This summer I traveled with my husband, Russell, to Japan for a week. Like I do anytime I travel, I went with an open mind and an open heart. I believe when your mind and heart are open, the path to new and interesting experiences is welcomed. To travel without expectation or preconceived notions is very freeing...
Anyway, I did some research about Tokyo, Ina and Matsumoto; the three main stops of our stay. (This little ditty will focus on Tokyo.) Russell asked some colleagues for hotel recommendations in Tokyo to narrow our choices and we chose one close to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. We only had two and half days in Tokyo and enjoyed every last moment.
We were greeted at our Ginza area hotel like royalty! Our accommodations were upgraded. A sumptuous breakfast became part of our experience. Gifts were given. Prizes were won. We hit the hotel jackpot! The room was clean and ample. The food was gorgeous. The staff kind. We dropped our bags, freshened up, purchased metro passes and tickets to the Tokyo Skytree for the next day and headed out. We just started walking... We arrived during a Japanese National holiday called Marine Day and between that and the fact it was July, many activities were closed. Oh well, sumo wrestling would have been interesting but lets be honest, not really all that appetizing. The fact the fish market was closed as well was a disappointment but a good reason to return to Tokyo someday.
Ginza is known for its shopping so we set out to look at shops and peer into windows. (Looking and peering are both free and fit nicely into a budget.)The first thing that struck us was how clean everything was. There was nothing, I mean NOTHING, rolling about the streets; no trash, no yucky bits, NOTHING. This was particularly odd because there were also no trash bins anywhere! Not even in the restrooms; which were very clean too. The Japanese carry a towel called a "Tenugui" which is used as a napkin. See? No trash. The other odd thing we noticed was no one - I mean no one, was walking about and eating. No one was picnicking. No one was munching an apple. No one was eating in public! Russ and I like to gather yummy foods when we travel and make a picnic. This was not an option in Japan. We purchased a vanilla and matcha swirl ice cream at a tea shop (tip: the vanilla flavor DOES NOT drown out the grassy matcha flavor as I hoped) and since it was a bazillion degrees and humid enough to make a fish out of water feel at home, it dripped down our hands and arms quickly enough to make me concede Russell was correct in urging me to forgo the experience. After trying to eat it quickly BUT since, as I said, the matcha flavor was NOT drowned out by the vanilla, this was no easy venture. What is a traveler to do when eating the thing is not an option AND there is no trash bin? Force your husband to carry the melty and drippy cone he DID NOT want in the first place and make HIM throw it in the first trash bin you are lucky enough to pass! The trash bin we passed just happened to be located in a Middle Eastern food stall and the staffers were none too pleased with Russ who by now I as a good 20 paces ahead of in order to not appear associated with the strange and rude American. Not my finest moment but at least Russ was more sticky than me. (Sorry honey.)
Okay. Our first night in Tokyo we cajoled our hotel conceirge into recommending a restaurant they like and eat at regularly. It was important to us to eat regionally not touristy. The first type of food recommended to us was called Teppanyaki. Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook and was created after World War II. Teppanyaki was unpopular with locals but popular with tourists. I wanted authentic tastes so we had our first ever ramen bowl. Oh my! How wonderful it was too. The refreshing cold beer was served with frozen copper cups and the steaming bowls of ramen were like floating works of art. The table was laden with delicious add ins so articulately minced and julienned it was astounding. I tried most everything to add in and really enjoyed the black and white sesame seeds you grind in similarly to grinding Parmesan over pasta. YUM! Day one was a success.
Day two began with more wandering in old markets and parks until we found the crowds at the Tokyo Skytree. We could just make out the outline of Mount Fuji; at least that is our story. Our daughter Alyssa found a restaurant called Tamahide and insisted we eat there. (Thank you honey!) Tamahide is famous the world over for Kodemmacho/Chicken Dishes. We went on a Sunday night and the restaurant was basically empty. We went specifically to try Yamada Kosuke's +100 year old recipe for oyako-don: two kinds of chicken simmered in a sweet-and-savory soy-based sukiyaki broth, sealed in a custard-like egg and served in a bowl over rice.
The dinner meal experience begins with a towels arriving. The towels are used to clean your hands but also as napkins. Then a tray with delicate bowls arrives. Each has a different bit of chicken. One has hearts. One has cartilage. One has cooked, ground chicken. One has broth, a tiny egg and julienned vegetables. We thought the bowls were "add-ins" to the soup. Very "American" we thought and "okay" lets do this! So we nibbled on a few things. I tried the heart and passed on the cartilage because honestly, why? The heart was tender and actually "good." It left nothing for the imagination however so I only tried one. Then, after nibbling, we unceremoniously began dumping things into (what we thought was ) the soup bowl. When our server returned to remove our trays, she nearly strangled us both for destroying the meal! We had to calm her down and explain to her in America the little bowls would be considered "add-ins." She ended up apologizing to us and said she should have explained things to us. Jeez! We didn't know...
Then the main event arrived! The okayo-don did not disappoint! It was creamy and sweet and savory all at the same time. The two types of chicken (I pray merely white and dark meat) were both tender and flavorful. The rice was a perfect compliment and rounded out the entire taste and texture experience. Japanese prepare eggs to be runny and that takes some getting used to but with this dish, it worked. After the second bite I knew I would have to try to create a recipe for my family because one and done was not going to cut it! I simply HAD to experience this taste sensation again.
On my recipe page you will find a very simple recipe for Japanese-Style (Ground) Chicken with Rice I hope you give a try. The recipe comes together in minutes and is a great weeknight meal.
Pictured here is the succulent oyako-don as it is offered at Tamahide in Tokyo. My version omits the custard-y egg and uses ground chicken; a bit more family-friendly. I hope you give it a try!
I am preparing this dish on WFMZ Television Channel 69 during the Easy Eats segments and the link will be available on my appearances page or the station's website. The show airs today at 4:00pm and you can tune it or stream via the web.
Avid home cook and passionate instructor