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There’s a lot of great curry inside this machine, but one in particular is really something special.

Japan’s awesome vending machines have long been one of our favorite things about the country, but recently they’ve really been on a roll. Our recent visits to Sriracha and blind-buy whiskey vending machines already had us falling in love with mechanized commerce all over again, and then we found a vending machine selling all sorts of different types of instant curry!

We came across this wondrous machine by accident when we tried going to Curryland, a curry specialty shop in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood. Unfortunately, we rolled up on a Tuesday, which turns out to be the store’s regular day off. Shortly before our eyes filled with tears at the prospect of going home empty-handed, though, we spotted the curry vending machine just outside the entrance.

Taking a look inside, our eyes were greeted by a huge variety of regional curries incorporating local ingredients from Hokkaido, Hiroshima, Yamanashi, and several other prefectures.

We narrowed our options down to three types, and unable to pick just one, bought all of them to take back to SoraNews24 headquarters and taste test. All of them come in vacuum-sealed pouches, and before eating them you either boil the unopened pouch in a pot of water or pour the contents into a dish and heat them up in the …continue reading

    

Hero shot of Hinomaru Bento.

Hinomaru Bento is a bento that consists of just white rice and an umeboshi (pickled plum) in the middle. Around the time of WWII when there was a shortage of food, people ate such a simple food for lunch. But these days, Hinomaru Bento is served with several other dishes, like today’s bento recipe, Hinomaru Bento with Saikyo Yaki Fish.

One of my favourite main dishes for a bento box is Saikyo Yaki. Among all the different kinds of grilled fish dishes, Saikyo Yaki ranks in my top 3 of the main ingredients for a bento box, especially if the fish is black cod (sable fish).

I found frozen black cod cutlets sold at the fish shop close by. I was so excited to see them. Unfortunately, it turned out that the fish was black halibut. But for a piece of halibut, the flesh was quite oily and it was perfect for Saikyo Yaki.

Preparing to make today’s bento is not time consuming because 4 out of the 7 bento ingredients are pre-made. You just need to grill the fish and blanch the spinach (if you are not blanching it the previous night).

About Hinomaru Bento

The word ‘hinomaru‘ (日の丸) translates to circle of sun. But in Japanese, hinomaru means the national flag of Japan (because a red rising sun is in the centre of a white background). That’s why the bento that has a pickled plum in the centre of white rice is called Hinomaru Bento.

Hinomaru flag and Hinomaru bento.

Japanese flag (left) and Hinomaru Bento (right).

You could say that Hinomaru Bento is a patriotic bento due to the history behind it.

During the war, Japanese people were encouraged to live as minimalists, eating such a simple food …continue reading

    

‘Cause what better way to celebrate turning 50 than with some “noods”?

One wouldn’t normally associate the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo, a well-established luxury hotel (and first high-rise hotel in Japan!) in Tokyo’s Nishi-Shinjuku district, with the humble and cheap cup instant ramen brand Nissin Cup Noodle. However, this year they do have one very particular thing in common–each of them is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding in 1971.

To commemorate this milestone, Keio Plaza Hotel chefs and bartenders have (literally) cooked up an extensive menu featuring various flavors of Cup Noodles as the basis for each dish. In fact, the final selections gracing the menu were all winners from a friendly internal cooking competition. Whether you’re planning a short stay at the hotel or are living there for a month, be sure to check out this unusual rags-meets-riches fusion menu.

▼ They’re either mad geniuses or simply mad–we won’t know until we’ve tried it.

Each of the menu offerings falls under the general categories of Western, Japanese, or Chinese-inspired cuisine as well as buffet items and cocktails. Let’s take a look at the fare now in more detail.

● Western-style dishes: Lunch & Dinner 50th Anniversary Collaboration Course (4,500 yen [US$41])

This selection consists of an all-day-long dining course composed of the three dishes detailed below.

Chili tomato Cup Noodles petit chilled salad (3 types, 1,800 yen)

European cheese curry Cup Noodles pot pie soup (1,500 yen)

Smoked salmon and white fish stuffed with …continue reading

    

Will Toasty Guys satisfy our cravings for quality sauce and smoky flavours?

In Japan, you can find a lot of places that serve up overseas specialties like pizza and pancakes, and a lot of them are so good they impress foreign diners with their authenticity, even winning awards and Michelin Guide mentions.

Over the last few years, however, there’s been a growing interest in a particular foreign dish that was once almost impossible to find in Japan: pulled pork.

Earlier this year, for instance, Texas barbecue specialty store Dickey’s BBQ Pit opened up in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward, introducing meat lovers to smoky meals like pulled pork burgers.

