"Moonshine" Umeshu

During my stay in Japan I got to taste some wonderful Umeshu, homemade by a nice Obachan with Ume plums from her garden. Usually I am not very enthusiastic about sweet liqueurs, but that was something special: smooth, with an intense but natural plum flavour and not too sweet. The plums were still swimming in the liqueur and they tasted great, especially with some vanilla icecream ;)
Back home in Berlin, I recently found green, unripe plums (or mirabelles?) called "Can Erik" at a Turkish vegetable store. They looked pretty much like the Japanese Ume used for Umeshu. So I gave it a try, bought a bag full of the plums, brown sugar and a bottle of Japanese Sake (couldn't find any Shochu unfortunately) and a big jar and headed home to attempt my first steps of "moonshining". (Hehe, not really, since I didn't distill the Sake by myself - however, I like the idea ;)...)

First of all I cleaned the plums and the jar thoroughly with hot water. Then I wiped the plums with a towel and placed them in the jar. I filled in about 750g of brown sugar

and 1 liter of Sake,

closed the jar,

put it on my shelf

and now I have to wait for at least 3 month (better: 1 year!) until I find out whether it tastes right or not.. I just hope it works with Sake, since Shochu, the alcohol that is usually used for Umeshu is much stronger.
We'll see.. I'll keep you updated.
Till then: Kampai!

Go and Gather Your Spring Dish!

If you happen to be at the Japanese countryside and you have a friendly Japanese (maybe elderly) neighbour or acquaintance - it is well worth to ask them to advise you which of the plants around you are edible. There are so many wild greens, or mountain vegetables (山菜 sansai)as they are called in Japanese, that used to be a staple for the rural poor, as well as a delicacy in the refined Japanese cuisine. Today many young city dwellers only know these green goodies as Tempura on their plates in fancy restaurants or as the ingredient of Sansai Soba soups and the like, but often they have no idea how and where those plants grow and how to prepare them.
This is a pity since it is so much fun, healthy and for free to go out and gather fresh greens in the mountains and forests of Japan! However what most people luckily still know is, when something is in season. And now it is the season for Tsukushi, Fukinotou and Taranome.
Last spring I found all of these on the premises of the little farm in Ibaraki prefecture where I worked at.
With eggs kindly donated by our chicken, brown rice and a few condiments they became some of the most delightful homemade meals of my life.

Here are the details:
Tsukushi (horse tail)
You can find lots and lots of Tsukushi sprouts on meadows and at riversides approximatly around the time of the first Sakura blossoms. They look like this [click!].
Only take the young ones which did not yet "open their heads" and cut them shortly above the ground, so that you have stem and head.
Rinse them thoroughly and remove the outer shells (hakama) that look like little crowns. You may cut the Tsukushi to about 15mm long pieces. Then soak the Tsukushi with a little soysauce, Mirin and a pinch of salt for about 30min.
In the meantime wash the rice and put it in the rice cooker with an equal amount of water. Then just add the Tsukushi together with the soysauce-Mirin-mixture and let it all cook until the rice is soft and all the water is gone. The Tsukushi should also be soft and nice now.
You can make Tsukushi Onigiri out of it or use this Tsukushi Gohan (rice dish) as a very fine complement on Tempura for example.

Fukinotou is a rather unimpressive looking short pale yellow flower with lots of green leaves, often growing on meadows in the shade of trees or bushes. They look like this [click!]. It is best to harvest them before they are in full bloom, because they tend to be a little bitter, and the longer they bloom the more bitter they get.
The most popular way to eat Fukinotou is in form of Tempura. The batter and the frying process takes away a bit of the bitternes, resulting in just the right balance of the taste of the fresh and flowerly green and the rich yet fluffily batter.
I confess that I used a ready-made Tempura mixture (containing flour, starch, baking powder and salt in the right proportions) and I just had to add egg and cold water and stir it a few seconds with chopsticks - very easy!
After washing and draining the Fukinotou, I dipped them in the batter and then fried them quickly in hot oil. Drain the fried Fukinotou Tempura again to get rid of the excessive oil and then serve it still hot with the Tsukushi Gohan.

Taranome (buds of Aralia)
Taranome are the buds of a very thorny bush and look like this [click!]. It is also better to harvest them early, before the grow too big, hard and woody.
They are also really delicious as Tempura.

