It’s one of Japan’s most comforting of comfort foods: a bowl of rice with a hot pot of tea poured on top. Ochazuke, literally “steeped in tea”, is typically served at the end of meal or a night out, but it can also make for a quick and light Japanese breakfast. The dish can be traced back to the Heian Period (794-1185), when it took the form of hot water poured over cold rice. Tea replaced hot water during the Edo Period (1603-1868), and the dish evolved again in the 1950s when Nagatanien started selling “instant” ochazuke packets containing powdered tea and kombu (kelp). Ochazuke has continued to change; nowadays, it is possible to find it served with an umami-rich seafood dashi.
My favorite version is made by an ochazuke specialty chain, Dashi-chazuke En. Its dashi is made from several types of fish — soda-gatsuo (frigate tuna), saba (Pacific mackerel), katsuo (bonito, or skipjack tuna) and iriko (dried sardines) — with konbu, salt and chicken stock rounding out the broth. The morning set, served from 8-10 a.m., is around ¥500. There are a few options for toppings, including salmon, chicken or nine lightly pickled vegetables. Dashi-chazuke En’s branch in Shinjuku Station is easy to find: Exit the station’s west exit, pass the kōban (police box) and you’ll see the chain on your right.
Inside, jazz music plays in the background and you can sip your hot breakfast watching harried passersby on their way to work. There are branches of Dashi-chazuke En throughout Tokyo, but not all are open for breakfast.
On the other side of the city is Sushi Sei, which has a branch inside Tokyo Station’s basement. Its popular tai gomadare (sesame sauce sea bream) breakfast is available from 7-10 a.m. It includes a bowl of rice and a pot of dashi served with thin slices of sea bream sashimi folded like a flower and surrounded with a thick, rich sesame dressing. You can make your own ochazuke by mixing the ingredients together and dressing them with the hot savory broth. Garnish with nori slivers and arare (rice crackers) to complete the dish. The sesame sauce brings a welcome nuttiness to the fishy broth.
Farther away, but good to remember for when you’re flying out of Tokyo, is Ogura in Haneda Airport. The original shop in Ginza is an upscale location renowned for its Satsuma-age (fried fishcakes) served in a hot broth. The ochazuke at Ogura is substantial and served with cha meshi (rice cooked with dashi). There are many toppings to choose from, including aji no namero (horse mackerel tartare), seared mentaiko (spicy pollack roe) or salmon with ikura (salmon roe).
There’s nothing more soothing than a big, nutritious bowl of steaming tea-soaked rice before a flight — especially if you’re leaving at an ungodly hour.
Dashi-chazuke En Odakyu Ace, Nishiguchi underground mall No. 1, Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; 03-6279-4196; open Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m. (L.O.), Sun. and hols. until 9:30 p.m. (L.O.); www.dashichazuke-en.com. Tsukiji Sushi Sei Tokyo Station GranSta Dining 1F, 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; 03-5220-6865; open 7-10 a.m. daily for breakfast; www.tsukijisushisay.co.jp/store/tokyo.html. Ogura Edo Koji, International Terminal 4F, Haneda Kuko 2-6-5, Ota-ku, Tokyo; 03-5755-9920; open daily 6 a.m.-midnight (L.O.); bit.ly/2fLkID5.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5