsh winter in Iiyama, people have been using plant fibers to replace wheat in making the local Tomikura soba, which gives the noodle a unique springy texture. Another local dish you can’t miss is Sasazushi (Sushi on bamboo grass), a local variation of sushi that has its root as portable food for troops of the famous warlord Uesugi Kenshin.

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Tomikura soba and Sasazushi
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Miyuki pork steak rice bowl

Tanakaya Brewing

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Rokubei for lunch – (7 minutes on foot) – Tanakaya Brewing

Delicious Japanese sake made with local ingredients and by local employees. Come and sample the sake of your choice.

Patisserie Hirano

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Tanakaya Brewing – (1 minute on foot) – Patisserie Hirano

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The patisserie offers a wide selection of cakes and pastries at reasonable prices, and is highly popular among local people and tourists. We had coffee with an apple tart, a matcha mousse cake, and a sakura swiss roll cake. After you tried its cakes, you will have no doubt why it’s a neighborhood mainstay.

Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

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Patisserie Hirano – (15 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Station 16:28 – (Shinkansen) – 16:39 Nagano – Check in at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

After exploring Iiyama, we headed to Nagano, the capital city of Nagano Prefecture. Tonight we stayed at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano, a modern city hotel boasts superb location (directly connected to Nagano Station), comfy guest rooms, and an elegant bar offering creative cocktails and charming night view. Certainly it is an ideal base to explore Nagano.

Azumaya – Treat yourself to a slice of Japanese high life

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Hotel Metropolitan Nagano – (20 minutes on foot, or take a local train to Gondo and then walk 10 minutes) – Azumaya

This was the place we had dinner in Nagano city. Hiding in an unassuming alley near Zenkoji Temple, Azumaya is a fine dining Japanese restaurant whose buildings are renovated from Japanese traditional storehouses with almost 200 years of history. Local delicacies served are as pretty as pieces of art. Recommended for those want to experience Japanese hospitality.

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Bar APOLLO of Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

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The night is long and we are not yet ready to call it a night! Bar APOLLO is located in the top floor of the hotel and offers creative cocktails and great night views. My personal favorite is the APOLLO cocktail mixing apple cidre, apple juice, and peach liquor.

Day 2: Zenkoji Temple and Karuizawa

Zenkoji Temple – Discover the mysteries of National Treasure

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Nagano Station – (7 minutes by bus) – Zenkoji Temple

Zenkoji Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple worshipped by many generations. The Hondo (Main Hall) is designated as National Treasure, and also the third largest wooden structure in Japan.

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The streets leading up to the temple are lined with souvenir shops, stylish cafes and soba restaurants.

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Mystery 1: The Buddha enshrined here is said to be the oldest in Japan and no one has ever been allowed to see it. Thus it is known as the “Secret Buddha”.

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Mystery 2: Go down into the crypt passage and search for the “key to the paradise” in absolute darkness. The key to finding it is to keep faith and just move forward.

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Mystery 3: Find the plaque under the eaves of the Sanmon Gate and take a close look at the first character (善). It is stylized to look like the face of a cow due to an old Japanese saying that goes “following a cow to Zenkoji”.

Mystery 4: Take a look again. Can you find 5 pigeon figures hiding among the strokes of the three characters?

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Free guided tours are available in several foreign languages. Check out the details at http://www.zenkoji.jp/ENGLISH/guide/

Nagano Station & MIDORI Nagano – Everything under one roof

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Zenkoji Temple – (7 minutes by bus) – Nagano Station / MIDORI Nagano

Nagano Station is not only a perfect gateway to exploring Nagano, it is also a shopping haven as well! You can get everything you need from souvenirs to a taste of local gourmet at MIDORI Nagano without stepping out of the station building. Since Nagano is most famous for its honey sweet apple, why not choose something from an array of souvenir snacks made from Nagano’s apple?

Karuizawa

Nagano Station 13:05 – (Shinkansen) – 13:36 Karuizawa Station

Before going back to Tokyo, we made a stop at Karuizawa, and propose you the following two options for a quick of the famous resort. Both options require travelling on bus. While you can follow our itinerary listed here, make sure to check the latest bus schedule (Japanese only) to ensure a smooth trip.

Option 1: Shiraito Waterfall – Artful and graceful

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Karuizawa Station 14:00 – (bus) 14:23 Shiraito Waterfall

Standing 3 meters high and 70 meters wide, the crescent-shaped Shiraito Waterfall is named so because the water off the rock surface looks like hundreds of white threads (shiraito) are flowing down. The waterfall is refreshingly cool in summer and ever flowing in winter because geothermal heat keeps the water temperature at about 11 degree Celsius even in wintertime.

Option 2: Karuizawa Ice Park – Play chess on ice

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Karuizawa Station 14:15 – (bus) – 14:35 Karuizawa Ice Park

Checkmate! No, we are not talking about moving chess pieces on a chessboard but sliding stones on a sheet of ice. This is curling, a unique winter sport in which two teams take turn sliding stones towards a circular target. A great deal of strategy is involved, that’s why curling is often called “chess on ice”. Here at Karuizawa Ice Park, the curling venue for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, basic curling lessons are offered all year round for anyone interested in learning the game. Come and give the unique sport a shot. You will fell like an Olympian! After you have experienced curling, you may try ice skating before the next bus comes.

