Yokoso – Welcome to Japan in Melbourne?

The official bright yellow banner for the Yosoko Festival in Melbourne. Saying experience Japanese food and culture in the heart of the City of Yarra.

Yokoso, ようこそ, means “welcome” in Japanese. The Sunday before last, the 17th January, we enjoyed being welcomed to “Japan in Melbourne”. The City of Yarra, through a grant scheme, had enabled a group of Japanese restaurants, musicians, dancers and market stall holders, (and Dylan, from Chotto Motto’s mum) to create an excellent opportunity for Melbournians to experience Japanese food, arts and culture in Collingwood and Fitzroy. My friend Tomoya, has always joked that they should place a giant red tori gate at the end of Smith Street, as this part of Melbourne is home to many Japanese restaurants, homewares stores and Japanese inspired fashion stores. It is not a bad idea. I think it would be an excellent addition to the area. Tomoya made a video to advertise the event, and it was very much targeted to all those people wanting to travel to Japan, like us, that can’t go, at the moment, or in fact, for the foreseeable future. You can watch the video here. It’s very cute.

One of the highlights of the day was the “Taste of Japan” Passport. These were only available for pre-order, and such is Super Sake Boy and my desire to travel to Japan, or at least eat and drink Japanese things, we had order number 9. We must have got in pretty early. The passport was excellent value at $36.50. It entitled the bearer to a sample of each of the six participating restaurants’ specialties. We only managed to visit five of the six. Mostly because it was really busy everywhere, but another contributing factor was that Aka Shiro was serving takoyaki. Not gluten friendly for me and Super Sake Boy is not a seafood fan. The other offerings were delicious and we really enjoyed walking and eating our way from one end of Collingwood to Fitzroy.

We started at Chotto Motto. For regular readers you will know that this is a family favourite of ours. The dish being served was their famous gyoza. As I can’t eat gyoza, I started my day with the alternative, a yuzu cheesecake soft serve. I paired that with a yuzu Margherita. It was an excellent way to start the day on a sunny, warm Melbourne Sunday. The soft serve at Chotto Motto is vegan and so creamy and citrusy. Yum!! Next we walked up to Shimbashi. Shimbashi make all their own soba noodles from buckwheat they grow in Tasmania. The noodles are gluten free. They were served cold, with a light dashi broth, with wakame and edamame. We also indulged in some karaage chicken with Kewpie mayo…. super yummy on a warm day.

Our next stop was Wabi Sabi Salon. One of my very favourite places to eat, and the venue of my first proper date with Super Sake Boy… Tomoya’s curry has long been one of my favourite Japanese meals in Melbourne. It is so tasty and delicious. Served with tofu katsu, brown rice and veggies, and accompanied by a flight of sake from Kurokawa-san at Sakemate, eaten by the old cherry tree in the courtyard out the back, perfect. From Wabi Sabi we headed down to the park to watch some of the performers.

Sitting in the park, on the grass, we watched George Kamikawa, on blues guitar, with AYA, a taiko drumming duo. We had seen the Ayas before and really enjoy their exuberance. George Kamikawa sometimes busks in Burke Street Mall. He was funny and he was singing about sake, so we joined the singing…. it was super hot in the sun by this time, so we decided to continue or walk and headed off to the next restaurant. There were other musicians, including taiko drummers and a flute and harp duo, as well as a hip-hop band. There was also some dancing. We have, over the years seen many of these performers and they are all excellent… however, the food was still beckoning and we were looking forward to the final destination.

Next stop was Neko Neko. The very, very delicious and tasty morsel we enjoyed at this vegetarian and vegan Japanese restaurant, was agedashi tofu, with eggplant. Super yummy. Our final destination was Tamura Sake Bar. The taste at Tamura’s was sake or yuzu soda. We, of course, chose sake, and were super happy that one of the options was Hanatome Yon-dan Junmai Yamahai. After our little sample we popped up to the bar, ordered a tokkuri of sake and ordered the very last four skewers of tsukune. Tsukune is chicken meatball yakitori. Takako Tamura makes hers with renkon (lotus root). It is the best!! Ever! It was a great way to finish the day.

Although we had been to all the restaurants before, it was a really enjoyable afternoon, wandering around and eating. The vibe was very cruisy, and festival-ish. Chotto Motto had a vintage market, Wabi Sabi had a vintage kimono stall and lots of beautiful Japanese handcrafts, and Tamura Sake Bar had heaps of vintage vinyl. It was an excellent initiative to attract people who have not really delved into Japanese food and culture before, and I hope all the restaurants are enjoying some return custom from the day.

I have written about Chotto Motto before and you can read about it here. I have also written about Wabi Sabi several times, most recently here. Read more about Tamura Sake Bar here.

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