It’s starting to get chilly in Tokyo. The leaves are starting to turn in different areas of the country, so locals and tourists flit around according to the koyo schedule to check out the most beautiful fall displays of color.
At home, I’m packing up the sundresses and pulling out the sweaters, and figuring out where I can get some of the best cold-weather eats in the city. Japanese soul food definitely exists, and it’s in a class of its own. Here are a few dishes I’m stalking.
Okono freaking miyaki. It’s maybe the most delicious thing ever. A pancake with meat, vegis, shrimp, whatever you want, grilled to perfection and covered in sweet sauce and mayo. Osaka is known for the best of the best, but there are a couple of good griddles in my neighborhood. Some places have tables with griddles built in so you can make your own, and some just serve it up. And really, why would I buy all the stuff and try to make it at home when I can get the old school expert version five minutes away? Oishiiiiiii.
A hearty, clear-broth soup filled with all sorts of dumplings, fish cakes, meat skewers, daikon, and tamago, you can find oden at almost every conbini in Tokyo. Grab a bowl, pick your goodies, broth it up and you’re done. You can also buy pre-assorted dumpling packs at the grocery store and make your own at home, but like most yummy foods in Japan… cooking at home just isn’t necessary.
Tsukemen, or dipping noodles, is akin to ramen… it pretty much is ramen, just deconstructed. The noodles tend to be cooler and the sauces can very from a light miso with onion to a thick meaty sauce. There’s a shop down the street from my house that nails this dish– my rainy day favorite.
This is one of the few dishes I’ve tried to make at home and I have to say– it’s so easy, so healthy, and so delicious. Anyone can do it. Green onion, a few varieties of mushroom, tofu, sliced meat (if you want), cabbage, throw it in a pot with the nabe soup base you buy at the store and you’re done. It tastes even better the second day after everything has had a chance to party together. Serve it with brown rice and Japanese pickles and you look like a rock star.
I ate this frequently in San Francisco. Thin strips of beef and chopped vegis cooked at your table in a sugar-soy sauce. I’ve eased up on my red meat these days, but it’s still a quintessential hearty Japanese bowl of awesome. You could definitely make this at home, but with so many restos in Tokyo, grabbing a few friends to cook together makes sukiyaki a little more engaging than your typical out-to-dinner experience.
I just realized there are a few Japanese dishes where you go out to eat, but actually make the food yourself at your table (sukiyaki, okonomiyaki, yakiniku, even pancakes). It seems to me Japan sees cooking together as part of the dining experience. And if you live in a tiny place (like most of us do) going out to cook for a date or with a group makes a lot of sense.
Anyway– now I’m hungry and I’m going out to a new place in Asakusa tonight. Yay! いただきます!