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Information: 2,380 yen per person for a 60-minute curling lesson. Inquiry and reservation by email: [email protected]

Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza – Indulge in a shopping spree before going back to Tokyo!

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If you followed option 1: Shiraito Waterfall 15:30 – (bus) – 15:53 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 18:51 – (Shinkansen) – 20:00 Tokyo Station

If you followed option 2: Karuizawa Ice Park 17:02 – (bus) – 17:32 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 19:41 – (Shinkansen) – 20:52 Tokyo Station

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Located right next to JR Karuizawa Station, Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is a shopping heaven less than 90 minutes away from Tokyo. Find outlet shops of overseas designer brands and local specialty food and products at this huge shopping mall set among acres of grassland. If you are looking for distinctive souvenirs to bring home, head to the Souvenir Court for a great selection of local delicacies of Nagano. And of course tax-free shopping is available here!

Key takeaways

Boasting the highest life expectancy of all 47 prefectures in Japan, people in Nagano seem to exude friendly warmth as naturally as the sun gives out heat. In this article we have shown you an itinerary covering top tourist attractions and places off the beaten tracks. The rest is up to you to experience!

Previous in the series:

Overnight trip from Tokyo- (1) Countryside Gunma and Snow Country Niigata

Taste of Northern Tohoku

The rich land and sea of Tohoku produces great delicacies all year around. Indulge in fresh gifts of nature during the harvest season, as well as great local dishes to warm up to in the crisp winter!

NOODLES
Slurp varieties of unique local noodles

Don’t forget to try unique and delicious local noodles! To eat like the locals, don’t hesitate to slurp loudly!

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Wanko soba
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Morioka rei-men
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Miso-curry-milk ramen

SWEETS
Fresh ingredients turn into mouthwatering sweets

Rich and fresh dairy products and fruits of Northern Tohoku are made into delicious sweets. Try anything with the region’s seasonal specialty – apples!

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Cheese cake from Koiwai Farm
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Sake jelly
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Apple pie

MEAT
The rich land nurtures great local meats

Get ready to be blown away by locally-grown meats of Northern Tohoku! From savory beef to flavorful chicken, the fertile land has the best meats to offer.

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Iwate wagyu-beef
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Sasuke buta-pork
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Hinaijidori oyakodon

SEAFOOD
Rich bounty of the sea turns richer in cold season

Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, fresh seafood is abundant in Northern Tohoku. Tuna from Oma in Aomori is regarded one of the best in Japan!

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Scallop
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Nokke-don at Furukawa Market in Aomori

A Taste Of Sh旬n: Anglerfish Hotpot

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Say Ahh..nkou!

The ankou, or anglerfish, is one of those grotesque deep sea creatures (not unlike the hoya) that one wouldn’t fathom putting in one’s mouth. But the ankou is a winter delicacy that many Japanese look forward to eating, usually in the form of a hotpot. It is popular with the ladies for its reputed high collagen content in its gelatinous skin.

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The springy flesh of the anglerfish – similar to that of the fugu, or puffer fish – makes it suitable to be boiled in a hotpot. The ankou nabe (anglerfish hotpot) is usually flavored with a miso-based soup with the ankou liver mixed in with a splash of sake.

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The ankou liver – or ankimo – is known as the “foie gras of the ocean” for its rich taste and smooth texture.
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In fact, all parts of the ankou can be eaten, from head to tail. Due to the slimy nature of the skin, it is sliced and gutted while hung. This is a much anticipated spectacle, like that of a tuna cutting show.

There is a saying that “Fugu in the West, Anglerfish in the East”. Ooarai in Ibaraki Prefecture is famous for its catchment of anglerfish, and there’s even an Anglerfish Hotpot Festival every November. So don’t forget to try the ankou while it’s in season from December to February!

About Shun:
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節(kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day. 「A Taste of Sh旬n」aims to bring you the freshest and best harvests, catches and dishes of the day.

 

In Harmony with the Seasons: Zoni

text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe, decoration/ Junko Kibe

The pictured zoni dish is a soup of chicken dashi stock with simmered root vegetables,
to which roasted mochi and fragrant mitsuba (cryptotaenia japonica) has been added.

Zoni is the name of a soup containing mochi that is traditionally eaten in Japanese households on the first day of the New Year. Depending on the region, the ingredients can vary, and the soup may be a clear soup, soy sauce-based, or made with miso or white miso. But whatever the style, zoni is a combination of a soup containing several vegetables.

Preparations for a New Year’s feast traditionally begin on December 31. Considering that the first day of the month had been called tsukitachi (rising

of the moon), a dark, moonless night was important for resetting everything, and eating zoni on the morning after that also meant that the body was being prepared to accept new things.

