Ojaga (Japanese Eatery), Shimokitazawa

The other day, I went with three former colleagues to this Izakaya (food serving pub) in Shibuya I recommend to anyone with a traveller's budget, called "Butchigiri Sakaba" where we ended up having quite a decent amount of food and LOTS of drinks (all drinks at ¥280). It's definitely nothing more than average food but if you're into drinking, you can't go wrong here. So after moderately orgying, how flabbergasted was I when we got the check: ¥6,500, that is not even ¥1,700 per person... I mean, where is this deflation in Japan going to? "How low can you go?" like Chuck D was saying...

Deflation (though tough for business) is good in that it keeps my wallet healthy, and for a big eater like me who writes a daily food blog, it can actually be quite crucial.

So in that saving state of mind, I decided the next day to visit this new eatery in the neighborhood which serves a dirt-cheap ¥500 lunch. Only problem: when I looked at the pictures on the menu outside the restaurant, it just did not look that appetizing. So instead of going for it, I opted at the last minute for a "more expensive" Japanese restaurant "Ojaga", as this whole walk had gotten me into a local cuisine mood.

Ojaga is a Teishokuya (restaurant serving fixed menus, usually comprising a main dish, a bowl of rice, a soup and one or two little side dishes) for lunch and an Izakaya in the evening. The lady in her seventies standing in the kitchen has been cooking typical meals for half a century (simmered potatoes and meat "Niku-Jaga", mixed deep-fried seafood "Mikkusu Furai" or Japanese croquettes "Korokke" and so on) so if you're looking for authentic lunch plates, this is definitely an option.

By the way, Ojaga is a cute and rather original way of talking about the "Jagaimo", the most common potato in Japan. It is interesting to point out that the term "Jagaimo" is the abbreviation of Jagatara-Imo (Jagatara potato), where Jagatara designates the Indonesian capital Jakarta from where Dutch galleons imported the vegetable at the end of the 16th century. It is furthermore worth noting that what is today a regular in Japanese diet used to be initially grown for ornamental purposes.

Sorry, this post is going all over the place today...so back to the food review: once again, since the restaurant's name is an obvious reference to the tuberous crop and probably also to their popular simmered potatoes recipe "Niku-Jaga", one might want to try it, but I rather went for one of my childhood favorite, potatoes and meat croquette "Korokke".

As you can see, the Teishoku set came with a quite big bowl of rice, an excellent and very pungent Miso soup which tasted like an Akadashi soup (made of regular "Mame-Miso" fermented bean paste and "Kome-Miso" fermented rice and bean paste; you will often come across this soup in Sushi restaurants), a tiny Yakko (fresh tofu with grated ginger and leek) and a rather insipid Asazuke (quickly marinated pickled vegetables). Given the amount of rice, you should be full when done with this affordable ¥895 lunch.

You also get two cups a person of coffee at the self-service above, so it's a deal overall. The coffee is definitely not what you'll get at "Bear Pond Expresso" so beware if you can't stand the typical "jus de chaussettes" (socks juice) they serve you everywhere in Japan.

The croquette was a good 10cm wide and 3cm thick, making for a densely flavored satisfying crunchy dish. The potato puree inside was sweet and combining very well with the tiny bits of ground beef and onion, and they managed to cook it almost creamy like. Definitely add some Sosu (Japanese style Worcestershire sauce) on top of the croquette, as it's a condiment that goes unbelievably well with the deep-fried breadcrumbs, and because the puree inside is quite low on salt.

Ojaga is open everyday from 11:30am to 23:00pm.
It's easy to find: take the North exit, go down the stairs, take a right, follow the street until you hit the end and it's on your right, on the second floor of a multi-tenant building.
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-35-15 2F
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Tsukimasa (Japanese Tea Room), Shimokitazawa

As it is said that drinking some tea which has been picked 88 days after the February 4th spring equinox will bring you longevity, green tea loving people tend to particularly flock to local tea retailers around beginning of May, when such green tea first harvest of the year (Shincha, or New Tea) arrives to the store. Click here for some more information on Shincha

I am neither the superstitious kind nor too concerned about living more than I should, but I love keeping with local tradition, so I went to "Tsukimasa" the other day, a green tea shop and cafe that has been in business since 1978. The place is famous in the neighborhood for being a haven of peace in the sometimes overwhelmingly bustling Shimokitazawa, so it was a little unfortunate to find out when we sat at our table that the rather cheap sound system was playing some weird and unfitting bossanova music. I would definitely have preferred this kind:

Despite the fact we initially went in for an attempt at living longer, we actually set our eyes on the beautifully green colored powdered tea "Matcha" jelly, served with a glass of cold Mugicha (Roasted barley tea) (set at ¥580).

