Monday, 17 August 2009

Cha-Ya, San Francisco

A second San Francisco post. Also a second place called Chaya (after this one in Shinjuku), in this case a Japanese vegan restaurant. Please be aware that there is another restaurant in San Francisco called Chaya Brasserie by the waterfront, which serves Japanese/French fusion cuisine and probably will hurt your wallet a bit more than the more humble Cha-ya in the trendier/shabbier area on Valencia Street (cue thrift shops, dive bars, coffeehouses, interesting shops) in Inner Mission. Cha-ya offers Japanese vegan food that is inspired by Zen cooking. See the menu here. It had a very impressive variety of options which meant it took a long time to decide what to order - not an issue that we are used to as vegetarians!

As we weren't particularly hungry after a big lunch earlier in the day, got a selection of relatively small dishes between three of us - two normal plates of sushi rolls, the intriguing sounding soba suhsi, 'hangetsu' (fried mushroom) and a bowl of mushroom udon.

Avocado hosomaki 'reverse rolls' (the rice is outside the seaweed) and, below, spinach and mushroom ones.

Avocado rolls
Spinach and mushroom rolls

These were good sushi, in particular the big chunks of soft avocado.

The soba sushi were a bigger and much more expensive plate ($10.50) and were something which we had never seen before - sushi with buckwheat noodles in place of the rice.

Soba sushi
Unfortunately they were definitely the most disappointing item. They were a bit full of different vegetables and tofu to get much in the way of taste from the noodles when biting in, and as the noodles don't allow sauce to soak in like rice (in this case a soba sauce rather than soy sauce was provided) you don't get much flavour from that route either. Good to see some experimentation but it didn't turn out so well in this case!

On the other hand...

Fried mushrooms

The fried portobello mushrooms (layered with tofu and light batter and deep-fried and served with kiwi fruit sauce) were delicious. They were lightly battered to keep the mushroom taste and texture, but with an additional great combination of tastes from the batter and the sweet kiwi fruit sauce. Definitely recommended.

Finally, the mushroom udon.

Mushroom udon

The noodles were actually more brown than is usually the case for udon, which I was happy with. It was a rather mild flavoured dish, but it has a nice homely taste.

The whole lot came to $40 - not that really cheap but with good ingredients and presentation and some interesting ideas, we were quite happy with our dinning experience. There is also another branch of Cha-ya in Berkeley across the Bay, so it's worth checking out if you are in the Bay Area.

762 Valencia St
(between 18th St & 19th St)
San Francisco, CA 94110, USA
(415) 252-7825

Monday, 10 August 2009

Little Fire Pot, San Francisco

We spent some time in San Francisco in the summer and thought that we should at least post about a couple of the more interesting/vegetarian places.

First up is Little Fire Pot, a restaurant specialising in hot pot cuisine, also known as Chinese fondue or steamboat, something similar to 'shabu shabu' - basically cooking your food in a simmering hot pot of broth at the table. It is popular in East Asian countries with local variations on the ingredients and the soup base. Traditionally, a big hot pot is shared amongst everyone on the table, so it is a sort of group cooking and eating activity. However, at Little Fire Pot, they serve the personal 'mini' hot pots that are popular in Taiwan, where each person gets his/her own pot. Having your own pot might eliminate some of the 'fun' of communal cooking, but then you get the freedom to choose your own soup base according to your taste (there is a variety of spicy, non-spicy, meat, non-meat soup base to choose from at Little Fire Pot), which can please both vegetarian and non-veg diners in the party.

This restaurant seemed to be a popular spot for families, at least based on the number of young children there at the same time as we were! There were 6 of us in our group, and 3 of us were vegetarians.

Our full selection of food prior to cooking

Between three veggies, we decided to get two of the 'Deluxe vegetarian hot pot' ($18.99 each) and an additional mushroom platter (with enoki, shitake and oyster mushrooms). As was not an uncommon experience in the US, it turned out it was really rather a lot of food! Each set meal came with a pot of mushroom broth, a huge bowl of vegetables (see photo above) which consisted of corn, tomatoes, cauliflower, taro, tree fungus (also known as wood ear or cloud ear), spinach, yam, tofu, a few different types of mushroom and more!

