New York-style soup bars offer tasty stock options

by Kanako Takahara

New York-style coffee and bagel shops have been on the scene for years now, but another Manhattan staple is just beginning to spill into Tokyo’s streets: soup cafes.

A growing number of cafes and delis serving up soup as their main menu item have opened in the metropolitan area in the past year.

Machiko Tojo, director of Dear.Soup in the Ginza district, says soup bars in recent years have become part of the lifestyle of New Yorkers, who can be seen carrying a soup cup on a park stroll during lunchtime.

“So I thought, why not open one in Japan?” said Tojo.

While working at her previous job as a graphic designer, Tojo found her busy schedule made it difficult to eat a balanced diet, especially to get enough vegetables.

But soup has all the elements that the busy young generation craves, she said. “It’s fast, easy to cook, contains a lot of vegetables, and it’s good.”

Most of her customers are women working in the Ginza district, but the cafe is also becoming popular among middle-aged men and couples with children, she said.

Dear.Soup, which will open its second store near JR Meguro Station next month, offers eight kinds of soup from 580 yen, adding a new kind once a month.

“The most popular choice is cabbage, bacon and clam in tomato soup,” Tojo said. But she added that her favorite is chowder with clam, mussel and blue cheese.

Dear.Soup, a short walk from Higashi-Ginza Station on the Hibiya or Asakusa subway lines, is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Customers outside Tokyo can purchase its frozen soup via the Internet for home delivery.

For more information, call the cafe at (03) 3549-0005 or check out its home page: http://www.dearsoup.co.jp

Another soup entrant, Soup Stock Tokyo, has gained a reputation for its ample and unique menu since it opened in August, boasts Asako Jusu, manager of operator Smiles Co.

Located in Venus Fort, a giant shopping mall targeting women on Tokyo’s waterfront, Soup Stock Tokyo each day offers a selection of nine kinds of hot soup plus two cold ones for dessert out of its 50-some recipes.

“Tokyo borscht and onion soup with grilled tomato are popular choices among customers,” said Jusu.

She said the cafe has used “konbu” seaweed, a common stock ingredient in Japanese cuisine, for its stock to suit Japanese tastes.

Soups, which are sold in two sizes at prices starting from 400 yen, can be ordered with bread or rice mixed with parsley.

The company is planning to open five more soup cafes in the metropolitan area, including one in Maihama, Chiba Prefecture, by the end of this year.

For more information, call the cafe at (03) 3599-2333.

Toshihide Iwashita, the owner of Soup Deli, located near the Jimbocho subway station in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, puts much pride in his soup stock.

“It takes about seven hours on Sundays to brew the stock from chicken bones and a variety of vegetables,” said Iwashita. ” ‘Homemade’ is the keyword for our store.”

He tries not to use much seasoning other than salt and pepper to set off the flavors of the vegetables, but he does appreciate herbs and sometimes goes to New York or asks one of his customers to buy them when they go there on a trip.

Iwashita, who used to work at a dress designing firm, said he frequently visited New York on business trips, and he enjoyed casual delis and soups chock full of vegetables.

Opened in 1996, Soup Deli offers two kinds of soups — tomato and clear soup, both with many vegetables — for 230 yen. At lunchtime, it also sells deli goods by weight — 100 grams for 180 yen.

For more information, call Soup Deli at (03) 5226-0050.

Another soup cafe under the same name of Soup Deli started its business in March in the Kasumigaseki district in front of Hibiya Park.

Since then, chef Susumu Kurata says he has never offered the same soup of the day twice.

“Customers’ tastes change depending on the temperature and humidity of the day,” said Kurata.

Kurata plans to add several kinds of soup to the menu next month to meet customers’ demand for something simple and light to suit the warm weather.

Open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Soup Deli offers five kinds of soup at prices starting from 340 yen. It recently began to offer a set menu that includes the soup of the day, a sandwich and dessert for 600 yen.

For further information, call the cafe at (03) 3506-3429.