Cook-It-Yourself Monjayaki: How to Experience This Tokyo Dish

Monjayaki is a Tokyo-based Japanese dish that, despite being delicious and diverse, doesn’t seem to be as well-known as other foods such as sushi, ramen, tempura, and sashimi.

Maybe it’s because it doesn’t look as good as the others. To be fair, while it’s cooking, it looks like mush at best. Don’t let it deter you, though; the flavour makes up for it. There are plenty of monjayaki places in and around Tokyo. It’s the capital’s answer to the better-known okonomiyaki, a cabbage-based dish that came about in west Japan when there was a shortage of rice.

 

What can be intimidating about monjayaki is that you’re expected to cook it yourself. Sometimes, during quieter times in a restaurant, a waiter will do it for you, but this isn’t always guaranteed.

There are various monjayaki restaurants dotted around Tokyo and beyond, but a great place to try different kinds is Tsukishima’s Monja Street.

Step 1

The first thing you need to do is decide what kind of monja you’d like to eat. The dish consists of cabbage, various vegetables, and flour, but the possibilities for fillings are virtually endless. Here are some fillings you might find.

  • Pork
  • Mochi (small, chewy lumps of pounded rice)
  • Kimchi (spicy Korean cabbage)
  • Cheese
  • Garlic
  • Prawns
  • Spring onion
  • Corned beef
  • Curry (very weird, never tried it)
  • Ginger
  • Mentaiko (salted pollock roe; one of my favourites)

The types of available fillings depend on the restaurant, but pork, kimchi, and prawns wherever you go.

Step 2

The waiting staff will bring a bowl of raw ingredients to your teppan, or table with a hotplate. They should also switch the hotplate on for you. After spreading some oil onto the hotplate, mix all of the ingredients together in the bowl.

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Step 3

When it’s all mixed together, pour the ingredients onto the hotplate, leaving the liquid in the bowl. Make a sort of crater or circle in the middle like in the photo below.

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Step 4

Pour the liquid in the middle.

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Step 5

Let it bubble!

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Step 6

When it’s ready (a couple of minutes of bubbling until the ingredients are cooked), use a moji-bera, or small metal spatula provided, to scrape bits of the delicious mix onto your plate. From your plate, you can eat it with chopsticks.

This rich and flavoursome dish doesn’t look all that great, but it’s soooo good. One serving is about enough for one person, so if you’re sharing, be sure to order more than one. Most monja places also serve okonomiyaki, so an ideal meal for two is one serving of monja and one serving of okonomiyaki.

That’s how you cook your own monjayaki! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

10 Upcoming Sakura-Themed Goodies to Get You Hyped for Cherry Blossom Season

Is it that time of year already?!

The other day, I stumbled across a Starbucks sakura latte in a Family Mart convenience store. It’s just one of the many exciting sakura-themed treats we’ll be experiencing for the approaching cherry blossoms, the pink flowers that bloom for just a few weeks in early spring.

People go crazy for it; they lay out picnic sheets, prepare a huge amount of food and beer, and have a great time under the falling petals. It’s enormous fun and I’ll be sure to attend at least one of these events, “hanami” in Japanese, in March.

To celebrate, here are ten upcoming (and current) goodies that various companies release for one of Japan’s most beloved seasons.

1. The Starbucks Sakura Latte

Starbucks is as well loved here as it is anywhere, and the huge American coffee chain has wasted no time in releasing its strawberry jelly treat. Served hot or cold, it’s recommended you only buy this if you really like sweet drinks.

2. Lipton’s Sakura Milk Tea

Don’t like coffee? How about tea?! Lipton’s is releasing a brand new Sakura-infused milk tea to celebrate the upcoming blossoms. You can read more about this on SoraNews.

3. Sakura Kit Kats

Kit Kats may have hailed from the town of York in England, but Japan has made them great. Gaining traction in Japan for their name, which sounds like “kitto katsu” (I’ll surely win) in Japanese and thus giving schoolchildren a boost when they buy them in exam season, Kit Kats now come in an enormous amount of different flavors, ranging from green tea and pumpkin to strawberry and sake.

It’s no surprise, then, that Kit Kats are bought by the bucketful when sakura season rolls around.