Mushroom platter

We probably would have been ok without the extra mushroom platter! The 'veg meat' platter, which was part of the set, came with some imitation/mock meat that is common in Chinese vegetarian cooking. It was basically an assortment of veggie meat balls, mutton and meat chunks, which tend to be a bit chewy and taste like meat a bit in texture. The 'balls' tend to have a kind of hard but crisp and smooth texture, which is similar to typical Asian meat/fish balls, significantly different from the Western meat balls - according to IF, that could be an acquired taste for those who are not used to this texture.

Vegetarian meat platter

Each set also came with a choice of side/starch, which were udon, yam vermiceilli, bean vermiceilli, egg noodle, sliced ricecake (Shanghainese nian gao), or rice! We decided to give the udon and yam vermicelli a try. We also ordered the vegan satay sauce for dipping the cooked food.

Hot pot in action

It was still quite a social way of eating even though we had our personal pots - since the dining process was quite long as we all had to cook, well or boil, our own food at the table, definitely great for chatting and catching up with friends you haven't seen for a while! It is also quite fun, maybe it is a bit like a lucky dip, you just put the hot pot spoon/ladle in the soup and see what would pick up! We vegetarians didn't have to worry about the danger of under cooking things; actually it was probably best to pace yourself since you probably don't have to over cook some of the stuff too much as you probably can't eat things very quickly (cos they would be piping hot!).

In case you weren't too full after all this hot potting, there was an okay selection of 'free' dessert - taro sago/tapioca dessert 'soup', coconut pudding and fruits.

Overall, our experience at Little Fire Pot was pretty good. It was probably a combination of the food and the process of cooking, eating and socialising made it a rather fun evening. Additionally, for those who are familiar with the SF Bay Area, San Francisco (and Daly City) summers are often far from being warm, so hot pot was definitely a good idea on a chilly day. Little Fire Pot is located at the back side of the Westlake Centre in Daly City, very near the border of San Francisco, so not hard to get to if you have a car (plenty of parking nearby). There are probably quite a lot of hot pot restaurants in the San Francisco area, but this place is definitely friendly for both veg and non-veg friends.

Little Fire Pot
470 Westlake Center (on Lake Merced Blvd)
Daly City, CA 94015, USA
(650) 992-0888

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Green Garden, Paris

Having visited Saveurs Végét'Halles on our previous trip to Paris and enjoyed their vegan cuisine, we decided to check out a place that they had given us a business card for, Green Garden, a Chinese/Vietnamese/Asian vegetarian restaurant . It is located in the Chinatown area, and the nearest subway station is Porte d'Ivry is a few minutes away.

This place turned out to be another vegan restaurant but one with links to 'Supreme Master' Ching Hai (the wiki is full of laughs and well worth reading), a Vietnamese cult leader who promotes vegetarianism with interests in America and her own TV channel.

The supreme master herself

I didn't have to look up to find out that last part, because they broadcast Supreme Master TV on several screens in the restaurant.

Supreme Master TV

Vegetarian propaganda in 15 languages! To be honest going to a vegetarian restaurant to be confronted with this felt a bit like seeing those anti-piracy warnings at the start of DVDs - surely we weren't the ones who needed convincing here?? It made for a bemusingly entertaining dinner accompniment.

Anyway, we got seaweed salad to start with. The seaweed was a bit different than what we expected, maybe more 'sea' and 'natural' than what we are used to in the Japanese wakame/seaweed salads. Nevertheless, it is quite fresh tasting with the slightly sour, tangy, vingear type dressing/sauce.

Seaweed salad

Then we had these Vietnamese thin rice crêpe, bánh cuốn (à la vapeur). Ihascupcake was very excited about this dish because normally you only get a few dishes in vegetarian versions in the Vietnamese restaurants we have been to in London, and bánh cuốn is something we can't normally get. It comes with pieces of vegetarian chả lụa (Vietnamese ham) on top of the rice crêpe. There is a little bit of filling inside the folded bánh cuốn, think it might be diced mushroom and something else? It is served with the vegetarian nước chấm/fish sauce. This dish is rather light, so perfect for the hot summer weather!

