Sunday, November 06, 2016

Japan for coffee addicts

When it comes to finding a decent cup of coffee in Japan, as the saying goes, there’s some good news and some bad news.

The good is you can get amazing coffee big cities, like Tokyo and Kyoto.

The bad - you will usually have to wait til at least 10 am (often midday or even later) for your first hit.

For the caffeine-sensitive coffee lovers like me, that second revelation posed a bit of a challenge during my recent trip to Japan. I’m more a savour-a-strong-espresso before breakfast kind of gal, rather than drink it all day and keep it coming!

Like coffee, breakfast is a late affair. Beyond the 24 hour diners (where you order and pay for your meal at a vending machine before being seated), or rice balls from convenience stores -  finding that first meal of the day can be challenge for travellers.

I didn’t risk the beverages in either of those early morning options, nor the machines that vend a can of hot or cold coffee. Though did resort to using some supermarket bought pour over ground coffee bags a couple of times. 

But there were some standout coffee shops, though they had little or no breakfast options.


Frankie is right at home in hipster Shimokitazawa. I spied it on the first night and thought it had a very familiar look. Straight out of Melbourne like the owner, this café not only makes exceptional coffee but also an assortment of Australian cakes and slices to go with your flat white. Coffee is Allpress (and they also sell Aeropress's if you want a lightweight travelling companion).

Opens most days at 10 am (just look for the queue of Australasians waiting to get in). Check the website, as their hours have recently changed.
400Yen for your long black or flat white.
155-0031 Setagaya-ku, Tokyo Kitazawa 2-chome, 12-15

Shimokitazawa is a great suburb for coffee lovers, at least for the ones who don’t need a hit early in the day. All theseplaces looked amazing, just maddening closed when I needed a hit. If staying in this neighbourhood again, I’d pick up an Aeropress from Frankie and stock up on freshly ground beans around the corner at Maldive

Sarutahiko in Ebisu is unique in its offerings. This tiny café has great music, outstanding coffee and a (single) breakfast option. But add free Wi-Fi (another rarity in this technologically advanced country) and wait for it – 7.30 am opening (weekdays, 10 am weekends) and its worth booking your next Airbnb in this area.

240 yen for excellent house brew (hot or cold), 450 for most other coffees.

Great news: They've rolled out more locations across Tokyo.

Tip: The granola breakfast set with their signature drip/cold brew coffee is a great way to start the day. (They’ll let you sub hot chocolate is coffee isn’t your thing).


100% Arabica has “good coffee” written all over it and it didn’t disappoint. This light and airy coffee haven with the ubiquitous blonde wood fit out off the main drag in the historic Higashiyama area, was a mere two blocks away from where I stayed. Best of all they open at 8am. The perfect time for a caffeine hit. Though not so good for my tea-drinking companion as this place serves coffee and nothing else.

The Tokyo-born owner loves the stuff so much that he bought a coffee plantation in Hawaii. 100% Arabica has three locations in Kyoto, and a handful more sprinkled around the world.

87 Hoshinochō, Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 605-0853

Sentido: Another gift from the caffeine god, was stumbling upon this small cafe. Not only does it open at a reasonable hour but, unlike 100% Arabica, they have a small breakfast menu (and serve other beverages). From memory there were only a couple of options, toasted banana bread with the world’s tiniest but well formed cube of butter, or a small bowl of cereal with fruit and yoghurt.

The espresso was perfect and the toasted banana bread made a nice snack to go with it (thank goodness for the rice balls!)

While searching Sentido’s address I came across a blog post that mentioned the owner learned to make coffee while living in Melbourne. No wonder it was so good! 

1F Nippo Karasuma Bldg, 445 Sasaya-cho, Kyoto, Japan, 604-8187
Open: 7:30am – 7:00pm Monday – Friday, 8:00am – 7:00pm Saturday (closed Sunday)

A note of Japanese addresses: the non-consecutive street numbers can be very confusing, that's because they're numbered in the order they're built. A “pocket Wi-Fi” (a phone sized mobile modem) and Google maps, will save you hours of confusion when hunting for your first fix of the day.

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Saturday, November 05, 2016

Tokyo fish market (vegans avert your eyes)

Back in June I spent a couple of weeks in Japan with a friend. We walked, saw art, shopped and ate. Oh did we eat! The food was amazing, especially taking pot luck in little Izakayas.

In the months since I returned I’ve been mourning these inspiring and remarkably cheap meals. Alas, I’ll just have to return to Japan for another hit!

As I keep getting asked about my trip from those wanting to take their own pilgrimage, it seemed a good idea to take the blog off life support for a couple of posts.

Where to begin? It was all good. 

Fish for breakfast

One destination high on most Tokyo tourist itineraries is visiting the fish market. The lovely old Tsukiji market was due to close this month (November 2016) but according to a reliable site, the proposed relocation to Toyosu has been put on hold indefinitely. But if you’re planning a visit, it’s wise to check the site not only for location but also opening days.

I love food markets and Tsukiji was a winner. Especially for breakfast.

