Tamawarai 玉笑

‘Twas a drizzly evening in Tokyo and for some reason, everytime it rains I feel compelled to reflect on life (notice how in music videos, there is that cliche depiction of a contemplative subject staring out the window? It always happens to be raining too). Inevitably these reflections include some less philosophical revelations such as the amount of fat I have accumulated from festive feasts consumed in the past few weeks. Over some serious sensations of guilt, I decided that for one night at least, I must not succumb to that evil glutton in my mind who keeps drawing me away from foods that are (relatively) low in calories and fat. And that is how I ended up trekking my way to Tamawarai, a small soba shop buried in one of the most inobtrusive streets near Harajuku.
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The restaurant was a little difficult to spot because the entrance to Tamawarai was anything but ostentatious. I eventually found my way with the help of Google Maps and this lonely looking little lantern.

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It was only 5:30 pm and I was the first customer of the night. IMG_3696

For a traditional soba-ya, the glittery silver menu was rather stylish, with a calligraphic drawing of the lonely little lantern at the corner. The main food menu was divided into three sections – Otsumami (snacks, generally eaten as accompaniment to alcohol), soup soba, and cold soba.IMG_3700

The first thing I opted for was an otsumami, the grilled kuruma-ebi. Since I hate peeling prawns I just ate the entire thing, shell included. This could have been unpleasant at other places but the shell of this prawn was so thin and crunchy that I felt more like I was just snacking on a prawn shaped, prawn flavoured crisp with real prawn flesh inside! This was fantastic with my ume-shu (Japanese plum liqueur). 20140120-123005.jpg

My next otsumami was the dashi-maki tamago (dashi as in fish stock, maki as in roll, and tamago as in egg. In short, a fish stocky roll omelette). Nothing can go too wrong with dashi-maki tamago!  This was standard in a good way; huwa huwa (the Japanese expression for soft, fluffy things) in texture, served while it was still piping hot. IMG_3709

My final otsumami was the misoyaki which was basically a perfectly circular smear of delicately flavoured miso paste containing small bits of spring onion, grilled and served on a hot metal plate. IMG_3711

Finally, oh star of the night – my natto soba! I’m aware that there are many natto haters out there (both in and out of Japan) who find the pungent smell of fermented soybeans vomit-inducing, but seriously, natto is one of the things that truly taught me what an acquired taste really means. In my opinion, acquiring a taste does not necessarily require repeated exposure, nor does it have to be a slow developmental process that needs to be nurtured intentionally unless you are actually neophobic. Sometimes, all it takes is a situation that triggers an urge to give something one more try. For example, I always hated natto as a kid – but it was when I saw a random woman eat natto on rice as though it were the most delicious thing in the world that the crazy foodie in me felt impelled to give the smelly beans one more chance. This opened my gustatory senses to a whole new world of different types of natto, which might not have been possible had I not been in the particular situation. So, natto-rice woman, thank you for appearing in my life that day!  (I’d also like to thank my dad for making durian appear to be exotic ice cream)

OK, back to my bowl – The natto beans here were very large compared to the standard sized natto commonly found in supermarkets. Also on the soba were seaweed, spring onions, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and the obligatory raw egg in the middle.

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Neba-neba! (That’s the Japanese onomatopoeia for sticky, stringy, slimy things)

Having been living in Oxford where my closest source of artisanal Japanese noodles was udon from Koya in London, and then Hong Kong where the sushi and ramen trends have overtaken the Japanese culinary scene, I have not been having brilliant soba for a long, long time. I couldn’t help smiling as soon as I had my first bite of this nicely firm, aromatic soba.

The tsuyu sauce had an elegant flavour that was suitably strong without overpowering the soba’s sweet buckwheat taste; its refinedness also allowed the freshness of all other ingredients to shine through. Definitely a well-crafted bowl of soba that can only be the product of some very skilled hands! IMG_3724

My mom ordered the tempura soup soba that I also tried a bit of. Whilst the tempura was not particularly commendable, the hot soba, which was significantly thicker than usual soba, had a chewy, grainy texture that was just as impressive as the cold natto soba I had. IMG_3718

As usual the meal ended with soba-yu (hot water used to cook soba) poured into the remaining tsuyu after all the noodles were eaten. A wonderful meal that did not make me feel too heavy afterwards, yep! IMG_3725

Tamawarai 

Address: 5-23-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

東京都渋谷区神宮前5-23-3

Telephone: 03-5485-0025

P.S. Whilst looking for their precise address online, I realised that Tamawarai actually received its first Michelin star last year! I’d say that was well deserved 🙂

