This article by Liz Shek-Noble first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
The Michelin Guide is one of the most respected and famous systems for rating restaurants and hotels across the world. Gaining a Michelin star can instantly propel a chef from the depths of obscurity into the light of stardom, while a loss of a star or two can lead to spectacular breakdowns. Take, for instance, the highly publicised loss of two Michelin stars for Gordon Ramsay’s Manhattan restaurant, Gordon Ramsay, in Michelin’s 2014 NYC guide. The notoriously hot-headed and sewer-mouthed cheftainer reportedly broke down in tears following the news, claiming that the feeling of losing the stars was like “losing a girlfriend” or “losing the Champions League”.
Putting aside the pressure that can spring from a particularly biting review, it’s clear that the Guide continues to be a barometer of excellence in food preparation, technique and presentation. The underlying assumption, however, is that dining at these restaurants will be out of reach for many customers due to astronomical prices. That said, many Michelin star restaurants have lunch menus that offer similar dishes to what is normally served at dinnertime, but for just a fraction of the cost. And with Tokyo boasting an incredible 267 restaurants with at least one Michelin star, there’s no better time to find cheap Michelin star restaurants in Tokyo. Why not begin your journey into the cheap and cheerful world of fine dining with a steaming bowl of soba or some freshly made tempura at the Michelin-starred restaurant, Kyourakutei?
Interior of Kyourakutei | Photo by Liz Shek-Noble
Winding through an alleyway off Kagurazaka-dori, I find myself at the front door of Kyourakutei at the spritely time of 11:15 am on a windy Saturday morning. I step into the restaurant and the atmosphere immediately changes; it’s almost like a hidden grotto, studded with assorted knick-knacks and lighting that is used to create warmth and depth in this small space. I sit at the counter and watch the chefs as they slice, dice and chop their customers’ meals with relaxed yet sparing motions.
Photo by Liz Shek-Noble
Kyourakutei, as a soba restaurant, specialises in the art of making noodles using these grain-like seeds sourced from Aizu in Fukushima prefecture. Unlike other restaurants, Kyourakutei has its own millstone, ensuring that its noodles are freshly milled on the day that they are served. Kyourakutei, however, also has a reputation for making tempura that is unbelievably crisp and delicate. Looking down at the extensive lunch menu (available in English), I decide to have kamo zaru (¥1,600) and a selection of tempura, so as to not miss out on either of Kyourakutei’s specialties. Some other interesting dishes include tsuke care (cold soba dipped into a hot curry soup — ¥1,100), kake soba with seasonal vegetables (¥900), and cold/hot soba served with tiger shrimp, eel and vegetable tempura (¥2,400).
Photo by Liz Shek-Noble
The kamo zaru is brought to me quickly, a palette of cold soba accompanied by a hot broth of duck and naganegi. As expected, the soba was impressive, due to the consistency in texture, as well as size and length, of the noodles. When dipped into the broth, the soba took on its soy and dashi flavours, while retaining its signature springy texture. The broth itself was earthy and mellow, and the duck meatball impossibly tender. My only complaint was that I expected more than one slice of duck and one meatball in my meal.
Photo by Liz Shek-Noble
Being seated one foot away from a box overflowing with fresh vegetables and wedged between two customers inhaling their kakiage, I was never intending to leave Kyourakutei before trying some of its tempura. With this in mind, I settled on two tempura choices, maitake mushroom and tiger shrimp.
Photo by Liz Shek-Noble
The tempura came out to me arranged on a plate as if carefully fallen on top of it. The batter was so light that only slight force was needed to bite through to the sweet and plump shrimp contained within it. The maitake mushroom was a robust counterpart to the shrimp, having a firmer texture and woodiness that recalled the forest rather than the sea.
Photo by Liz Shek-Noble
The Lasting Impression
Walking out of Kyourakutei, I was fully satisfied with my meal, and perhaps even more so after noting how little it had cost me to dine at this Michelin-starred restaurant. Kyourakutei’s reputation is well deserved and evident in the long queues that the restaurant attracts both on weekdays and weekends. Do yourself a favour and head to Kyourakutei as soon as you can. Just make sure to get there early to avoid waiting in line out in the winter cold.
Photo by Liz Shek-Noble
Read more at Tokyo Cheapo
Cultures usually mark important anniversaries with a ceremony. In Japan they produce special food… in a can.
2015 is the fourth centenary of the death of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first Shogun and whose rise to power signalled in the start of the stable Edo Period. To celebrate, Hagoromo Foods, probably most famous for their “sea chicken”, has created two special canned dishes with ingredients related to Ieyasu.
The “meat sauce” cans feature either eggplant or haccho miso, which is a specialty of Aichi Prefecture.
Priced ¥800, the cans are being sold only in Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures from January 16th.
Each can is 250 calories and serves 2-4 people.
