Chef Kaz Okochi and Chef Ryan Ratino Eating Their Way in Japan
After a long flight to Japan, we decided to stretch our legs and stroll around Shinjuku 新宿, a large entertainment, business and shopping area near Shinjuku Station the world’s busiest railway station that sees two million passengers walk through its gates every day. While walking this busy area our noses caught onto the delicious aromas emanating from what we came to know as Yakitori Place, a tiny secret jam that provided us with a very filling welcome to Japan. Yakitori (Japanese: 焼き鳥) is a Japanese type of skewered chicken. Preparation involves skewering the meat with kushi (串), (a type of skewer typically made of steel, bamboo, or similar materials) then grilling it over a charcoal fire.
On the second day, we had the privilege to visit the bustling Toyosu fish market. This place is one of a kind. Too bad it is closed for tourists because of the morning tuna auctions area major drawing card. The market is huge and packed with rare fish, seafood and fresh ingredients. A true heaven for Ryan Ratino and I. Dying to take part in the famous auctions but we had to restrain ourselves!
Narisawa’s (ナリサワ) food is indescribable. Not because of the Japanese — European fusion but, because of the message and philosophy that the chef brings to his kitchen. It really was a great experience.
After took care of some business issue on the phone, took the train to Shibuya which is the town of lots of young people. Stopped by a really good pastry shop on Aoyama/dori for late breakfast because we were so hungry. Walked Aoyama-dori which is a very nice uptown area to Narisawa for lunch (previously posted).
Took the train to Ueno and walked to Kappabashi where so many restaurant equipment stores are.
Bought a few stuff and walked to Asakusa where typical Tokyo downtown area. Found good Tonkatsu restaurant and train back to the hotel, took 30 min break then headed to Ginza for the second dinner at Soba restaurant where carries big wine list (forgot to take photos). Unfortunately, we were too tired to check out bars as we originally planned.
On our way to Osaka, we breakfasted in Shinkansen while looking at Mt. Fuji through the window of our carriage. Next, we stopped by Hamamatsu to eat unagi for lunch. They steam eel before grilling making it very tender. In Osaka, for dinner, we had fun cooking okonomiyaki and yakisoba by ourselves while sipping chu-hi.
From Osaka, we headed to Namba where I used to live for 5 years, 30 years ago. It’s changed a lot but I saw a few places that retained their old charm. We also went to Kuromori Ichiba, street food paradise, where you can try so many good foods like grilled seafood, Kobe beef…. and can see what local people eat at home.
Next stop — Kyoto. Nishiki Market is another paradise for street food and food shopping. We ate a lot of street food such as freshly made oden, korokke, menchi-katsu, and mitarashi (very different flavouring from my region).
By the Kyoto seaside, we met with Yoshiki Yukimachi, sake brewing master at Takeno Shuzo Restaurant, who took us to Nawaya restaurant (Michelin two stars in my opinion). Chef Yoshioka and his wife started the party with Yoshiki’s super high-grade sake and we all ended up cooking together.
On this rainy day, we were invited by the local fishing men to a market where you can buy fresh seafood and have it cooked in front of you.
Later on back in Kyoto city we dined in Gion in a restaurant called Hassun and had amazing kaiseki. Hitting up some cocktail bars to finish.
We visited Matsumoto Shuzo, one of the most respected sake breweries in Kyoto. Sitting in their beautiful guest room, it was so interesting to hear their long history from the owner. I was surprised to find out that my favorite sake, Momono Shizuku, whose label was designed by an American artist, was made in this brewery. I didn’t get to taste it but saw the label for the first time in 25 years.
Next up we visited the highest quality tea producer in Uji. The owner recently received an honourable award from the Emperor and is also in charge of taking care of the oldest tea field in Japan.
After that, we met one of the 13 tea judging masters in Japan. He knows everything about tea from all tea producing area in Japan, kind of like a master sommelier for tea. During these two great meetings, we tasted and learned a lot about high-end green tea.
Back in Kyoto city with Kyoto Wagyu exporters. They kindly invited us to their Wagyu restaurant called Onishi. I was left speechless during dinner (we were in beef paradise). In thanks, we invited them to join us at a bar in Gion called The Common One Bar to talk more about beef and cuisine from all over the world. This beautiful bar used to be a traditional tea house. Classy yet sleek and modern. With its great cocktails, I am certain it’s one of the top bars in Kyoto.
If you get a chance to visit Kyoto, don’t just focus on traditional Japanese scenes. Kyoto offers a lot more than touristy spots including many good western restaurants which we, unfortunately, don’t have time to visit this time around.
Took a cab to Taketoyo to visit Nakasada Tamari-miso manufacture. They also spend 3 years to make their products and show and explained to us the process of tamari and soybean miso. Both were a very educational experience.
Took train and ferry to go Himakajima where known for octopus and fugu. The owner of Umidori Inn is a fisherman so dived for clams and also his father fished for us as well. We ate live spiny lobster (Ise ebi), live scallops (tairagai), abalone, live octopus, shako (ugly but taste like between shrimp and crab, one of my favorite seafood), lots of fugu include shirako (milt) which is I think one of the best delicacy food, octopus shabu shabu and octopus rice and much more.