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Eating, Japanese style

11 Aug

Being the huge fans of Japanese food we are, a stopover in Tokyo and Kyoto on our way back from Hawaii seemed logical. We don’t eat a huge amount of seafood in Beijing, so used the visit to fill up on omega-3s. A trip to the Tokyo Fish Markets showed all manner of sealife for sale (we didn’t see whale, but did see a picture showing the different cuts of it) and ate breakfast of sashimi on rice.

Cook-your-own okonomiyaki was fun, with the finished product a tasty shrimp, pork and cuttlefish pancake topped with creamy Kewpie mayo, okonomiyaki sauce, strips of seaweed and dried fish flakes which move with the heat of the pancake.

Eating at izakayas was great fun, ordering small plates – like Japanese tapas – of tender beef and tofu stew, edamame, sashimi and grilled mackerel to drink with grapefruit sochu, plum wine or ice-cold Asahi, Sapporo or Kirin beer.

Tempura was lightly battered and cooked in front of us, and the Japanese pickles were sweet, spicy, salty and sour all in one bite. The markets were sightseeing destinations for us, to gawk at the weird and wonderful goodies on offer. Even supermarkets and department stores were great to browse and get takeaway bento lunchboxes from.

We liked the Boss Cafe Au Lait drink from the vending machines (thanks for the rec, Jimmy), and mochi and other indescribable sweets had interesting textures, flavours and tastes.

Sadly, not all food is “food”. The Japanese are masters in creating plastic/resin models of their food, so restaurants have samples of what’s on offer to entice hungry potential diners like us. The replicas were so lifelike – from the droplets of water on the “ice-cold beer bottles” to the individual “grains of rice” in sushi.

Unfortunately we left too soon, but have it on the list to go back to again.


Sake Manzo

24 Jul

As a foodie, you  know you’re in top company when one of your fellow diners, a soon-to-be-bride, says something along the lines of “The wedding is as much about the food as it is about the wedding” …

We had the pleasure of dining at Sake Manzo with Amanda and Ningyi, who will tie the knot in Beijing in October. Ningyi is the sort of guy whose eyes light up at the mention of good food and he’s a wealth of knowledge on Beijing cuisine. To hear them both wax lyrical about the Bubbles brunch at the Hilton, slow roasted beef noodles at a local restaurant or the suckling pig at Capital M is a real treat.

I’m a little hesitant about eating Japanese cuisine in Beijing, for several reasons. Firstly, we’re from Australia and we have excellent fresh seafood, so we tend to fall into the trap of comparing to back home. Secondly, we just travelled in Japan not long ago (enough said). And finally, I’m a bit wary of eating my favourite Japanese food, sashimi, in China. However, given that Sake Manzo was Ningyi’s recommendation and he spoke very highly of it, we were keen.

Overall I think we tried around 10-15 dishes and I would rate the food and service as very good. The ambience was also great – a bit like stepping into a little izakaya in Tokyo. The homemade basket tofu, apparently made using concentrated Japanese seawater (hopefully as far away from Fukushima as possible) and topped with French shallots, was superbly subtle and delicate, with the texture of ricotta cheese.  The okara was also very tasty – it’s made from the remaining fibre from the soybeans when making tofu and mixed with small prawns and octopus and ends up looking like a drier version of chicken stuffing. Bonito tartare topped with a quail egg was delicious (and Amanda’s favourite dish, if she had to chose one), as was the sashimi, which I was pleasantly surprised about.

Before we went to the restaurant Ningyi raved about the chicken wings and they certainly didn’t disappoint … good, tasty bird! And finger licking good. The smoked eel was as good as I have ever tried and I can still taste my favourite dish, the black pork, which was cut and cooked like bacon rashers, a real house specialty. Another dish that hit the right note was the deep fried calamari. My fellow diners rated the tuna neck as being average (in Ningyi’s words “it’s just a piece of fish really”), although I gladly polished it all up. The only dish I was a bit so-so on was the chicken meatballs with gristle, which I thought lacked substance and taste, although others at the table seemed to find them tasty.

We washed all of this down with Asahi on tap and sochu, a distilled beverage which is typically distilled from barley, sweet potatoes or rice.

We ate at the Sake Manzo at Panjiayuan, and there is apparently another location planned for Tuanjiehu Beisantiao, opening in early August. Between  the four of us we paid around 200rmb each, but we were very liberal on the ordering and the spirits, so you could get away with less if you’re on a budget. Overall we’d strongly recommend Sake Manzo if you love Japanese food, and we’re very grateful to Ningyi and Amanda for introducing us to it. We’ll be back, and will continue to pick their brains on Beijing eats!