Vegan raviolis

Ihascupcake continued the cool and light theme with one of the bún (rice vermicelli 'salad') dishes -Vietnamese spring rolls and rice vermicelli noodles over salad and sliced cucumber, herbs and bean sprouts. It came with roasted peanuts on top, also served with the vegetarian nước chấm on the side. It was a decent bowl of bún!

Vermicelli and spring rolls

I had vegetable ho fun/chow fun rice noodles. I know the choice wasn't too adventurous, but I thought it sounded good and the the noodles indeed were very good. The imitation meat was a bit chewy to my taste, which I suppose is common with a certain type of gluten 'meat'. The kai-lan/Chinese broccoli was a bit hard and had that slight bitter taste, but I actually quite liked it like that.


Our whole meal came to €27,60. Although the portions weren't huge, compared to London standard that was pretty affordable. The decor of the restaurant wasn't fancy but it felt cozy and clean. The service we got from our waitress was polite. We spoke to the owner/manager at the counter right a little bit before we left and found out that he was Cambodian Chinese; he was quite friendly.

There was a small 'shopping' section at the front of the restaurant, where you can buy Chinese/Oriental vegetarian cooking ingredients, like some of those mock meat and such. Ihascupcake felt compelled to buy something, so she picked up a pack of ground/dry shiitake mushroom and seaweed, a product from Taiwan.

The food here at Green Garden was perhaps a bit closer to home cooking than gourmet Asian/vegetarian food. However, we still thought it was a decent place. We would probably come back when in Paris again, but maybe after we try Tien Hiang, another Chinese/Vietnamese/Asian vegetarian restaurant in Paris we haven't tried yet but heard good things about. But if you are near the Chinatown area and don't mind a bit of (potentially amusing!) cult propaganda, Green Garden is not a bad bet.

Green Garden
20, Rue Nationale75013 Paris, FRANCE
Tel: +33 1 45 82 99 54

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Momiji Restaurant, Paris

We went to Paris for a few days in July and thought we could share what we ate when we were there!

We had a long and exhausting day (RER train strike, heat, etc.), so we decided to go to dinner at a place that would be easy to find. We had been to Momiji on a previous visit to Paris, when we found it just by walking around the streets near Bastille Metro stop (the restaurant had a big advert inside the station to direct you). Although it is not great Japanese food, we thought it was decent enough and we didn't have to think about where to go. Neither of our French is that fluent, so it's good to just fall back on somewhere you know there would be enough vegetarian options. Although Paris might not be the most vegetarian friendly city, there are quite a lot of vegetarian friendly places or places that might make you something without meat; however, with the language barrier, sometimes it takes a bit of work. Many places also don't seem to have the full menu on display outside of the restaurant but only certain selections or offers.

There are quite a few Japanese restaurants run by non-Japanese in Paris (the same is true in many other Western countries); not that is necessarily an issue, but just want to mention that Momiji is probably one of them. For some reason yakitori (grilled things skewered on a bamboo sticks) seems to be quite popular on the menus in Japanese restaurants in Paris (and we have studied quite a few during our visits there), and Momiji had a quite a few grilled vegetables on offer. Here we had some rather delicious courgettes and mushrooms on sticks!

In the set menu, there was a vegetarian sushi set, so it made it easy! It wasn't anything out of the ordinary tastewise (although you don't see the same kind of avocado sushi too often), but did the trick!

We also ordered this tofu and tomato side. It was quite light and refreshing, especially after a hot day in Paris!

Tofu side at Momiji

I guess we didn't order a lot of food, but perhaps we weren't too hungry that day. All that came to €41.90, so it wasn't cheap but not too expensive for central Paris I guess. And if you want more authentic Japanese food, should head towards the area near Pyramides station.
20, Rue Daval, 75011 PARIS, France
Tel: +33 1 48 06 14 72

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Goodbye Japan

Sadly, that was the end of the trip! No more eating in Japan for us until next time, whenever that may be.

We discovered a new meaning for Viking, visited green tea desert heaven, found two vegetarian friendly burgers and great value noodles. We also found a friendly vegetarian restaurant that we went back to for second helpings. It is very difficult to pick a favourite, but our two choices would be the amazing yudofu course at Junsei and the everything-fried-and-on-sticks buffet at Kushiya Monogatari.

