Full details here
We headed down to Ikebukuro this week to try out a shop with a great reputation in the area: A-Raj. The shop, once on the main road and now only a short walk on the backstreet behind it, offers a great selection of curries, and is well-known as much for its variety of superb southern Indian dishes as it is for its affable, talkative owner Mr. Almita Raj. On visiting A-Raj, you will see him in the kitchen, toiling away to produce a wonderful array of dishes, with items on the lunch menu rotated on a daily basis. With such a hands-on approach, it is easy to understand how Mr. Raj's culinary passion draws people from far and wide and why queues often form outside the shop.
Chris and I went there for lunch, ordering the meat and vegetarian Thali ‘meals’, respectively. In the meat meals alone, there were four curries: Chicken, Saag Mutton, Mutton Keema, and Vegetable Curry, then added to that was Cabbage Kootu, Lady Finger Pula Kuzhambu, Coconut Burfi, rice, puri, papad, and achar. There were no refills as there are at other places around Tokyo that do the lunchtime Thali sets, and there was no need. We were both stuffed by the end, but agreed not uncomfortably so, which is often the reaction we get after eating southern Indian food with its delicate balance of light ingredients and certainly not the kind of stuffed feeling you get after an assault of all-you-can-eat naan and rice. We got speaking to Mr. Raj and ended up staying for an hour longer than planned – it’s great to speak to someone who shares a passion for the same food, but even better when that person is full of knowledge of not just the food as it is now but the origins and culture behind it.
All-in-all, a thoroughly good lunch and we will be going back for dinner sometime very soon as there are so many more delicious-sounding curry dishes and tiffins to explore at A-Raj. Will have to time it right, though. Don't imagine our sanity lasting very long if we have to endure standing in line with a rabid crowd of customers as enthused as we are about southern Indian food.
Full details here
It’s always nice when you hit the culinary jackpot in unexpected places. This was the case on Friday night when I was introduced to a relatively new restaurant just a short walk from Chiba station: Bengal Tiger. As is generally agreed, curry should be a shared experience, and heading down there with a few people really helped as there were so many great-sounding options on the menu, and travelling in numbers meant we could go for several of them. Luckily, one of the people in the party was very familiar with the menu, so we were able to just sit back and wait for the magic to start. First, we went for a couple of starters, which included Tandoori Chicken and Bengal Tiger Chicken Kebab. As the restaurant specializes in Indian, Singaporean, and south-east Asian cuisine, we also went for the highly-recommended and spicy Green Papaya Salad. Our experienced party member recommended a few items off the list, and I went for Chicken Sag, with the other guests going for Bengal Tiger Butter Chicken and Yogurt Chicken. On top of this, I ordered Egg & Onion Paratha, rice (they only serve basmati), and a few beers.
First out was the Papaya Salad (shrimp variety), which came with a decorative, edible flower. If you are into your spicy salads, this comes highly recommended. It was the dish that packed the most punch out of all of them on the night! The shrimp were fresh and the vegetables crisp and crunchy, and the zest from the juice lifted all the ingredients and performed a merry dance in the mouth.
Next came the Tandoori and Kebab. The fresh meat of the Tandoori was bathed in just the right amount of marinade, and the ornamental design of both dishes tempted you to not destroy the aesthetic, but that didn't last long. The chunks of Tandoori were up there with the best I’ve had since starting this blog, and I slightly neglected the kebab in favour of doubling down on the delicately cooked, peppery meat.
After this came the mains. Well, I can say this, I have neither had better looking or tasting curry in Chiba. The Sag was immense, the thick sauce deep and complex, which was complemented superbly with both beetroot-dyed onion and crispy shards of fried onion. Mixed together with the fantastically light paratha, the egg and onion offering their own little surprises, this was a dish to die for. If I could pick any fault with it, it was a little milder than I wanted, as I’d requested it to be extra-hot, but I was reassured after that I could go a lot hotter on my next visit, which will, I guarantee, be very soon.
All-in-all a very satisfying meal, and with the service being fantastic too, well worth the trip down if you are from Tokyo or beyond. The other dishes were all up there with the Sag, but I will leave it there for now so that anyone curry-hunting down this way can find out for themselves. There is something growling in the bushes in Sen City, but this one requires you to do the biting.
I finally made it out this afternoon to a store at the heart of Tokyo that has been on my list of top places to visit ever since it opened a few months ago: Nandhini, Toranomon. After trying their sister store in Kiyosumi Shirakawa a couple of times, I was fairly sure they would come up with the goods, so I headed down there with my family in tow, which included a fussy 5-year old whose preference for butter chicken had me wondering if I’d be better off trying the place by myself another time.
