Sakura Festival 2016 has been going on over the past few days and for people like Chris and I it's an absolute dream. Though considerably smaller than Namaste India, which traditionally happens a little later on in the year, this event has plenty of treats for anyone interested in Indian culture and a bag full of culinary delights for those into their Indian cuisine. Over the past three days, we tried pretty much every stall, which were a selection of some of the best curry restaurants in Tokyo and beyond: Mumbai and Pondichery, Moti, Ahilya, Ghungroo, and Govinda all represented.
It's actually very hard to know where to start as they all offered something as mouth-wateringly tempting as the next. As Mumbai was first in line, we started there and moved our way through. By the time we'd finished, we'd pretty much had something of everything. The real stand outs this year were the Masala Dosa at Ahilya, the samosas at Ghungroo, the Rum Chai at Shanti, and the Mutton Biryani from Mumbai. A veritable feast!
We could honestly have stayed there all day if time had permitted -- Chris put it aptly: it's like a tiny paradise for us! We definitely got the most out of it, though. In between feasting, we caught a couple of performances, which lifted the whole atmosphere of the place. I found myself transfixed on the classical Indian dance and then afterward with some tabla accompanied by a meditative riff on an electric guitar. It really is a culture full of transcendence and the sounds and the food just put you in such a magical head space. There were smiling faces everywhere and a proper sense that spring is upon us, which was confirmed by the hatching of the cherry blossoms in the surrounding areas.
So, all in all a brilliant little event and all Chris and I could say at the end of it was the we wish we could eat like this every day (and night). We got some good news just at that point: Sakura is being staged for an extra day on Tuesday (29th). So we'll be there, getting stuck in as usual. If you can make it down, there is a special offer being run by Mumbai and Pondichery. Follow this link and you'll find a flyer that will entitle you to FREE chicken tikka with every order. Now that's a reason to celebrate!
Spring is almost upon us, and it's the time of the year when people venture outside to enjoy the warmer weather and to gather with friends to appreciate the colourful cherry blossoms at outdoor parties and events. One special event offers a fantastic array of culture, performance, and Indian cuisine all in the setting of the grounds of the Embassy of India in Kudan: Sakura Festival 2016.
This year's event will be offering the same range of entertaining cultural performances, including contemporary, traditional and classical Indian music and dance. There will also be several stalls selling clothes and jewelry, as well as places where you can pick up Indian spices and packaged foods. The highlight, though, is the abundant booths selling fresh Indian food, and with so many choices it's hard not to find yourself spending most of your time sat tucking into a variety of wonderful curries, biriyanis, or starters.
As part of this year's event, JIMC has teamed up with the Mumbai group to offer a special deal to anyone who buys a curry from their Mumbai or Pondichery booths. Simply use the password "Just In My Curry" when you order and you will receive a FREE fresh and juicy chunk of chicken tikka. The chicken tikka deal is one per visit and this offer will be available over the three event days, so don't miss this chance to savour these perfectly marinated compliments to any curry dish.
For more information on Sakura Festival 2016, contact the Embassy of India's VCC office via email or phone (details below). With spring starting and the cherry blossoms out, this promises to be another fantastic event. See you there!
Event: Sakura Festival 2016
Dates: March 25th-27th
Access: Five minutes walk from Exit 2 of Kudanshita Station (Hanzomon, Shinjuku and Tozai Subway Lines)
Embassy of India VCC Office (Vivekananda Culture Centre)
Address: 2-2-11 Kudan-Minami, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0074
It won't come as much of a surprise that our passion for curry doesn't stop with the Indian variety. We'll pretty much always choose a curry over any other food if the option is available. Meeting Popi Kuroda, the owner and CEO of the Mumbai group, for dinner the other night won't come as much of a surprise either (Chris and I are massive Kudan and Marunouchi Mumbai devotees). What may be a surprise, however, was the cuisine of choice: we met and dined at one of Popi's newly opened establishments, a brilliant and cozy Thai restaurant slap bang in the middle of Kagurazaka: Khaoniao.