Burying yourself in the diversity of a full year—despite being surrounded by an array of happenings, the people of ancient times must have focused their wisdom and consideration for their health into these tiny servings of zoni, praying that they could continue to live on.

 Eating mochi, where the god of the New Year had been believed to dwell, first thing in the New Year, is an act that represents receiving their energy. For the Japanese, this god had no been doubt a manifestation of their ancestors.


Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently teaches at Tama Art University.

In Harmony with the Seasons: Toshikoshi Soba

text & coordination / Rieko Ido, photo / Hajime Watanabe
text & coordination / Rieko Ido, photo / Hajime Watanabe
The tradition of eating soba on the last day of the year – Dec 31, also called omisoka – has been around in Japan since the mid-18th century, or the mid-Edo era. This came to be known as toshikoshi soba, or year-crossing soba. Eating soba right before the new year is meant to symbolize cutting off or puting an end to all bad events that happened within the year, hence the choice of soba, as it can be easily cut by chopsticks. On the other hand, the fact that it is long and thin is meant to symbolize longevity and a sustained prosperity for the family.
 In addition, the soba plant also embodies resilience and sturdiness as it survives even in cold climates and recovers quickly from damage by wind and rain with just a little sunlight, plus, it is known to be good for cleansing the blood and lowering blood pressure, hence it is said that eating soba helps to clean the body from the inside to welcome the new year.
There is another interesting saying that goldsmiths in the Edo era would, on the last day of the year, use a ball made from
soba flour to gather all the gold dust that had gathered within the year off the tatami mat, and this association between soba and wealth accumulation made toshikoshi soba popular.


Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently teaches at Tama Art University.

A Taste of Sh旬n: Christmas, A Time For…Fried Chicken?

For most part of the world that celebrates Christmas, a roast turkey is the main star of the Christmas meal. But in Japan, Christmas means a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

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There are various theories as to how this tradition came about – either from a very successful marketing campaign by KFC years back, an innate Japanese preference for all things smaller and more compact (stemming from a perception that bigger objects tend to taste bland with a less refined taste), or even perhaps the uncanny resemblance between Colonel Sanders and Santa Claus…

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Ho,ho,ho…goes Colonel Sanders, laughing all the way to the bank.

Orders are taken for the KFC bucket around two weeks before Christmas. And, in a bid to get a piece of the Christmas pie, convenience stores and supermarkets have also started frying up chickens in zest.

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If you don’t want to queue at KFC, just head to the combini.
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7-11 (left) and Circle K Sunkus amost those joining the fowl play.

So, if you haven’t already placed your KFC orders and don’t fancy a long wait for fast food, you know where to go for your Christmas Fried Chicken. Or, you could just go cold turkey.

Here’s wishing all our readers a Merry Christmas!

 

BQpedia: Oden

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BQpedia: Your guide to the underbelly of Japanese cuisine

B級グルメ(“B-Kyu Gurume”) may mean “B-Grade Gourmet” but the only thing “B-Grade” about this food category is the price, as most Japanese will swear by the “A-Grade” taste of these local favorites. Not to be confused as the equivalent of “fast food” in the West. Let WAttention walk you through this food culture with our definitive BQ Gourmet guide!

Today’s BQ menu: Oden / oʊ·ˈden

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What it is: A traditional winter hot pot dish, commonly consisting of radish, kelp, boiled eggs and konjac, tofu and fishcakes in various shapes and sizes, simmered in a dashi soup broth, which is heavier in soy sauce in the Kanto Area (eg: Tokyo) and lighter tasting in the Kansai Area (eg: Osaka). In Shizuoka, the soup is black as beef stock is used along with a generous dose of soy sauce, whereas in Nagoya where the miso-culture wafts strong, a miso-broth is used.

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This mixed stew evolved from a snack called dengaku which is tofu grilled on a stick with a dollop of miso paste, named after the eponymous dancers who performed on sticks. In the Edo era, other foods like potatoes and konjac yams were also skewered and grilled. Over time, these skewers were put in a hot pot of broth and stewed. It can be speculated that when these items were taken off the sticks, “gaku” was dropped from the name and the honorific “O” was added to give the current naming of Oden.

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Where to find it: Finding oden is as easy as heading to a local izakaya, street stall, or yes, nearly every convenience store (conbini), as early as September. To order at the conbini, simply pick out your preferred items, pour the soup to your liking, and pay at the counter. And if that’s not convenient enough, you can even find canned oden vending machines in Akihabara! Of course, aficionados can also search for specialty stores with set menus—some offering a selection of over 50 items.

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What’s inside:

Daikon: radish that soaks up the broth thoroughly
Konjac: made from the konjac potato, springy with near zero calories!
Goboten: fried burdock root (gobo) with fish paste
Kinchaku: a small pouch of deep-fried tofu, filled with mochi
Shirataki: translucent konjac strings have a chewy texture, and are the perfect low-calorie noodle alternative!

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How to enjoy it: Oden is enjoyed on its own as a main dish. At some conbini you may have the option of adding udon to the soup. Choose any item that looks appetizing or interesting to you—the taste may be mainly of the broth, but enjoy the different textures.