Now, the pulled pork trend is reaching new heights with the opening of Toasty Guys, which is being touted as “Japan’s first pulled pork specialty store”. Located in hip and trendy Harajuku, Toasty Guys had its soft opening in December last year, and after being open for about half a year, it finally celebrated its official grand opening on 4 June.

▼ The shop’s exterior is cute and colourful, exuding a bright Harajuku-like atmosphere.

When Toasty Guys say they specialise in pulled pork, they aren’t joking — looking at the menu reveals a total of 18 different types of pulled pork sandwiches, along with Pulled Pork Taco Rice, Pulled Pork Yakisoba, and Trash Can Nachos, which comes served up in a bucket.

▼ You can also choose extra toppings like cheese, habanero, pineapple, bacon, coriander, avocado, and even more pulled pork.

When we visited, we ordered the Mozzarella Pulled Pork sandwich (1,090 yen [US$9.94]) and the Triple Vanilla Shake (720 yen), which comes …continue reading

    

Medical workers get to enjoy a hot Yoshinoya lunch without leaving their hospital.

The phrase “when pigs fly” refers to some sort of theoretically possible, but realistically unfeasible, future situation. But while pigs remain rooted to terra firma, this week beef bowls flew in Japan.

On Thursday, Yoshinoya completed a drone delivery of its flagship dish, the gyudon/beef bowl. The airlifted lunches flew through the skies of the city of Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture, Tokyo’s neighbor to the south.

▼ Video of the delivery

The drone’s 5.2-kilometer (3.2-mile) course took it over Yokosuka’s adjacent bay and an empty high school athletic field, carrying its cargo from a mobile-kitchen Yoshinoya food truck to the roof of Yokosuka City Hospital. While Yokosuka is a fairly developed city, the hospital is in a part of town with few nearby restaurants, and its cafeteria is operating at a reduced capacity during the pandemic. Delivery via drone, which took just 10 minutes, allowed medical staff who were craving Yoshinoya beef bowls to enjoy a hot, meaty meal with more freshly cooked flavor than what land-based delivery options allow.

The delivery was a joint effort between Yoshinoya, food delivery service Demae-can (whose smartphone ordering app hospital staff used to place their orders), drone design company Aeronext, and IT firm Access. While the companies didn’t mention the maximum payload of the drone, the video shows it transporting four beef bowls without any problems, not even minor spillage of their contents in flight.

▼ The system could also be useful in Yoshinoya’s disaster relief efforts, if victims in areas inaccessible by roads need food.

Yoshinoya isn’t …continue reading

    

We put these internationally lauded dumplings to the test.

Recently, our Japanese-language reporters Go Hatori and Takashi Harada have been taste-testing unusual gyoza from around the country, but little did they know that one of Japan’s most lauded dumplings was hiding right under their noses in Tokyo.

Recommended to them by a reader, these gyoza come from Maruyama Gyoza Seisakusho (Maruyama Gyoza Factory) in Suginami Ward’s Koenji, and they’re so good they’ve been listed in the 2021 Michelin Guide.

Needless to say, our gyoza-loving reporters were excited to try these dumplings, and they decided to really put them to the test by trying both their in-store and frozen versions, to see how well the cook-at-home gyoza stood up to the freshly made ones.

▼ So off to the Gyoza Factory they went.

They decided to order a gyoza set meal, comprising of 12 dumplings for 913 yen (US$8.34). Maruyama offers a choice of garlic gyoza or non-garlic gyoza, and our reporters opted for the recommended with-garlic variety. When the dumplings appeared, the first thing they noticed was their size, which were a little smaller than usual, but biting into them revealed they were tender and full of flavour, melting on the tongue with a hit of garlic that wasn’t too overpowering — the balance was just right.

▼ Now…how would the frozen dumplings fare against the freshly made ones?

The frozen gyoza can be ordered online and our reporters purchased a pack of 30 for 1,815 yen, with postage costing an additional 766 yen.

The dumplings that arrived were as small and bite-sized as Go and …continue reading

    

Yakult’s first foray into the sweets world proves Lactobacillus can be decadently delicious.

Ever since 1935, Yakult has been looking after the nation’s bellies with sweetened probiotic milk drinks, filled with over 10 billion Lactobacillus paracasei Shirota bacteria for maintaining good gut health in every tiny bottle.

Now, for the first time in the company’s 86-year history, Yakult is bringing out a number of dessert items for a limited time, available only at Imada Kitchen, a concept store inside Shibuya’s trendy 109 building that develops and sells “original food from Shibuya that has not yet appeared in the world“.

▼ Welcome to the world, Yakult Ice Cream Shop.

There are six items to choose from on the menu: Yakult Ice cream and Sherbet (450 yen [US$4.13] each), Yakult Soft Serve (450 yen), Yakult Parfait (600 yen), which comes in strawberry and caramel varieties, and the Ice de Yakult Shake (500 yen).

