Wednesday 24 August 2016

Last one, I promise - Shimokitazawa Spicy Food Festival (激辛フェスティバル / Gekikara festival)

The very first Shimokitazawa spicy food festival was finally coming to an end and I felt that I had one more dish in me.  What was it to be?  Unfortunately I was dictated to by time as finishing work late at night limits the amount of choices.  I made my choice and went off in the direction of Shimokitazawa Arena one of the many small bar / live music houses in Shimokitazawa.

We were, again, greeted with a smile (Shimokitazawa has to be one of the most friendly and welcoming places for non-Japanese people in Japan!) and we placed our order.  Soon we could hear something sizzling away in the small kitchen and the small of something delicious began to waft through the air as Tetsuya and I sat back and took in some Women's Olympic triathlon.  Soon enough the food arrived.

I have no idea what flavour the black one was, but it was the first time I had seen a sheer black sausage before.  There was a distinct smell of curry to the dish which was coming from the cabbage.  Once the sausages were gone, I switched my attention to the cabbage (I have a bit of a strange eating habit by where I eat all of one food item on my plate before then moving on to the next one and so on until the dish is finished.  It used to mystify and annoy my Father no end!).  There was a strong curry and a very distinct cumin flavour to the cabbage which also packed some nice heat too.

All too soon, it was over, as was my Shimokitazawa spicy food festival adventure.  It had been a delicious ride and I had ended up visiting so many restaurants, bars and cafes that I had not been to before.  I only hope that this is the first of many years of spicy food festival in Shimokita.

Thanks for reading, not only this one, but the whole series.  I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did eating for them and I hope some of you living in Tokyo were able to make it to Shimokita to eat some great food.  If you did, please let me know in the messages below.  The next food festival coming up in Shimokitazawa is the annual curry festival in only 2 months.  I highly recommend getting along to that one too.  you never know, I might see you there!

Until next time, bye!

Monday 22 August 2016

Getting my Chinese on! - Shimokitazawa Spicy Food Festival (激辛フェスティバル / Gekikara festival)

After a couple of days break (during which I avoided even speaking about spicy food) I was ready to go again.

There were a few Chinese places that I had my eye on for the spicy food festival and over a couple of days I managed to get to 2 different ones.  First was not a Chinese restaurant, but a bar / restaurant called Banana Moon that was doing a Dandan noodles dish.

Dandan noodles are a little like ramen, or sometimes like a mazesoba which is a soupless ramen.  The Dandan noodles at Banana Moon were of the second variety and used a sesame paste and a soft boiled egg as the main source of binding paste.  I ordered and sat back and enjoyed some Olympic wrestling as I was waiting.  You see a lot of wrestling on Japanese Olympics coverage as the Japanese always do well and tonight was no different.  Each Japanese wrestler came in and then left the ring a winner.  Suddenly the noodles appeared.

There was also some meat and scallions in the dish.  What you do then is mix everything thoroughly so that the egg and sesame coats the noodle and the other ingredients then bind to it all together.  The dish tasted great and there was a hint of numbing Szechuan pepper to enhance the flavour too.  A really nice dish that went down a treat!

The next dish was from a restaurant called Mu Kokuseki Dining Isshin.  

This was a place that has a lot of Chinese dishes.  The one that was specifically for the spicy food festival was another Szechuan dish, and the picture on the website was enough to strike fear into the heart of any mere mortal.  But that I am not, and being joined by good friend Tetsuya, into the restaurant we ventured.  The staff welcomed us with big smiles, and even bigger smiles when we told them we were here for their spicy food.  After a short wait, the food arrived.......

and it struck fear into my heart!

What the hell?  Were we crazy??  Yes we were.  The oil in my dish was still bubbling as it arrived!  What was in this?  

Well, it was time to find out.  Reaching in with my chopsticks (not metal ones, luckily...) I pulled out piece after piece of pork.  Further reaching in found cabbage and beansprouts.  How was it?  Well I have never had anything like this before, but I loved it!  The pork tasted like it was pork belly and the spicy oil impacted the flavour and texture of everything.  The pork was super soft, almost to the point of being soggy it was infused with the oil so much!  The cabbage and bean sprouts were still kind of crunchy so they had obviously been put in toward the end of the cooking process.  The coriander (cilantro) on top provided an interesting flavour contrast to the rest of the dish.  Was it spicy?  You bet it was!  Deliciously spicy!  As he was when eating the spicy lamb a few nights before, not a word was coming from Tetsuya's mouth as he worked his way through the dish.  A good sign!