ICHIRAN New Branch Opened in Asakusa

The best ramen with the best company

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Fukuoka based ramen shop ICHIRAN, a favorite of many tonkotsu (pork bone broth) lovers will open its 13th Tokyo branch in Asakusa on December 10, 2015. It will be the first branch in Tokyo with the “ICHIRAN Yatai” concept, which resembles the spirit of ramen food stalls common in Fukuoka. Different from ICHIRAN’s separated seats that make sure you are not distracted and can concentrate on the noodles, “ICHIRAN Yatai” is a cozy open space were you can enjoy the ramen and other dishes together with your friends!

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ICHIRAN focuses purely on tonkotsu ramen, striving to bring you the best bowl in the genre. Topped with its iconic red-pepper sauce, the classic tonkotsu ramen here can be customized according to  your preferences. The order sheet (which is available in English, Chinese and Korean) allows you to choose the strength and richness of the flavor, the amount of garlic, spiciness of the red-pepper sauce, firmness of the noodles and more.

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This classic bowl of tonkotsu ramen is one of WAttention’s favorites, and it feels great to finally be able to enjoy it with company!

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Together with Tokyo’s first ICHIRAN Yatai, Premium Sliced Pork – Kamadare Style – also makes its Tokyo debut. Topped with nori, these juicy pork slices go great with rice during lunchtime or as a snack together with your beer after a hard day of sightseeing.

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For dessert, how about a green tea flavored annin tofu, or matcha annin tofu? Although annin tofu is a common dessert in Japan, green tea flavor is a rare find!

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ICHIRAN Asakusa

Price range:1,000 – 2,000 yen

Location: Asakusa 1-1-16 B1F Tatio

Access: 1-min from Asakusa Station (Ginza Line, Toei Asakusa Line, Tobu Skytree Line)

A Taste of Sh旬n: Feeling Crabby?

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Clockwise from left: hairy crab, taraba crab and the snow crab

Crab season is officially here, with the start of the snow crab fishing season beginning off the Sea of Japan last week. The snow crab, or zuwaigani, is a much-loved winter delicacy by the Japanese. Other popular types of crabs include the hairy crab and taraba crab. The season lasts till around March next year.

AS SASHIMI

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Snow crab sashimi (left) and taraba crab sashimi (right)

As with all things fresh in Japan, snow crab is best savored raw with soy sauce or ponzu (a citrus-based sauce). However, as crab has to be handled very carefully in order to be served raw, this is not always available at restaurants.

BOILED IN A HOTPOT

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Another popular way is to boil the crabs in a hotpot, either on its own or as part of a mixed hotpot, which will lend a sweetness to the resulting broth.

GRILLED

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For many, the aroma of grilled crab wafting in the air is irresistible. As the crab meat is already flavorsome, no additional sauce or seasoning is necessary. Just enjoy the natural juices of this tasty crustacean!

SHABU-SHABU

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Another popular way is to briefly blanch the snow crab legs in hot soup in shabu-shabu style.

CRAB MISO 

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While the flesh of the crab is tasty, many a crab fan will tell you that the best part of the crab lies in its “miso”, or a greyish-green mix paste which is a mix of internal organs. It has a creamy texture and flavor perhaps best described as close to that of uni (sea urchin).

 

MISO SAKE 

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To round off the crab feast, pouring hot sake into the crab shell to result in a complex flavorsome brew is a must try! Boiling the sake in the shell crab to extract more of the essence of the crab and miso is highly recommended.

About Shun:
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節(kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day. 「A Taste of Sh旬n」aims to bring you the freshest and best harvests, catches and dishes of the day.

 

Three Ways To Eat Fugu

Fugu, Safe and Yummy

Being a poisonous fish, Fugu, or pufferfish is one of the most notorious delicacies in Japanese cuisine. Although most of our  readers are probably familiar with it, I assume that most of you have yet to try it out for yourself.

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While between 1 to 6 people die by Fugu poison per year in Japan, calling an evening at a Fugu restaurant “Japanese roulette” would be unfair. More than 90 percent of the Fugu poison incidents do not occur at restaurants, but at home by eating self-caught and self-prepared fugu.
To be allowed to serve Fugu at a restaurant, all the chefs need to have a license, which can only be obtained by 3 years of hard training. Furthermore, the liver, a Fugu’s most poisonous part, is forbidden to be served.
While eating an amateur prepared Fugu can indeed be very dangerous, having Fugu at a restaurant is a lot more safe than for example driving a car, practicing sports or even eating fast food!

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The iconic Fugu of Tsubora, a famous Fugu restaurant in Osaka

While Fugu is widely renowned for being poisonous, what is less known, is how it is eaten.
At a Fugu restaurant, a dinner course that has several dishes with Fugu prepared in different ways is generally ordered. Here are the 3 major ways in which Fugu is often prepared.

