There are many reasons why couples who eat together stay happy together. Eating is a fundamental human need, but when we share a meal with others and bond over food, eating becomes an intimate event. If you and your partner have a mutual love for good food, if you are both adventurous and love trying out new things and testing new flavors together, then consider yourselves fortunate that you have one of the strongest drivers of happiness working for you.
Travel brings many opportunities for foodie couples. If you are the sort of couple looking for something more than a cheap meal to fill the belly, if you seek the authentic flavors of Japanese cuisine, then this food tour is perfect for you. Most first time visitors to Japan make compulsory stops at Asakusa and Ginza and skip Nihonbashi completely, which is regrettable as they miss out on one of Tokyo’s most historical and economically significant locations. Nihonbashi was the major commercial center in the Edo period and later, a major financial district. The bridge itself (bashi meaning ‘bridge’) is marked kilometer zero and is the point for measuring the distance of all major highways in Japan; that is, all highway signs indicate the number of kilometers to Nihonbashi.
COREDO Muromachi (photo credit: Mitsui Fudosan)
Some of the shops in Nihonbashi date back to the Edo Period and though they look very posh and modern today, they retain the very same artisanal pride the original shops had in producing one thing. The shops featured in this article can all be found at the COREDO Muromachi, a shopping complex conceptualized by Mitsui Fudosan, a real estate giant that grew out of the Echigoya kimono store in 1673. COREDO is the combination of the words “core” and “edo,” articulating the goal to revive the soul of Edo and be the center once again of Tokyo’s lifestyle and culture. The complex can be easily accessed from Exit A7 of Mitsukoshimae Station (via Ginza or Hanzomon Lines). This food tour perfect for couples who want to do less walking around and spend more time browsing and appreciating food. Since all the shops are close by, you can start at any of the shops listed and work your way around.
1. Tsuruya Yoshinobu (鶴屋吉信)
Time slows down and sometimes stands still at Tsuruya Yoshinobu,a traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi) shop founded in the Edo Period in 1803 in Kyoto. When you sit down at the counter, you can watch the wagashi master use simple tools to form the intricate season-inspired designs out of lumps of sweet bean paste, creating a confection that is sculpture-perfect and too beautiful to eat. But eat you must. Do it slowly so you can experience how each bite melts in your mouth and revel in the fact that these very same high quality sweets were served at the ancient Imperial Household two hundred years ago. Meditate on how the bitterness of the green tea that is served with the offered set gracefully
complements the sweetness of wagashi. At Tsuruya Yoshinobu, you can literally taste the seasons.
2. Nishiri (西利)
If you, like most people, consider pickles a side dish, a visit to Nishiri will change that. Ask for the senmaizuke, a pickle made from a special turnip in the Shogoin district in the Sakyo Ward of Kyoto, so thin it looked like the vegetable was sliced into a thousand thin slivers, and you will begin to understand how pickles can be refined and delicate enough to be the star of the meal instead of in the sidelines. Crafted 150 years ago for the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, you can enjoy the same aristocratic taste at Nishiri. At the in-store dining counter, try some of the various pickle sets with rice.
3. Ninben (にんべん)
A true-blue Nihonbashi shop, Ninben first opened in 1699 and has kept its reputation as a supplier of high quality katsuobushi (dried, fermented skipjack tuna or bonito), a key component of traditional Japanese cuisine and is used to make dashi soup stock. If all you have tried are the ready-to-use bonito flakes in the supermarket, then you have been missing out on the layers of flavor and smokey notes of authentic freshly shaved katsuobushi. See how a rock-hard fillet of katsuobushi is shaved on a special grater-like instrument and be prepared to bowled over by the difference in taste. Right next to the shop is Dash Bar, a self-service counter that offers dashi drinks at ¥100 each (season it yourself with salt or soy sauce), and heartier soups at ¥350. Add ¥150 if you want a bowl of rice cooked in dashi.
4. Okui Kaiseido (奥井海生堂)
Aside from katsuobushi, kombu or kelp is another key component of traditional Japanese cuisine and is also used to make dashi soup stock. Both these items have been added to UNESCO’S Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2013. First-rate restaurants have been sourcing their kombu from Okui Kaiseido since 1871 when it was founded in Fukui prefecture, a midpoint between Hokkaido (where 90% of kombu is
sourced) and the ancient capital of Kyoto. At COREDO, the floor of the store is made of Shakudani, a volcanic rock found only in Fukui Prefecture. It was historically important to the company as they used to trade this in Hokkaido for kombu. While the shop doesn’t have an in-store dining space, purchase one of their many kelp products such as kombu ame, a chewable candy wrapped in edible transparent paper.
5. Hakuza (箔座)
Possibly the glitziest shop you will visit at COREDO Muromachi, Hakuza specializes in gold leaf, the very same material used to restore National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties in temples and shrines all over Japan. You will be bedazzled with the imaginative ways gold leaf has been integrated into a variety of products but probably for foodie couples, the most ingenious use of gold leaf would be edible gold leaf, believed to have detoxifying and revitalizing properties. At the in-store tearoom, enjoy a serene cup of gold-sprinkled tea and your gold-infused rice crackers or gold leaf glazed macarons.