Posts Tagged ‘dining out’

Yakuzen cuisine makes Chinese medicine easier to swallow

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Chinese medicine is so commonly considered an effective way of treating ailments in Japan that pharmacies here often stock traditional Chinese remedies alongside Western drugs. Believing in it is one thing, but getting it down is another: many Japanese have an aversion to actually consuming the stuff, because the taste and smell can be totally icky. Enter yakuzen (薬膳), the Japanese term for a form of Chinese cuisine that blends Chinese medicinal ingredients (kanpō, 漢方) into meals, turning hard-to-swallow powders and teas into delicious meals. Though yakuzen has been around for awhile, there are indications that it might be ripe for a revival.

New on the yakuzen scene is Oriental Recipe Cafe, an establishment that opened in Harajuku this April. They serve up dishes that vary with the season and the physical condition of the customer. Under the management of Yukari Arai, a master of oriental medicine, dishes are made with ingredients that can help with particular health issues. Eye strain, for example, can be eased with a tea made with a blend of kuko (a shrub that is purported to act as a tonic) and chrysanthemum. A key element of dishes served in Oriental Recipe Cafe is that they are made specifically to please the Japanese palate, so a curry that is made to improve the condition of the kidneys, for example, contains the traditional Japanese fish stock dashi.

They’re not the only ones giving a Japanese twist to yakuzen food. Reset Cafe in Toranomon offers a hormone broth, while in Osaka, Goshiki is making some noise about the organic ingredients and homemade sauces in its yakuzen cuisine. 10Zen (read “juuzen”) in Tokyo’s Shinagawa offers up hotpots for detoxing, improving your skin, or slimming down. In the same space, they offer both consultations, prescriptions and products, as well as regular classes on kanpō.

Since the food is tailored to treat specific ailments, it’s not uncommon for yakuzen eateries to have an expert on hand to consult about which foods best suit your health needs. At Reset Cafe, customers fill out a medical questionnaire as they’re ordering their food. Much of the menu is based around soups, and there are six available to suit ailments such as inflammation, dry skin or bad circulation.

News Searchina is going so far as to proclaim a “yakuzen boom.” Indeed, products containing ginger, a common kanpō ingredient, were trending last winter, indicating that people are open to incorporating traditional remedies into their diets. The interest in yakuzen complements the recent attention on organic vegetables and overall healthy eating that we’re seeing.  The only downside is that a lot of yakuzen food seems to come in the form of soup or steamed dishes, which is not necessarily appealing during Japan’s excessively hot and humid summer months!

Table for one? Right this way

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Eating yakiniku alone can be embarrassing but a new restaurant aims to change that

Many people in Japan feel that slapping some meat down on a sizzling grill while chatting about your day is a fundamentally social experience. That’s probably why you’ll get some strange looks if you go into a yakiniku restaurant and ask for a table for one. But a new restaurant in Ueno has taken away the stigma for lonely yakiniku lovers.

Hitori (one person), which opened on April 14, caters exclusively to solo diners. Each booth in the restaurant is equipped with its own grill and servings are just enough for one. The layout is reminiscent of an Internet cafe as the booths shield the diner from prying eyes, allowing them to indulge their carnivorous gluttony without shame.

Rocket News, who went to evaluate this new dining experience, gave it the thumbs up, describing the meat as extremely reasonable for the price: slices of karubi (beef ribs), for instance, come in at ¥250 and harami (tender meat from the diaphragm) is ¥190. They also think the restaurant will be a big hit with female diners.

According to “What Japan Thinks” a survey taken in 2009 by DIMSDRIVE shows that Japanese diners are particularly reluctant to eat yakiniku alone: Only 4 percent of respondents said they often ate out alone at yakiniku restaurants. The survey also showed that while women are comfortable eating out in fast food restaurants and cafes, they were significantly less likely to eat out alone in sushi bars, ramen stores, beef bowl restaurants and izakaya (taverns).

(more…)

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