The Matcha powder they use at Tsukimasa comes from the long-established tea retailer "Yamamasa-Koyamaen" in the region of Uji (Kyoto prefecture), and it makes for a wonderful jelly. The color of the dish is vivid and the fresh creme they add on top of it right before serving makes the "dessert" look like a nice piece of abstract art. As I said it in another post, after so many years in this country, I still keep being amazed by the aestheticism of Japanese cuisine.

Besides its aesthetic virtue, the fresh creme also works as smoothing the rather sweet jelly. And since the white liquid adheres well to its partner, it makes it easy to enjoy the combination. One interesting thing about this dish is that Tsukimasa manages to keep the powdery aspect of the Matcha, even in this jelly form. Try it: you will feel more and more powder in your mouth as you get to the bottom of the cup.

The glass of Mugicha was VERY good, with a very pungent roast flavor, almost tasting like a cup of iced coffee. I definitely recommend it.

Tsukimasa also has an array of Japanese teas which you can all try in the shop. Nothing is cheap here, but it's good. I just wish you have a different music when you visit the store.

They surprisingly have a smoking section at the end of the store, but they succeed in keeping the smoke-free section's air "clean" so no worries to you non-smokers.
They also sell all sort of teas, and tea-related crafts, like the pretty tea boxes at the top of the post, so if you need to do some of your last-minute shopping, that's an option.

Tsukimasa is open everyday from noon to 21:00pm Monday to Saturday, and 11:00am to 21:00pm on Sundays and National holidays
Setagaya-ku, Daizawa 5-28-16
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Ichiryu (Ramen), Shimokitazawa

After having spent more or less my entire life in Japan and slurped countless bowls of Ramen, I don't get carried away easily anymore over that dish. However, my encounter with the "Chuka Ramen" (Chinese Ramen) at "Ichiryu" has been one of these rare occasions when I got all excited.

As you can see, besides the topped Beni Shoga (thinly cut pickled ginger) , nothing seems extraordinary about this bowl, with the very usual Chasu (Chinese-style bbq pork), Menma (Japanese style Sungan), Moyashi (soy bean sprout) and Negi (leek) decorating the noodles.

The restaurant too is normal looking: the very reminiscent of Showa Era red long counter, the red round stools, the cheap metal Hashi (chopsticks) holders, the ever present condiments, the old analog TV towards the entrance. It's clean, neat, with the old man and his white worker hat cooking in his tiny kitchen while the lady takes care of all the service; really nothing outstanding in this typical old school noodles joint. Until you have a closer look at the soup...
And then, you can not but exclaim"Wow, the soup is gold!" And I'm talking about a beautiful gold, shiny and warm, which the pictures can unfortunately not translate. A gold color which I have never encountered in any of all those joints I have visited. Zipang, I found you!

OK, you heard me about the color...Now, how does it taste? Well, it tastes REALLY good, though a hint too salty maybe. It's a slightly thick Tonkotsu (pork bones), Torigara (chicken carcass) and shoyu mixed broth which you would happily down if you did not mind exploding your calories intake limit for the week. Oh, boy, what a guilty pleasure that would be!
For your information, the master learned this recipe from his brother, who in turn acquired it from a locally famous joint "Ichiriki" in the Fukui prefecture. Too bad Fukui is more famous for its numerous nuclear plants than its rather unknown noodles...

The four slices of Chashu are also worth the mention, slightly dry and fibrous at first but quickly dissolving in your mouth as you work on them. Like all the other toppings, they're very humble, rather low in salt but well done. A nice and harmonious team work between all the ingredients to give you the best possible Ramen experience.

The moyashi (sprout) could personally be a little less boiled in order to give you a hint more of crunchiness but as I told you, they're being low-profile so you can probably enjoy the pungent and dense broth to the fullest.

You will often find Beni-Shoga in a Kyushu Tonkotsu ramen, but I think it's quite rare in northern Japan recipes. It is after the golden soup, the next nice surprise appearance in this Ramen as it gives you that additional freshness and sourness that smoothes the broth in an amazingly very delicate way, not to mention the pleasant to the eyes color combination with the green chopped leeks.

Last but not the least, the squiggly noodles: medium firmness and diameter with a nice pale yellow color. They taste good and combine well with the soup when slurped on. One thing: go only for the Oomori large size (¥800) if you're hungry as the supersized bowl comes with quite a lot of these noodles.