1. Fugusashi

Fugusashi, or Fugu as sashimi, is without a doubt the most traditional and most famous way of serving fugu. Due to Fugu’s firm texture, normal sashimi slices would be too hard to chew. This is why fugu is cut in slices so thin that they are transparent, also making it a feast for the eyes. The slices are served on a large plate, often in the shape of a crane.
Fugu as sashimi is dipped in Ponzu (citrus soy sauce) rather than plain soy sauce.

 

2. Fugu  no karaage

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Today, Fugu chunks deep fried in a thin layer of flour are one of the most popular ways to eat Fugu. These crispy delights can be dipped in either Ponzu or salt.

 

3. Fugunabe, or Techiri

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The main dish of a fugu course is usually Fugu nabe, a hot pot dish with a konbu (seaweed) broth soup that includes many vegetables as shiitake, enoki mushroom, Chinese cabbage, spring onions etc. which are simmered together with the fish. Once only the soup is left, the dish can be finished by adding some salt and rice. This is called zousui and is also common in other Japanese hot pot dishes.

Other popular Fugu dishes include Shirako (Fugu’s soft roe), jellied Fugu, Hire-zake (dried fugu fins served in hot sake), and the now forbidden Fugu liver.

A Taste of Sh旬n: Ode to Oden!

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O, Oden!

For the past three days, I’ve had oden for lunch. Oden, for the uninitiated, is a staple winter dish in Japan that comprises fishcakes, tofu, radish, konjac, boiled eggs , kelp and anything that can a) soak up the flavor of the  broth, or b) contribute to the flavor of the broth or both.

With the weather getting cooler in Japan past mid-autumn, oden stalls can be seen in combini (convenience shops) throughout Japan.

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You pick whichever morsel you fancy, pour in the soup and pay at the counter, where you’ll be asked if you’d like miso sauce, Japanese mustard or yuzu kosho (yuzu pepper paste) as a condiment.

People from different regions of Japan have different condiments of choice: for example, if you are from Nagoya which has a strong miso-culture you’d definitely choose miso to go with your oden.

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Toyama Oden, where kelp is a topping

 

In Toyama prefecture, where kelp is heavily consumed, shredded kelp is commonly added as a topping.

 

Coming from Singapore, the dish reminded me of something we have back home called Yong Tau Fu, which means stuffed tofu–but various vegetables, not just tofu, are also stuffed with fish paste, and lots of other ingredients including fishcakes are also available for the picking.

 

 

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That said, the sight of floating white marshmallow-like things in the soup did seem rather strange to me–these white fluffy things being the “hanpen”, made basically from whipped fish paste and egg white.

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Shizuoka Prefecture is famous for its “black hanpen”, which is darker because it uses fish like mackerel and sardines rather than cod for the fish paste.

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So, the next time you are in a convenience store or izakaya, don’t forget to give these steamy morsels a try!

About Shun:
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節(kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day. 「A Taste of Sh旬n」aims to bring you the freshest and best harvests, catches and dishes of the day.

 

Ramen for Beginners

For a smooth slurping experience

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It has become almost impossible to find someone that has never had ramen before, let alone someone that has never heard of it. Still, without knowledge of the Japanese language, stepping into a ramen shop in Japan can be a little bit intimidating. That said, this is an experience not to be missed, so get familiar on how ramen is served and slurped in Japan with this article before you duck under a noren, or shop curtain.

1. How to order

Most ramen shop menus are very simple, but that doesn’t mean ordering is simple if you don’t know how to. While ordering methods differ depending on the shop, here is some basic knowledge that won’t hurt you on your ramen rendezvous.11992214_949889525069984_530041929_n

Ticket vending machines: At the majority of ramen shops, you purchase a food ticket at a ticket machine (usually located at the entrance) and put this ticket on the counter in front of your seat or on your table. If the ticket machine has no pictures and you can’t read Japanese, find any of the following characters for a portion of ramen → ラーメン らーめん 中華そば
Once you get used to purchasing food tickets in advance, it is easy to forget to pay at ramen shops that have no ticket machines, so be mindful!

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From Konaotoshi to Barikata: At most ramen shops, you can order how you want your noodles cooked. This is especially common in Fukuoka Prefecture, where you will hear customers loudly shout their preferences. If you see people around you do this, how about giving it a try yourself? Just shout any of the following: konaotoshi (almost uncooked), harigane (extremely firm), barikata (very firm), kata (firm), futsu (normal), yawa (soft), bariyawa (very soft).

2. Mastering the art of slurping, or deciding not to.

Depending on your culture, slurping noodles might be unheard of. However, in Japan, slurping your ramen (or other noodles for that matter) are the basics of the basics. Noodles are slurped not with the pure purpose of cooling them down, but also to allow the soup’s flavor to spread throughout one’s mouth. This might sound strange if you are not used to the concept, but note that wine experts are on the side of the Japanese as they prefer to slurp their wine in order to savor its fragrance throughout the mouth. Slurping your noodles can also be seen as a gesture towards the master, showing that you are enjoying your bowl to the max.

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Once you have mastered the way of slurping (and even if you decide to go on without doing so), let’s move on to the next step!

