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Black Bean and Mango Salad

June 21, 2010   

Black bean and Mango Salad This salad is perfect for summer time- no cooking involved. Just put some ingredients together and make your vinaigrette and you have a great side dish to complement anything at all. It is even great as a light meal at the end of the day or for lunch with a fried egg on top.

I made it with the fish tacos (recipe to follow tomorrow). I was going to make a simple green salad but then thought of doing a bean salad instead. I had mangoes and sweet peppers in my fridge and paired them with green onions and cilantro. I always have different kinds of canned beans in my pantry. Beans are super healthy and add great texture to any dish.

The dressing was simply, lime juice, honey, roasted cumin and olive oil. You can’t get this delicious vinaigrette out of a bottle and yet it is so simple to make. I added the dressing to the salad and let it sit for a few hours before serving it with the delicious tacos.

It was a big hit- super healthy and delicious- and best of all, very easy to make.
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Last Day in Tokyo, Day Seven

June 20, 2010   


Food Displayed To Perfection- It is what I will remember...Today is our last day in Tokyo- day seven. I am ready to go home but I am in awe of this city and the people. My husband planned this trip- usually I organize our summer vacations but since he is celebrating his fortieth this year, he picked the destination. When he first mentioned Tokyo, I wasn’t too keen- it wasn’t on top of my list of places to visit. I like Japanese food but wasn’t very curious about the cuisine to want to visit. He convinced me by informing me how Tokyo recently took over Paris for the number of Michelin starred restaurants- that really piqued my interest. Once we booked the trip and I started telling my friends, I was pleasantly surprised at how many of them had visited the city and raved about it, especially the food.

Once we got here and looked around, I realized how food is an integral part of this culture. I guess everyone likes to eat- the difference is they do it to perfection. Everything is very lovingly displayed, packed and served. As a tourist, walking around, taking the subway and bus, it is very aparent how thoughtful the whole Japanese culture is.

There is food everywhere, displayed in department stores, on the streets, train stations- really everywhere imaginable. The service is unbelievably warm and the food is amazing. The people are super friendly, very poised and calm. Whoever you look at, they seem happy with what they are doing- even the guy who is sweeping the streets. Everyone does their best- I think that is what makes a society succesful.

If I had to describe this culture in two words- I would use- perfection and moderation.  Everything is done to perfection and they do everything in moderation. Even the food flavors are perfectly spiced- not too sweet, salty or tangy.

It was a great pleasure to be here and I have a feeling we will be back….


Day Six- Buying A Aritsugu Knife in Kyoto

June 17, 2010   

Day 6 was our second day in Kyoto. As I mentioned the night before, the chef at the hot stone restaurant told me about the most famous knife store in Kyoto (well he called it the most famous in Japan) was called Aritsugu and it was walking distance to our hotel room- what???

The Famous Knife Store in Kyoto

My initial plan was to visit the street in Tokyo that has all sorts of kitchen stuff including knives. I was thinking of going there once we get back to Tokyo- but once this new piece of information was passed on to me, it changed everything. I had to go- my husband kept asking me what the big deal was about Japanese knives. He reminded me about the high-end knife set I already enjoy in my kitchen. I told him that the Japanese are famous for their knife making skills and this store has been in business for 460 years- they must be doing something right.

We had our usual breakfast and ventured into the food market. I previously checked on the internet and looked at a map to find out where the store was- it was in the beginning of the market. We got there a little early but the store was open. I had read it is usually super busy and takes a while to get someone to help you. It was my lucky day- it had maybe, two or three customers none of whom were asking any questions. I looked around with huge eyes at the gleaming knives all over the walls. They ranged anywhere from $350 to $600! I certainly was not looking to spend that kind of money. I then turned around and saw some knives in a glass case labled santoku– which is my favorite kind of knife to use. It is a multipurpose knife for cutting vegetables, meat and fish. I love the one I have at home and thought of buying another one. These were more reasonably priced. All the knives have the name of the store engraved on the blade as well as the type of metal. The sales guy, who was extremely helpful told me they could also engrave my name in Japanese if I decide to buy.

A Wall Full Of Gleaming Knives

After a bit of thinking (didn’t take long), I decided to buy the 8 inch knife. I told the salesguy and he took it to the person who was going to sharpen and engrave my knife. I was given proper care instructions for my gleaming knife. I wrote my name and the salesguy translanted it into Japanese for the engraving. Two minutes later I had my knife in a box wrapped in beautiful paper.

I was thrilled. I planted two big kisses on my husband’s cheeks and decided this is better than buying anything else in the whole world. I can’t wait to unpack this beauty and start using it in my kitchen.

Stay tuned for my closing thoughts on this wonderful trip to Tokyo….






