When we think of Japanese food we think of sushi, noodles and miso soup. But actually there’s plenty of curry in the country’s diet too, especially so-called curry rice, which is basically white rice on a plate with some roux. It’s a staple of the businessman’s lunch.
And every staple gets reinvented after a while, so there are plenty of unusual curry rice dishes out there, from oyster to deer, apple and even fermented beans.
Local regions and tourist spots often create curries using famous produce from the area as a way of drumming up buzz. And curries can even be a form of tie-in merchandise for franchises.
Here are is a selection of some of the most unusual Japanese curries.
Curry of the Biohazard Resident Evil Zombie Roux
The Curry of the Biohazard Resident Evil Zombie Roux is a green herb curry officially endorsed by Capcom, who make the Biohazard/Resident Evil game series. “Have the Biohazard Green Herb Curry and survive,” says the box. It’s less chilling than it sounds. Apparently eating this curry will save you from the zombies, rather than turn you into one.
Tottori Yamanote Story Hana Kifujin Pink Curry
The Tottori Yamanote Story Hana Kifujin Pink Curry is a garish as it sounds and uses local Tottori Prefecture beetroot. The mock-European theme of Hana Kifujin comes from one of the tourist spots in Tottori, a 1907 French Renaissance-style manor called Jinpukaku. Not just a kitsch idea, the beetroot ingredients help fight anemia and constipation.
Regional Fruits Curries
This set of regional fruit curries includes four unique flavors made with produce from prefectures around the country: melon, Japanese cherry (sakuranbo), strawberry, and pear. The fruits come from local growers in Yamagata, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures.
Dragon Quest Slime Curry
The most visually striking of the curries on our short list, the Dragon Quest Slime Curry is a weird blue roux inspired by the popular video game series character. Add rice and pickles to create the Slime face effect.
Hello Kitty Mazekomi Curry Pilaf
No list is complete without at least one entry from Hello Kitty. The Hello Kitty Mazekomi Curry Pilaf is not a roux like the others but a bag of curry pilaf flavoring for adding Hello Kitty-tastic tastes to rice.
So, are you feeling hungry now?
This article by Tiffany first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
No other country in the world has as many Kit Kat flavors as Japan does, having released over 200 flavors since 2000. One reason for the immense popularity of Kit Kats in Japan is that its Japanese pronunciation, kitto katto, sounds like kitto katsu, which means “to surely win”, thus making it a good-luck charm of sorts for exam takers. That aside, Nestle was clever enough to tap into the Japanese fondness for seasonal flavors and regional specialties, leading to a proliferation of Kit Kats in different flavors.
So you want to buy some Japanese Kit Kats, huh? Great, because they make for some pretty unique souvenirs! The good news? Matcha (green tea) Kit Kats are not that uncommon or hard to find in Japan; in fact, they may be unique or unusual for foreign tourists, but Japan’s got stranger flavors that make matcha Kit Kats look like plain ol’ milk chocolate. The bad news? If you’re looking for unusual, limited-edition, or regional flavors, you’ll need to know where to look. Here are some establishments where Kit Kats are sold and what kind you can expect at those places.
1. Pharmacies and Discount Candy Shops
Many Japanese drug stores tend to be indistinguishable from general-purpose shops, what with cosmetics, shampoos, other beauty products, and sweets usually being on display outside and/or on the first floor. At these drug stores (Matsumoto Kiyoshi being one famous example), you can find Kit Kats sold in packs of 9-12 pieces, usually for ¥198-400 a pack. Don’t expect a wide array of flavors at drug stores, though: they usually only sell regular Kit Kats, dark chocolate ones, strawberry, and matcha (green tea). These are part of the otona no amasa (adult flavor) line, which means subtler, less sweet tastes. Matcha and strawberry are seasonal, with the former being off the shelves in summer. It’s also uncommon for these packs to come in unusual flavors or variants, although they came out with Kit Kats that you could bake with an oven toaster in 2014.
You may be wondering what pharmacies and discount candy shops, known as dagashiya, have to do with each other: the latter also sells the same Kit Kat packs. One prominent chain is called Okashi no Machioka, which we’ve written about before. They have a branch on Ikebukuro’s Sunshine Street, for one.
2. Convenience Stores
Although this is not really the place to look for unique flavors like sakura or wasabi, here you can find cheapo deals on Kit Kats sold in thin boxes, usually for no more than ¥200. Most of the time, all they have are regular flavors and variations on chocolate (e.g. white or dark). They also have some seasonal variants, matcha being one of them (and they also had rum raisin Kit Kats last year), but it’s uncommon for them to have wacky flavors. As of February 2015, though, oven-toaster Kit Kats are being sold in 7-11s.
3. Souvenir (Sweet) Shops
Some of Akihabara’s duty-free shops like Laox sell Kit Kats in different flavors. Also, head to Odaiba, where there are 2 souvenir shops that sell wacky Kit Kat flavors: Le Edo on the first floor of Aqua City, and Kyoro-chan no Okashi na Okashiyasan on the second floor of Diver City (actually more of a sweets shop than a souvenir shop, but most people buy the sweets as souvenirs anyway). Both are a short walk from Tokyo Teleport Station. Let me give you an idea of the flavors I saw in Odaiba last time: soy sauce, wasabi, rum raisin, strawberry cheesecake, Kobe pudding, and chili. But if you think that’s already a lot, wait till you check out First Avenue Tokyo Station, which has an entire zone devoted to sweets, and probably the most diverse selection of Kit Kat flavors in Tokyo. Since the sweets in these shops are primarily sold as souvenirs, the Kit Kats come in boxes that usually cost 800 yen onwards.
