Usually I prefer nice little shops with a comfortable atmosphere to big food malls and usually I am not at all a fan of theme parks and things alike, BUT how can I resist a wonderland of sweets, pastries, icecreams, puddings, cremes, cakes, shakes... You are right: I can't! That's why nothing and no one was able to hold me back when I was standing in front of the Sweets Harbor in Kobe. Dream and nightmare in one place! Dream for all the lovers of sugar in its best forms, of delicate beauties, nearly too wonderful to be edible but yet they are! Perfect little works of art, created with all the good things in this world: sugar, cream, fruits, chocolate, matcha (we are in Japan, don't forget that), love and passion - you name it!
Nightmare for everyone on a diet or short of cash, cause the prices are just about as high as the amount of calories of the goodies we are talking about. But at least the entry is free of charge unlike in other food theme parks in Japan that I avoided so far, because I think it is kind of stupid to pay to enter shops or restaurants where you have to pay for the food again!
Most sweets sold in the Sweets Harbor are European style (with a Japanese touch of course), and there are also typical Chinese sweets with Tapioca, soymilk, sweet beans and the like, but when it comes to traditional Wagashi you might search there in vain. Kobe, being a harbor city trading with the rest of the world for quite a while, is one of the more "international" places in Japan with a lively and touristy Chinatown and some European influences to be seen in architecture and cuisine. Although internationaly more or less only known for the devastating earthquake back in 1995, (and the most expensive beef in the world, but we won't talk about that here..), within Japan it is also famous for good sweets. Especially pudding (Purin - that's the Japanese pronounciation) from Kobe is said to be the best far and wide and is a staple in the range of souvenirs available there.
After at least three laps all through Sweets Harbor and long and intensive staring on all those little wonders that might not only delight me but also dentists and cardiologists near and far, I decided to take the beautiful dessert you can admire on the photo above. It was a buttery, flaky pastry filled with lots of rich custard and topped with fresh strawberries.. I think I don't have to describe the taste. I am sure you can imagine the creamy, sweet goodness with the fruity touch of the juicy berries.
Harborland [click for map
open everyday: 11:00-20:00
weekends and holidays: 11:00-21:00
Have you ever wondered where all the soy pulp ends that is left over when producing soy milk, Tofu and the likes? No? Don't worry, most people don't, I guess. This surely is due to the fact that most of this highly nutritious stuff is used to feed up animals, especially pigs as far as I know. But actually there is no reason why humans shouldn't eat this healthy soy mash, too. And by the way: vegetarians have to hear so many "jokes" like "you eat away the food for the birds/cows etc.." - so why not doing it! I love Müsli, lettuce and yes, also Okara (that is how the soy pulp is called in Japan). Here and in Korea and China people always ate it and they are right: it "is low in fat, high in fiber, and also contains protein, calcium, iron, and riboflavin." (says Wikipedia). And it can be the basis for a tasty dish! It does not have a very rich flavour by itself, rather mild and a bit bland, but you this gives way for so many possibilities.
Here in Japan you often find Okara flavoured with Mirin, carrots, Konnyaku and some spring onions, as a snack that is thought to taste good with beer. You can find it freshly packed like this in the supermarket or you can get it in Izakayas also. I don't like beer, however that doesn't keep me from loving all those savoury snacks that are served with it.
Sometimes they also have Okara in its plain form in the Tofu corner of the refrigerator section in supermarkets. Although the ready-to-eat-versions are convenient, I think they are often too sweet and so it usually tastes much better if you can get the plain stuff and spice it up yourself. You can do that the traditional way with the condiments I mentioned above and eat it cold.
Or you can use it for example to bake vegan cakes (i've never tried to make that, but I heard it works out very fine, see a picture here). Or you can make very tasty vegetarian patties. I mixed an egg with the Okara, some shredded carrots, salt, pepper and garlic and a little flour, formed patties and fried them. Utterly delicous! Especially with my favourite hotsauce that was sent to me all the way from Barbados as a present recently :)
I just love the flavour of Scotch Bonnett Peppers and mustard and of course it is spicy hot like hell and gives me an immediate hick-up, but that is part of the fun!
I just saw that it is quite a long time since my last restaurant recommendation for Tokyo. This definitly falls short of the nice range of vegetarian restaurants that can be found in the city. A real jewel is J's Kitchen, a light-flooded two-storey place located on the Gaien Nishi Dôri close to Hiroo Metro station, that keeps the promise to serve "Fine Foods" as written on the marquee over the entrance. Their own definition of "Fine Foods" is that "the vegetables used are all organic and the seasonings used are all natural, with no preservatives added. The water used is elaborately filtered [...]. Whitened sugar, meat, eggs and animal fat from dairy products are not used."* Furthermore they use the whole product whenever possible. That means they don't peel away the precious nutrients that can be found in the skin of veggies and only brown rice is served. All this deserves to be supported wholeheartedly, especially when the result is as mouthwatering and satisfying as the vegan lunch I had at J's Kitchen.
Two daily changing lunch choices are offered beside Tempeh sandwiches, Soy burgers, Curry and salads. There are more meals on the dinner menu, like Cha-zuke (brown rice in bancha-tea with some side dishes), a vegetable Fajita, Korean-style fried rice with veggies and scrambled Tofu, or Hijiki Capellini (now that sounds like interesting wafû pasta!)...
However, I tried "J's Lunch" and it was gorgeous! For 1680 Yen (which is not really cheap, but not overprized either) I got a generous pile of vegetables, roots and mushrooms with a savory Seitan sauce, a big bowl with brown rice and gomashio to season the rice, miso soup, a little salad, and three kinds of pickles and little noshes. My absolute favourite in this dish was the tempura-style deep fried Taro root / Sato-imo.
Wonderful! Lots of very fresh and good ingredients, affectionately and carefuly cooked, lovingly arranged, super-friendly served in a pleasant atmosphere - that is even more than what is necessary to make me happy! If all that is not enough for you: the vegan cakes, cookies, muffins they offer looked extremely tempting and like directly sent from sweets heaven.. and they offer some nice Onigiri, Sandwiches and so on for take-out, if you don't have the time to stay there for your meal.
I felt so good (and full!) after eating all that tasty and healthy stuff there that I went for a walk around Hiroo. This is an area that has a lot to offer on the culinary side and thanks to the numerous foreigners residing there, finding vegetarian goodies is much easier than elsewhere in Tokyo. So it is quite worth walking around there, having a look into fancy bakeries (French mainly - oh la la!) and supermarkets that offer a wide range of products from all around the world. I spotted so many unusual things (for Japanese standards) like Matzeballs, real unsugared Müsli, Cous Cous, Olives and in the end I gave some vegan "cheese" with chili a try and it wasn't bad, even melted when grilled on bread in the toaster oven..
So if you happen to be in Hiroo check out J's Kitchen! If not take the Hibiya line and go there!
Gaien Nishi Dôri
東京都港区南麻布５－１５－２２ [click for map]
Tokyo Metro Hibiya line: Hiroo Stn
open mo-sa: 11am - 9pm
sundays & holidays: 11am - 5pm
*quoted from their leaflet