Next time we will try to find a shojin ryouri place that is open, sample monja-yaki and hopefully benefit from having more money to spend.

It is certainly not as easy being a vegetarian in Japan as in London, especially with only some knowledge of the language. However it is very possible to still find great food all around, though it can take a bit of luck or some research to find the best. A large part of the reason we decided to write about this trip was in the hope that others (vegetarian or even not) might benefit from it when they come to plan a visit to Japan. We hope you have enjoyed it.

This is not completely the end of the blog though as we have other destinations to explore soon!

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Chef's V, Marunouchi

For our last evening in Japan, we went to the rather cool 36 storey Marunouchi building near Tokyo station in the business district. It has a wide selection of restaurants. We didn't go to any of the really fancy (and non-vegetarian friendly) restaurants on the top couple of floors; we were originally planning to go to Fujino tofu restaurant on the 6th floor after seeing it recommended (when it was at a different location), but on enquiring at the front the host apologetically told us that much of the food has fish broth in! Boo! Perhaps it has changed a bit since it moved location?

So we wandered around and on the 5th floor stumbled upon a place called Chef's V - 'Vegetable Dining & Wining', with boxes of vegetables outside (good sign!) and a more veggie-friendly menu.

Chef's V

Sorry about the blurry photo below! This is a map displaying where their produce came from in the country, cool! I think the restaurant's selling point is fresh vegetables and other ingredients.

Chef's V vegetable map

We started off with cute mini-potatoes, our only experience with the 'amuse-bouche' that we didn't actually order but did get charged for, which we saw a few blogs complaining about at other places. In this case they were good enough that we didn't mind. I think they were boiled and lightly seasoned, so you taste the natural flavour and freshness.

Potatoes at Chef's V

We weren't really hungry, so we got a selection of different things to share and try. Colourful vegetables salad rolls (or something like that)/ 彩り野菜のサラダロール (¥500) were an interesting twist on sushi/Vietnamese summer roll concept and the peanut dressing went very well.

Salad rolls at Chef's V

Also we had smooth smoked tofu/なめらかスモーク豆腐 (¥300) , which was produced in-house/made their own (燻製 -自家製 ). It had a mild smoked taste, with that a dab of the yellow sauce (not quite sure what that was). I'm generally a fan of smoked flavour food, so was happy to try smoked fresh tofu!

Smoked tofu at Chef's V

We also had some delicious fried avocado/アボカドフライ ((¥400). The frying was very light, rather like when tempura is done correctly, not this heavy batter you get with some of the so-called tempura you get outside Japan. Finally we got this 'hot cocotte cooking' - mozzerella and tomatos with bread and olive oil/モッツァレラチーズとトマトとバジルのオリーブオイル焼き (¥650) cooked in a cocotte dish, which was slightly heavy but very tasty.

Avocado and tomatoes at Chef's V

For somewhere we hadn't been intending to go to this was a really great find, with some cool dishes and an emphasis on fresh vegetables. There were a couple other pasta dishes looked like they should be suitable for vegetarians and would be more substantial if we were more hungry. The food was very well prepared, and the restaurant didn't seem to be that expensive for its location and being in a business district, so overall a pleasant surprise for an accidental vegetarian find!

Chef's V
2-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-6390 (5F)
〒100-6390 東京都千代田区丸の内2-4-1 丸ビル5F
Tel: 03-5288-9005

Breakfast baked goods

A couple of different breakfasts for this post. First, on our way to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka we bought some small things at Tokyo station to eat on the way. It was from a counter of Cozy Corner. They offered a variety of western cakes and bakery items, and we got a chocolate eclair (¥116) and a 'little bird' custard filled-waffle (¥116). The 'waffle' was not exactly what you would think of as waffle, a bit soft for that, but very nice and fluffy, almost cake like texture with lots of cool and creamy filling! It even came with a little icepack to keep it cool, impressive attention to detail! Cheap and nice breakfast on the go!