4. The Limited-Edition Sakura Pie at Lotteria

Lotteria is a fast-food place mostly selling burgers, similar to McDonald’s. In 2017, they brought out a limited-edition sakura pie for just 180 yen (about $2 USD). It was really delicious, and fans of this sweet treat are praying for a re-release.

5. Sakuramochi

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Sakuramochi have been around for decades; mochi is the word for rice cake, and this seasonal treat is soft rice filled with red bean paste and wrapped in a salted sakura leaf. It’s insanely more-ish and you can find them in supermarkets all over the country come cherry blossom time.

6. Sakura Milk

Perfect for kids and those who aren’t keen on coffee, this snack-sized treat adds a cherry blossom twist to normal milkshakes. I’ll definitely be grabbing one next time I visit Kaldi Coffee.

7. McDonald’s Sakura Teriyaki Egg Burger

Not keen on sweets? You won’t miss out! Every spring, McDonald’s comes up with a range of sakura-themed treats, determined not to be missed out. They have a whole menu of sakura stuff: drinks, burgers, and even fries sprinkled with special cherry blossom salt.

I’m hoping for a return of the sakura teriyaki egg burger. It sounds so bad it has to be good.

8. Lindt’s Sakura Menu

Lindt has shops all over the place in Japan, the sales of their pricy but high-quality cacao-filled treats boosting in February and March anyway due to Valentine’s Day and White Day, respectively. They continue to sell well by introducing their sakura-themed menu, imitating other cafes with blossom-infused drinks and selling their own sakura macarons.

9. Eitaro’s Sakura Jelly

This sakura-themed jelly is a frequent yearly release by Eitaro that dessert-lovers should keep an eye out for. It’s 300 yen for one piece, making it slightly pricier than some others on this list, but a great treat for fans of sakura-infused foods.

10. Sakura Coca Cola

Yet another international brand jumps on the cherry blossom bandwagon! With other Japan-exclusive flavours such as peach cola, it’s not much of a surprise that sakura coke is a thing, too. The fizzy drink is already pretty sweet, so it remains to be seen whether the blossom infusion will improve it or not.

Seasons and related foods change fast, so grab these sakura goodies while you can! Before we know it, it’ll be summer and we’ll all be fainting under the humidity again.

How to Eat Japanese Shabu-Shabu at Home

Now that winter is on its way, hotpot dishes such as sukiyaki, nabe, and shabu-shabu are regaining their popularity in Japan. People love to visit shabu-shabu restaurants to chow down on meat and vegetables in various flavours of sauces, along with a beer or two.

What is Shabu-Shabu?

Shabu-shabu consists of one large bowl of some kind of soup. This can be soy-sauce based, spicy, or tomato flavour; some restaurants offer a wider variety or special bowls with two kinds of sauce inside. Shabu-shabu is typically a social meal and is usually enjoyed as a group of two or more people sharing the large bowl of soup.

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Diners order ingredients to put into the soup themselves. The meat is cut thinly so it only needs to be dipped (and then “shabu-shabu’d” or moved around inside the soup to quickly cook it), then mixed briefly into sauce and eaten.

Shabu-Shabu Restaurant Prices

Going to a shabu-shabu restaurant will easily set you back a couple of thousand yen, and more if you plan on having some drinks as well. Red meat, in particular, is expensive in the land of the rising sun and it’s not uncommon for the majority of your bill to be towards a plate of beef.

Some eateries offer special all-you-can-eat deals or special lunchtime prices, but even then you’re looking at a minimum of 2000-3000 yen per person.

Well, we recently decided to buy the ingredients ourselves, and not only did it come out much cheaper, but just as delicious as any shabu-shabu restaurant! Here are some tips on eating this yummy Japanese dish at home, including typical prices, what you’ll need, and how to prepare it.

The Ingredients and Equipment

The priciest part of eating shabu-shabu at home is the equipment. You’ll need a nabe bowl and a gas-powered cooker to go with it. You also need a canister of gas, which you can buy for a couple of hundred yen at most supermarkets.

*Hint for shopping in Japan: check your local supermarket for a point card! Some supermarket offer discounts for point card holders, and some shops such as Foodium give bonus points for not using plastic bags. If you’re living in Japan, make use of the free points system for rewards and benefits.

