Hunting for Tokyo’s real bagel heads

by Melinda Joe

Special To The Japan Times

By now, everyone has likely heard of — and been baffled by — the recent “bagel head” phenomenon. Last month, a video clip that showed three people in Tokyo undergoing a beauty treatment that involved saline injections into their foreheads went viral on the Internet. The clip, taken from the program “National Geographic Taboo,” sparked a flurry of speculation around the world as to whether or not the doughnut-shaped protrusions (dōnatsu-odeko, or “doughnut forehead,” in Japanese) would be the next big trend in Japan.

For those of us in Tokyo, who knew the “fad” to be false, the bigger irony was that it is so hard to get a good bagel in this town. While Tokyo is renowned for the variety and quality of its cuisine, the quest for a truly authentic, New York-style bagel (although they’re originally Polish) remains elusive.

There are, however, a few places that come close. A recent favorite is Bagel Standard (www.bagelstandard.com), a small specialty shop in Naka-Meguro that opened two years ago. The owner, Minoru Yabushita, comes with an impressive resume: He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and worked in New York City after spending a year at a restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain. The bagels, which range in price between ¥180 and ¥230, are pleasantly chewy and dense.

Also recommended is David’s Deli in Shirogane-Takanawa (www.davidsdeli.co.jp). The plain bagel (¥190) is the most popular, but they also come in flavors such as maple and walnut (¥190), and za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix) and sesame (¥220).

Formerly located in Yoyogi-Uehara, the popular shop Maruichi Bagel (www.maruichibagel.com) moved to Shirogane-Takanawa last year. The bagels (¥220-250) have a distinctive knotted shape and are made in the style of New York’s famous Ess-a-Bagel, where owner Miho Inaki worked before returning to Japan.

In the freezer section of National Azabu supermarket (www.national-azabu.com) in Hiroo, you can find bagels from 212 Bagel, shipped directly from the U.S. They can also be purchased online or at 212 Cafe on Tennozu Isle (www.212tccafe.com). National Azabu also sells fresh bagels.

But you don’t have to go too far out of your way for a decent bagel, says Robb Satterwhite, former New Yorker and founder of the restaurant and bar guide Bento.com. He recommends Doughnut Plant (www.doughnutplant.jp), which has a number of outlets in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture. “They have the proper consistency and are made properly, which is to say that they’re boiled and not steamed,” he notes.

The most ubiquitous chain of bagel shops is Bagel & Bagel (www.bagelbagel.jp), but New York native Eliot Bergman, owner of Martiniburger in Kagurazaka, remains unconvinced. “The only similarity between their product and a bagel is the shape,” he says.


G9 chefs hopeful for Tohoku’s future

As Italian chef Massimo Bottura addressed the audience at the G9 culinary conference, held in Tokyo on Sept. 24, images of fruit, fish and sake from the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan flashed on screen behind him. Two days prior, the Michelin-starred chef had traveled with a group of top international chefs to Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, to meet with local producers and government officials in a show of support for farming and fishing communities devastated by March 2011′s Great East Japan Earthquake.

“We tasted a new cherry where greenhouses had been destroyed. This is the future,” he said.

The presentation was part of a panel discussion featuring members of the G9 (Group of Nine) chefs, who form the advisory council of the Basque Culinary Center, a culinary training and research institution established two years ago in San Sebastian, Spain. The group, whose mission is to educate young chefs and highlight major changes in the food industry, convenes every year in a different city.

The purpose of the trip to Sendai, says event organizer Yukio Hattori of Hattori Nutrition College, was to aid the “rapid recovery of foodstuff exports, the reputation of which was damaged by harmful rumors after 3/11.”

Whether the chefs’ endorsement of Tohoku’s agricultural and marine products will have a substantial effect on exports seems doubtful, but Bottura’s speech concluded with an exhortation that hit closer to home: “Most of the products will never leave Japan, but they put names on the faces of an earthquake. Buy the rice. Drink the milk. Eat the fruit and fish. Visit the farms, and toast with the (sake) brewers.”