Cozy Corner custard waffle
Cozy Corner choco eclair (with the streets of Mitaka in the background
Cozy Corner ice pack

Second, our breakfast on our final day. We made a quick stop at Harajuku again before the weekend mob descended and went to Caffe Solare on Takeshita-dori. We got some (organic but slightly expensive) tea (¥300 each) and some Western style baked goods. They were cream corn bread (¥190), mini pizza bread (¥180) and cream cheese pie (¥170):

Caffe Solare baked things

I love the cream corn bread! Another slightly Asian fusion creation? They were actually not that small, so not bad value and filled our stomach nicely. There are some similar style bakery goods in the Japan Centre in London, so when I miss my Asian style bread I can get my fix there.

Denny's Japan, Ikebukuro

On our last full day in Japan we met up with a friend to go to karaoke, and beforehand went to get lunch. American readers may be familiar with Denny's as it is a popular place to go at 3am in the morning when there is nothing else open and you are not that choosy about the quality of the food/grease in the small hours! We were reassured by our friend that the Japanese version it is quite different. Apparently the Japanese Denny's are owned by the same company as Seven-Eleven, great conbini (again better than the American version) and one of the few places you can use your non-Japanese debit cards to take out cash. There was a very long queue stretching outside the door of the place and although after a while we did get to sit down while we waited for a table to be free, we did begin to wonder if it was ever going to happen.

Once we eventually got sat down, we got some brightly coloured drinks (yep, the melon soda again and some pinku lemonade). We got free refills, but have just been informed by our friend that they have just stopped doing so as of June, boo!

Denny's melon soda and pink lemonade

The menu didn't have an extensive range of vegetarian options but there was enough to get things we were happy with. There was no English menu, at least we weren't offered any, but there were nice pictures, so even if you don't read any Japanese it's easy enough to figure out the menu. IF and I got a salad to share and each had a pasta dish.

mushroom salad

Like most items on menu, this seemingly 'western' dish showed its Japanese twist. The salad included Asian mushrooms and a light dressing, not a creamy one. It wasn't that big, but tasted decent enough.

spaghetti with tomato sauce and aubergines

The spaghetti with tomato sauce and aubergines was ok. It wasn't anything too special, but it did the job, definitely better quality food than American Denny's. Our friend had her favourite omelette rice (omu-rice オムライス) , another Japanese western creation that I wouldn't mind trying, but unfortunately it came with meat so I only got to try a small bite of it, which was nice. Guess will just have to try making it at home!


The desserts were definitely the winner here, and most definitely in a different class compares to American Denny's! The selections were very impressive! They looked great (as seen in the photo above) and tasted just as nice too!

The prices were quite reasonable (most main dishes were from ¥500-800; steak type entrees were more), though the portions were smaller than US standards, so maybe not so 'dirt cheap' like the American counterpart. They also change their menu quite a bit according to the seasons (the summer menu online now looks a bit different from the one we saw in January). It doesn't have the most amazing choices for vegetarians, so I'd say it's an OK choice for lunch or if you are not too hungry, or only want lots of sweets!

Denny's (池袋東口店/ Ikebukuro east exit branch)
〒170-0013 東京都豊島区東池袋1−13−6 (2F)
Tel: 03-5950-9351

Friday, 16 January 2009

R Burger - Roppongi

We had heard of a few different Japanese burger chains before going, including of course MOS Burger that we tried. On continuing our Roppongi exploration we managed to stumble across one which we hadn't read anything about, and which had some vegetarian options too! Near the famously rowdy Roppongi crossing was R Burger.

The front of R Burger

This place had all of the burgers in different-looking buns that are quite far away from a western burger. We ordered a set meal (¥750) that came with Steamed-Bun Sandwich with Avocado (アボカド蒸しサンド) - steamed five-grain Chinese style buns with avocado, tomato, cottage cheese, mixed salad and mayo sauce. The menu entry on their website for this one actually says 'ベジタリアンでもOKです' - OK for vegetarians! The fluffy buns were quite nice though the sandwich as a whole tasted quite salady - not as good as the MOS rice burger though not bad, healthy for sure and certainly quite interesting to look at! The set included a drink and french fries, but we paid an extra ¥70 to upgrade the fries to tofu nuggets (豆腐ナゲット). Tofu nugget is an excellent concept, and they were as great as we hoped. The portions were not too big, but not a bad price for what we got.