The eggplant might sound a bit random but it’s associated with the idea of hatsuyume — the first dream of the year. Apparently the first Tokugawa ruled was fond of eggplant, along with Mt Fuji and falconry. So if in your first dream of the new year you see all three, then you are in for an auspicious twelve months.
Canned food in Japan can be pretty awesome, even the stuff sold at the convenience store. You can also spot some pretty original canned offerings at vending machines, including soups and desserts.
Kentucky Fried Chicken has entered the coffee shop market in Japan, in a direct challenge to the McDonald’s McCafé format. From November 28th, the Colonel’s Cafe in Kobe will be serving French press espresso and hot teas such as Earl Grey or Darjeeling, as well as cheese cakes and other desserts.
A new type of menu requires a new type of interior. The iconic red has been jettisoned for plants, snazzy flooring, and wooden tables seating 26. In other words, a Japanese city cafe. Much like McCafé, the regular KFC menu will also be available (fear not, the “C” from the name hasn’t warped into “coffee”).
A few years ago McDonald’s started opening stylish, spunked-up branches in key areas like Aoyama, Harajuku, Shibuya and so on. Certain restaurants later added standalone branded McCafé “barista” coffee bars offering cakes and lattes alongside the regular McDonald’s counter, starting with the Omotesando branch. KFC also has some of these “luxury fast food” outlets (check out the one in Shibuya near the Apple store, for example). Ever the underdog trying to prove itself, KFC boldly opened a whisky bar in Shimokitazawa in 2012.
For its first coffee shop, KFC has opted to go down a slightly different path to McCafé, opening the debut cafe in a mall at JR Rokkomichi Station in Kobe at the end of this month. McCafé has succeeded, though, because while it expanded the McDonald’s menu to include espressos and fitted in with certain higher-class environs, it ultimately remained the cheap choice and still undercut the prices of Starbucks et al. In my (relatively few) experiences visiting these “posh” fast food restaurants, the clientele is the same. The menu upgrade is intriguing but in the end, the new format is only a cosmetic one that makes the chain sit better in areas like Omotesando.
A quick glance at the Colonel’s Cafe menu reveals the prices are a little higher than expected, certainly more expensive than dirt-cheap coffee shops like Doutor. But if shelling out nearly ¥500 for a Mexican coffee sounds too much like a trip to Starbucks, rest assured the ordinary cheap KFC coffee will also be available.
We will have to see if people like the Colonel’s Cafe before branches start appearing in Tokyo. KFC does have at least one guaranteed income boost coming up next month. KFC is actually most popular in Japan at Christmas, where everyone lines up outside in the cold to get chicken on Christmas Eve.
Japan is a nation obsessed with food and also, so people say, childishness. And so it is only natural that the two things would be combined at some point. The result is cooking toys, which Takara Tomy in particular has been really pushing over the past three years.
The latest is the Okashina Tamago Mawashite Purin Egg Flan Maker, which allows you to cook egg flan just by moving a lever back and forth for two minutes.
Part a game, part a genuine way to make a dessert, the video promoting the product is frankly remarkable.
This cooking toy trend has been rolling out over the last couple of years now.
Takara Tomy started it off in 2012 with the Takara Tomy Gurefuru Chuchu, a kind of mini-blender attachment to make orange juice inside the fruit itself.
Just watch this video and you will see the instant appeal of the product!
Invariably the products are all marketed with a suitable silly video, usually with an annoyingly catchy song and music. And sometimes dancing too.
Another recent example is the Maracas de Popcorn, which combines making popcorn with a musical instrument (yes, these are also maracas).
No surprise that there is also a funny video.
Besides the tone of the marketing, something common to most of the cooking toys is also that they do not require batteries or electricity for the most part, instead relying on a bit of elbow grease and the enthusiasm of kids. They are also actually very simple technologically but rely on the fun pop design, and the accompanying “action” (or even dance) to appeal to kids and parents.
Dutch electronics maker have stolen the limelight from local manufacturers with this new must-have home item, the Philips Noodle Maker. The automatic raw noodle maker can churn out ramen, soba, udon and spaghetti noodles in minutes!
How does it work? Well, it’s super simple, as the best home appliances always are. You just put in your choice of ingredients (flour, of course, and water and egg, though you could also add other things to give your noodles some color) and then press the start button. According to Philips, you can make 500g (17.6 oz) of pasta/noodles in 15 minutes.
There are four different caps that will shape the mix into the raw noodles shape you want (ramen, udon, soba or spaghetti). These can then be stored neatly in the drawer at the bottom.
Much better than dry noodles and no kneading needed!
The Japanese go mad over these handy home cooking appliances. Much like the excitement over the Gopan machine that could bake bread out of rice a few years ago, now everyone seems to be talking about this noodle maker.
Currently only available in Japan and some limited Asian markets like Hong Kong and Taiwan, JapanTrendShop is now offering it for global deliveries.