▼ The “Ice de Yakult” mini ice cream tub (bottom right) is exclusive to Tokyu Store supermarkets.

After staring at the menu for about three minutes, trying to decide which one to buy, we decided to opt for the Yakult Parfait Caramel. It didn’t take long for the treat to be made, and when we laid eyes on it, we weren’t disappointed.

▼ Behold the Yakult Parfait!

The small print on the label (circled) reads, “Lactobacillus paracasei Shirota bacteria”, to reassure us that this sweet dessert will be delivering a dose of good bacterias to our bellies.

▼ The cookie in the shape of a Yakult bottle …continue reading

    

Doughnut and matcha sets you can’t buy in stores.

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit Japan, companies have been rethinking their business strategies, with delivery services now becoming an essential part of daily affairs. Starbucks is one such company working to improve its delivery services, and by the end of June, the chain’s new “Starbucks Delivers” program will be expanded to more than 750 stores in 34 prefectures, before being rolled out nationwide by the end of September.

▼ Starbucks has partnered with Uber Eats and Wolt, a food delivery service from Finland, to deliver Starbucks products “to as many people as possible”.

To coincide with their mass expansion, Starbucks is now offering a couple of exclusive “delivery sets” only available to delivery customers. The first set is called Very Very Matcha, which is an apt name for what it contains:

・ Iced Matcha Tea Latte (tall size) or Matcha Cream Frappuccino (tall size)
・ Matcha cream bar
・ Matcha baumkuchen

Just looking at the contents of the Very Very Matcha has us reaching for our phones to make a delivery order, especially as the Iced Matcha Tea Latte was recently given an ace review by one of our own reporters.

▼ Next up is a treat for doughnut lovers called the Three Donuts Set.

This set of doughnuts will be delivered as a seasonal set, offering three different flavours according to what’s “in season” at Starbucks. Right now, the current set contains sugar, …continue reading

    

Everything tastes better when it’s a cube!

It’s certainly no secret that Japan is a country that loves to eat fish and in a variety of ways from sushi to soups to a nice grilled filet. But it might surprise some to learn that by and large people here don’t really go for the taste of the humble fish stick or “fish finger” if you will.

Heavily processed and battered white fish meat does exist in Japan, mainly as a cheap bento side dish and in the Filet-O-Fish at McDonald’s. That’s about the limit that it’s tolerated though, with supermarket freezer sections only offering a smattering of frozen processed fish meat.

▼ KFC also flirted with Kentucky Fried Fish, but it never stuck around

Photo ©SoraNews24

It’s not terribly clear why this is. Some might say it’s a general awareness of food quality that causes people in Japan to stay away from conglomerated meats from unclear origins. However, chicken nuggets are everywhere despite being made in a very similar manner, so people here clearly aren’t that averse to highly processed foods.

▼ Heck, we even found fish meat that had been processed into a pepperoni pizza, now that’s processing!

Photo ©SoraNews24

More likely it’s just a conception of what fish “should” be in the minds of Japanese diners. To draw comparisons, it might be like how a lover of pork ribs might flinch at the concept of Spam. Or more universally, fish sticks to Japanese people might be seen the same way that anyone would view eating processed broccoli sticks coated in bread. That probably wouldn’t taste so bad, but most people’s initial reaction to it …continue reading

    

A Beatle and a Nobel Prize-winning writer is just the start of what makes Iwata Coffee Shop so famous.

About an hour’s train ride south of Tokyo, you’ll find the beautiful seaside city of Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture. Best known for its beaches, and its 13-metre (42.6-foot) high bronze Great Buddha, the city also has a vibrant cafe culture, with a number of long-standing, old-fashioned coffee houses dotted around the area.

One of the most famous coffee shops you’ll find here is Iwata Coffee Shop, which is said to be Kamakura’s oldest coffee house, with a history that dates back to 1948. Over the years, Iwata has served a number of well-known customers, including John Lennon from The Beatles and Nobel prize-winning writer Yasunari Kawabata.

That’s not all the coffee house is famous for, however, as they serve up thick, two-tiered pancakes so good they’ve made the cafe a bucket-list destination for sweets fans around the country. We’d had this place on our own bucket-list for a while now, so when we finally got to pay them a visit recently, we immediately placed an order for their pancakes, along with a coffee, as soon as we were seated at a table.

▼ The interior retains a cosy, retro feel, and even has the register used from 1957-2018 on display, which would’ve been used when Lennon visited with his wife, Yoko Ono.

Sitting on a spacious leather sofa seat, we looked around and saw that the most popular seats, at the window facing the leafy courtyard at the back, were all filled with happy diners. And despite the retro furnishings and light fittings, the place had a clean, modern feel to it, …continue reading