Tag Archives: japan

Toraya: A King of Kakigori

Although I’ve only been in the states for a couple weeks, I’m already craving the delicate and immaculately prepared foodstuffs of Japan. My mouth waters for saikyo-yaki fish and miso seared vegetable, for crispy seaweed strips and for the wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) flavors of matcha and anko.

When it comes to consuming those mildly sweet, subtle wagashi treats, in my mind, there is only one place to go. Toraya.

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In Japan, kakigori are a signature of summer. Although similarly composed of shaved ice and flavored syrup, these treats are a totally other animal from your average county fair sno-cone. Traditionally, kakigori are marketed as street food. Strawberry, melon, or blue hawaii – take your pick!

Unsurprisingly, Toraya puts a refined touch on an old favorite. During the summer months, at any Toraya franchise (to the best of my knowledge), one can order the mountainous creation pictured above. A daunting mass of the most exquisite shaved ice is doused with a subtly sweet matcha syrup. It sits atop a layer of anko where it can and should be supplemented with chewy mochi rounds.

Demolishing one of these summery treats is a unique and unparalleled eating experience. The flavors complement each other flawlessly, and the textures to boot! Available until mid-September, one these kakigori is worth a trip to Toraya any time, any day.

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In a country that thrives on seasonal specials, Toraya reaches a new extreme. Yes, that’s right, the summer specials vary from shop to shop. While Tokyo Midtown offers only matcha, Akasaka has an apricot variety on tap, Ginza a strawberry sensation.

After sampling the original at Midtown and then realizing that there was an apricot option (one of my mother’s favorite flavors), we had to go back for more. So, the day for I hopped on a plane for the US, not to return until long after kakigori season, we headed down to Akasaka for that final hit of wagashi.

The original stood its ground, but I will admit that the tart tang of apricot almost gave it a run for its money!

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Ryokan Repast

As I type, I am sitting in my tatami mat room at a stunning Hokkaido ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. Recently reconstructed, this Noboribetsu ryokan is a creative blend of East and West built with comfort in mind. Beautiful baths, cozy couches, gorgeous green scenery, what’s not to love? But a ryokan stay would not be complete without an intricate kaiseki dinner. Last night’s food was rich, delicate, and oh so plentiful! It was so good that I forgot to document nearly half the meal. With that in mind, I thought I’d take this opportunity to showcase a May meal from a ryokan in Nagano.

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The dauntingly long, yet promisingly delicious menu.

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Our appetizers.

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Next up, sashimi!

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And… one of my favorite spring dishes: mountain vegetable tempura.

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Your basic nimono, or simmered dish.

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Polished off with pickles and rice.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be a true ryokan meal without a, shall we say unusual, fruity desert.

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Hinamatsuri Ice Cream

Today is March 3. Here in Japan, it is hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Day, a festival to celebrate girls and pray for their health and happiness. As with any traditional holiday, hinamatsuri has special foods and decorations. Customarily, one sets out elaborate dolls of the emperor, the empress, and the court in Heian period garb and munches on a sweet, colorful puffed rice snack called hina-arare. Baskin Robbins had its own take.

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Baskin Robbins is selling Girls’ Day themed ice cream treats. As per hinamatsuri custom, today, March 3, is the last day for these goodies. (It is considered unlucky to display hina dolls past the actual festival.)

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For the ice cream traditionalists, there is a sort of hinamatsuri sundae complete with cake cubes and a cookie depicting a cute little emperor and empress.

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For the more adventurous, there is this set of palatable hina-ningyo, or hina dolls. The first two tiers of the hina-dan, or doll platform, have been recreated in an edible incarnation. Only in Japan!

 

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