Ichiryu is open everyday from 11:30am to 22:00pm
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-30-11
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Spice Kitchen Moona (Indian), Shimokitazawa

We visited five or six years ago this Indian restaurant that ended up not leaving any memorable impressions on us, if not that it was managed by what seemed to be people from the sub-continent. Without knowing that the restaurant's name and owners had changed in the meantime, I since kept on passing by the sign "Spice Kitchen Moona" thinking how bizarre such an average restaurant could stay alive in the fierce competition that face all the businesses in Shimokitazawa.

Looking on the internet for a place to have lunch the other day, how surprised was I to find out that not only the south-Indian cuisine restaurant "Spice Kitchen Moona" was getting rather glowing reviews, but that it was now managed by a Japanese family.

Loving Indian food, we quickly headed for the joint that is located on the top fifth floor of a multi-tenant building, the fourth floor being occupied by the famous musician Keiichi Sokabe's cafe-restaurant-record store "City Country City". The elevator stopping at the fourth floor, we got out and climbed the few remaining stairs to reach the colorful entrance.

Once in, we were first quite amazed at the view from the windows. It is no world heritage landscape for sure, but you don't often get to see the center of Shimokitazawa from such heights. The surrounding is crammed and rather ugly to be honest but it's got that metropolis "Enter The Void" feel to it that I like about busy Tokyo neighborhoods.
The second surprise came from that funny "Ghostbusters" rip-off notice on the table (with a Nan replacing the ghost) which says they don't serve "Nan" (Indian bread) but would rather have you eat their curries with Kaori-Mai (Jasmine rice or Thai fragrant rice). Typical of south-India cuisine where rice is staple food. They serve flat Indian bread "Roti" from 16:00 though.

There is only two lunch menus at noon, a one-curry set (¥980 if I remember well) and a three-curries set (¥1,100). We opted for the little expensive latter to sample a little bit of everything. Each set comes with a large plate of rice topped with what I think was Daikon (Japanese radish) and eggplant pickles and a little bit of non-sweetened home-made yoghurt (not in the picture)

I started by attacking the fish curry first. The fish seems to change time to time and the one we got on that day was one of my favorite "Sawara" (with the amusing English name "Japanese Spanish Mackerel"). Wow, it was cooked to perfection! Sawara can be the most tender fish if nicely prepared and boy they knew how to stew it! The curry was sweet tasting though quite chili hot, with an obvious coconut flavor, almost like a Thai curry. South Indian cuisine uses a lot of coconuts in its recipe, and "Spice Kitchen Moon" does the same. It definitely does wonders with that "Sawara" curry as it prevents the sauce from being too fishy. Good good stuff.

Fish Curry

I then plunged my spoon in the pale-colored vegetable chowder "Sambar", a traditional and typical south Indian dish. I know it is usually based on Toor Dal (pigeon pea), but I have NO idea whatsoever if they used it in their recipe, so feel free to ask if you visit this place.


I have to say I was not blown away by that dish. Not that it was bad, but just that it was rather dull. This may be due to the fact that I ate the hot fish curry first, so I would strongly recommend that you start with the Sambar first to really be able to taste it fully.
As crumbled as the vegetables were, I still managed to recognize some onions, green beans and probably potatoes in the broth. The fresh coriander leaves you see on the picture are a leitmotiv in this restaurant, so tell them beforehand if you don't like these, as you'll probably spot them on every single curries.

The curry I kept for last was the good "Chicken Curry" which tasted pretty much like the fish curry. Coconut flavored, spicy, hot and more soupy than pasty (Please remember to check out the Sag Mutton Curry at "Spicia" if you're into pasty curries). Just like the fish which was very nicely stewed, the chicken detached itself from the bone with no particular teeth effort, but still managed to offer some resistance and flavor when chewed to.

I can not end this post without a little comment on the delicately flavored long grain rice. I am unfortunately not gourmet enough to tell you whether there is a chance it might actually be an Indian Basmati rice (though they would probably mention it somewhere if it was), but the presumed to be Jasmine rice was just dry enough to go along very well with the overall quite soupy curries. And the Nan freak that I am did not long for the bread so I guess it says it all.

I am definitely going back to this place. The family running it seemed very friendly, the little expensive lunch was still way worth it and they have few inexpensive items in the menu that definitely got me VERY curious: "Chinese pepper seasoned tomato salad", "Mushroom and fig salad", "Rice-Duck pate with Roti", "Deep fried mutton Keema pie and cheese, stewed in tomato sauce", "Cold shrimp marinated in seven spices"...

Spice Kitchen Moona is closed on Mondays
11:45am to 15:00pm and 17:00pm to 23:00pm (L.O. 22:30pm) from Tuesday to Friday
Noon to 23:00pm (L.O. 22:30pm) on weekends and National Holidays

Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-12-13 5F
Click here for a MAP