monjayaki
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Eating Tokyo: Monjayaki on Monja Street, Nishinaka Dori, Tsukishima

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Nishinaka Dori in Tsukishima, also called Monja Street

Let’s talk about monjayaki.

What is it? It is often compared to okonomiyaki, I thought this too the first time that I had it in Tokyo 6 years ago, but it quickly became clear as it was cooked that it was a different beast.

Monjayaki, I was told, translates as snack cooking, and okonomiyaki, favourite style of cooking. Japanese readers, please feel free to correct if I am wrong. I tried to make myself understood but the language barrier can be brutal.

They are separated by geography too. Monjayaki comes from the Kantō region (greater Tokyo and around it) and okonomiyaki from Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka etc.). That is not to to say that okonomiyaki from Kyoto or Osaka are the same, they have their own styles, which can be very different (Hiroshima is most famous for okonomiyaki incidentally, but I didn’t get there on this trip).

The centre of monjayaki activity in Tokyo is Tsukishima. There is one particular street, Nishinaka Dori, with 75 monjayaki restaurants on it and the alleys off of it. There is even a Monjayaki Information Office on this street established by local restaurateurs.

Monjayaki started out as a snack that kids primarily would have. It is a lot wetter than okonomayaki and cooks very flat, and only on one side on a teppan grill, whereas okonomiyaki is drier, firmer and thicker. The ingredients also differ.

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After a very clumsy conversation at the Monjayaki Infortmation Office (clumsy on my part, they were very helpful), I wandered down Nishinaka Dori looking for one of the 75 that would grab me. It was impossible to choose. As I walked a lady from the office gestured that I should go into one that turned out to be hers, and her daughter spoke English. Result.

IMG_9604 Inside were several teppan tables and a bunch of Japanese school girls in for a snack after school. There were many choices, but I chose the traditional mentaiko mochi monjayaki, with primary ingredients of mentaiko (cod roe), mochi (bouncy rice cakes) with flour (a very light powdery flour), dashi (a stock made with bonito & kombu), worcester sauce, cabbage, noodles and agedama (bits of tempura batter).

IMG_9628 All of the ingredients are presented to you in a bowl, and the mentaiko, mochi, cabbage, noodles etc are poured onto the oiled hot teppan. They are fried for a couple of minutes, and then formed into a circle with a large hole in the middle. The wet portion is poured in here, and stirred about to cook it, before the other ingredients are drawn in. Everything is very well mixed in at this point and small bits of mentaiko mingle with the mochi etc.

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IMG_9685 IMG_9690 The monjayaki is allowed to cook for a bit, only on one side which crisps and caramelises beautifully. At this point, you really should get some cheese (you order it with your monjayaki). I added mine about half way through as I wanted to try it with and without. A generous amount of a simple melting cheese is scattered on top, and allowed to melt into it. It is finished with  rich dark brown monjayaki sauce and some seaweed, toasted and fine.

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The result? Heaven. A large kinda pancake with lovely savoury bits of cod roe, bouncy bites of mochi and other bits, all crisp and caramelised underneath with lots of melted cheese on top.

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Now, what can be wrong with that? Nothing. It is a comforting and rich slice of Tokyo life.

You eat it with a little spatula, leaving it on the teppan (which is turned off but still warm).

Happy monjayaki cooks, mother and daughter

Happy monjayaki cooks, mother and daughter

(I have a card from the restaurant somewhere but am struggling to locate it, I will do my best to find the name for you).

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A Postcard from Tokyo

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Shinjuku, Tokyo

And now on to the final leg of my Japan trip, Tokyo. It makes me sad to type that.

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Tokyo

I still manage to get lost near constantly. That is part of the Japan experience though. One restaurant that I really liked and that I want to recommend is down one of many tiny winding side alleys off a street. I asked for the street name and got the reply “there isn’t any!”.

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Sushi sweets in a sweet shop in Asakusa, Tokyo

So, that is one of the challenges.

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Kitchenware in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Tiny branding irons in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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HAI!

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Bright kettls, in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Plastic food shop in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Plastic beer is a lot more expensive than an actual beer, in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Plastic yakatori, in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Plastic meals and levitating forks, inKappabashi, Tokyo

Kappabashi is a must visit for passionate cooks, shops full of kitchenware line the streets and excellent knife shops. There are even a few shops that sell the plastic food you see in all restaurants here detailing the menu.

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Things you might need for your restaurant, in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Cutters in Kappbashi, Tokyo

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Knife engraving, inKappabashi, Tokyo

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Gorgeous Japanese knives in Kappabashi, Tokyo

I have been moving around and staying in different parts to get a feel for the city. Starting with Shinjuku: buzzy, blurry, bright and intense, this was where Lost in Translation was set. It is enormous and there is so much there including Omoide Yokocho, a network of small narrow alleys groaning with yakitori bars, it is also known as “Piss Alley”.

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Yakitori in Shinjuku, Tokyo

Tucked in the middle of Omoide Yokocho is a noodle bar on a corner that serves soba and udon. Everytime I pass it, it is packed. One lunchtime, I joined the queue with the salary men and ordered tempura udon, which I immediately regretted when I noticed everyone around me had soba. Nonetheless, it was very good, with a big cake of shrimp and vegetable tempura on top and an onsen tamago (slow cooked egg), it came to about £2.50. Tokyo can also be really bargainous.

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Shinjuku noodle bar

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Tempura udon with onsen tamago, in Shinjuku, Tokyo

The rest of my time here has been filled with seeking the best ramen, exploring the high end a little, finding tempura, monjayaki, tonkatsu, yakitori, gyoza and digging out where I had my first tempura meal here 6 years ago. I tried some Japanese merlot (which was very good).

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Ingredients for mentaiko mochi monjayaki

The train stations are underground warrens of food shops. Calbee, the local crisp company, has started making fresh crisps under Tokyo station and serving them with hot chocolate sauce and ice cream. Actually really good. I have always loved matcha desserts but have really fallen head over heels this time. I am trying to stop myself buying this extraordinary chocolate matcha cake until I meet my friend and can share it with her.

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Fresh crisps with hot chocolate sauce, at Tokyo station

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Matcha chocolate cake

Lots of eating, and I will post more details on all of that soon.

For now, my postcard.

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