Tsukiji Fish Market tips

  1. Forget the tuna auction. Unless tuna and/or auctions are really your thing, there’s no point getting up before dawn to do it. If nothing would thrill you more than watching huge dead creatures being auctioned off in the middle of the night – then you must check out all the information about how to get a spot. Places are limited and like most things in Japan, you have to follow the right procedure to be in with a chance.
  2. Public access to the wholesale market starts at 9am, when most of the day’s trade is over. If you leave it even half an hour later, there won’t be much to see.
  3. Arrive hungry. If you get there early or after you've looked at the fish, have a traditional market breakfast of beer, sushi and/or sashimi. We lucked on one of the best, in a row of small sushi bars in the Inner Market (see map). It was amazing. We were the only foreigners there and got approving nods when we ordered a longneck at 10am. Don’t confuse this pocket or eateries with the more touristy ones in the Outer market. 
  4. The best sushi and sashimi I've ever eaten (even the prawn head)! Note the fresh wasabi.
  5. The market is easy to get to by a couple of different train lines. But even trusty Google Maps was a tad challenging to find. On the first visit the layout of the Inner and Outer markets is a bit challenging.
  6. Remember it’s a workplace. Don’t touch the fish, keep out of the way of the traders and be wary of the forklifts and other electric vehicles! The floor is usually wet, so wear appropriate footwear.
  7. The Outer market has restaurants, food stalls, kitchenware and ceramics. If your time in Tokyo is limited and can’t spare a day in Asakusa aka kitchentown, buy your goodies here. Though not expensive, they’re priced for the tourist trade.
  8. My favourite Outer market stall sold a couple of varieties of dried bonito (which looks and sounds like a chunk of driftwood). Mould is used as part of the drying process for one of the varieties. The stall shaves it fresh, and allow you to taste the melt-in-your-mouth bonito flakes, that will make you never want to buy it in a packet ever again.
  9. Check the day. The wholesale market is closed on most Wednesday, Sunday and national holidays. Parts of the Outer market might be open but the really amazing sushi in the Inner market is closed.

Don’t miss out. This old market is a gem. Who knows if or when it well move but odds are that it won’t have the charm and stalls that are part of the current location.

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Sunday, January 03, 2016

artichoke bruschetta

I've been making this topping a lot this summer. 

Take a jar* of artichoke hearts, drain well. In a small food processor, chop the artichokes with a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, the juice of half to one lemon (to taste), a tablespoon or two of some good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Whiz til blended but before it gets too smooth. You want a bit of texture.

If there's some fresh parsley at hand, finely chop and stir that through or any other herb you take a fancy to.

Dollop on freshly toasted bread. Sure you can first rub it while hot with some olive oil and a clove of garlic, it smells great but it's not entirely necessary.

* A jar or a can? I've made it with both. The more expensive ones in a jar have a better texture than canned artichokes, which tend to be softer/over cooked. However, any port in a storm. Do the best with what you have. It still tastes good as a puree.

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Saturday, January 02, 2016

Baked fish with potatoes and asparagus

I’ve always been a tad contrary.

As blogging is in its final hour, I’ve got the urge to write again. Each day it seems another blogger from way back when is pulling up stumps. It gets tiring, that nagging voice in the back of your mind, to blog. We all run out of steam eventually. 

I have no desire to share my life story, publish a cookbook or be a photography wizard in this space, I’m just going back to my roots which are simply a food blog as a cook’s journal, my digital scribble of recipes created (and the occasional culinary failure) so I can remember them in future.  No pressure to post on schedule, or at all. I'm only popping back when something is worth reproducing. And bugger the grammar!

On holiday I stumbled upon a simple fish recipe that kept my diminutive New Zealand family happy. I adapted the original source that features salmon (though I eat it when I have no other choice, farmed and flabby Australasian salmon is a disappointing experience) and tweaked cooking times accordingly. It needed some jazzing up so I added olives, garlic and seasoning. Next time I’ll skip the balsamic (as I have done below) and top the finished dish with a capery-salsa verde, which I reckon will give the meal the added zip it needs.

Be my guest and use salmon if that’s the only fish you feel competent cooking, it will hold its shape well and is unlikely to offend. As I was in New Zealand I couldn’t go past the local fresh snapper but most fillets will work. If thin check at 7-8 minutes to see if cooked, otherwise thicker ones may require the full 15.

The original recipe calls for successive ingredients to be tossed together in the pan but I got all Virgo and kept them in neat layers.

Baked snapper with asparagus and potatoes

(Serves 3)

600g small new potatoes, scrubbed (I used Jersey Bennies but if you only have big old spuds, slice into 3 cm chunks)
3 cloves of garlic (skin on)
2 tabs olive oil
1 – 2 bunches of asparagus, woody parts removed
1 punnet cherry (or similar small) tomatoes
3 medium sized fish fillets (I used NZ snapper, which are quite thin but Blue Eye would also work well)
Sea salt
½ cup Kalamata olives (omit if serving with salsa verde)

To serve – lemon wedges or salsa verde (optional) 

Fire up the oven to 220c (fan) and find an oven dish (ceramic or metal) that will fit the potatoes in a single layer. If you don’t like washing up, line it with foil or parchment.

Tip a tablespoon of oil into a plastic bag or bowl and toss the spuds and garlic with a sprinkle of salt. Arrange in a single layer in the dish and bake for 20 minutes. Don’t chuck out the oil or bag just yet – add the asparagus to gently coat.

Remove from oven and give the spuds a good shake to loosen. Add the asparagus in a layer on top. If your tomatoes are a little on the large size, add them now as well. Just scatter around the pan. Cook for a further 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and give the pan another shake. Season the fish and lie on top of the asparagus, throw in some olives (and add the tomatoes now if tiny). Sprinkle the fish with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Bake 10 – 15 minutes until the fish is cooked.

Assemble equal quantities of vegetables and fish on each plate.

Serve as is, or with a wedge of lemon. If you’re in the mood, a spoonful of salsa verde on the fish would give it a gentle kick.

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