Wednesday 30 September 2020

2020 Shimokitazawa curry festival ( 下北沢カレーフェス)

 Hi again!  I'm back!  Now, if you are regular readers of this blog you will know that I no longer live in Japan.  I moved back to Australia last year.  Since then, I have been wondering what to do with this blog.  At first, I thought I would just continue it but write about places and events in Melbourne, where I live now.  Covid-19 stopped that from happening (as it has stopped many things from happening....).  Some of you may know that Melbourne is the most locked-down city in the world.  We even had a curfew that ran from 8pm to 5am and travel was absolutely banned, so continuing to write about places here was not an option.

I recently realised that one of my favourite events in one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Tokyo was coming soon, very, very soon!  I thought to myself, why not continue to write about Japan from afar?  I still love Japan very much and it is a place that is dear to my heart. This could now become an event blog, notifying people of when different events or festivals that I have been to or know about are coming up.  One of the most frustrating things for me (and maybe you too), writing the blog in the past, was that I was always writing about events that had already finished.  Now I can write about them as they are approaching so that you can attend now rather than having to wait a year for them to come around again!

So, what is the event that is coming up?  Well the title of this post probably gave it away.... That's right, the annual Shimokitazawa curry festival!!  Now, I have written about this event before (you can find posts about the 2018 edition here and here and in 2015, where I ate my way through 10 curries in 10 days, here.) as it is a great example of how Japanese people celebrate food.

This year's curry fes runs from the 1st to the 18th of October and you can find the official website here. The website is in Japanese only but if you are using google chrome you should be able to translate it into English (remembering that Japanese is a language that doesn't translate directly very accurately, but you will get the idea).  Traditionally with the curry festival, you went to the individual café / restaurant / bar etc that are making their own unique curry dish, which is also the case this year too.  However, this year they will also have a designated outdoor eating and drinking space where you can eat your take-out curries!

So, the deal is, when you arrive at Shimokitazawa, head out of the station and you will be able to pick up a map listing all of the participating places and where they are located in Shimokitazawa.  The map is in Japanese only so if you cannot read Japanese or don't have a Japanese friend accompanying you, you will need to do your homework first on the website which for me, was almost as much fun as actually eating all of the curries!!  They also run a stamp rally during the festival in which you can win different prizes based on how many places you eat at.

How many different curries are there?  I'm happy you asked!  This year there are 114 different cafés / restaurants / bars participating!  That's right, 114!  I know!!  How are you going to choose!!  That's why it is so much fun planning it all.

Here are a few of the dishes that I have tried in years past.

This one from my good friend's bar, Bar Loaded (also participating this year).

46ma shiro kuma café (cannot see them listed for this year).

This one is from the great little craft beer bar Ushitora (they are also participating this year with the same curry).

This next one was from a cool old school rock bar that is no longer open, Back Page.

Next up, an offering from Publion (still open, but don't appear to be participating this year.  Good bar for imported beers and football / soccer).

A unique offering from the now closed Ms Claudia.

This next place is also, unfortunately closed, Matsu to Eda.

Another unique one from &Roll café (still open but appear not to be participating this year).

This next one was a nice, healthy one from Café Lancul (still open but not participating this year).

Another of the craft beer bars in Shimokitazawa, Kazenori Merry.  They are also participating this year but with a different dish.

Next, a dish from the hamburg restaurant Torokeru Otona no Hamburg (which is participating this year with the same dish).

Finally, a beautiful curry from Mikazuki curry Samurai.  They are also participating again this year but the curry that I tried and photographed was from their regular menu rather than their curry fes special.

That is the unique thing about each of the dishes on offer at the curry fes.  They are all unique dishes for the curry festival.  You cannot eat these from the participating places at any other time during the year.  If you want tasting notes on all of the above curries, you will have to check out the links at the top of this post.

Now, looking at this year's offerings, I am especially interested in Bar Loaded's chicken nanban curry (again. Number 1 on the map. It just tastes so good! The curry itself is cooked for 6 hours!), Shimokitazawa Bar Seven's chicken curry (number 17 on the map), the mapo curry from Isshin (number 53 on the map.  This one I always wanted to try but never did), the beef and keema curry medley from Curry and curry bread shop Tenmaya (number 74 on the map.  I love keema curries!) and, finally, the Sri Lankan curry on offer from the ageless Okinawan bar, Never Never Land (number 21 on the map).

So, please go along and enjoy the curry festival.  I am sure that all of the businesses participating will be happy to have you there.  As with a lot of businesses, I am sure that they have had a difficult time with the coronavirus.  If you go to Bar Loaded, tell Kazu (my friend and the bar owner) that Jason says Hi.  Also, if you go, please leave a message below telling me where you went and how the curry tasted!

