I finally had time to visit the Cafe 1894 with my camera the other day. It might not be the most modern or finest dining in Tokyo but I am in love with the classic interiors of this place. The restaurant is on the corner of the Mitsubishi Ichigokan in Marunouchi’s classic “Little London” district, named so after the first English style brick buildings being put up here at the end of the 19th century. The present building is near perfect replica of the original building that was torn down in the 1960s and only rebuilt a few years ago. Originally a bank, the high ceiling and pillars make for one luxurious lunch or dining experience! Oh I almost forgot – the food was great too.
One of the many famous Japanese dishes that might not have made it abroad yet is the okonomiyaki, a dish whose name translates roughly as “cook it as you like it”. It is basically batter, vegetabels, eggs and anything you like to put on it, mixed and fried as a huge pancake on a hotplate or in a frying pan. The most classic okonomiyaki is the style championed in Osaka and western Japan but there is one big local contender up there: the Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki. The main differences is the that they fry up a pancake first, then add noodles. In Hiroshima they are also very particular about their sauce, and the most well known classic Hiroshima style sauce is the one made by Mitsuwa Foods.
The Okonomimura is a premier tourist location in Hiroshima visited by almost everyone that comes to Hiroshima. It is a four story building crammed with okonomiyaki restaurants, most seating only between 6-15 people. The origin of the building dedicated to okonomiyaki can be traced back to a street of food vendors that put up their stalls there in 1950, only five years after the atomic bomb blast. It is not very far from the epicenter either. In 1967 the street vendors were moved into a building on the initiative of okonomiyaki entrepenur Mr. Yoshida. The present building dates back to 1992 but it already looks much older.
There are 27 restaurants to chose from inside, and I picked the Kaeruttei (かえるっ亭) on the 4th floor. The name means Frog Palace and the owner explained to me that he was stumped for a good name when he was opening the shop many years ago. In his home he had a large frog statue that he was planning to move to the restaurant and someone suggested they name it after that. The frog statue can still be seen in the shop. The word for frog in Japanese, Kaeru, is also the same as the word “to return”, which in this case might be good for business. I certainly will return the next time I visit Hiroshima!
If you plan on following the the sakura season (the cherry blossoms) as it progresses northwards you are probably thinking about visiting Kakunodate in Akita prefecture, one of the most famous cherry blossom viewing spots in the north of Japan. Kakunodate is famous for its hanami, or cherry blossom viewing along their beautiful river, but they are also famous for their cheap and delicious sakura ice cream ladies, skillfully creating sweets in the shape of flowers in front of the customer. I don’t remember the price but it was very cheap. Kakunodate is easily reached by the shinkansen train, and very popular with both foreign and Japanese tourists. Enjoy!
If you are in Tokyo over the weekend I recommend a visit to the Kuozei, food fair in Hibiya Park. Over 100 booths representing 25 prefectures in Japan showing traditional as well as new food specialities. The biggest participant is Hokkaido, with the majority of booths, crabs, steaks and ramen and much more. The food fair goes on from 10 to 18 today and tomorrow.
One of my favorites was the Unagiimo booth from Shizuoka Prefecture, which was new to me, combining unagipie and sweet potato. The cakes and the pudding was great and I loved their character, Unamo, half eel, half potato. The unagiimo is potatos grown using the fertilizer made from left overs from the massive eel as food processing industry in Shizuoka prefecture. Rather than throwing it away, the left overs are recycled in the potato fields. A worthwhile project, a cute character and some very nice desserts – what is not to like?