Le Edo: 1/F Aqua City, 1-7-1 Daiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo | Business Hours: 11:00 am-9:00 pm | Access: Tokyo Teleport Station/Daiba Station
Kyoro-chan no Okashi no Okashiyasan: 2/F Aomi 1-1-10, Koto-ku, Tokyo | Business Hours: 10:00 am-9:00 pm | Access: Tokyo Teleport Station/Daiba Station
First Avenue Tokyo Station Business Hours: 9:00 am-9:00 pm | Access: Tokyo Station (connected to the Yaesu Exits)
4. Kit Kat Chocolatory
This Kit Kat boutique made the headlines even before it opened, but be warned: if you’re expecting something like a shop with Kit Kat flavors from Hokkaido all the way to Okinawa (as some news reports misleadingly made it sound), you’re in for some major disappointment. Sure, you can find matcha, sakura, chili, cream cheese, and seasonal Kit Kats here, but this is more of a luxury Kit Kat store than a collection of Kit Kats from all over Japan. The packaging is classier, and the ingredients are said to be of higher quality. The prices are indicative of this: a single, regular-sized Kit Kat bar costs ¥324, while a box of 4 mini Kit Kats costs ¥432. The Chocolatory has branches in Seibu department store in Ikebukuro, and in Tokyo Station’s Daimaru.
Ikebukuro Branch: B1F, Seibu Ikebukuro Honten, Minami-Ikebukuro 1-28-1, Toshima-ku, Tokyo | Business Hours: 10:00 am-9:00 pm (Mondays-Saturdays), 10:00 am-8:00 pm (Sundays and holidays) | Access: Ikebukuro Station
Daimaru Tokyo Branch: B1F Hoppe Town, Daimaru Tokyo, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo | Business Hours: 10:00 am-9:00 pm (Mondays-Saturdays), 10:00 am-8:00 pm (Sundays and holidays) | Access: Tokyo Station
If you weren’t able to shop for Kit Kats while touring Japan, you can always do some last-minute shopping at Narita and Haneda, where the souvenir shops sell matcha, sakura-matcha, and strawberry cheesecake Kit Kats, among others. These are sold in thin boxes like the ones you can get at convenience stores, and usually cost ¥160 a box, but you can get a large box for about ¥1,600.
Like Pokemon, Kit Kats can be addictive—you just gotta catch ‘em all. Sadly, Tokyo’s souvenir candy shops are never quite complete. When all else fails, you can order online from Japan Trend Shop. Without having to travel to every region of Japan, you can try some yubari melon Kit Kats from Hokkaido, hojicha (roasted tea)-flavored ones from Kyoto, Amaou strawberry Kit Kats from Kyushu (Amaou being a kind of strawberry unique to the region), and purple yam-flavored ones from Okinawa, among others.
Read more and see location map at Tokyo Cheapo
Taco Bell is returning to Japan.
Its first new branch will open in Shibuya in the Dogenzaka area on April 21st.
Of course, Taco Bell has been a mainstay of U.S. military bases in Japan for years, but these are off-limits to regular Japanese civilians.
Taco Bell previously attempted to enter the Japanese market in the 1980’s but like many other foreign fast food outlets, it failed and left. It suffered similar initial issues in the UK and South Korean markets, but management is now much confident in its expansion plans.
Overseas fast food chains don’t always have it easy. While McDonald’s (in Japan since 1971) and KFC have established a strong market locally, Wendy’s has already left and come back once under a new franchise partner in 2012. Burger King also withdrew, citing defeat in a price war with McDonald’s, though returned in 2007.
It will seat 104 diners and serve the Mexican cuisine menu that has made it a household name stateside. It will be open 10:00-23:00.
Japan-only menu items will include taco rice and shrimp & avocado burrito.
Taco Bell’s re-entry into Japan is part of a ten-year global campaign, where the chain plans to open 2,000 more branches outside the United States by 2022. So expect to see more Taco Bell restaurants popping up around Japan and other countries in the near future.
Yesterday we introduced the iDoll, currently being showcased by ad agency Hakuhodo at SXSW Interactive Festival.
This unique in-store promotional tool is a “machine that delivers farmers’ honesty” and takes the produce section of the supermarket into the future.
Jointly developed by Suda Lab and Hakuhodo i-studio’s HACKist creative lab, the Talkable Vegetables are, perhaps not surprisingly, a world first. The voice of the farmers that grew the produce actually tells the potential consumer where the veggies are from and what is special about them.
How does it work?
By turning the voltage differential between the moisture in humans and vegetables into an audio signal, just [by] picking up a vegetable, customers initiate an interaction in which various messages can be conveyed.
This tech makes it possible for:
(1) Customers to confirm a farm product’s safety and trustworthiness by listening to the information from the farmer.
(2) Customers to get a sense of the farming environment, and the origins and values of the produce at the point of sale, no matter how removed from agricultural regions.
(3) Customers to enjoy a fun, next-generation experiences of vegetables themselves becoming part of the retail system.
Vegetables with personality? We’re not sure if this is scary or brilliant.
Clearly the infrastructure required — recording the farmers’ messages individually for each crop, special speakers set up to deliver the sound to the holder — will surely limit the application of the system, but this is one neat way to bridge the growers and the consumers. Traceability has also been a big issue in Japan of late, following a spate of food scandals in 2013. In certain supermarkets it is common to see signage and labelling directly naming the farmer and farm where the produce came from.
The system has already been tested successfully in Hug Mart, a store in Sapporo, Hokkaido.
Another exhibit at the Hakuhodo SXSWi booth is the award-winning Rice Code, an “smartphone app that turns scenes of all kinds into a sales floor”. You point the camera of your smartphone at a large piece of rice paddy art. The installed dedicated app then recognizes the art and takes the user to an e-commerce site where they can buy rice.
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.