3. Don’t take too much time!

Dining at ease while enjoying a conversation is great, but not advisable when you are having ramen. The noodles loose their firmness and become too soft after a short period of time, so eating them right after they are served is considered best. Also, keep in mind that popular ramen shops often have people waiting in long lines in front of the shop to get their hands on a bowl of ramen, so staying too long after finishing your dish can be impolite.

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4. End with a gesture from your side

Some might say that the customer is king, but showing that you enjoyed your slurp will make your ramen master’s day. If you are sitting at a counter seat, putting your finished ramen bowl back on the counter top is a gesture that is always welcome. Don’t forget to say “Gochisosama”  (thank you for the meal), and give a friendly nod as you leave.

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All About Ramen

Everything You Need To Know To Become A Ramen Expert

Just like how spaghetti is served in different sauces (tomato-based, carbonara and alle vongole come to mind), ramen comes in a wide array of different soups. The flavor of these soups vary from each other just as much as the character of one ramen master varies from another. However, most ramen can be categorized in the following types.

Shoyu (Soy Sauce) : The Classic Ramen

 

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This Shoyu Ramen is served at Nidaime Nyaga Nyaga Tei in Tokyo

Shoyu Ramen is the most basic version of Japanese ramen, and has its roots in Tokyo. A soy sauce based soup similar to that of Japanese noodles as soba and udon was used to familiarize the Japanese with a type of noodle that was still foreign to the nation at the time. Together with soy sauce, a wide array of ingredients such as chicken bones, niboshi (dried sardines) and vegetables are used to bring out an original flavor.

Shio (Salt) : The Delicate Ramen

【麺処 ほん田】厳選素材の塩ラーメン
This Shio Ramen is served at Mendokoro Honda in Tokyo

For those that want something a bit lighter on the stomach, Shio Ramen is the best choice as the soup is not as thick and fatty as most other ramen. Together with salt, which is used as the basic ingredient for the soup, chicken bones and pork bones are often used in the soup broth, but aren’t boiled as deeply as in other ramen, resulting in a more delicate flavor. Tanmen, a popular type of Shio Ramen, is especially beloved by the ladies as it is topped with a mountain of fresh vegetables.

Miso: The Heartwarming Ramen

【金澤濃厚中華そば 神仙】濃厚味噌「炎・炙」肉盛そば
This Miso Ramen is served at Kanazawa Noko Chuka Soba Shinsen in Ishikawa Prefecture

Miso Ramen first came to life when a customer at a small eatery in Sapporo asked the cook to put ramen noodles in his tonjiru (miso soup with pork meat) in the fifties. Today, miso ramen is often mixed with pork bone broth and pork lard to keep you warm during the winter. Corn and butter are often used as topping, which you will not often see in other ramen.

Tonkotsu (Pork Bone Broth) : The Heavyweight Ramen

This Tonkotsu Ramen is served at Kourakuen throughout the country

You could say that Tonkotsu Ramen is what cream sauce is to spaghetti. The deeply boiled pork bones create a thick, creamy soup that is without a doubt the heaviest on the stomach among the basic ramen soups. Although Tonkotsu Ramen – which has its origins in Kyushu – is arguably the most popular sort of ramen today, it was not until the nineties that it became popular throughout the country.

Tsukemen: Another way to serve ramen

【山岸一雄 一門】特製もりそば
This Tsukemen was prepared by the disciples of Kazuo Yamagishi.

Tsukemen puts the main focus on the noodles rather than the soup by serving them separately to dip in the soup. Tsukemen noodles are usually thicker than that of standard ramen, and are cooled down to create an extra firmness. Tsukemen was invented by Kazuo Yamagishi of Taishoken Ramen in 1955, who passed away in April 2015.

The dashi

The essence of a ramen’s soup lies in its dashi, or soup stock. A number of different ingredients are boiled over a long time so that their flavor is extracted. The choice of ingredients for the soup stock and how long to boil them, are crucial elements that heavily influence the flavor of the soup, and a true ramen master will keep perfecting this art for his entire life.

Regular soup stock ingredients are:

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From left to right: Tonkotsu (pork bone), Torigara (chicken bone), Niboshi (dried sardines), Konbu (dried kelp), Katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings)

The noodles

Ramen noodles differ in texture, thickness and shape.
In Japan, you can specify the firmness of your noodles – hard, regular or soft. 
In general, the Japanese prefer chewy, firm noodles, but in some regions a more soft texture can also be popular. Of course, this is a matter of personal taste, but it cannot be denied that just as in Italy, al dente is how the majority likes their noodles cooked.
And like how the type of pasta changes to match the sauce used, the same goes for the shape of ramen.
For Tonkotsu Ramen, the main focus is the soup, which is why Hosomen, or thin noodles are often used to keep the dish from being too heavy. Futomen, or thick noodles, go better with Tsukemen as the dipping soup finely escorts their chewy texture.
When the soup is light in flavor, straight noodles might not be able to carry the soup to one’s mouth even if the art of slurping is properly executed. But fear not, in a case like this, chijiremen – or curly noodles – will do the job, keeping a hold on the soup due to their curled shape.