Day Five- Kyoto Shrines and Temples

June 16, 2010   

Kyoto is a very quaint city compared to Tokyo. Considering the size, I am still surprised at the amount of French cafes and patisseries. Everywhere we go, there is another one to look at and maybe try some kind of a confection. Today, we took all kinds of buses to get around Kyoto. Just like the subway system in Tokyo, the buses here are very well run and quite easy to track. We started the day at the Golden Pavilion, which was gorgeous. A rock garden and the silver pavilion later it was time for lunch. It was a hilly area around the silver pavilion, lined with restaurants as well as homes. We scoped out a few while walking towards the temple. As we came back, we chose a small, quaint restaurant which seemed to be run by a family. We ordered bowls of rice with pork cutlet and egg for me and tofu and egg for my husband.

Rice Bowl with Tofu and EggRice Bowl with Pork Cutlet and Egg

We relaxed with some beer and sake. The meal was simple, yet delicious. It is amazing how different the portion sizes are when you leave the US… As we walked out, I remembered I wanted to have a soft serve cone with green tea ice cream. I had noticed the shops everywhere and kept forgetting to try one. Well, it was out of this world- creamy with a fabulous earthy, green tea flavor. Not too sweet- just perfect. I am really loving all the confections made with green tea- they are all over the place.

For dinner, we actually did some research and checked on tripadvisor. The number one rated restaurant in Kyoto is called Issian. I am a big fan of tripadvisor since it has never lead us wrong. Well, we decided to go to the restaurant and asked our concierge to guide us and surprisingly we found it. It is part of the famous main street full of restaurants- which is kind of a maize since there are tons of restaurants and very hard to find. It is a Japanese stone grill and they cook all kinds of meat in front of you- to perfection. The meat and fish were delicious and yet again trip advisor did not disappoint us.

The meal started with shrimp and fish. Chicken came in between- and the meal ended with pork and beef. The taste of the meats was unbelievable. We dipped the meats either in salt or ponzu sauce. Miso soup and rice were served, including a salad. We finished off with a delicious sorbet.

Shrimp and Fish on the hot stone


Chicken Meatballs

Amazing Pork

Overall it was a great dinner and best of all, the chef told me about a 450 year old knife shop in Kyoto which is world famous- guess who will be buying herself a knife tomorrow??- stay tuned.

Day Four- Bullet Train to Kyoto

June 15, 2010   
Day four started early- we eat breakfast and left to take a nine o’clock bullet train to Kyoto. I am absolutely amazed at the train system in this city. Everything is well planned, well thought of- anything you can imagine is taken care of- a pleasure to travel if you are anal like me. I am very impressed. Did I mention how clean the bathrooms are?? Anywhere you go, from a tiny little bathroom at a train station to the one in the bullet train- spotless. I realize this is a food blog, but I thought I would mention a few things that have stood out in my mind as a traveler who does not look forward to using public bathrooms.
Speaking of food, we got to the train station early and decided to buy some snacks. We came across a department store that had a food section- which seems quite common here. The society seems to be obsessed with food… my kind of people. We bought something called rasq- which are kind of like biscotti but not as dense. If you can imagine sticks of lightly sweetened pound cake that are double baked. I grew up eating them in India- we would dip them in tea. Anyway, we bought a bag of rasq and two triangular shaped rice cakes- made of different kinds of fried rice of sorts.

Did I mention there is coffee all over the place? I was expecting tons of tea- but not coffee. There are vending machines everywhere with a variety of drinks including lots of iced coffee or cafe au lait. I bought a bottle and it was delicious. We ate the rice cakes, rasq and washed them down with the delicious coffee.

The ride to Kyoto was approximately two and half hours. We reached our hotel and decided to eat at one of the restaurants below the establishment. Soba noodles in a broth for me and a bowl of rice with egg for my husband. We finished and grabbed two French pastries from the hotel lobby- there is food everywhere in this country- amazing! We had a mango mousse and a green tea pastry-absolutely delicious.


Day4BulletKyoto 008

After a short break, we ventured out into Kyoto. It was raining so we stuck to the covered outdoor markets. We stopped for coffee and some green tea cake- it was all yummy. The coffee was lightly sweetened with a hint of caramel- I think I want that for breakfast tomorrow! We then moved on to a outdoor food market and sampled lots of things including fried chicken and shrimp dumplings.

Shrimp Dumplings At The Food Market

We were almost full when we came across a small bar and decided to go in. As we were waiting to be seated, I saw some kind of meat being cooked on a griddle – I asked the hostess and she told me it was chili beef- I told her I wanted that. We sat down and ordered beer and chu-hi, which is a hard lemonade kind of drink- very yummy. Our beef dish came and it was absolutely delicious- very flavorful, a bit spicy but not over powering. It was a perfect end to the day.