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Ingredients (for a large meal for 2-3 people):

  • 200g thinly sliced beef. Ideally it should say しゃぶしゃぶ (shabu-shabu) on the packaging
  • 200g thinly sliced pork
  • 1 spring onion
  • 1 carrot
  • Chinese shiitake mushrooms
  • Enoki mushrooms
  • Half a head of lettuce
  • Ponzu sauce
  • Momen dofu (tofu). There are two kinds, and this kind is much better for hotspot dishes.
  • 200g Shirataki konyaku noodles

You’ll also need:

  • One large pair of serving chopsticks
  • One regular sized pair of chopsticks for each person. A fork or spoon will work as well.

Directions:

  • Mix 550ml of the ponzu sauce and 550ml water in the nabe bowl.
  • Chop the vegetables and tofu up into bite-sized but chunky pieces and arrange them on a plate (or two plates if needed)

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  • Prepare smaller bowls of sauces of your choice. This can be the ponzu sauce (add water if needed as it’s a little salty). Another great choice is sesame-based dressing which goes very well with pork.

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Once you’ve got everything ready, you can start adding the ingredients to the soup. Some things, such as carrot and tofu, need a couple of minutes to boil. Other things like lettuce and meat don’t need much time.

Add a bit of everything, and then “shabu-shabu” the meat. Use the serving chopsticks to dip the meat inside and mix it in the liquid. You’ll see it cook in the boiling soup right before your eyes! After around thirty seconds (or when it looks done) you can take it out and add it to the sauce. Some people like to eat it piping hot straight away, and others prefer to wait a bit.

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Pork goes well with the sesame dressing and beef suits the ponzu sauce better. The vegetables are delicious with both. You’ll find that this healthy dish is surprisingly filling!

It’s really easy to enjoy shabu-shabu at home for a fraction of the price you’d pay in a restaurant. The ingredients, plus the gas canisters, cost less than 1,500 yen each (two people) including some drinks! I recommend that everyone living in Japan tries a home hotpot at least once. If you feel confident in making this yummy dish at your place, you can even invite people over for a shabu-shabu party.

Like lots of Japanese food, shabu-shabu is both healthy and delicious. Why not give it a try?

Traditional and Affordable Japanese Food in the Middle of Nowhere

A group of my students sometimes take me out for lunch. They’re a sweet bunch who love English and like to treat me sometimes. I’m very lucky for that.

Today we took a taxi somewhere in Kanagawa from Mizonokuchi, waited in an elevator, and suddenly came upon this traditional restaurant where the staff members wore kimonos and a scent of soy sauce based cooking filled the air.

We all ordered the special set lunch, which had several delicious courses including a dessert.

1. Sweet Cod, Egg, And Daikon Radish

This was yummy. The fish was sweet, boneless, and easy to eat. The daikon was crunchy and refreshing.

2. Sashimi

Next was maguro sashimi (raw fish) with some vegetables and soy sauce for dipping. As a huge fan of maguro (tuna), this was a great bonus! There was just enough to get your appetite going.

3. Tomato Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki is a special hotpot dish. It bubbled on its own mini stove while we are everything else. We took bits out to mix with the half-boiled egg. Sukiyaki isn’t usually served with tomatoes in it but it was delicious.

4. Chawan Mushi

Chawan mushi is sort of like soup but thicker. It has the consistency of soft boiled egg and inside I found a mushroom and a single soy bean!

5. Tempura

We also had tempura, which is deep fried vegetables and prawn. Tempura is a popular dish in Japan and this one, served with sauce and grated radish, did not disappoint.

6. Rice and Soup

There was also miso soup and “Mugi rice” with barley and bits of plum inside, making for a healthier option than just plain white rice. It was an excellent palette cleanser. At the back you can also see “tsukemono” or pickled vegetables.

7. “Azuki” Red Bean Dessert And Green Tea Served with Coffee

We chose coffee as an after-meal drink, and it was served at the same time as the green tea and dessert, which was unusual. As per many Japanese desserts, this sweet bean treat was very sweet so that the bitter taste of the green tea complements it.