That's it for this post.  Thanks for reading.  One more to come in the Shimokitazawa spicy food festival series.  Check back again soon to catch that one.

See you then!

Friday 19 August 2016

Still not done yet! - Shimokitazawa Spicy Food Festival (激辛フェスティバル / Gekikara festival)

Far from put off by the soaking I had received the night before, I ventured out again for another round of spicy food.  You might be thinking that I would be running out of choices by now, but there are 50 establishments participating in the festival, so I'm nowhere near out of options!

First up this night was one of my favourite Thai restaurants, Rong Sura.  

They have 2 branches, one in Shimokitazawa and one in nearby Sasazuka. Their dish for the spicy festival is known under many different names. Gai Pad Kraprow in Thai, ガパオ in Japanese and Chili basil chicken in English. Whatever you want to call it, it is my favourite Thai dish and I duly ordered it and sat down to wait.  It was a little wait as there were quite a few people there and it is only a one man kitchen.  It did arrive and it looked and smelled a treat!

The lighting in some of these places is not the best, so some of the photos are a little off.  First mouthful, the spiciness was not there, but the flavours were nice.  By the third and fourth mouthful, yep, there came the heat.  By the end, the heat was a nice, lasting burn.  This one was good and the sweat cam shows some beading on top!

Finishing up, I thanked the chef and headed off for my next stop.

The next choice was a little place I had not heard of called Atelier hidden in the back streets of Shimokitazawa.

I walked in and 6 sets of eyes spun around and all welcomed me in English!  Both the owner and the other customers.  What kind of place had I walked into.  They sat me down at the counter in the middle of the group of them and started chatting away to me in English.  It was quite a strange experience, one that I had not had in Tokyo before.  Very nice, but totally unexpected.  The owner introduced himself as Ko.  I told him that I was here for his spicy food and he set about preparing his spicy dish of vermicelli noodles with vegetables and meat with miso.  The dish also included a couple of dried chopped up chilies and was garnished with coriander (cilantro).

It was a nice dish with a very home cooked meal feel to it.  The bar is obviously a passion of Ko's and that passion comes through in his food.  It was washed down nicely with a glass of Ginga Kogen beer.

That's it for another post, thanks again for reading.  I'm going to have a break for a day or so and give my system a break from the spicy food, but I'll be back in a couple of days with another update!

See you then!

Thursday 18 August 2016

No end in sight! - Shimokitazawa Spicy Food Festival (激辛フェスティバル / Gekikara festival)

All day yesterday my students and I had been talking about a typhoon that was due to hit Tokyo last night.  It was the first typhoon of the season to make its way to Tokyo so there was a buzz in the air.  I finished work and poked my head outside and found that there was no rain so I thought "Great, time to head to Shimokitazawa for some more spicy food!".  So ignoring the people walking all around me with umbrellas I jumped on the train to make my way there.  On the train I started thinking about what I wanted to try and scoured the website looking at all the delicious photos.

Arriving at Shimokitazawa it had started raining very lightly.  I ignored the drizzle and set off to my first destination, Restaurant and Bar Es.

The spicy menu item at Es was a spicy omu rice.  Omu rice is a dish made up of fried rice covered with a soft cooked omlette.  It is usually covered with some kind of sauce which can vary from tomato sauce or ketchup, demi glaze sauce, and a curry sauce to name just a few.  Es's claimed to be a spicy sauce with a fried rice cooked with butter.  Sounded good!  I ordered and within 5 minutes it arrived.

Now I have had omu rice on a number of occasions and it is a delicious meal, a comfort food even.  I poked my spoon into the fluffy goodness and took a huge spoonful and in it went.  A couple of chews later my eyes bulged and I did a double-take at the omu rice.  "Did you just make my teeth sweat?"  It was spicy at a level I had not expected.  Now, each of the dishes listed on the website are listed as spicy or extra spicy.  This one was listed as spicy but the heat rivalled the chicken wings that I had tried recently with the habanero powder that was listed as extra spicy.  I was impressed!!

It worked up a sweat too.

Thanking the owner who thanked me for coming (with a knowing smile on his face...) I exited Es and made my way outside.  The rain was about the same as it was when I had arrived so I thought "Great, one more before heading home".  I walked the 5 minutes or so to the next place, Gastro Pub Gozo.

