Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Traditional Cooking Class then Yakitori in Shimo Kitazawa

Yesterday (Friday) had my almost all day (10:30 - 3:00) cooking class with a very exclusive Japanese Chef, Takamitsu Aihara, at his cooking school in a very residential area of NW tokyo. He owns a small kaiseki style restaurant called Hifumi-an, but also teaches classes during the day. The subway there was very old and decrepid, very different from what I had been experiencing prior to that. I booked this class through H.I.S., they have a new program which is called H.I.S. experience Japan (I found this online). I can barely describe how fricken (yes I must cuss here to get my point across) amazing this experience was. The class was supposed to be filmed by some British media company who cancelled at the last minute, so it was just me, my translator, and a very cute young Australian girl (Simone Goldsmith) who works in the office at H.I.S. I got completely individualized instruction for a solid 3 hours making stuffed pumpkin with sweet shrimp sauce, sauteed scallops with fresh hearts of palm and asparagus and salted plum sauce (super good), fresh corn soup, and ginger rice (using this amazing shin ginger (shin is new ). This ginger is tasty and does not have all the heat of regular ginger we are used to getting in the states. This is the stuff they pickle for the famed picked ginger that everyone loves at Sushi Bars (and explains why when I tried to make picked ginger at home, it was still totally hot and not "right" after a month). I learned the subtleties of Dashi and things I can't really explain here (but will write down in more thorough detail and may make it available if anyone is interested). We ended up with a multiple course kaiseki meal including about twice as many dishes than what we made, and sake, of course. It was incredible but I have to say, by the last hour, I was fading quickly. This jet lag has put such a dent in my stamina! (i had only slept about 3 - 4 hours the previous two nights after not sleeping for a night before that!

After the class i made my way to Shimo Kitazawa, a funky shopping district with narrow streets and lots of hole in the wall places. (another recommendation of Hiromi and Dan). I didn't end up buying anything, but found a Yakitori stand that looked interesting and rustic, so I took a picture, went up the street to see more shops, but changed my mind and went back. As I walked back by, the owner had just switched the japanese lantern on, signalling he was open for the evening. Good thing I acted quickly, as it was so small and popular, I barely got a seat. I am retarded with my japanese (i think i mentioned that before) but everyone is so gracious. I had two Yebisu and some chicken cartilage (?), chicken meatballs, shi itake mushrooms, and stuffed peppers (not spicy ones). Yes, i know, i had only finished my class a few hours before. Well, you know, gotta be in the moment.

I felt so damn tired after that (and have had a sore throat left over from SF and maybe even exacerbated by jet lag and the Tokyo smog) (sorry, but it is definitely not the best air quality here), so I went back to the hotel for a needed rest.

I must finish this entry, as it is now 8 am and I have to get over to Omotesando and the Ukiyo-e museum. Then, at 1 pm, across town to the Asakusa area for a soba making class for 2.5 hours (these damn classes are getting in the way of my time to people watch!) ha ha, just kidding. We will be making soba by hand. Wish me luck!

Here are a few pictures of what I did the last few days.


  1. Hello, interesting post!

    could you tell me How much was the cooking class in Hifumi-an?
    thanks andrea

  2. Hi Andrea,
    Thanks for reading. I'm sorry if this response comes tardy, as I don't get notified of comments unless i comb through... That cooking class was awesome! The chef was top notch and it was great to amend what I had already sort of picked up in the states. We often think of ethnic food in the US as a watered down, Americanized version, but I found the food in Japan to be very similar to the Japanese food I find in the states. Maybe I'm just getting lucky! I recommend any of the cooking classes I spoke of in my blogpost, as what better way to get a backroom look at a culture than through its food cooked in a kitchen in a home...