R Burger avocado bun and tofu nuggets

Looking at the menu online it also offers 'green stick salads' (salad wrapped Vietnamese summer roll style) as well as tofu cake (as in sponge cake!), so definitely one of the most vegetarian friendly fast food places. There are also 2 other branches in Tokyo area (Ginza and Hachiōji), and interestingly 2 additional branches in Bangkok. If you want healthier, and certainly more interestingly and refined fast food, you should check out R Burger!

R Burger - Roppongi Branch
港区六本木4-9-8 リラビル1F
TEL : 03-6805-3119

Koots Green Tea - Roppongi

Tonight we set out to look at the some of the cool new buildings and the famous nightlife in the Roppongi district. After our huge lunch, we figured we didn't need a big meal and would just grab whatever looked good along the way. We started out at Tokyo Midtown, a 6-buidling (including the tallest building in Tokyo) mixed-use development that opened in 2007. It houses a number of fancy shops and restaurants, but we decided to get something cheap and small in the Plaza/B1F level to exercise some money saving measures when coming near the end of our trip/ assaults on our bank accounts. We figured that most of the fancy stuff would not have been vegetarian anyway!

We decided to give Koots Green Tea a try because it has something a bit more substantial than Starbucks or cakes on offer, and their menu with English in front of the shop made it easier as well.

I guess they get quite a lot of foreign visitors at Tokyo Midtown, since a number of international companies like Xerox and Cisco have their offices in this building, and the server spoke some English. We ordered some onigiri (around ¥200 each and much larger than you get for a similar price in the UK) and were told we had to wait a few minutes for them.

Onigiri, 3 kinds

From right to left, the onigiri were perilla and hijiki, green perilla and leaf mustard, and edam and olive. All were good but it was the edam and olive was the best and most interesting, with slightly melted cheese working surprisingly well with the rice. Definitely worth the (short) wait and not something you're likely to get anywhere else than Japan.

We also had ice tea and a green tea cream an-mitsu, green tea soft cream with red beans (¥790 as a 'dessert set' together).

Koots Green Tea
Koots Green Tea ice cream

Tasty but we had better green tea parfaits! The place was not somewhere you would go and sit to eat for too long but for a quick stop and some interesting onigiri it might be worth a go if you are in the area and want some comparatively cheap eats.

Koots Green Tea (Tokyo Midtown branch)
東京都港区赤坂9-7-2 B-B101
TEL: 03-5413-7131


After visiting the magnificent Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, located in the western side of the greater Tokyo area, we went for lunch somewhere that was further west from the centre of the city. The Granduo department store in Tachikawa (立川), which was right next to the JR rail station, has a 'China Street' on the 7th floor that houses a number of restaurants that serves various Chinese regional cuisines. We were there for Chien-Fu (健福), a Taiwanese vegetarian restaurant. Chien-Fu also follows the same buddhist vegetarian principles as was at It's Vegetable!, so the food here did not contain strong-smelling plants such as garlic, onion and leek. The name of the restaurant means something like good health and good fortune.

Front of Chien-fu restaurant

Yes, they had an even larger number of food models outside than most places! Less need to spend time studying since everything was vegetarian. Inside the restaurant looked really nice. They had backlit pictures of vegetables up on the wall (you can sort of see them in the middle of the photo above) which were quite arty and cool.

They had rather large menu, with a range of starters/side dishes on offer. Among these were very nicely pan-fried vegetable dumplings and pan-fried turnip cakes (大根もち). You could also get steamed turnip cakes at Chinese dim sum restaurants, but pan-frying gives a crispy exterior which is better in my opinion. Most of the turnip cakes in normal Chinese restaurants come with ham and dry shrimp, so we took advantage of the opportunity to indugle ourselves! We are dumpling fans, so we got some pan-fried dumplings (焼餃子) as well.

