How nice does a steaming-hot bowl of soup sound? Not a teacup-sized serving of clear broth or that shocking yellow shot of sodium otherwise known as corn potage, but a hearty, home-style soup that actually doubles as a meal (especially when paired with hearty, home-style bread).
A British friend who lived several years in Russia tipped me off to Rogovski (Tokyu Plaza 9F, 1-2-2 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3463-3665; www.rogovski.co.jp) in Shibuya. One of the specialties at this Russian restaurant, in business since 1961, is borscht — that Eastern European soup made with a base of beef stock and tomatoes or beets. Rogovski’s signature “country-style” borscht weighs in on the tomato side, with chunks of tender beef, potatoes and carrots, streaks of cabbage, cubes of beets and the all-important dollop of sour cream.
You can get it in a filling lunch set with two piroshki (fried buns stuffed with meat or vegetables), salad and “Russian tea” — black tea sweetened with a spoonful of jam. Even better, Rogovski sells its borscht to go, in cans or retort packs, along with dark bread, piroshkis and frozen pelmeni (Siberian dumplings). Rogovski also has a sister shop, Rogovski Komazawa Cafe (5-5-17 Komazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 5706-5922) near Komazawa Park.
Riding the Korean pop-culture wave, samgyetang — a whole chicken stuffed with rice and simmered in a broth of ginseng, garlic and ginger — has become popular in Japan. Samgyetang is traditionally eaten in the summer, to build stamina against the sweltering heat, much like unagi (eel) in Japan; however, the blend of invigorating seasonings make it a good winter warmer, and many believe it wards off illness.
Naturally, Shin-Okubo (Tokyo’s Koreatown) is the place to try it, and a Korean friend recommends Korai Samgetang (2F, 2-32-3 Shin-Okubo, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3207-3323; www.samgetang.co.jp). Seoul Ichiba (1-16-15 Shin-Okubo, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3208-1072; www.seoul-ichiba.com), one of the more popular Korean grocers in the area, also sells frozen packs of its own brand online and ships nationwide.
In a pinch, Japanese chain Soup Stock Tokyo (www.soup-stock-tokyo.com) isn’t bad at all, and gets points for labeling potential allergens — though, sadly, not in English. Created by Masamichi Toyama (the same guy behind the concept consignment shop Pass the Baton), Soup Stock Tokyo has 36 shops (and counting) around the capital, most of them inside major train stations. Never mind the “Tokyo” in the name: There are also branches all over Kanto and in Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka, too.
It does its own commendable versions of borscht and samgyetang, along with a rotating lineup that swings between classics (such as minestrone) and some pretty obscure varieties (Basque tripe stew). Many outlets sell frozen packs of the more conventional options; the best selection is at Ie de Taberu Soup Stock Tokyo (ShinQs B3, 2-21-1 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku; (03) 6434-1883) in the Hikarie department store, which sells only the home-use packs, in both single and family sizes. You can also order them online (in English) via Rakuten (global.rakuten.com/en/store/soup-stock-tokyo/)
Take that, winter!
Rebecca Milner is a freelance writer in Tokyo and coauthor of Lonely Planet’s travel guides to Tokyo and Japan.