The other greens on the first big photo above are Yomogi (mugwort) leaves. This weed grows all over Honshu in a rather epidemic way and most Japanese homegardeners hate it! However it has a nice and fresh herbal taste and is very healthy, so please try the recipe I posted before or chop it and sprinkle it on a salad, tomato salad for example. Yummy!

For more recipes and additional infos in English I recommend reading the interesting blog article.

Comatose Cupcakes

Wow, I definitely gonna try this recipe: Kurogoma Cupcakes with Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting!

Update: I tried this recipe last week and the cupcakes turned out lovely although I didn't have any black sesame paste at hand. I also took much less sugar (just about 220g) and they were still sweet enough for my taste.
Here they are:

Crayon House - Hiroba

Again I haven't posted a new article here for a looong looong time and most of the former readers of this blog might already have forgotten about or given up checking for updates. Anyway I hope there are still some people interested in nice, vegetarian Japanese food around, since I have some more recommendations for you. Today I want to write about one of the more well-known organic restaurants in Tokyo, the Hiroba at Crayon House in Kita-Aoyama, just a few steps off Omotesandô. This friendly place is located in the basement of a building that also houses a toy- and bookstore and a shop for all kinds of organic products, from vegetables to soaps. The restaurant itself is not 100% vegetarian, but you will be happy to find lots of vegetarian and vegan options and staff that understands what you mean when you ask for vegetarian food... As far as I remember there was only a few a la card dishes, but a huge buffet that indulged us with a variety of savoural sensations. The fare was partly with a western influence, yet always with a Japanese twist and utterly fresh and delicious. There were soups, salads, vegetables boiled, pickled or fried, brown or semi-refined rice, pasta, tofu, mushrooms, seaweed - in short: too many wonderful things for just one plate, so of course I had to get a refill. Or two.
I can also highly recommend to try the lovely cakes and tartes - they are as good as they look, if not even better!
The price for the lunch is 1260 Yen, not too much for an all organic, all-you-can-eat buffet. You can also find a bilingual menu on their website and have a look at the lunch set and recipe of the day (in Japanese only).
Yes, the menu is bilingual and so are many of the guests. I spotted quite a few non-Japanese people, many with their (partly Japanese) families. There were many kids around, playing on the patio under and between the tables packed with guest. It is a rather jolly atmosphere and it can get pretty crowded, so do not expect a silent, contemplative place with a Zen spirit, but a friendly restaurant with naturally good food.

Crayon House
Organic Restaurant Hiroba

3-8-15 Kita-Aoyama,
Tokyo, Minato-ku; 3406-6492 [click to see map]

open: 11:00am-10:00pm

TEL. 03-3406-6409

A veggie pre-christmas time!

Uuuh, sorry, I didn't write here for such a long time in spite of some recommendations I still want to pass on to you.. I returned to Germany in the meantime and was busy with all kind of other things and concentrated on writing on my Berlin restaurant blog (I also changed its design, do you like it?).
However I haven't forgotten you guys!
One of my primary aims with this blog was and still is to show you that you are not lost and alone in Japan as a vegetarian. There are lots of people around you who also love their veggies. A true lover of vegetables (and music) can be found here:


Okay, no more kidding. One thing I really loved in Japan at this time of the year are all the wonderful citrus fruits I've never seen somewhere else before. My favourite is Yuzu, a fruit that is not that good for eating raw just like it is, but Yuzu juice and Yuzu zest are great ingrediences for various dishes. It has an indescribably aromatic and intense scent that goes along fine with boiled tofu, udon noodles, gives soups and sauces a fresh touch, can be found in dried spice mixtures with chili and black sesame, as well as in form of Yuzu Koshou (literally Yuzu pepper) - a spicy flavouring that can be found in Japanese supermarkets and delicatessen shops. Yuzu is also fantastic in sweets like icecream, Yuzu Melon pan, as a hot tea in wintertime, lemonade in summer, or you can make your own Yuzu marmelade!
I did this last winter, alongside several jars of Natsumikan marmelade (another Japanese citrus fruit, that looks a bit like a big yellow orange or grapefruit, but has a milder taste.

