Friday, August 31, 2018

Bird Land Ginza: Michelin Star Yakitori in Tokyo

A Michelin-starred Yakitori Restaurant, Ginza's Bird Land was one of the first places in Tokyo to offer gourmet yakitori. Grill master Toshihiro Wada uses the very best, free-range Okukuji Shamo Chickens raised in Ibaraki, which are to poultry as Kobe is to beef. Guests sip wine from Riedel glasses around a U-shaped bar — the best place to sit — jazz plays in the background and chefs skewer and grill little morsels of meat and offal over binchotan, a style of smokeless charcoal, where guests can either order a la carte or try a tasting menu. Bird Land excels at more than just yakitori: The chicken liver pâté and custard pudding are delicious. Located in the basement of the Ginza subway station, it sits across the corridor from its more famous neighbor, Sukiyabashi Jiro, Tokyo's world-famous Omakase Restaurants run by 85-year-old Jiro Ono who considered by many to be the world's greatest sushi chef and subject of 2011 documentary 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi'. Arriving for dinner after our day at Tsukiji Fish market, we were treated to the Chef Wada’s omakase menu of about 13 courses, that starts with a series of appetizers, including kawasu, or vinegared chicken skin, followed by luscious chargrilled chicken, chicken liver paté, and selection of yakitori lightly seasoned with sea salt, soy sauce, wasabi, yuzu or lemony sansho pepper, housemade tofu, skewered Gingko nuts, and luxurious Oyakodon, a chicken and egg dish served over rice, which is served with broth and pickles, finishing with a silky smooth Japanese custard pudding, similar to a classic crème caramel — Oishii!

Curiously located on the lower level of the Ginza subway station, Bird Land is 
right across from its more famous neighbor, Sukiyabashi Jiro, considered by many to be the world's greatest sushi chef and subject of the 2011 documentary 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi'

Seated at the counter we were welcomed with a hot towel and Bird Land chopsticks 
with its crazy bird logo

A cold sapporo beer in a lovely cut crystal glass

Chef Wada’s omakase tasting menu begins with a selection of house made amuse-bouche

Soft sweet mushrooms with sesame oil (bottom) and chargrilled peppers (top)

Jellied chicken skin (bottom) and chargrilled okra (top)

Breast of Okukuji Shamo chicken topped with basil purée and garnished with Japanese micro herbs

Chicken Liver Paté

Chicken breast yakitori with wasabi

Chicken Livers

Grill master Toshihiro Wada grilling our Bonchiri over binchotan, a style of smokeless charcoal

Bonchiri, also known as the 'popes nose', which is where the tail feathers attach to the bird, and garnished simply with a little salt

Wonderfully creamy and delicious tofu with a drizzle of oil and some salt and pepper

Grilled Ginko Nuts seasond with sake then garnished with salt, 
these little lovelies were creamy inside and quite starchy, but quite yummy

Firm and juicy, the 'oyster' is considered to be the culinary prize of every chicken

Peppery greens and sliced tomato in a light dressing

Tsukune are chicken "meat balls" glazed with house made yuzu infused tare sauce

Succulent Teriyaki Chicken Thigh

Grilled Shiitake mushroom brushed with Sake and served with Japanese lime

Chef Wada grilling our Negima

Negima: juicy chicken thigh and negi (Japanese long onion) glazed with homemade yakitori sauce

Char-Grilled Cacciocavallo Cheese

Oyakodon: a donburi or Japanese rice bowl dish, 
with chicken, egg and green onions simmered together and served over rice

The Oyakadon is served with a small plate of pickled daikon...

...and richly flavoured Okukuji Shamo chicken broth

And the grand finale, crème caramel - one of my favourite desserts

(Michelin Star Yakitori Dinner + Sake for 2: ¥23,133)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Tsukiji Fish Market: A Tokyo Seafood Icon

The Tsukiji Fish Market is a cultural landmark that has become synonymous with Japan's world famous food culture, as well as being the focus of the famous film 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi'. The world’s largest and most revered fish market is one of those “musts” during any visit to Tokyo. “Tsukiji is one of the great wonders of the world,” says chef David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant group. “There are fish markets all over the world and throughout Japan, but there's nothing like Tsukiji. The freshness is staggering, and so is the variety. Everyone is a specialist: You have the clam guy, the uni guy, the mackerel guy.” Tsukiji dates back to 1935, after a massive earthquake in 1923 eventually forced the fish market to be relocated to the current location, next to the posh Ginza district. The rusty, old structures, some more than 80 years old, contrast starkly against neighbouring skyscrapers. 