Popi will be entertaining some very important guests soon so Chris and I were invited along for a special taste-testing session. The visiting party's preference for vegetarian meant that the first course was strictly meat free. We were served, among other delights, vegetable green curry, gappao, a tofu dish with mushrooms and asparagus, a tempeh dish, a dish of fruit (mostly strawberries and pitaya) all sitting within a thin red sauce with a real kick, and, of course, Jasmine rice.
After we had feasted on that, Popi said we were free to order from the dinner menu. Without hesitation, I went for the green curry with chicken. In a word: fantastic! I always go to Kinshicho for my Thai food but this was hands down the best green curry I've eaten anywhere. The ingredients and flavours were perfectly balanced, with the coconut milk and green curry rich soup providing a perfect sweet and spice combination, enhanced by the subtle taste of the aniseed. Although I was already full after the veggie offerings, and there were other tempting dishes on the table, like the delicious prawn-heavy Tom Yum Soup, I could barely contain myself as I went about the curry with increased enthusiasm with every bite.
Khainiao is officially my new favourite Thai food restaurant in Tokyo. It would take something extraordinary to compete with their green curry. Aside from the outstanding food, the service was perfect, and the atmosphere, giving the place a sense of subtlety and class, was spot on. If I wasn't so obsessed with Indian curry I might be spinning off on a path to find all the best Thai curry in Tokyo. If I could find a few restaurants as close to the quality of Khainiao, you could well be seeing a new blog on the subject coming very soon.
3F 3-6-19 Kagurazaka, Shinjukuku, Tokyo
Tel: (03) 5225-1855
After revealing our top ten curry experiences of the previous 12 months for our first year anniversary (JIMC top 10 link link), it was only right to go and celebrate further by (over?) indulging in the fantastic Indian curries that are out there in Tokyo. I'll usually only visit one restaurant on a day, but yesterday I just couldn't help going for broke, visiting two of JIMC's favourite places: Andhra in Okachimachi and Moti in Roppongi.
First, for lunch, Chris P. and I headed to Andhra and we ordered the fantastic thali sets they do there. The sets come with rasam, sambar, two curries, poriyal, Indian pickles, chapati, a small mango mousse, and basmati rice, with the rasam, sambar and basmati on continuous refills (a dream). Everything was cooked to perfection and we ate until it was hard to move, taking the option of the free extras on offer several times. We just about managed to squeeze our way to the counter and pay the very reasonable ¥1650 each for this feast.
Later on in the day, Chris and I were playing some tunes in Roppongi and having a generally brilliant night at the live house/bar Varit. After things settled down, I managed to slip out with a couple of friends and headed over to Moti, catching them just before they started closing up. For this feast, my friends and I went for Chicken Hyderabadi (extra hot), Saag Paneer, and Aloo Gobi. Thrown into the mix were some parathas, papad, and, of course basmati rice (there can never be enough). It was the first time for my dining partners to visit Moti and they were both seriously impressed. Pretty sure from their reaction that they'll be Moti regulars from now on.
The Hyderabadi was extra hot (UK style hot), and got my friends' attention straight away. I could've eaten it all night, but the restaurant was closing and that was probably for the best. I live too far away from the centre to visit Moti regularly, but if I'm ever in town, I'll be doing the decent thing and popping my head in. Though I did notice a couple of other places while wandering around in the day. Looks like I'll have to redouble my efforts to make sure everywhere gets covered, though three curries in a day might be pushing it.
Mumbai, one of Tokyo's most well-loved chain of Indian restaurants, recently opened a new concept cafe in Yotsuya where they are offering a tantalizing morning, lunch and dinner menu based on the simple concept of naan-based recipes: naan with a variety of toppings, naan wraps, and naan with selection of dips.