All those fruits grow during the summertime (Natsumikan means "summer tangerine")but are very often not harvested since they looks so pretty on the trees in winter. When the weather tends to get gray it is nice to have some bright coloured dots on the trees :) However, if you happen to be on the Japanese countryside or are lucky enough to have such a tree somewhere close-by, you should try to get your hands on some of the fruits before they start to rot. They are just too delicious for not being eaten!

For making marmelade: squeeze as much juice as you can get out of the fruits, add some zests (not too much though - it could turn bitter otherwise) and boil with an equal amount of sugar for at least 15 - 20 min. Even better would be jam sugar since you only need half as much sugar and a shorter cooking time thanks to the pectin that is added. However I couldn't find any jam sugar in Japan unfortunatly.
To check if it is ready put a teaspoon of the marmelade on a little plate, keep it on a cool place for two minutes to see if the marmelade thickens when it cools. If not cook it a little longer and try again.
If it doesn't get firm like marmelades bought in shops, don't worry: the taste will be great anyway and you can also try stiring it in yoghurt for example or as yummie topping on vanilla icecream..

It's Vegetable

I already mentioned it in my last posting: this time I will recommend my favorite non-Japanese restaurant in Tokyo! I don't want to deprive this wonderful little place from you, it is a Taiwanese eatery in Kinshichô called "It's Vegetable". And the name is the motto of this place! Everything is made of vegetables and soy - no meat, no fish, no milk, no egg - let's call it vegan :)
I wanted to check out this place when I visited Tokyo on a saturday to spend a day free of work just with meeting friends, shopping, and eatingeatingeating... After having read about it here, I suggested going there for dinner and a friend of mine wanted to make a reservation for us there. Unfortunatly when she called, they told her that they will have a privat party that night and aren't open for public. I was so dissapointed! However since we had already arranged to meet at Kinshichô station, we thought "let's just go there and see what it looks like. Maybe we can throw a glance on the food and see if it is worth coming back another time". It is not far from the station and we found it easily because of the big sign:

And yeah, it looked so promising that my friend just went right inside and started talking with the guys who were having their party there and with the restaurant owner and told them that she is here with a bunch of hungry vegetarian (ehem, actually I was the only strict vegetarian around, but well..) friends from all over the world, who came aaaaaallll the way, nearly starving etc etc and asked them if it weren't possible that we joined their party! Hehehehe... They seemed to be amused and also happy to have some girls around they could practice their English with, closed ranks and let us to stay. We had to pay a little bit and had all kinds of food and drinks, nice conversations and a lot of fun! And the food was great! Actually so great that I nearly forgot to take pictures. You can see that it is already half-eaten on my photo. It was an array of vegetables, mushrooms and all kind of Tofu / soy dishes (maybe also Gluten, I wasn't so sure about that) that were imitateting meat or fish - but in an extraordinary delicious and convincing way! Usually I am not such a big fan of such things like mock chicken wings or Tofu Schnitzel or all that stuff. I don't miss meat because there are so many other awsome things to eat in this world, so that I don't even think of meat as something edible anymore (no wonder after being a vegetarian for more than half of my life). However at "It's Vegetable" it just tasted so perfect, that even my non-vegetarian friends were amazed and loved it.
There was a dish that didn't just have the consistency but also really tasted and looked like fried fish, another dish was with slices of vegan "chicken" and there was Cha han, fried rice that seemed to have a lot of egg inside, but uh uh, all vegan ingrediences!
Very tasty and pretty different to Japanese Tsukemono were the Taiwanese style pickles.. Mmmh, well actually there was nothing I didn't like of all the things they brought out of the kitchen into the small, packed restaurant that night! And I guess that is true for any other day, without Party, too. Ok, I love Taiwanese food anyway, so they didn't have hard times to convince me of their dishes, but please believe me: it was really good: crunchy veggies, delicious mushrooms, many different kinds of tastes from spicy to sour to savoury - just right!
For lunch time they offer an all you can eat buffet for just 850yen and during dinner time you can order a la carte or also go for the buffet that is 1200yen then. Very good deal, I think! Beside the fantastic food, there is also just a very nice and homey atmosphere in this family-run restaurant. You can feel that the people who run this place do it with love and are very committed to the goodnes of vegetarian food. It is one of those likeable places you just see and know it will be fine. So please try yourself :)