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From left to right: Straight Hosomen (thin noodles), Chuboso Chijiremen (curled noodles of medium thickness), Futo Chijiremen (thick curled noodles)

The toppings

The picture is only complete once the chashu (roasted pork), a boiled egg, leek, nori, menma (fermented beansprout) and naruto (fishcake) are topped on the ramen. These toppings also give the dish a more healthy balance (well, at least to some extent). Toppings vary depending on the ramen in question, but these are the most common.

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First row from left to right: Chashu, Menma, Negi Second row from left to right: Ajitama, Nori, Naruto

With this knowledge, we hope you will be able to enjoy ramen to the max the next time you get to slurp one of these yummy bowls. Don’t forget to let us know once you find your favorite ramen!

Shinyokohama Raumen Museum: Ramen in Showa fashion

A delightful “timeslurp”

Contrary to its naming, Shinyokohama Raumen Museum is more a theme park than a museum.
But fear not, by theme park I don’t mean crazy, looping roller coasters, pendulum rides, drop towers and what not, as such attractions would not be very good on one’s stomach after slurping a portion of ramen noodles. However, what Shinyokohama Raumen Museum’s atmospheric ramen stalls do have in common with such attractions, are the lines you will have to queue at before you get your hands on your bowl of choice.

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The stairs to the museum’s basement floor serves as a time machine that takes you to a nostalgic Japan of a long-gone era. As you make your way through narrow alleys with replicas of drinking holes, tobacco kiosks and bathhouses of postmodern Showa facade, you might bump into a policeman on an old model bicycle who gives you a friendly nod as he passes by.
The main square is decorated with movie posters of Japanese film’s glory years and the publishing firm on the corner looks so real you wouldn’t be surprised to see literary legends such as a young kimono-clad Yasunari Kawabata or Yukio Mishima walk inside with a manuscript under arm.

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Of course, the main attraction of this food-themed attraction park is the ramen, and Shinyokohama Raumen Museum does not disappoint in this field either. A total of nine famous ramen shops from all over the country and even overseas are gathered here to bring you their version of Japan’s now internationally beloved soul food.

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*Please note that these ramen images are posted for the mere purpose to give you an idea on what to expect and are not the actual products available at the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum.

Although eating all 9 ramen on one day is a nearly impossible task, the available “mini ramen” make slurping more than just one ramen possible even for the ladies. The 9 ramen stalls change from every 3-months to 1 year, so even in the unbelievable case that you manage to eat all 9 bowls, this museum is still worth a second visit!

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The connection between ramen and the museum’s postmodern theme, you ask? Good question! Apparently, the museum is replicating a Japanese urban landscape of 1958, the year in which Abe Momofuku invented instant ramen. Ramen itself, was already in Japan before WWII, but only started its journey to become the Japanese soul food it is today after the war ended and soldiers tried to recreate the Chinese noodles they couldn’t forget about.

Shinyokohama Raumen Museum

Location: Shinyokohama 2-14-21 , Kohoku, Yokohama

Access: A 5-min walk from Shinyokohama Station (Tokdaido Shinkansen, JR Yokohama Line, Yokohama Municipal Subway)

Entrance Fee: 310 yen (13 or older) 100 yen (from 6 to 12)

URL: http://www.raumen.co.jp/english/#manual

 

Bite Into Japan’s Best Burgers At Hakodate’s Lucky Pierrot

 

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Japan’s best local buns: Lucky Pierrot’s Chinese Chicken Burger, 390 yen

Hakodate in Hokkaido may be famous for its fresh seafood and salt-based ramen but it also boasts what has been voted as Japan’s “Best Local Burger” in  a Nikkei survey. And 1.8 million customers a year can’t be wrong.

In fact, their 17 stores are almost always packed, with locals and tourists alike queuing for a taste of what can only be found in Hakodate.

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Funky facades are Lucky Pierrot’s Trademark

This local burger chain started in 1987, and soon became a hit for their Chinese Chicken Burger (featured in the photo above), which consists of juicy fried chicken with a hint of ginger and drizzled with a sweet and slightly spicy sauce.

Since then, their menu has expanded to include other originals such as:

Squid Burger, as Hakodate is famous for its squid

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The Foot-Long Burger, limited to 20 a day:

 

 

 

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Scallop Burger, a result of a customer contest:
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Genghis Khan Burger, the taste of Hokkaido:

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Hakodate Snow Burger:

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As well as curries…

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Pasta…

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And what some claim to be Hokkaido’s bests Omurice, or omelette rice:

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All featuring the much-loved Chinese Chicken.

 

Each restaurant interior is distinct and overflowing with as much character as the quirky storefront murals, and each store has a slightly different menu.

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Soul food for the locals.

 

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The first Lucky Pierrot store, located near the Hakodate Bay Area.
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A newer store near the Hakodate Bay Area.
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The Chinese Chicken Burger looks set to take the top seat for a long time.