Glico’s Papico ice cream has upped the marketing for its summer campaign and this apparently means appealing to the inner moe in every Japanese consumer.
The frozen snack has relaunched with new packaging featuring an updated slinky female mascot in three designs, though we wonder if the results are little too much for non-otaku.
As the summer heats up, it’s the peak season for beer companies and ice cream bands.
It seems that otaku motifs are seeping into all walks of life now. The question is whether skimpily-dressed schoolgirls on the wrapping of a ice cream would make you buy it.
Papico is a tube containing ice cream that can usually be seen being sucked furiously on by school kids in the hotter months. One pack contains two tubes and there are multiple flavors.
The packaging for the “white sour” version has traditionally featured the Papico character Howaitosawa/Whitesawa (a joke on “white sour”), a sweet young girl — a sort of Japanese Milky Bar Kid — who has appeared on the wrapping in various forms since 1975. Glico found that without the girl, sales actually dropped.
This is how the packaging has changed over the years.
Out with the old, as the adage says. Glico launched a contest in April and May to have people re-design the packaging and the girl by submitting illustrations via pixiv. The winners were then picked from these and have made their way onto the final product, which went on sale on June 9th.
Here are the three winners.
And here are some of the unsuccessful entries.
In some ways we shouldn’t be surprised as Papico is the same Glico product that is currently running a campaign with idol group AKB48, including recruiting a new thirty-something temporary housewife idol into the band. We guess they really were intent on changing the image of the product!
Don’t worry. If you’re a fan of the original retro Papico White Sour design, it’s not going away for good. Once the moe-packaged Papico products are sold out, Glico says they won’t be making any more.
It’s nearly summer. The rainy season will soon be upon us, along with cockroaches, humidity and the usual host of great summer matsuri festivals.
And loads of summer food. One of the best is kakigori, or shaved ice snow cones.
We also spotted these great artistic kakigori “ice sculptures” by Kome Hachi Soba in Okinawa City. Some are very creative and even political!
There has been a lot of hipster nonsense with “3D latte art” in Japan in recent times, fuelled by social media users fairly easily impressed and baristas with arguably too much time on their hands between serving overpriced cups of the black stuff.
However, these kakigori sculptures by Yoshirou Nagayama are pretty cool. Of course, they only last a few minutes so your time to appreciate them is limited.
See what you can spot here. Are these eagles?
There are even Osprey aircraft versions, referencing the controversial accident-prone US V-22 Osprey military aircraft whose presence in Okinawa has been fiercely contested by locals.
Vending machines come in all shapes and sizes, and seem to sell everything from books to snacks, drinks, used panties and more.
But how about a vending machine that lets you have a private dance with an idol?
For one day only, Shibuya’s Marui City will let fans do just that.
It’s being organized by Ezaki-Glico, one of Japan’s biggest sweets makers, and especially as a promo for their long-standing Seventeen ice cream brand. While it is common to see Seventeen vending machines all over Tokyo, this is a whole new kind of experience.
The idol in question is a newbie, Ayami Muto, who is making her debut this spring.
On April 26th, brand ambassador Ayami Muto will be dancing on a big display on the Seventeen Ice Original Vending Machine, which changes depending on the flavor of Seventeen ice cream you choose. Ayami’s costume colors will also be different in each video to match the flavors, of which there are, not surprisingly, seventeen.
Dancers will have their movements digitally regenerated as computer graphics, to be put together later as a special animated video. If you dance correctly matching Ayami’s choreography then you can get yourself a complimentary ice cream — perfect as the weather turns hotter.
Vending machine boffins will probably have already spotted that this ice cream idol vendor is very similar to the Dance Dance Revolution vending machine from Coca-Cola that was a big hit in Korea in 2012.
Dancing with Ayami is free and Ayami herself is expecting to turn up in Shibuya as well at around 14:00, though we expect a dance with the physical idol might be asking too much.
Check out the vending machine from 11:00 to 19:00.
Spring always brings a flurry of sakura (cherry blossom)-themed products, from sweets to stamps, phone apps and more.
But we never imagined there would be a pink cheeseburger any time soon!
As the cherry blossom season kicks on from around March 20th, the bloom making its way up the archipelago of Japan till it hits the capital and creates mad hordes of picnicking drunk weekenders in early April, McDonald’s is celebrating the real arrival of the warmer spring climes with a sakura burger.
Yes, you read that right.
What could a cherry blossom burger be like?! Well, in a nutshell the Sakura Teritama is a pink bun with sakura mayonnaise sauce. Inside you taste buds will experience a fried egg, ginger teriyaki pork, lettuce and cherry blossom radish mayo. It first went on sale in 2012 but this year’s version is apparently slightly different.
You can get your first taste of the Sakura Teritama burgers from March 21st (the spring equinox) and the Sakura Cherry float and soda from March 14th.