It's Vegetable

4-1-9 Kinshichô, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Phone: 03-3625-1245

11:00~14:00 all you can eat buffet only
18:00~20:00 all you can eat buffet or a la carte

Nezu no ya

Sometimes it is strange: something so good is just around the corner, I know it is there, I walk by every day and say to myself "you really have to try it - you know it'll be great", but for some reason or the other I never make it there as long as it is so close.
I first have to move away, don't come by for several month, become angry with myself that I didn't walk in right away the first day I saw it and now have to go through quite some effort to check it out finally. Just to see that it is as fantastic as I thought it would be from the first moment I learned of it's existence on. Nezu no ya is such a treasure.
When I came to Tokyo a year ago I used to live just five minutes walk from the little organic foodstore that hosts a vegetarian restaurant in its backroom. Everytime
on my way to the metro station or during my countless strolls around the neighborhood I had a look on the sample food they displayed and knew that this is a place just the way I love it. For around 1000 yen you can have a meal consisting of a variety of daily changing, beautiful little dishes, prepared with love for the detail and with organic and strictly vegetarian or even vegan ingrediences.
All nice, tasty, healthy, Japanesy :) Paradise! And believe it or not: although munching myself through veggie eateries virtually all over Tokyo, I never managed to just make the step into the restaurant behind the store that I visited several times! The main reason was that Nezu no ya only offers lunch and if I don't have to get up early for work or something I am rather a late-breakfast-no-lunch-but-tea&sweets-and-early-dinner kind of girl. And during my stay in Nezu there was no need for me to have breakfast early and so I was never really hungry enough for a big lunch like that. This changed when I started working on the countryside but then of course Nezu no ya was too far away to just drop by for lunch...
However recently I made it there! I had to drive to Tokyo for a delivery, was early and stopped by at Ueno park for some Hanami (the classic...). Starving after seeing all the people having picnic under the cherry blossoms I hurried to Nezu no ya - thinking "now or never!" And luckily it became "now" not "never"..
It is such a pleasant place! A quiet and very relaxing atmosphere overwhelms you and lets fall off all the stress the moment you sit down. It can really make you forget the hectic outside world for a while. The interior is simple, earthy and comfortable. It wasn't very crowded the day I have been there but also not so empty that you feel lost and lonely - just right.
Yet the best thing of course was the food! That's what I came for and that's what makes me wanna go there over and over again! They offer for example a daily changing lunch set, vegetable curry, a Tofu set or a Natto set, for the more adventurous lovers of authentic Japanese cuisine ;)
I tried the lunch set of the day that consisted of a soup, rice, vegetables, salad, pickles and a kind of Tofu patty. The miso soup was a wonderful steaming goodness with seaweed, vegetables, mushrooms and some kind of broad, flat, soft ?noodle?
that reminded me of southern German "Flädle" (pancakes from the other day, cut into stripes and served in a broth). The rice was hearty Genmai topped with Gomashio. The Tsukemono (pickles) of cucumber, Daikon radish and carrots were crunchy and not too salty or sour, so that they still had plenty of the original flavor of the fresh vegetables they were made of. The same can be said about the pink
Renkon (lotos root) slices, also a cold dish, marinated in Mirin and Shiso (perilla leaves), I guess, and definitely as decorative as they were delicous! The little dish to be seen in the upper left corner of my photo was a savory mixture of carrots, Konnyaku, Aburaage (fried Tofu). And oh, the fluffy-soft Tofu patty was soooo yummie! Especially after sprinkling some juice from the extremely intensive and fragrant mandarine on it... mmmmh!
Now that was a feast! Even a much longer way is worth to be made for this kind of food! This is what I am constantly searching for, this is what I write this blog for!
Nezu no ya ranks alongside Mikoan (Kyoto) and Monk's Food (Kichijôji) in my personal top 3 of Japanese restaurants! (Next time
I will share my favourite non-Japanese vegetarian restaurant in Tokyo with you.. )

I had to change my motto from "now or never" to "now and forever"!

Nezu no ya

1-1-14 Nezu, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo (click for map!)
(on the lively shinobazu dôri)

Nezu stn on Tokyo Metro Chiyoda line

Tel: 03-38230030
lunch served between 11:30 ~ 2:30 o'clock. No dinner!
closed on sunday and holidays