Lucky Pierrot is such an institution that it even has its own array of souvenirs for tourists to take home, from canned sodas, to chips and of course, t-shirts.

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One reason for the queue is that the food here is prepared upon order, using fresh ingredients. To avoid waiting, one is advised to call beforehand to place your order and come to pick it up. Don’t bother testing your luck, as there’s almost always a queue!

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URL: http://luckypierrot.jp/ (Japanese only)

 

 

Spicy Ramen Walker: Shibuya

WAttention Tokyo’s editor Tor Ching Li went to three popular ramen restaurants and demanded the spiciest they had to offer to gauge how spicy Tokyo’s ramen is to the Singaporean palate.

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Moukotanmen Nakamoto 蒙古タンメン中本

Serving up umakara (spicy but yummy) ramen since 1968, Moukotanmen Nakamoto now has 15 stores throughout Tokyo and is famous amongst ramen-lovers here. I ordered the miso-based Hokyoku Ramen which Nakamoto rates at a spiciness of 9, and upped it to the max of 5 times of that. “Will I die?” I asked staff. “It’s quite spicy,” he said, deadpan. For the full Nakamoto experience, I ordered the mabo tofu and rice set add-on.

The thick, curly noodles went well with the tasty soup – or should I say, gravy. The supposedly spicy mabo tofu was like an almond tofu dessert to me after finishing this!

The fiery red soup stings the nose at first and leaves your lips and tongue (and later, stomach) on fire, but is actually quite tasty and I managed to finish this. This really is quite umakara, and I can see why some people crave this. For Singaporeans who train their heat tolerance regularly with chili padi, this would be a doable (but sweaty) walk in the park. (Warning: Be prepared to feel lightheaded afterwards.)

Ching Li’s Chili Rating: 7/10

Shop Info:

Address: 2-6-17 Dogenzaka Shibuya-ku Tokyo, Toho Cinema Shibuya B2F

Phone: 03-3462-1236

Hours: 11am – 11pm everyday

Website: www.moukotanmen-nakamoto.com (Japanese)

 

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Mount. Chili Powder

Ramen Nagi Butao

Level 1’s spiciness is in the regular mee rebus or mee siam comfort zone. But Level 100 is not food. It’s an experiment on how much chilli powder it takes to absorb a bowl of pork broth. Best avoided unless challenged!

Ching Li’s Chili Rating: Off the scale/Infinte chillis

Shop info:

Address: 1-3-1 Higashi Shibuya-ku, Kaminito Bldg 1F

Phone: 03-3499-0390

Hours: Mon-Sat: 11am – 3am; Sun and national holidays: 11am – 9pm

Website: www.n-nagi.com (Japanese)

 

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No sweat lah

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

This chain, harking from Hokkaido, also has 2 outlets in Singapore.

Shibuya and Harajuku are the only outlets to offer Akakara Tsukemen, or literally, Red Spicy Tsukemen. The thick noodles are smothered in chilli oil and come with a spicy miso-based dip. This would be a good entry level dish for the heat intolerant – though some may find it a bit lacking in character and taste.

Ching Li’s Chili Rating: 1/10

Shop Info:

Address: 3-13-7, Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Gojo bldg 1F, Tokyo

Phone: 03-3797-3500

Hours: 11am – 12 midnight everyday

Website: www.santouka.co.jp/en

Restaurant Review: Sapporo Ramen Republic

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Your one stop for ramen in Sapporo

If you don’t have the time to search out the best ramen places during your short trip to Hokkaido, also known as the Ramen Continent, why not taste the best of Hokkaido’s ramen culture in one stop?

On the 10th floor of the JR ESTA Building at JR Sapporo Station, the Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku (literally, “Sapporo Ramen Republic”) regularly features eight of Hokkaido’s best ramen shops. Since its opening 10 years ago, this station-front food park has featured 43 of the island’s leading ramen eateries, regularly changing its shops to bring you the most current popular Hokkaido ramen.

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While you can find nearly every type of ramen here, from shio (salt) to shoyu (soy sauce) to tonkotsu (pork-based), Sapporo (not whole of Hokkaido) is particularly known for its miso ramen. As Hokkaido is abundant with corn and dairy products, these are common ramen toppings. Well, everything tastes better with butter, doesn’t it?

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Having traveled for a week throughout Sapporo in search of the perfect bowl of miso butter corn ramen, it was quite ironic that one of the best bowls was waiting here the whole time at Ramen Sora. With just a relatively small slab of butter to enrich the creamy miso broth, coupled with the delicate sweetness of the corn, this ramen had full-flavor without being too heavy.

So when in Sapporo and short on time, trade your ramen searching for ramen slurping here!

Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku
Hours: 11am – 10pm (Last Order: 9:45pm)
Closed: None
Address: JR Tower Esta 10th Floor, 2 Chome-1 Kita 5 Jonishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
Access: Directly connected to JR Sapporo Station
Webpage: http://www.sapporo-esta.jp/ramen
Tel: 011-209-5031