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Monday 22 October 2018

2018 Shimokitazawa curry fes the second visit (下北沢カレーフェス).

It was inevitable that I made a second trip back to Shimokitazawa for round 2 of the curry fes so off I went again.  Now I recently moved and now it is over an hour from home to Shimokitazawa (oh the lengths I will go to for curry!!).

First up was a specialist Hamburg steak restaurant called Torokeru Otona Hamburg.which translated into English is Melting Hamburg for Adults.....

Now I have been to this restaurant before for the Shimokitazawa Geki Kara fes (See write up here) and it is a little pricey, but the food is good.

After a short wait, the food arrived.

I started with a taste of the curry.  Now that wasn't a hint of cumin at all, that was a slap in the face of cumin!!  Very nice!

Now I have a strange way of eating food.  Usually I will eat all of the vegetables first working up to and finishing with my favourite vegetable.  This used to really frustrate my father who always tried to cram a bit of everything on to his fork with each mouthful.  So, I started with the carrot then the potato and finishing with the broccoli (in my opinion, the King or Queen of vegetables!).  Next came the fun part, piercing the yolk of the egg

and then pouring the curry over the top!

The hamburg steak was literally fall apart tender, at time breaking up and falling off of the fork, but just delicious!  Like I said, pricey, but delicious.  All up, including bread and a soft drink, 2,200 yen.

Finishing up, I walked around the neighbourhood to digest a little before moving on to the next place.  Now, I have been coming to Shimokitazawa regularly for over 9 years and I never get tired of wandering around the area.

Feeling ready for my next plate I wandered over to my next curry adventure, Mikazuki Curry Samurai which is a relatively new curry restaurant on the restaurant scene in Shimokitazawa.  

It has a sister restaurant also in Shimokitazawa called Rojiura Curry Samurai which I have not yet been to but will be trying after experiencing Mikazuki's curry!!  I had to wait about 30 minutes and it left me wondering if the wait would be worth it (I don't like waiting for food....).  Entering the restaurant there was a strong aroma of cumin (positive sign). I ordered the lamb curry which was not their curry fes offering, so you can order this one any time!  After a further 10 minutes wait it finally arrived.  This had better be worth it, I thought to myself.

I had ordered the lamb curry with a soft boiled egg and extra broccoli and extra spicy.  At first bite I was left a little underwhelmed with the spice level.  The lamb was very tender and the vegies added a nice contrast in texture, some extra crunch!  The broccoli had been deep fried with garlic.  Suddenly the spiciness started building and there was a hint of a numbing element to the curry too.  By the time I had finished the plate, my taste buds were dancing!  I will always say that Bar Loaded's chicken nanban curry is my favourite (see first blog post about the curry fes for this one), but in this curry I had found a close second favourite.  Definitely do yourself a favour and head to Mikazuki curry samurai and check out their curries!

Thanks again for reading.  I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you enjoyed the curry fes if you were able to get along.  Please leave a comment below and sign up to receive email updates when I upload a post from the right side of the screen.  Also, feel free to share by Facebook and Twitter from the dropdown box at the top left side of the page.

Cheers and see you next time! 

Monday 8 October 2018

2018 Shimokitazawa curry fes the first visit (下北沢カレーフェス).

Yesterday I jumped on the train with an empty stomach and headed off to Shimokitazawa to sample some of the curries on offer.  When you get to Shimokitazawa exit the station and start walking.  Pretty soon you'll see plenty of participating places.  Just pick up a map from out in front or\f whichever participating restaurant / bar / cafe and start enjoying!

I met up with good friend and long time resident of Shimokitazawa (in fact, some refer to him as the Mayor of Shimokitazawa. Honestly, you walk into nearly any restaurant or bar in the area with Charlie and the staff look up and say "Oh, hi Charlie!").  The first place we visited was not one that I had planned on.  It is a craft beer bar that we entered just for a beer and we found out that they were participating in the curry festival.  The name of the place is Kazenori Merry, number 56 on the map.

Here is their Facebook page.  The staff are very friendly and speak good English.  They have 20 beers on tap, mostly Japanese and American.

I ordered myself a beer, a very hoppy IPA, in fact you could smell the aroma of the hops coming out of the glass before even picking the glass up!

Pretty soon the curry arrived.

The staff explained that it was a mutton curry and they had used thyme to flavour it,  Sitting on top there is some coriander and Indian pickled cabbage. It had a nice slightly bitter taste to it and I would rate it as medium spicy.  The staff mentioned that the curry will change every couple of days as they make a new batch.  A very nice way to start Curry Fes!

Charlie then left me and headed of to a nearby wine bar called Hagare.  Here is a link to their facebook page.  This place is recommended too as glasses of wine are only 300 yen!  

The good thing about a lot of the participating restaurants is that they offer full and mini servings of their curries so you can sample a few different curries.  I went off in search of my next choice, 他力本願寺カレー 瀬口家 (Tari Khon Gangi Curry Segutique).  There was a line so I had to wait a little.  In all of my excitement I forgot to take a photo, but it is number 36 on the map, near the koban (police box) and the friendly police officers here will help you find it.

