Magic Spice (Soup Curry), Shimokitazawa

I am featuring today probably one of the most famous soup curry restaurant in Tokyo, "Magic Spice". For those of you not familiar with this tasty and spicy dish, let me copy and paste that little paragraph I wrote before in this other soup curry joint "Kokoro" feature post:

The Soup Curry was born in Sapporo, in the Northern Island of Hokkaido, where it's become as popular as the Ramen, with more than 200 restaurants all competing for the best of its genre. The trend has gone southward and you can find Soup Curry restaurant all over Japan now.
This Japanese remix of the Indian curry is exactly like its name describes it, that is a soupy one. Each restaurant takes pride in cooking the perfect bouillon in which they'll add the spices and the ingredients that they will slowly stew, for the perfect soupy curry

Bollywood on steroids interior

Magic Spice actually happens to be slightly misunderstood as they're serving more of an Indonesian chicken soup "Soto Ayan" with strong curry flavor rather than a standard soup curry. The mistake by customers is easily understandable though, as the decor inside and outside is of a completely pseudo-Indian psychedelic taste, and even the waitresses dress like they could be working for Air India. The top page of the "English" website is probably the only place with a little bit of Indonesian graphics.

The extravagant look aside, the menu ordering system works a little bit like the "Kokoro" one, meaning you first need to choose the soup dish you want (chicken, pork, beef, seafood, vegi and so forth) and then you ask for how spicy you want it to be. All you need to know is that even the smoothest one is relatively hot, so you shouldn't challenge yourself unless you really can stand it, and the spicier it is the more expensive it is, so it is generally a wise choice to keep it edible at a smooth level.

There are 7 levels of hotness, all named after pseudo-buddhism references, which are (in smoothest +¥60 to hottest order +¥250) :
覚醒 (Kakusei or awakening) > 瞑想 (Meisou or Meditation) > 悶絶 (Monzetsu or Faint in agony) > 涅槃(Nehan or Nirvana) > 極楽(Gokuraku or Heaven) > 天空(Tenkuu or Vault of heaven) >虚空(Kokuu or Void)
There is also an astronomical level of hotness which is not on the menu but which you can ask for, called アクエリアス (Aquarius). You have to sign a waver (I'm serious...) when eating this so do it at your own risks!
Talking about pseudo-buddhism references, you will see that this place is full of weird buddhist and hindi graphics, very strange texts all over the place (from your table to the walls) about how eating curry and enjoying strong spices will make you trip etc...

I ordered the "World's best, tender and juicy" Chicken leg soup curry, and cautiously went for Meditation (Level 2) to start with.

After 10 minutes came a plate of safran rice (with a slice of pineapple) and a pretty big soup with a big chicken leg in it. The other ingredients were some cut carrots, Daikon radish, cauliflowers, onions and chinese cabbage.

Chicken curry and a ray of light

As I told you before, the soup curry here tastes more like a soup with curry flavor. To be more precise, it tastes like a good Pot-Au-Feu, that is a stewed bouillon of chicken and vegetables, with some added "indian" spices like garam masala and some more pepper. The first spoon is surprising as although you know you ordered Level 2 hotness, the spice kick is rather impressive. That's where the safran rice comes in timely and handy as it helps you escape from the peppery feeling.

The mouth-saving safran rice

In case you'd like to smooth or spice-up your soup, there are some red-hot chili powder, some galam masara like yellow curry powder and a transparent liquid made of lemon, lime juice diluted in water. I tried the citrus water which does wonder in smoothing the broth.

Chili powder, curry powder and the magic water

The chicken is well stewed and you really don't need to work hard on it to detach the tasty flesh from the bone. I also prefer the skin roasted than boiled, but it is cooked here long enough to feel unobnoxious. The size of the specimen is quite big so if you're a chicken eater, that one leg should be enough to please you.

As you can see, it looks more like a Pot-au-feu than a curry...

Once again, this is not what I would call a soup curry, but Magic Spice is very very popular in its own right (you will probably have to wait before getting to a table), so should you be curious about the decor, the various mystical levels of hotness and the reason why its cuisine is so famous, please give it a try yourself!

Magic Spice is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, open from 11:30am to 15:00pm and 17:30pm to 23:00pm the rest of the weekdays, and from 11:30am to 23:00pm on weekends and national holidays
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 1-40-15
Click here for a MAP

Marusan Foods (Japanese style cafe/restaurant), Shimokitazawa

Today's feature is one of those "I've lost track because there are too many of them" funky eateries of cool Shimokitazawa. Marusan Foods (the restaurant logo is a circle or "Maru" with number 3 inside or "San", hence the name) serves lunch, acts like a cafe in the afternoon, and from what I heard provides aficionados with good and healthy dinner fares in the evening.

the several jars of fruits marinating in vinegar

I climbed up the stairs to the third floor, got there at noon sharp for the opening and there was no customer around until I was finished, so lucky me for the relaxing lunching experience. The only problem was that their A/C wasn't working, so on a 35C heat day, that may explain why I was the only fool sweating in there.
The music playing was a series of Walter Wanderlay-ish loungy keyboard music so the heat and the music made for an out-of-place Copacabana atmosphere.

The food is far from being Brazilian though, if not for the green and yellow color of their specialty dish Omu-Raisu (stirred rice stuffed omelette), reminiscent of the Brazilian flag.
Yes, you heard me right: their Omu-Raisu is green and yellow, when it should be and has always been yellow and red, that is the color of the omelette and the ketchup-based sauce on top. This is the first time I have EVER seen such anomaly and I believe Marusan is the only place in Japan which serves a green Omu-Raisu.