Chris P. and I sampled the Mumbai special pizza (Tandoori Chicken and Keema Curry) and the Fish Fry wrap, both of which were filling and satisfying with every bite. They also do breakfast – have to try the bacon and egg naan! The ground meat kebabs you find in Tokyo are almost always served in pitta bread, which doesn't always cut it. Mumbai's offerings come with perfectly thick bread, tender and succulent meat, with fresh and perfectly balanced salad and sauce. The pizza style naan, served with chips, was fresh and delicious and went down extra well with the range of free condiments offered: Indian pickle, mango chutney, and jalapenos. And all this for a very reasonable ¥750 per each main item.
Oh, but wait, there's more. As part of JIMC's 1st anniversary celebrations, Mumbai have collaborated with us to offer a free drink with every delicious naan pizza or naan roll served. All you need to do is show the flyer below and say the words "Just In My Curry" and the free soft drink is all yours!
In part two of our first anniversary special, we count from 6-10, revealing the best curry experiences the JIMC crew have had over the past 12 months. There is, of course, still a vast amount of uncharted territory, but we are well on the way to mapping out the best Indian cuisine in Tokyo and beyond. The following are a few we consider to be up there with the best:
Part one here
Papera's Saag Paneer is the closest any food has come to persuading me to go vegetarian. I couldn’t quite believe it as I shoveled it in, a little to the dismay of my dining partners (it was shared dish). This combined with a light and subtly sweet bhatura has had me singing its praises ever since. On that high note, Papera is not only an Indian curry restaurant, it rents it space out as a live house too, giving it a slightly bizarre but unique charm. Chris and I were even invited to play there at some point with our band. The offer to rock out and then stuff ourselves with curry is just about one the most tempting combinations I can think of in recent memory. Even though the shows might be a little on the quirky side at times, whether it’s in a dish or on the stage, you’re unlikely to be disappointed there.
Address: 2 Chome-8-1 Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0022
JIMC says: link
Veg Herb Saga, Okachimachi
Another amazing eatery, and one which is purely vegetarian and alcohol free, Vege Herb Saga in Okachimachi had Chris P. gushing with praise after taking a vegan friend there. Chris and I are both firmly in the meat eating/beer drinking camp, but this little restaurant has so many surprises up its sleeve that it had Chris practically begging for people to head down and try it. Everything from the “welcome soup”, right down to their deliciously delicate poori made it hard for him to put the experience into words. So, his advice: get a group together and check it out yourself. Chris P. swears by it.
Address: 5 Chome-16-9 Ueno, Taito, Tokyo 110-0005
JIMC says: link
Moti has a nice charm to it. It is as close to the curry restaurant experiences I had my whole life living in the UK – the music, service, food options, and ambiance all spot on. And if you want a hot curry (UK style), they will serve one up for you with little need of an explanation. I went for a Hyderabadi (still my favourite name for a curry), which I wolfed down with the serving spoon. There was only one hotter curry I have had this year (here), but it was definitely the hottest one I've had in central Tokyo. If you’re from the UK and you are after a taste from home, Moti is the place for you. Don’t be afraid to go hot. It will leave you with a radiant glow for a good while after.
Address: 6−2−35 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo, 106-0032
JIMC says: link
Viva Goa Indian Cafe, Harajuku
Viva Goa Indian Cafe (formerly Devi) in the heart of Harajuku was a real find last year. Chatting to the owner, Greg, we found out a lot about Goan cuisine and the Indian food scene in Tokyo. What really nailed the learning process though was sampling their Chicken Vindaloo. I’ve eaten CVs my whole life, but this was outstanding – a wonderful balance of flavors, combined in a vinegary sauce that was packed full of zest, with a flavor that makes you want to eat more and more of it with every bite. I’m a simple man with simple tastes, and I just want the winning combination of Chicken Vindaloo, paratha, and pilau rice. Viva Goa Indian Cafe has the lot!
Address: 1-15-1 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo
JIMC says: link
Sri Balaji, Suidobashi
I have always been a big fan of Indian curry, but I was never totally convinced that the curries in Tokyo could outdo those in the UK. That is until I stumbled upon Sri Balaji. The Lamb Madras won iCOTM hands down and it convinced me enough that my tastes had turned a corner. The layering of flavor was superb, and superior to the simpler curries I grew up with. That, combined with friendly service, relaxing atmosphere, and good value makes it easy to add it to the list of best restaurants we’ve visited in the past year. If I was allowed to eat at only one of seven Indian curry restaurants, one day a week, this would be one place I would visiting on a loop.