We arrived at lunchtime and it was fairly quiet, though the single floor staff member became increasingly run off his feet as the place started to fill up, including a group of 10. The menu was packed with so many wonderful-sounding choices that it was tough to decide – do I go for the Kerala set, Nandhini set, Three-curry set, Dosa set, or “Meals” set? Each had an array of mouthwatering options, but I eventually went for the Non-veg version of Meals simply for the fact that sambar and rasam were on repeat and a second portion of basmati was only ¥100 extra. On top of that, there were two other curries (chicken and veg), a marinated chicken dish, papad, puri, acha, yogurt, and desert. The meals came out reasonably quickly considering it appeared that the only other staff member was a single kitchen staff.
I went to work on the dry chicken and curries first, which provided a decent fill of soft cut meat and vegetables. Then I went for the sambar and rasam, mixing it up with mounds of basmati. The curries were bursting with flavor, and I very quickly got into shoveling mode, my mind being taken over by the combination of spices and complexities of the tadka. My only compliant would be that the papad was soft and the puri wasn’t puffed up and lively like they usually are – I suspected that the kitchen had prepared these in advance, anticipating the lunch rush – but it didn’t distract too much from the overall flavor explosion. After my katoris were emptied, I went for more rasam and sambar, and got more basmati in, kindly sharing some of it with my dining partners. Sharing is caring.
All in all a great lunch at Nandhini, and I will be heading there again soon, and probably in the evening as I want to take advantage of their nice outside seating deck and the wide-ranging menu. Also, the bill was under ¥2,000, and that included the lunch drink option, so I’ll be back there for lunch again, and will be opting for their dosa if I can resist one of the other options. Doubt I’ll be taking my son again, though. He didn’t finish his, so I obliged for him – even though I was ready to burst, can’t let a good curry go to waste. The restaurant is a decent size, so I would recommend it for large groups or families, but the restaurant might need to rethink its staff distribution at lunch if the popularity of the place really starts to take off.
Courtesy of Jen Reviews: https://www.jenreviews.com/chicken-marsala-recipe/
Course: Main Course
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
By Phall NaanD
I made it over to Kinshicho the other day to try out Venus South Indian Dining once again. It’s the second time I’ve been there for lunch, and as it is buffet style, I made sure I went there with a decent appetite. For their lunch deal, they serve four different types of curry each day. That day, they had on offer Chicken Bhindi Masala, Niboshi Potato Kolambu, Palak Kootu, and Daikon Lubia Masala. I arrived just after the lunchtime rush but the place was still doing good business. I found a table near the window – Venus’s 1F location provides a bright atmosphere from its décor of light brown wood, white walls, all which are further illuminated by the large windows looking out onto the street.
As soon as I was seated I was encouraged to help myself to the curries, which sat in heated trays near the open kitchen at the back of the shop. After filling four katoris up to the brim, I added salad and rice (unfortunately not basmati, but you can’t have everything), and asked for bread options. For this you have to request it from the chef, whose jolly countenance made the only option being naan easier to bear. The good thing about this ordering method is that the naan comes piping hot – some buffets just have it out on trays so when you get it it has cooled and gone hard, making it even less palatable.
So, with my katoris overflowing, I got stuck in. The Chicken Bhindi Masala was the highlight, even though it had a fair bit of chicken skin and not much in the way of chicken chunks left in the serving tray. Even more surprising was that it is essentially chicken and okra, which is the last thing I would order if given the choice, as the texture and bitterness of okra just puts me off entirely. The fact that it was cooked in masala, though, really brought a nice balance of flavours through, and had me going back for more. The Daikon Lubia Masala had a similarly nice balance to it, but I’m not fan of daikon, preferring potato any day. The Niboshi Potato Kolambu had a nice kick and was simple but effective and the Palak Kootu was bursting with a nice combination of vegetables, all complementing each other and creating a thickness in the sauce.
All in all, a great lunchtime feast, and coming in at a mere 1,000 yen, also a great deal. There are a few options around the Kinshicho area, but Venus is definitely high on the list of places if you want a tasty southern Indian experience. Just wish they would go the extra mile with basmati like you get in the Andhra chain and Dhaba etc. That would need people actually requesting it in there in the first place. I’ll try to get the ball rolling the next time I go, which will be very soon.