I was very full and satisfied afterwards! Can you believe all this food cost just 2000 yen? If you go for dinner, the price will probably double, but going for lunch means you’ll get a real bargain.

(I’m going to check on the restaurant’s name). It’s about a ten-minute walk from Miyamaedaira Station on the Den en Toshi line, which is a bit of a trek if you’re staying in Tokyo. Going here was an inexpensive way to enjoy real Japanese food, so if you find yourself in Kanagawa, give it a try for lunch!

Delicious Monja-Yaki in the Heart of Asakusa

My boyfriend grew up in Asakusa, East Tokyo. Since it’s almost an hour away by train from our house in Meguro Ward, we don’t go there very often. When he was in high school, he’d climb over the fence and dash off to the local monja-yaki place, where he’s good friends with the owner. She’d let him sleep, smoke, and even drink beer there when he was fed up with school. She’s been like a cool aunt to him for years.

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We went to that restaurant together about two years ago when we first started going out. This time, I walked in and she grabbed my hand, saying “I remember you. Welcome back!” We also met one of Ken’s old friends and her two children, and ate delicious food (and got very drunk).

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So what is monja-yaki?

Monja-Yaki

Japan enthusiasts might have heard of okonomiyaki – the savoury pancake from Osaka that is a tasty and popular street food. Monja-yaki is Tokyo’s version: ingredients mixed together before they’re fried on a large grill. Okonomiyaki was also served here as well as other foodie bits. We started with sausages and cabbage, nom nom.

Monja works by mixing up all the ingredients in a bowl.

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I don’t know all of what was in there, but monja typically contains cabbage, meat, spring onions, beansprouts, and other things. Water, flour, and soy sauce are added so that you can pour it onto the plate.

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Put the ingredients in a circle then pour the watery part in the middle. It’ll all start to bubble and boil.

After that, you use a little scoopy thing to grab some, press it to the plate to cook it almost to burning, and shovel it into your mouth. It isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it’s absolutely packed with flavour. My mouth’s watering just remembering it.

We ate some other things, including the heavenly buta kimchi (pork and Korean spicy cabbage), some weird fish cakes, and scallops. I’d never had scallops before and put the whole, chewy thing in my mouth, which took about eight years to swallow. Won’t be trying that again.

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Food always seems to be better when made by an old dear who’s been doing it for years. The monja-yaki was mind-blowingly good and it was a lot of fun eating and drinking with good people in my favourite city.

The restaurant is super local; I didn’t see any tourists, and we had to walk through residential areas for ages before we reached it. The owner is awesome – would you believe that she is 82 years old?

If you visit Tokyo, do try monjayaki. It’s one of the city’s best dishes! You can often get both monja and okonomiyaki at the same restaurant, so try them both and see which you like the most. They’re both delicious and are both cooked in the same way, but are quite different.

Yakiniku (Korean Barbecue) in Japan

It’s the weekend, and a national holiday on Monday! I’m getting geared up to spend the next three days killing dragons, hunting monsters, and reading books. Not necessarily in that order.

We had yakiniku for dinner, which is the local word for Korean barbecue. You get a grill at your table and order stuff to put on the fire. The meat is all cut thinly so that it cooks after just a minute or so.

Restaurants usually offer a tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat) course, but you generally don’t need it. The tabehoudai was around 3,400 yen but they had a set for two people for just 2,500 yen and it was more than enough.

They also had nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) set, but you could only get it if you already ordered the tabehoudai. Therefore, we got just one bottle of sake and then ordered soft drinks to make our own mixed drinks. Forbidden? No. Cheeky? Maybe.

The set was ginormous, have a look. Please forgive the vertical shot though; I am not a clever man.

We also got a big bowl of rice, some sausages, and some kimchi, which is spicy Korean cabbage and one of my favourite foods ever. I remember going mental when I saw kimchi featured in an episode of QI.

It’s pretty much a meat lover’s dream. We had grilled kalbi beef and sausages and rice and kimchi and onion and carrot and pumpkin until we were full to burst. I also had juice with too much sake in and left the restaurant a little merry.

If you visit Japan, definitely be sure to try out “yakiniku.” It’s one of the best not-Japanese-but-kind-of-Japanese styles of eating you don’t want to miss 😀