Archive for the ‘shichimi spice’ Category

The Spice of Life and Rocking Chair coffee in Shitamachi

Friday, August 26th, 2011

The spice of life is not a leaf, or a seed, or a powder. I think it is satisfying work. Here are two spots in Shitamachi where you can experience such satisfaction.

The Miyagawa family has been selling shichimi spice for more than 70 years. The peppery “7-taste” mixture includes red pepper (roasted or dried) and at least six other ingredients such as sansho pepper, black sesame, poppy seed, dried mikan peel, nori, hemp seeds, and mustard seeds. Mr. Miyagawa passed away some years ago, but Mrs. Miyagawa will still deftly mix you a bag of shichimi spice from the various canisters on her worn wooden work table. Less spicy? Hotter spicy? Just let her know.

While she’s working, her cat will watch you from its corner on the raised tatami under the one “naked” incandescent light bulb which hangs in her shop. You may also want to get one of the lovely wooden gourd-shaped shichimi dispensers that she sells.

Shichimi spice is excellent on soba, udon, or in some nabe dishes. Some people even sprinkle it on ice cream.

Such homey establishments are quickly disappearing in this shitamachi neighborhood near Ryogoku station. To find the Miyagawa shop, turn right out of the Oedo subway line exit and walk along Kiyosumi Dori toward Morishita. The shop is a 7 or 8 minute walk from the exit.

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Kameido station is just two stops away from Ryogoku station on the Sobu line. A few steps from the east exit of Kameido Station is one of Tokyo’s most interesting kissaten: Kohi Dojo Samurai, the rocking chair coffee shop.

Evidently, some thirty years ago, the master of the Samurai shop was taking a cigarette break while rocking back and forth on a swing in a playground when he was struck with the idea that his customers might also like to rock back and forth while drinking coffee. So he then purchased a dozen rocking chairs to line his long wooden counter.

The coffee at Samurai is excellent, brewed usually using the paper drip method, but you can also order a cup made with the cold water drip method, which is made over seven hours drip by cold drip. You can choose your own cup from the many arrayed along the long wooden shelves behind the counter.

A separate menu lists seven “flavored” coffees: blueberry, green apple, caramel, banana, hibiscus, almond, and cinnamon. The natural flavor has been added to the ground beans themselves, and is not added with a syrup. You can try a trio of these coffees for 750 yen.

The service is brisk and friendly with the male staff smartly dressed in powder blue short-sleeved shirts, black slacks and black neckties, a retro Showa-period look that makes them seem like airline pilots.

Simple lunches can be had here, including beef stew for 800 yen, potato pizza for 600 yen, a Texas Burger for 750 yen, or a Hamburg Doria for 700 yen. The chocolate tart was served with a fresh shiso leaf, a surprising, but tasty combination.

In the evening, the Samurai starts serving booze and cocktails, all priced at 550 yen.

Why “Samurai”? The master happens to be an aikido master, thus the “dojo” in the name. A full set of samurai armor is prominently displayed at on end of the narrow shop, spotlighted and framed by flowers.

The master must be quite a character. In order to attract customers to an early morning set of toast and coffee, he lists the opening time as 7:60 am. He believes it sounds earlier than 8:00am.

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Miyagawa Spice Shop: 3-6 Chitose, Koto ward.

Kohi Dojo Samurai: 6-57-22 Kameido, Koto Ward. Tel: 03.3638.4003. Open 7:60 am to 25:00 am. Closed Sundays. www.samurai-cafe.jp. Check out their video on the shop website.