The spicy menu item here was meatballs served with capsicum, or green peppers and a small dish of pickled jalapenos on the side.  This place also has some craft beers so I selected one of them to wash it down with, a nice smooth pale ale.

These ones were not spicy at all, but they did taste great and I promised myself I would come back to try some of the other items on the menu.  They look like an upscale pub with upscale pub food.

Finishing up, I made my way outside and found that the typhoon had arrived.....  The 5 minute walk to the station became like walking in a swimming pool, such was the volume of water that was soaking its way into my clothes.  Everyone else had their umbrellas and were kindly not looking at me struggling through the torrential rain, but I knew what they were thinking!  Luckily it was summer rain and was not too cold.  I finally arrived home looking like a drowned rat, but satisfied with the night's dinner!

Thanks again for reading.  Stay tuned, again, for the next update!


Wednesday 17 August 2016

What's next? - Shimokitazawa Spicy Food Festival (激辛フェスティバル / Gekikara festival)

I took a couple of days off to give my stomach a break, but Monday I was back at it. There are 50 restaurants / bars / cafes that are taking part in the festival so it can be difficult to decide on what to go for, but after a good deal of consideration I decided on the 2 that I would sample.
First up was Teppan Dining Sakuraya (鉄板ダイニング さくらや), number 4 on the spicy map.

As you can see from the above menu, they have an English menu. I ordered the spicy festival menu special which was a kind of okonomiyaki (savoury Japanese pancake) made from a ground up yam like vegetable called yamaimo. Yamaimo isn't the best to look at as it has a really slimy consistency, but it tastes good, much like potato. The cook got a great big dollop of yamaimo and then starts tipping in some chili sauce. As he is doing this he asks me if I like spicy food, "yes" I reply. "Not me" he says, the bottle still emptying it's contents into my dinner. "Spicy food is not really my thing". "I can see that" my mind screamed out at him. He must have heard me as he lifted up the bottle and glanced at it to see that it was almost empty and proceeded on to cook up my fiery inferno. "It probably won't be that spicy for you" he told me. Wait, was that a smile on his face??.....

Finally it was ready. Now the picture on the festival website shows a yellow concoction. As you can see from my photo, mine has a definite orange tinge to it, thanks to the generous helping of chili sauce!

It was, as expected, quite spicy. A small group of young Japanese people watched on with a kind of perverted masochism as I worked my way through it. Yes, it was spicy, but it was also tasting very good! The yamaimo provided a very light fluffy okonomiyaki while the spring onions gave a nice crispy contrast.

I walked out with a nice, warming sensation in my belly which would have been muchly appreciated had it been the middle of winter. It is, at the moment, the middle of summer so it just felt like a hot spring sauna steaming away in my stomach. The pictures don't truly show how spicy it really was.

Oh well, I had promised myself 2 dishes so I proceeded on to the second choice for the day. Shimokitazawa Otona no Hamburg (下北沢大人のハンバーグ), number 14 on the spicy festival map.

I ordered their festival special, a hamburg pattie covered with a slice of cheese and an egg with some vegetables on the side with a serving of spicy habanero sauce.

This one was quite mild compared to the okonomiyaki, but very flavoursome. The hamburg pattie was very juicy and the crispy cleanness of the sauce contrasted nicely with the pattie and the cheese. A nice way to finish the day!

As with all of the others, the price was 1,000 yen including a drink (it seems that that is the standard price for all places participating). The okonomiyaki place had kicked the stakes up a notch, but apart from a rumbling stomach wake-up call half way through the night, I won out!

Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment below and keep an eye out for the next update.


Tuesday 16 August 2016

Next up - Shimokitazawa Spicy Food Festival (激辛フェスティバル / Gekikara festival)

On Friday I went back to Shimokitazawa ready to hit up a couple of more places with sometime blog companion Tetsuya.  We had selected the 2 places we wanted to go during the day so we were ready to hit the ground running (most of the places do not have very large servings so it is completely possible to do more than one in a single session.  In fact I know someone who knocked over 4 in a couple of hours!).

First up was Ark Box (アークボックス) located on the north side of the station.

This was an easy choice as the dish here was a lamb dish.  Both Tetsuya and I love lamb so we made our way up the stairs in anticipation!  We opened the door and an older couple in their 50's greeted us.  We let them know we were here for their lamb and they set about their business.  Not long later it arrived.