From the end of World War II through the first Tokyo Olympics and up to the 1980s, when the country enjoyed its economic bubble, Tsukiji has been there, however the iconic market's moment is almost up. Japan's cultural landmark, the world's largest fish market, will soon relocate from its original location to a cleaned up facility in Toyosu. While this move has been decades in the making, owing to growth limitations in the current market area, the city has fast-tracked the relocation to revitalize the aging Tsukiji district for the 2020 Olympics. The vacancy makes way for a new train line, a public park space and ferry terminal, allowing future visitors more direct access to the games. Arriving for a private tour of Tsukiji on our second day in Tokyo, it was sheer luck that we were able to experience the market in its full glory before it closes in a few weeks. Fortunately, the equally fascinating wholesale outer market, comprising hundreds of food stalls, restaurants and shops, serving everything from kitchenware, dried seafood goods, Japanese knives, and sweets will stay put.

Cutting up fresh fish behind the scenes at the Tsukiji wholesale market

Prized red tuna trimmed and ready to be delivered to a chef across the city

Much of the auctioned fish gets cut up and packaged in styrofoam boxes for speedy delivery to chefs and hotels around the city with some still flash frozen for shipping overseas

Before the sun rises, fishermen have already delivered their catch to Tsukiji vendors who lay it on ice for customers to inspect

Fugu or Japanese pufferfish has been called the gastronomic equivalent of playing a game of Russian roulette, for cooked incorrectly it can be more poisonous than cyanide

Freshwater conger eel

Behind the scenes - washing down the tables and floors in the wholesale fish area
which is closed off to tourists until 11am but our guide Katsuo sneaked us in a good hour before

Katsuo, our well attired private guide in rubber boots to handle the slippery floors,
as he escorted us through the Tsukiji inner and outer market

Their day starts early, so by mid morning these fish vendors take a moment to enjoy a hot bowl of rice

The wholesale market becomes very quiet by mid morning, with vendors having already worked a full workday arriving at 4am 

Wet and slippery cobblestones of the Tsukiji fish market have been here for over 80 years, but not for too much longer, for the iconic market closes in October as it relocates out of town

High speed carts dash through the narrow lanes and passageways of the wholesale area, 
getting fresh fish to delivery trucks with no time to lose  -  freshness is paramount 

Scrubbing down the tables and packing up for the day 

The Tsukiji ice making machine which supplies ice to the wholesale market area

The inner sanctum of the wholesale fish market where tourists are only admitted after 11am and are limited to very small groups

Tallying up the accounts for the day

The wholesale warehouse with boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables 
ready to be picked up by the successful bidders

Wasabi root

Plump seasonal Pine mushrooms

Perfect Japanese grapes at about $25 a box

Japanese apple pears each lovingly wrapped for perfect shipping

Dried fish shop with decorative lanterns

Lineups start first thing in the morning at the most popular Tsukiji sushi restaurants, 
with some queuing for up to 4 hours to satisfy their uni cravings

Vendor selling fresh crabmeat served in warmed crab shells

Ceramic shops selling everything from sushi plates and rice bowls to sake cups and lacquerware

Aritsugu is the Tsukiji Market outpost of the Kyoto-based knife shop popular among chefs

Marinated mini octupus on a stick

Sushi restaurant in the Tsukiji Market neighbourhood where Katsuo took us for a fabulous sushi lunch

Green salad with dried Bonito flakes

Japanese tea

Sapporo beer

Chawanmushi, a savoury silky smooth steamed tofu custard with mushrooms and shrimp

Miso and wakame seaweed soup

Sushi lunch with uni, ikura, scallop, lean and fatty tuna, salmon, mackerel, unagi and tamago

Toro and tuna belly sushi roll