Fried dumplings and turnip

And for good measure, we had to get the boiled dumplings (水餃子) too! Boiled dumplings are appreciated differently because this way you could taste the freshness of the dough and ingredients and juicy-ness of the whole dumpling. Ihascupcake couldn't resist the range of deep fried starters on offer; rather than going for the usually easily available veg spring rolls, we picked the crunchy deep fried veggie 'prawns' (海老風フライ). They were very tasty, the texture of the 'prawns' were rather realistic, and they went well with the ketchup type sauce provided.

Dumplings and prawns

There were so many different noodles, rice dishes, main entree dishes to choose from (and all vegetarian!!) that it was slightly overwhelming. We both decided to go for noodles, maybe to compensate for the lack of noodles during this trip, since most places did not have meat-free broth. Ihascupcake went for taami/danzi noodles (担仔麺), a humble siganture dish from Tainan (southern Taiwan). This vegetarian version contained a mixture of fake pork, beansprouts and chinese vegetables. It was lovely though in a sublte, home cooking sort of way.

Noodle soup

I had braised aubergine and noodles (麻茄魯麺). It was very saucy, and the aubergine was delicious.

Braised aubergine and noodles

All of this came to ¥3,790. Great value for a very wide choice of great tasting vegetarian food! The place wasn't packed when we went but we probably arrived towards the end of lunch time; there were quite a few customers that came and went during our stay, and most of them seemed middle age. The staff were friendly; we chatted with a couple of them in a combination of languages. The young man at the front counter spoke very good English; he explained to us that he was the only Japanese member of staff there, so he was trying to learn a bit of Mandarin.

Tachikawa is a bit away from central Tokyo, but if you are already in west side of Tokyo, an express train on the JR Chūō Line can get you there relatively quickly. There is another branch of Chien-Fu in Kunitachi (国立市), also in western greater Tokyo, but I think only the local train stops there and it worked out easier for us to get to the branch that was further out west from Mitaka. For those who don't have time to venture outside central Tokyo, we found out that Chien-Fu also has a food counter inside Matsuzakaya (松坂屋) department store in Ginza on the food floor at B1F. There is an additional branch in Iga city in the Kansai region in western Japan.

健福 Chien-Fu
Granduo bldg. 7F, 3-2-1 Shibasaki-cho,Tachikawa, Tokyo
TEL: 042-540-2296

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Japanese street crepes

We got back Tokyo this evening on Shinkensan. We had a vague plan for the evening but we changed our minds kind of last minute. So somehow we ended up in Ikebukuro, and by the time we were trying to find something we eat, the shops and restaurants in shopping/entertainment/hotel megaplex Sunshine City were closing (might have been interesting to visit Ice Cream City in Namja Town, one of these Japanese food 'theme park' type place where you could find all sorts of ice-cream/soft serve type creations).

Since we already had quite a sizable lunch in Osaka, we decided to just grab some Japanese street crepes at the Crazy Crepes stall next to the Sega Aracde. As the location of the stall suggests, Japanese street crepes are popular with young people. It's very causal and cheap food that you might eat while standing or walking on the street. Some of you might have managed to try this lovely Japanese interpretion outside Japan, as you can find them in San Francisco, Melbourne or Vancouver. I think the main difference between Japanese and French crepes are the toppings, but also Japanese crepes perhaps have slightly less egg?

Most of the selections at this 'Atlanta Crazy Crepes' were with sweet and cold toppings, but there were also a few savory toppings (tuna, egg salad, teriyaki chicken - the most bizaare combo was cabonara teriyaki chicken!) and also a few combos with chocolate or custard cream served hot. Depends on toppings, they were around ¥400 each. I got one with strawberries, and IF got a chocolate one. They were both quite yummy, but the downside was there was no place to sit down and we weren't too sure if we were allowed to go into the arcade with the crepes! Depends on the type of crepe (how much cream it has!) you get, I'd say it's definitely enough for a snack or light lunch.

If you visit Harajuku in Tokyo, you would see the two famous crepe stands on Takeshita Dori, Marion Crepes and Angels Hearts (which are right across from each other). We didn't manage to try them, but at least I managed to take a photo of what was on offer at Angels Hearts. Oh well, there is always next time!