Ottolenghi – Demonstrating Organic + Orgasmic

I’ve always been an avid meat-eater, but a fair portion of vegetables is pretty much compulsory for the sake of keeping my palate balanced. At times, after having too many meat-heavy meals in a row I would feel the need for a 100% vegetarian day. I’ve been eating a lot of korean BBQ, meaty Italian dishes and steaks lately so on this sunny November day in London, I decided to visit Yotam Ottolenghi’s Islington deli  to get my #fitspo food fix.  (yeah and so that I can post pictures on instagram with tags like #eatclean #instahealth #fitstagram)

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Ottolenghi, also known as “the man who sexed up vegetables” (only found this in wikipedia, hah), is an Israeli chef specializing in middle eastern cuisine that draws influence from around the world. My good friend Eiko told me about his fresh and flavourful salads a while back, so I had to seize the opportunity to try them out whilst in London.

Damn, it was a sunday afternoon but I did not expect the line to be this long. I stood there waiting for over half an hour before I got seated.
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Whilst waiting in line I noticed that despite being famed for veggie dishes, the cakes and pastries looked highly appetizing as well. Queueing up next to the heavenly spread of goodies pictured below (imagine the beautiful smell as well) while being hungry for lunch was both mentally and physically tormenting. The queuers infront of me were unable to withstand the torture and called for some pastries from the take-out counter whilst waiting to be seated. I, however, knew that if I were to do that I would not be able to stop myself from eating too much before sitting down so I refrained from doing so.
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Ahhhhh…. these cupcakes!!!
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For lunchtime, everything on the menu is already laid out at the front of the deli. Pumped up by the sight of all the colourful salads, I had already planned in my head to get a portion of everything.
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Just for reference, here is the menu of the day 😀
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And finally I got seated inside.

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I ended up getting a portion of every single salad for my table of 3, sharing also a platter of Ottolenghi breads and 2 main courses. I did not care much about the main courses as I really only came for the salads, and yum! Every salad was prepared with noticeably fresh vegetables, bursting with bold, exotic flavours. The only dish that could have been better turned out to be the char-grilled brocolli  with chilli and garlic,  which was in fact the first thing I picked from the menu because I’ve always been a fan. The brocolli  here was slightly too hard and dry for what I expected; perhaps chargrilling for less time would have been better? (btw I subsequently had a wonderful brocolli salad at Bea’s of Bloomsbury).
IMG_3234One of my favourites turned out to be the roasted aubergine with black garlic yoghurt, fried chili, caremelised hazelnuts and herbs. The unique combination of flavours complimented very well with the perfectly roasted aubergines, which were neither too chewy nor mushy.
IMG_3236 The roasted sweet potato with ginger yoghurt, lemon, pickled red onion, black sesame seeds and parsley were also delicious, despite looking like a giant mess. This was probably the most addictive of the salads.IMG_3237 The potatoes with Jerusalem artichoke, ras el hanout, almonds, sultanas, chilli and preserved lemon was less interesting in terms of flavouring. Simple and good, nonetheless.IMG_3238 And here’s the mixed peppers and brown bulgar tabbouleh with mixed nuts, red onion and pomegranate seeds. IMG_3239And of course, hummus! Ottolenghi’s special butterbean hummus with roasted mushrooms cumin, cinnamon, chilli & parsley

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The two main courses we went for were the filo parcels with burnt aubergine, feta, parsley, walnuts and sweet basil yoghurt and the free range chicken with cloves, cardamom, garlic, preserved lemons and turmeric. I had fairly low expectations for these so was quite happy to find that the chicken was not as dry as it looked and that the filo pastry was not oily at all. IMG_3245      IMG_3249

The Ottolenghi bread platters are prepared at a tiny corner inside the restaurant – each plate consisting of freshly baked & cut sourdough, cornbread, Italian white and focaccia.

IMG_3257 All served with some extra virgin olive oil of course.IMG_3258The dishes were actually presented in a style reminiscent of what I used to get at the college canteen – large spoonfuls of each salad/main course piled onto plates, like this 
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this,IMG_3259and this. IMG_3261Anyway, I left Ottolenghi feeling like a satisfied cow that just devoured a nice, organic, healthy meal. I’ll probably come try dinner next time (which I believe is served much more formally).

Obviously, upon stepping out the door I had to grab a few of these treats to make myself stay fat ‘cos you know, I love being fat. IMG_3269 Well not really … I’m on a diet to be honest but who can resist stuff like this!! IMG_3270

Ottolenghi Islington

287 Upper Street

London N1 2TZ

Tel: 020 7288 1454

Website :  http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk