At the time it felt completely normal but looking back at the day I spent in 神楽坂 Kagurazaka I am amazed by the amount of food and beverages I consumed. It’s no wonder I gained so much weight in Japan… but when in Rome, right? I have no regrets whatsoever. Well, maybe just a little now that I’m trying to lose some of the extra pounds.
Kagurazaka was turning out to be a “fusion” neighborhood that seamlessly combined both traditional Japanese ways of life with modern Western touches (a bit like a quieter, smaller version of 삼청동 SamChungDong in Seoul). So far I’d had a really delicious Japanese lunch and a cidre break at a French bar. Before the clock struck midnight on this long but fun day, I would add both traditional Japanese snacks as well as “fusion” sweets, Japanese craft beer at a British bar, and a seafood feast at a typical Japanese joint. I sure do have a lot of energy and capacity to eat & drink…
In between all those tempting treats, we managed to continue our stroll around the back alleyways. We came across these two lovely ladies in gorgeous kimonos (I don’t think they were geishas but I’m told that there are still some in Kagurazaka) navigating the narrow and steep stairs.
T had told me about this traditional Japanese store that sold condiments and foodstuff. Just the other day she’d gone to a special event they held Ginza where she was able to try different types of rice and various rice related products. She raved about them. Of course we had to check it out.
As always T was totally right. This shop was amazing. I learned a bit about this product called 塩糀 shiokōji (rice malt fermented in salt) that has become a popular ingredient in the Japanese kitchen in the past year or so. I did end up getting some to experiment with it myself- supposedly it’s great to marinate meats and fish, make quick pickles, etc. I also got a pouch of mountain vegetables, with its stalks and ferns in liquid, to make 山菜そば sansai soba (hot buckwheat noodle soup with mountain vegetables). I didn’t know at the time but they also have a store much closer to Roppongi, in Azabu-jūban.
T said that since we were in Kagurazaka we HAD to sample the this famous dessert called 抹茶 ババロア matcha babaroa at KinoZen, which is a 甘味所 kanmi dokoro, a Japanese cafe serving sweets and tea. I could tell that in the summer they would sell lots of kakigori, Japanese shaved ice, but their signature dish is matcha babaloa. The name suggested an adaptation of something Western but I had no idea what babaroa meant… Well, babaroa comes from bavarois, crème bavaroise, otherwise known as Bavarian cream. This dessert was a combination of Japanese green tea flavored bavarois, tsubuan (chunky azuki beans), and whipped cream. The shop was really packed (apparently it always is) but they offered takeaway matcha babaloa so we did just that. BTW, it’s 100 yen cheaper if you take it to go. But it’s pretty pricey at $8 USD, no?
On our way back to Uppie Service, we saw this cafe that was straight out of one of Aesop’s fables. I didn’t know whether a rabbit would hop out or a princess would peak through the window. We only takeaway manjū(s) (sweet Japanese dumplings) but I really would love to revisit it and spend an afternoon sitting inside this gem. Must check it out!
After we were once again satiated with sweets and praises about this cute neighborhood, we started to plan our evening activities. We decided to have some pre-dinner drinks at The Royal Scotsman. Again, I was pleasantly surprised that this very British pub didn’t feel so out of place in Kagurazaka. The staff was very friendly and they carried quite a few Japanese local microbrews as well as standard British beers.
I know it’s shocking but we were looking forward to more food. One of T & J’s favorite places is called 蓮 REN in Kagurazaka but we opted to try a place they’d never been to and wanted to try. It was a seafood specialty pub called チチュウカイ ウオマル Chichukai Uomaru, which was right on the main drag and couldn’t pass by without noticing all the fresh seafood displayed outside.
J shows me how to enjoy these large prawns even more by making a little dipping sauce with mayonaise (by the way, I don’t normally eat the stuff but when I do, it’s Kewpie mayo all the way) and soy. J knows his beer and his grilled prawns…
But the best was yet to come! Pièce de résistance, if you will, of our meal was this GIANT slab of grilled tuna on the bone. It’s not something one would find easily outside Japan… With the fatty and almost beef-like texture, I dare say it was infinitely better than any T-bone steak. The green paste was yuzu-kosho, not wasabi, another one of those Japanese condiments I love. It’s citrus-y, salty, and peppery.
Too bad that I missed the famous Kagurazaka Awa Odori festival this year but even without the festival, Kagurazaka is a great neighborhood in Tokyo. Since my fun day in Kagurazaka, I met and became friends with a young woman who lives and works there. Now I have another reason to go back. I can’t wait!