The interior of the store is pretty funky!

They even provide instructions on how they recommend you eat the curry!

I hate to admit it, but in my haste to get the first few spoonfuls into my mouth, I forgot to take a photo again but here is one from the curry fes website.


One half was a red keema and the other was a black keema with cashew nuts on top.  The red keema had a nice tomatoey taste to it and the black had no standout flavour, but was no less tastey again, not too spicy.  Finishing up I went and joined Charlie for a couple of glasses of red wine.

Then I headed off to my final curry of the night at my friend Kazu's bar, Bar Loaded, number 1 on the map.

Kazu's curry is a chicken nanban curry and he has a number of options.

I got the curry with the spicy salsa topping.

Now Kazu cooks his chicken curry for 6 hours so it has a deep, rich flavour!  Definitely comfort food!

Fully satisfied I jumped back on the train and headed home.  I am certainly planning to go to some more places next weekend!

Thanks again for reading.  Please feel free to leave a message below and sign up on the right side of the screen to receive emails when I upload a new post.  I have just noticed that at the top of the screen you can share the blog with Facebook and Twitter so please feel free to share with others who may like to read the blog too by using this feature.

See you next time!

Tuesday 2 October 2018

2018 Shimokitazawa curry fes

Just a quick heads up about the Shimokitazawa curry festival.  This is a yearly event in which many restaurants, cafes, bars etc in the Shimokitazawa area create their own unique curry dish.  It is on from October 5th to October 14th.  This year there are over 120 places taking part.  It doesn't happen in one place.  You go to each individual restaurant and order there curry there.  You can find a list of participating places here.  There are a multitude of different styles of curries.  My personal favourite is the first one on the list, a chicken nanban curry.  The curry is slow cooked for 6 hours.

I have written about this festival before and you can find the write-up here. If you get along, I hope you enjoy it.  I will certainly be there!

Sunday 22 July 2018

Kyoto revisited - Gion

One of the most iconic (and thus one of the most crowded) places in Kyoto is Gion.  This district kind of sums up Kyoto.  Traditional, old, beautiful, and historic.  It is one of the busiest places in Kyoto and therefore one of the most frustrating places........unless you go there at night......

For me, there is something magical about old traditional places in Japan at night time.  Without the hustle and bustle of daytime, you get a more realistic vibe of what the places would have been like when the traditional was the norm.  It was for this reason that myself and friend Tetsuya caught the train to Gion at about 9:30 at night.  We got off at Kawaramachi station and headed straight for Hanamikoji dori, the heartbeat of Gion.  Right on the first corner is an exclusive restaurant, Ichiriki-tei.  For those of you who know the story of the 47 Ronin (very different to the Hollywood movie, you can find my post about the story here) the leader of the 47 Ronin, Oishi, used to frequent this place as he and the others were plotting their revenge.

As I said before, you get a special feeling walking along streets like these at night.

And, like I said, the hoards of tourists are nowhere to be found!!

As with any place in Japan, often the side streets are more interesting than the main streets.

This tiny alleyway was lined with restaurants and from the outside we could hear people talking, laughing and enjoying themselves in these exclusive restaurants.

Just after taking the photo above a geisha walked out of a restaurant and hurried along down the street!  My first geisha!!  About 20m behind us was a couple of other tourists who took it upon themselves to spoil her night.  As she walked past they pulled out their camera and started snapping away like a pair of paparazzi.  Please, if you are ever graced with the good fortune of seeing a geisha, please, please don't do this.  She is not a tourist attraction, she is just doing her job.  If you do want to take a photo, please ask her if it is okay, but remember, you are imposing on her.  Sorry, rant over.

We walked passed Yasaka shrine

and back down to Pontocho (to be featured in a separate post).  We stopped at a little shop selling takoyaki (balls of batter with octopus pieces and other bits and pieces in them) and wagyu beef skewers.  We ordered a couple of skewers and I stood back to take this photo.

As I looked up, Tetsuya was looking at me and said "You just missed it!".  "What did I miss" I asked.  "Another geisha just walked past!"...... I slapped myself in the forehead for missing it.  We walked off down Pontocho with our wagyu skewers.  As we walked along Tetsuya said "The geisha, she walked into that restaurant".  A second or so after he said that, she walked back out again!!  Now Pontocho is a pretty narrow alley and Tetsuya and I walking along cover about 90% of the street!  We both jumped to the sides of Pontocho and said "すみません" (excuse me).  She looked at us both with a smile on her face and said "Sorry".  Now that little encounter was so much more memorable than a photo!

That finished the night on a high note!

Thanks again for reading.  Please leave a comment below and sign up with your email on the right hand side of the page to get updates whenever I put up a new post.  See you next time!