Stay warm with Japanese winter foods


2018.01.25 (Thu)

This week started with snow in Tokyo and the temperatures dropped so low that the snow did not melt immediately. This is unusual for Tokyo where most winters we only get to see a few small snowflakes flying through the air on a day or two.

Covered in white, the cityscape and landmarks looked different and people were busy taking pictures. Sightseeing in the winter can be cold and one of the best and enjoyable ways to stay warm is with hot food. Here are some Japanese favorites to try, some of them especially popular in the winter.

Since Taito has long been a popular destination for Japanese visitors in Tokyo, this is a great area to try Japanese food. Some of the local restaurants have been in business for over 100 years old and the best ones often specialize in just one type of food.

Nabe, meaning pot in Japanese, is maybe Japan’s most popular winter food. The hotpot is put on your table with the soup and ingredients just starting to cook and you can watch the combination of vegetables, meats, and fish simmering in front of you. If you like seafood, try nabe at a dojo (loach) restaurant. Specialty restaurants serve this small fish as "dojo-jiru" with miso, "yanagawa-nabe" with egg and burdock root, or "dojo-nabe". The fish is cooked in dashi broth and topped with sliced green onions. Dojo is so soft that you can eat it whole.

"Monjayaki" is a typical Tokyo dish made with seafood, meat, or vegetables. Cook the mixture of chopped ingredients and batter at your table on a hot "teppan" iron plate. Then eat the gooey Monja directly from the grill with the typical small Monja spatulas. No need to use chopsticks for this. You are sure to warm up sitting around the hot iron plate cooking. With a few people you can share and try a few different kinds of monja. Think of it like ordering pizzas with different toppings.

If you are hungry but don’t have the time for a leisurely meal try a steaming bowl of ramen noodles. The most basic kinds of ramen are "shoyu" (soy sauce), "shio" (salt), miso, and "tonkotsu" (pork). The flavors differ from shop to shop depending on the broth prepared. Some shops serve ramen in a regional style like Hakata ramen or Hokkaido ramen and a few also prepare vegetarian and halal ramen. Many international visitors come to Taito and now the area has the most restaurants in Tokyo that are certified halal.

Do you prefer to eat dessert? Try some hot deep-fried Agemanju cakes at Senso-ji Temple’s Nakamise Street in Asakusa. Not strictly winter food, these deep-fried treats are especially good on a cold day. Several shops here make Agemanju, so see what you can find on the way from Kaminarimon Gate towards the Main Hall. Regular Manju are small individual cakes that are steamed. Agemanju are like the next level Manju cake, coated in tempura batter and deep-fried until crisp on the outside. The cakes are best eaten fresh, but try not to burn your fingers or your tongue. Agemanju come with different sweet filings, the most traditional one being Anko (red bean paste). You can also try sesame, macha green tea, sweet potato, or pumpkin.

Have fun exploring Tokyo this winter!

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