Jako-Sansho-Gohan Omu-Raisu

The green sauce is actually a green peas sauce that is flavorful enough to remind me of those peas potages they serve in French cuisine. Very good stuff, but it unfortunately blends so well with the rest of the dish that you don't really feel the peas at all.

The quickly sauteed rice beneath the excellent and runny omelette is very low on salt, mixed with fried Jako (very small dried baby sardines) and very aromatic wholegrain Chinese pepper "Sansho". The bomb of flavor and the numbness to the tongue that this spice brings continues to amaze me. So it's actually maybe without surprise that the peas seem so reserved when the rest of the ingredients are so flavorful.

A Sansho pepper on the left and a white Jako (can you see it? It looks like a long rice grain)

Overall a well-balanced and excellent dish. I still doubt the efficiency in taste of the peas, but the color they bring is WAY WORTH IT!

My ¥890 set came with an excellent and pungent Aka-Dashi Miso Soup (made of regular "Mame-Miso" fermented bean paste and "Kome-Miso" fermented rice and bean paste; you will often come across this soup in Sushi restaurants), some Tsukemono marinated pickles and the delicious grey-brown paste on the above picture which tasted like a Goma-Dofu (Sesame Tofu). If it was indeed what I reckoned it was, then it is a dish consisting of black sesame seeds, water and Kudzu powder. If not for the very little Katsuo-Bushi (dry bonito shavings) that was topped on the paste, it would have been the perfect Buddhist vegan Shojin recipe.

After a satisfying meal (despite the brutal heat), I had to have something refreshing so I chose from one of the many curiosity-enhancing "vinegar-marinated fruits drinks" they offer the "Marinated fig in milk" drink (for an additional ¥300). As you can see from the very top picture of this post, they have a dozen of different fruits marinated in vinegar which you can mix with Soda, Milk, Soy milk or some final liquid I can't remember anymore.
I thought the combination would be too weird, surely undrinkable or at least way too sour, but my mix actually tasted like a very nice slightly sour Fig Lassi (if that can give you an idea). I'm not sure I would drink gulps of it, but I thought it acted as a perfect dessert to finish the overall very satisfying lunch.

I definitely recommend this place for lunch (I haven't tried the dinner yet). The staff is nice, the food is good and affordable, the location is charming; so provided the A/C is back by the time you visit the place, you should thoroughly enjoy it.

Marusan Foods is open everyday from noon to midnight, and until 02am on Saturday nights
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-8-5, 3F
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Cicoute (bakery, cafe), Shimokitazawa

I tried to enter this very popular cafe bakery (with glowing reviews on the net) a couple of times before, but in vain as people were lining-up on both occasions and I very much dislike queuing for food. However, since I was in a bread mood the other day, I took "Socialnomics" (which by the way my friends at Orinoco just translated in Japanese) with me just in case, and got to the joint at 11:50, that is ten minutes before opening.
I thought the line would be as terrible as a Non-Docomo phone in Fuji Rock but only six people were waiting when I got there, and thus managed to get in as soon as the shop opened. I got assigned a little table with a Pixar-like lamp at the end of the cafe.

The interior is rather dark, making it slightly unsuitable for reading (unless you get the table I got), and tastily undecorated with not much but white walls and wood furniture. The background music was a Blossom Dairie album playing so it gives you an idea on the airy and "classy" atmosphere of the cafe. Let's say another typical Shimokitazawa relaxing shop.

Since it was my first time eating there, I asked for the recommendation which was the Cicoute Set, with a wholewheat muffin toasted with cheese and ham, a cup of ceylon tea and a serving of cold Ratatouille (stewed vegetables). In case you're not a ham&cheese person, they also have a honey&butter on plain muffin, and if the stewed vegies are not your cup of tea (if I may say), then you can choose a Japanese style "Salade Nicoise" (fresh salad with canned tuna).

The toasted rye muffin was slightly crunchy on the outside and quite doughy on the inside. The grain's aroma is quite strong, the bread quite sweet and it makes for a delicious treat. Like a good old pain de campagne, you can see some unbaked flour on top which gives that nice and crafty touch to the muffin.

The ham and melted cheese are both not too salty, allowing you to really enjoy the combination of the ingredients with the bread. There is an obvious taste of pepper which I like, but you might want to let them know in advance if you don't like that condiment.

My mother being from south of France, I tend to be pretty tough on mediocre Ratatouille, but this cold one is good, though lacking in tomato sauce (but that's just one different way of cooking the dish, I guess). The ingredients (eggplants, onions, celeries and pumpkins) are well stewed, tender and really melting in your mouth. A refreshing pleasure in this brutal heat. A special mention to the stewed pumpkins which feel almost pasty when below your palate.

The ceylon tea was very fragrant and good but I would have loved a little more of it, as it only comes in one cup. Which brings me to the major issue facing this bakery: the above set comes at a whooping ¥1, unless you're loaded, this is not going to be your lunch canteen.

True, this place is charming, relaxing, miles away from the lethal heat, offering good food made with what looks like a lot of care, but you have to be ready to pay the price, which I might be though only few times a year... But that's your choice. And remember, if you're not there before opening, you will have to wait...

Chicoute is closed on Wednesdays and open the rest of the week from noon to 21:00pm
Setagaya-ku, Daita 5-1-20 (5mn or so from Shimokitazawa's station West Exit)
Click here for a MAP