By Phall NaanD
There's plenty of choice for Indian curry in the Ueno/Okachimachi area but the go-to place for me is Andhra Kitchen, which, maybe unsurprisingly, is the go-to place for many people in the area, and especially as it caters for the lunchtime rush from the numerous businesses around there. Despite this, I decided to chance my arm. As soon as I turned the corner of the small backstreet which leads to the shop, however, I knew that it was going to be a long wait to get into this limited-seat shop – several people were already lined up on the stairs and out into the street. After getting over the pang of disappointment, I decided to go for Plan B: Vege Herb Saga. VHS is a mere three minutes walk from Andhra, and just on the opposite side of the railway tracks. Being a totally vegetarian place, it's not the sort of restaurant that often entices me, but I had the urge for curry and it seemed like a pretty decent alternative.
VHS offered a few choices on their lunch menu, but I went for the four-curry set with naan (they didn't offer any alternative breads). With Andhra, you get a similar though slightly more expensive deal, but the options are a lot more appealing. For just under ¥2,000 you can get three curries, sambar, rasam, acha, poriyal, papad, chapati, drink and sweet, and basmati rice, with the rice, sambar and rasam on repeat. At VHS, the thali, coming in at ¥1,350, came with choices from the above (I went for 2, 3, 5 & 6), but only with a choice of naan or rice. As this was the case, I ordered rice as well on the side, which confused the waiter, who probably doesn't get requests like that very often (it's very much one or the other there), bringing the total to ¥1,500.
The curries were delicious, thankfully, so I didn't feel like I was getting a bad deal, though the rasam was very thin, making me relieved that I had ordered rice, too – there's not much point dipping your naan in it. All in all a satisfying lunch, and definitely a good option if you can't get into Andhra around that time. Chris P went to VHS for dinner a while back and had an absolute feast so I suppose that is their strong point. Undeterred, I will certainly be heading back there for more.
By Phall NaanD
I headed to Meguro with a friend the other day to experience pretty much, being British, the closest thing to heaven in Tokyo: An Indian restaurant that serves Northern Indian (Punjabi) cuisine, next door to a British-style pub. We got there around 7pm and decided to do the pub first. After some delicious pints, we were ready to indulge ourselves in a full-on feast. We were the only customers there so we got seated and served right away.
Not ones to rest on our laurels, we went straight for some more beer and some papad. The papad arrived with a complementary mint sauce, which went down perfectly. Great start. Following this we went for samosa and some chicken tikka, and while ordering that we chose the curries; my friend opted for Chicken Tikka Masala and for me Rasoi’s Butter Chicken – I’m not usually a fan as too many versions of Butter Chicken are generic, mild and uninteresting but thought I’d put the chefs to the test. To go with the curries, we ordered chicken biryani, kulcha, and a separate plate of basmati rice.
The samosas came out with some red chili sauce (so much better than the standard tomato ketchup it usually comes with), followed shortly by the chicken tikka, and served with more mint sauce. The samosa crust was thick and stuffed with a delicious assortment of spicy vegetables and nuts. The chicken tikka, served with a dry cabbage relish and a cut of lemon, was soft, smoky and succulent and went down a treat with a few spoons of mint sauce. Then the curries came. Both dishes were packed with ingredients in thick sauces, and both offered a considerable kick – even the butter chicken, which in most cases is very mild. My friend went as far as saying it was the best that he'd eaten, and not even just in Japan. The biryani and the hot and puffy kulcha were perfect in the mix, and we both went to town, showing our appreciation by sharing the occasional satisfied grunt.
We finished with a couple more beers and had a chat with the gracious and attentive waiting staff, my friend stating this was now in his new top two Indian restaurants in Tokyo. All in all, a great meal and experience. I expect many foreigners, from my neck of the woods in particular, heading to Japan for the Rugby World Cup or Olympics will find Rasoi and the pub next to it a perfect combination if the longing for a taste of home kicks in. It’s going to be a busy few weeks for both places. They certainly offer the goods, so very well deserved indeed.
Restaurant details here
By Phall NaanD
JIMC was treated to a surprising early-evening feast last week: a curry experience without a portion of conventional curry in sight! Our port of call was a first time visit to a great little restaurant in the area of Edogawa. The restaurant, Mezbaan, is a stone’s throw from Funabori station on the Toei Subway Shinjuku Line, and just a short distance by car from Kasai, the home of curry on the east side of Tokyo.