Address: 2-1-11, Nishikanda Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 101-0065
JIMC says: link
That rounds off our top ten of the year. We will be continuing to explore Tokyo from top to bottom, seeking out the best dishes and best restaurants and bringing that information to you (if you have a favourite place, please let us know). In the meantime, thank you for reading and sharing!
May your curries be hot and your rice basmati!
To mark our first year anniversary, we present part one of the top ten curry restaurants (in no specific order) we have had the pleasure to dine at over the past 12 months. Though there are a plethora of restaurants we have yet to visit, which is both exciting and frustrating, we have whittled down a long list to a few places that have really caught our attention. So, here are our first five:
Andhra Kitchen/Dining – Okachimachi/Ginza
Andhra’s two branches – Kitchen (back streets of Okachimachi) and Dining (swanky streets of Ginza) – are equally as impressive. Their South Indian thails, which include roti, papad, rasam, sambar and basmati, blew our minds last year. Neither Chris or I had had much experience with thails in Tokyo – save for the generic “thali set” you often come across in restaurants here. You get a sense that this is how curry should be eaten when you visit Andhra – the staff gave us a few tips on what goes well with what, as well as encouraging us to “eat with abandon” – and we certainly are willing participants in the learning process, as long as it involves curry of this quality.
Andhra Kitchen: 3-20-2, Ueno, Taito, Tokyo.
Andhra Dining: 1-8-2, Ginza Chuo, Tokyo.
Ahilya - Gaienmae
Ahilya is class, which probably won’t come as much of a surprise due to it’s location in close proximity to Gaienmae station. Both that North and South Indian menus make choosing what to eat there a difficult task, but, reverting to type, going for the Chicken Tikka Masala was one of the highlights of the year, and it was little surprise it won Curry of the Month for April. Some seriously refined dining.
Ahilya: 2-27-18, Minamiaoyama, Minato, Tokyo.
Kerala Bhavan – Nerima
We were recommended Kerala Bhavan by the Indian community in Tokyo and all we could say through the meal when we headed down in April was “wow!”. There’s something about Indian food – it permeates the body and soul, lifting you off your seat (not only because it’s sometimes rocket-fuelled spicy), and Kerala did that to us in droves. I wish I lived next door to this place. I’d go there every day. I think Chris P. has talked about the Saag Paneer every time I’ve been out for a curry with him since.
Kerala Bhavan: 5-31-4 Toyotamakita, Nerima-ku, Tokyo.
Mumbai – Marunouchi and Kudan
We can’t express enough how much we love the Mumbai group, but these two restaurants in particular – Marunouchi and Kudan branches – have stolen our hearts. We had the pleasure of meeting the CEO, Popi Kuroda, last year on several occasions and we have sampled many of Mumbai’s delights. I would eat their Black Pepper Chicken and Kadai on a loop if I didn’t have so many other curries to sample. Oh, and I never thought I’d enjoy eating fried okra so much. A revelation, for sure.
Mumbai Marunouchi: 3 Chome-1-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo.
Mumbai Kudan: 2 Chome−2−8, Kudanminami, Chiyoda, Tokyo.
A brilliant restaurant only a short distance from Hongo-sanchome station, Bharati encapsulates everything we love about good Indian restaurants – great service and food, all the typical foods that you would expect on an Indian table, and a willingness to go off menu to show us what they can really do. We’re always on the look out for specific things at JIMC: we want basmati, we want any bread to be on offer other than naan, we love our curries hot, with the spices blended in from the bottom, and we want to sample the signature dishes of the expert chefs from each restaurant. The Methi at Bharati blew the roof off and we would be hard pressed to find better this year.
Bharati: 5-26-5, Hongo, Bunkyo, Tokyo.
Part two here