One lamb chop, one piece of lamb steak together with some potato, stir fried capsicum and okra.  Barely a word was uttered for the next 10 minutes as we enjoyed our lamb in silence.  It seems to be that if a chef is eating in silence (Tetsuya was a chef back in the USA) then usually that is a good sign that they are enjoying their food!

This dish wasn't very spicy at all, but the flavour was sensational!  I was definitely glad we decided on this one.  1,000 for the food and the drink (that seems to be the standard price for all places) and we left quite satisfied.

Next we wandered over to the South side of the station where we found Art Reg cafe, an Italian restaurant usually, but today it was serving up spicy chicken wings.

The food arrived and it looked great!

What's that little dish of brown powder sitting there I hear you ask?  Well, I was wondering the same thing.  I stuck my finger into it and then into my mouth.  I soon realised I had made a bit of a mistake.  I looked up at my dining mate and warned him about it.  Not heeding my warning, he copied what I had done and 1 minute later was tearing up (well, he said he was sweating but I have never seen eyeballs sweat like that.....).

We finished it off and Tetsuya mentioned that he thought it was habanero powder which was confirmed by the waiter!  If you like your spice, definitely head to this place!

The chicken wings had been the spiciest of the 3 dishes I had tried at that point.  They didn't really make me work up a sweat, they just burned, for quite a while!  It was impressive!

Well, that's it for dishes 2 and 3.  I'm hoping to get 10 eaten and written up by the time it is all over.

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment below, especially if you have been to the festival yourself!  I'd love to hear from you.  Keep watching for the next update coming in the next couple of days!


Saturday 13 August 2016

The first meal - Shimokitazawa Spicy Food Festival (激辛フェスティバル / Gekikara festival)

Last year I did a post on the Shimokitazawa Curry Festival (you can find the post here) and I wrote one long post about all of the curries that I ate.  With the spicy food festival I am going to do it dish by dish.  As I eat one dish I will do a short post about it.  That way, if you are in Tokyo, or are living in Tokyo and you see something you like, you can get there before the festival ends (on the 21st of August).

The first place I went to was number one on the map of participating places (maps can be found all around Shimokitazawa at participating restaurants or at the event office on the second floor of the Uniqlo building just outside Shimokitazawa station).  It is a place called Bar Loaded, run by a friend of mine, Kazu.

Kazu is doing a dish comprised of 2 skewers of grilled pieces of pork belly and spring onions, one plain, the other covered with a spicy salsa sauce.  Having eaten Kazu's food before, I knew it was going to be good.  Now Kazu knows that I like spicy food so he asked me how spicy I wanted it, from 1 to 10 and with the bar regulars shouting out "10, 10, 10!" how could I say no?  So a 10 it was!

After a short wait, it arrived.

It sure smelt good!  Starting on the plain one, I took my first bite.  First impression, a nice smokey taste to the pork.  The seasoning was good, simply pepper and salt which allowed the full flavour of the pork belly to come through.

Pretty soon the first one was devoured.

Now for the spicy one. First bite, the crispness and the tang of the salsa provided a nice contrast to the pork.  Not so spicy, but, working my way along the skewer, the heat began to build and it was nice and spicy at the end!

The beer that came with it was a nice way to finish the dish.  How spicy was it you ask?  Well the spiciness wasn't too bad in the mouth, but the sweat that it worked up were pretty impressive!

Nicely done Kazu, I enjoyed that!  The flavours combined well.  And very reasonable for 1,000 yen including the beer.

Please get along to the spicy food festival and check out Kazu's skewers.  Tell him that Jason sent you and if you are up for a challenge tell him you want the salsa "Jason spicy level"!

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did eating it!  Please leave a comment below and stay tuned in the next couple of days for dish number 2!


Monday 8 August 2016

Shimokitazawa Spicy Food Festival (激辛フェスティバル / Gekikara festival)

Just a really quick post regarding Shimokitazawa especially for people living in Japan or people who will be in Japan soon.  Shimokitazawa is having the very first Shimokita Hot Summer Festival.  Similar to the curry festival that takes place each year in Shimokitazawa, restaurants, cafes and bars in the Shimokitazawa area will be making special spicy menu dishes to eat.  You eat at each places location rather than in a centralised area.  Head along and check it out.  I will be, and I will be doing a blog post about it in the near future.

Here is the website in Japanese.

See you there, and, like I said, blog post to come at the end of the festival!