It often happens on first visits to places that we are bombarded with an array of choices on the menu and we end up getting stuck for some time on all the goodies on offer. This time we were very much in luck: our good friend and curry mentor, Anil Raj, owner and proprietor of the Nirvanam chain, was joining us to help us through the tantalizing treats that lay in store. Anil has teamed up with the owner of Mezbaan and they are bringing a whole range of rare Indian delicacies to the general public’s attention, many of which you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Tokyo.
We started with a dish from the special menu: Thayir Vada (also known as Dahi Vada in North India with a slightly different flavour). Anil explained that this southern Indian snack of vada in delicious yogurt sauce is a favourite in the Thamil Nadu region. As well as the surprise from opposing textures in the dish, the subtle flavoring of ginger and coriander gives a wonderfully effervescent contrast to the refreshing yogurt. Now, as budding food critics, it might have been a good idea to just take a couple of bites of this, but neither of us could resist. Down went one spoonful after next, and we were left scraping the bowls in simultaneous appreciation.
Next up we enjoyed another traditional Tamil-Indian breakfast consisting of Venn Pongal – a boiled rice dish, with cashew nuts and dal, prepared with clarified butter – and Medu Vada, which were served along with two separate dips of coconut chutney and a sambar. We definitely got the sense that this was something to be served at breakfast as it had a light and delicate feel to it, and it set us up perfectly for the next offering.
Following this came some wonderfully crunchy Papri Chaat that, unlike the other specialty dishes we had just experienced, is always on the menu. This was followed very shortly by a very interesting take on paratha: Kuthu Paratha, which is paratha with egg and chicken smashed and pummeled, all within the cooking process rather than in the preparation stages. Anil encouraged us to eat the Chaat and the Kuthu in alternate spoonsfuls for full effect, so we did, and he was spot on. The crunchy Chaat perfectly complemented the soft deep flavours of the bashed paratha dish, with the sweet of one mingling perfectly with the spice of the other. Anil mentioned that this dish is usually served in restaurants with flamboyant presentation, with lots of noise and performance, though he hasn’t seen it anywhere else in Tokyo. It was a real specialty dish, and it was quite honestly the least paratha-looking paratha we’ve ever eaten, but was a real highlight of the meal.
Next up a great little prawn-based dish: Prawn Varuval. This was almost like a Chinese stir-fry, but is another traditional Indian dish. This concoction came with a real punch of explosive flavor, with lots of heat and a contrasting coconut sweetness, and the overall taste, full of peanut richness, evoked Thai and Vietnamese food. We were getting pretty stuffed at this stage, but we were on a roll and the next thing coming out was Rava Dosa. I think originally Anil had asked for one to come to the table but the waiter misheard and brought out two, so the only decent thing was to go for it. The flat and crispy semolina dosa was just as it always is: simple and awesome, with the coconut chutney and sambar dips sealing the deal.
We still had room for one more order and Anil said we could have anything we liked. So I came up with the idea of ordering the Chicken Dum Biryani. This biryani had been prepared earlier in the day and had been soaking in its juices, softening up and waiting for some proper appreciation. We obliged. It came in a white serving pot and was as beautiful as it was aromatic. We had really had our fill by now, but I went for it, feasting on the soft and succulent chicken and deep-flavoured, dry basmati rice. While I was at it I popped some sambar on top, which prompted Anil to say that I may be the first person he’s seen combine the two, as it was pretty much unheard of, because the mixing of the two flavours throws the palette into confusion. I just couldn’t help myself but to chuck whatever sauce was available on my rice – old instincts die hard!
Mezbaan was an absolute treat. We will be going back for more – that’s a given. We are adding to our knowledge every time we eat out it seems, and especially when we go southern Indian. With so many great southern Indian places around in Tokyo now, you really can’t go wrong. And if you’re tempted to top your biryani with sambar, just go ahead, though you may get a few raised eyebrows from the staff and a telling off from your taste buds.
Restaurant details: here
One of Tokyo's most well-loved chains of Indian restaurants has just added another branch to their ever-expanding list of eateries. Mumbai, a JIMC favourite, will be opening their new branch on the 7th of July, and if their other flagship shops are anything to go by, it promises to be a great choice to eat out in the Tokyo Bay area.
As well as the expected Indian fare, this branch will be specializing in grilled food (as you can see from the image above), and if that wasn't enough to tempt you, you can enjoy a wonderful view of the waterfront and Rainbow Bridge while dining. JIMC will be covering the opening event and will be taking in all the sites, though most likely will be found in a corner somewhere working on a few sticks of chicken tikka. See ya there!
Mumbai's homepage: here