Chili Beef At The Bar


We walked back to our hotel via ‘the restaurant row’. It is narrow alley of restaurant after bar after restaurant. An amazing selection- we couldn’t believe it. The Japanese really like to eat- and eat well. We plan to be back there for a meal tomorrow- stay tuned.

Day Three of Tokyo- Tsukiji Fish Market

June 14, 2010   

We were supposed to be up at 5 AM so we could see all the fishermen sell their fresh fish in an auction at the Tsukiji fish market. 5 AM, really??? We woke up much later than that, had breakfast and got to the market around 10. My husband was quite disappointed but I reminded him, the fish will still be fresh enough for us to enjoy the sushi there. We started walking through the small alleys lined with small outside stores full of fresh produce and lots of samples. We walked some more and discovered a whole lot of small sushi restaurants. Some had long lines, I decided to join one of them. As we waited, it became quite clear it would take a long time. After standing in line for over half an hour, we decided to leave and go next door- with a much smaller line. We later realized the more popular one was cheaper- but it was so worth paying the extra money for not standing in line. We had super fresh sushi which was delicious.

My Sushi Platter

After buying some souveniers, we took a subway to one of the biggest department stores- Seibu . The bottom two floors are lined with food stalls. I have never seen anything like that ever in my life. The variety of foods, snacks, desserts, breads, drinks- you name it and they had it. Lots of nibbles as well. We spent a good hour if not more there and took a couple of pastries back to our hotel room.

Food Hall in Seibu Department Store
After resting we ventured out to the Ginza area- which is the fifth avenue of Tokyo. Super wide roads, very clean and lots and lots of very expensive stores. It was very nice to window shop. We started looking for a restaurant- not the one where we had to pay $300 per person- but a regular one. I wanted beef- Japanese premium beef. After a lot of searching, we found a grill restaurant. The problem was we couldn’t tell where it was. It had a sign outside a building but it wasn’t clear exactly where it was. After a lot of guessing and asking someone, we figured out it was on the first floor but in the back of four other restaurants- really- it almost seemed like we were walking through a cave. Eventually we got to a pleasant looking place where I had the best beef I have ever tasted. It was tender, perfectly cooked and the most delicious thing ever. A perfect end to a great day. Tomorrow we are headed to Kyoto via bullet train. Should be very interesting.. stay tuned….
Premium Japanese Beef

Second Day- Tokyo- The Asakusa Area

June 13, 2010   

We went to the old part of Tokyo today, better known as the asakusa area. We saw the Senso-ji temple which is one of the oldest and most popular temples. It is surrounded by a line of small outside shops full of trinkets, snacks and clothes- did I mention the snacks?? My husband was a bit concerned since we had no idea what we were eating- but I just wanted to try everything. The snacks were mostly rice based and even the sweet stuff was not too sweet. We also had a cup of delicious, chilled green tea- probably not the kind you get in the bottled stuff back home.

As we walked, we kept looking at all the restaurants. Japanese food is very visual- most places have pictures of all the dishes served- good for people like us who don’t know the language. We finally ended up at this crowded, small restaurant and were quickly ushered upstairs. As we climed up, we were given a choice of sitting on the stools or mats on the floor. We quickly took our shoes off and sat down to rest our tired feet.

A friendly man came over and said hello. He explained there were no food photos- I waived my hands indicating ‘never mind’. We ordered rice and shrimp tempura with miso soup for my husband and a bowl of soba noodles with pork in a curry broth.

Day2Tokyo Asakusa Area 027

My husband enjoyed his beer as I ordered sake- actually it is called nihonshu. He suggested I enjoy it hot- and it was delicious.

We finished our leisurely lunch and decided to check out the Imperial gardens. Turns out they are huge. To get to the gardens, we walked through the financial district and stumbled upon a little square full of people and restaurants. We sat down in the shaded area and saw a French bakery. I got a madeline for my husband and a burnt milk (caramel) ice cream- one of the best ones I have had.

After an hour rest back in the hotel, we decided to head back to the Shinjuku area to have dinner. There are restaurants on multiple floors of buildings, so you have keep looking up and down to see where you want to go. We decided on a place on the third floor- completely random- the pictures looked good. It turned out to be a place that serves grilled chicken (different parts) and a few other things.

We took our shoes off and were lead into a dark, loud eating area. We sat down and were given a menu with some English- very helpful. We ended up getting a bunch of things- it was tapas style.
Day2Tokyo Asakusa Area 042


Warm Fresh Made TofuDay2Tokyo Asakusa Area 040
Most of the dishes were good- the tofu was exceptional. So were the chicken meatballs. We left there quite happy and picked up a pastry on our way back to the hotel. I didn’t realize how prevalent bakeries are in Tokyo- full of them. The pastry was delicious and so was the good night sleep. Tomorrow we are off to the fish market- stay tuned for my adventures there…