Small eats and drinks from Kansai region

One of the joy of travelling in Japan is you could try all the interesting snacks and drinks you can't easily (or cheaply) get outside the country.

We happened to come upon the Ebisu Mastsuri when we arrived in Kyoto, and walking down the street festival and seeing endless food stalls was quite exciting, even though most of them were selling meat/fish items, notably Kansai specialties such as Takoyaki (fried/baked octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (with seafood/meat). There were also a few stalls selling fake Nintendo DS games; we didn't expect to see fakes in Japan haha! Anyway, we did manage to try some non-meat street food! Sorry about the small and blurry picture due to being taken at a busy street fair at night, but this was something I'd been hoping for - barbeque corn! It's not exactly the same as the western bbq corn on the cob, as there was some kind of sweet soy sauce was lightly brushed over the corn while being barbequed. Nom nom nom!

bbq corn

Later we each got a nice warm, freshly baked taiyaki (fish-shaped cake). I think I've only managed to get the most common version, which is filled with red bean/azuki beans paste, when outside Japan. However, this stall had a variety of flavours, so of course we jumped to the opportunity to get something different. My custard filled taiyaki was very nice, and IF enjoyed his chocolate one too.


We were hoping for a quick start the next morning and on a budget, so we bought some food in the supermaket next door to the lovely guest house we were staying at. A few hundred yen got us some nice veg & egg maki sushi rolls, chocolate bread/pastry and some kind of cheese bread/toast (not shown here). They were all definitely very nice as far as pre-packaged food goes. The maki roll was definitely 10 times better than your average cold, hard supermarket 'sushi' in the UK! And Japanese 'Western' bread is always interesting - they are kind of soft and a bit sweet, with favours or toppings combinations that you normally don't find back home. The layered 'Choco Zebra' below tasted sort of like half bread and half cake - different but worked quite well for breakfast, a bit like pain au chocolat??

maki sushi roll and choco zebra

Onto more Japanese 'Western' baked goods - this time in Osaka! After much walking around, we wanted to sit down somewhere (cheap) and have a drink and snack on the way to Den Den Town (the Osaka equivalent of Akihabara which we thought was actually better if you are after video games rather than anime and maid cafes). We didn't feel like spending ¥1000 at a UCC, a national coffee chain & cafe/eatery, and we just stumbled across a place near the Kuromon Market (黒門市場), Pane Pane, selling melon pan from a counter at their window. The 'melon' in melon pan (メロンパン) refers to the shape rather than the flavour - another Asian style bakery creation; similar to the pineapple buns from Hong Kong but with a much harder texture and exterior. We walked into the small but cosy cafe, and we managed to order a chocolate flavour melon pan (¥160) and some tea with the nice middle age woman at the shop. Our melon pan came with pieces of chocolate stuck onto the hard cookie coating around the softer warm inside. As we were enjoying our pan and little rest, we watched the lady busily serving the customers coming by the window and putting in and taking out trays of fresh melon pan out of the oven. The pan was a great snack and with a couple of cups of tea still only a few hundred yen, fantastic bargain (beats Starbucks any day)!


Speaking of tea, our favourite drink to grab when on the move in Japan was vending machine milk tea. This one is English, it says so on the front!:

Miruku tei

Yep, it's cold tea, but the sweetened taste then works much better and makes it pleasantly refreshing. The machines with it were basically everywhere!

Vending machines

There were a couple different brands of 'English' or 'Royal' milk tea (and some low fat versions), but they were all good. Since it was winter, some vending machines also carried some of the bottled drinks hot. IF tried a bottled green tea which came warm and was a bit more bitter, and I quite liked a hot lemon and honey drink that was also common.

Finally, again speaking of drinks - the day after our deep fried feast, we decided to get some fresh juice to cleanse our system. We came across this juice bar at Umeda station in Osaka called Drops. The pictures of fruits and small prints of English on some of the advertisements probably made it really easy to work out what we wanted. We saw similar types of juice bar in other stations, so they are probably quite popular. We have been told that often non-native fresh fruits and vegetables can be quite expensive in Japan, so I guess you can't expect a huge Jamba Juice type portion, but it was really good and comparably priced to similar types of smoothie/juice drinks you get in the UK.