Chef Kelvin Cheung, the mastermind behind Mumbai’s top seafood resturant, Bastian, shares his top 5 tips on how to shop like a chef.
Japan is one of my favorite countries to travel to and, as evident on our new menu at both One Street Over and Bastian, my last two back to back trips to the #foodporn friendly country has left me inspired and wanting more. Whether you’re headed to Tuscany, Tamil Nadu, or Tokyo, a food souvenir always helps you bring home the flavor of your trip. Here are my five tips to shop like a chef on vacation:
They say variety is the spice of life. I say screw variety. If you’ve ever had yuzu kosho you would know that it is definitely the spice of life and it also makes a delightful food souvenir. The wonderful thing about spices is that they don’t take up much space in your suitcase, they last forever as a little goes a long way, and they are a gorgeous way to add color to your kitchen. Oh, and when used properly they make your food take f*cking delicious.
Make sure to grab yuzu anything (salt, kosho, juice, pepper), umeboshi, togarashi and furikake.
On our menus, you’ll see togarashi from Kyoto sprinkled on our lobster roll at Bastian and any of our house made noodle dishes at One Street Over. There’s black sugar from the Tsujiki Fish Market is used in black sesame cheesecake served at Bastian.
2. KITCHEN UTENSILS
Japanese knife shops, also known as going down the rabbit hole, are for me the second best thing about visiting Japan. My current knife kit is handmade by local leatherworkers in Dharavi as one of my first collaboration projects outside of the kitchen and had quite a few empty spaces when I boarded my flight. These spaces are now filled with gorgeous, handcrafted knives from all over the country. Each of the knives has so much character and likely a beautiful story behind it if you get lucky enough to find a chatty knife maker. They make wonderful gifts for everyone from a professional chef to a cooking newbie.
While you are in the market, be sure to grab a wasabi grater which is perfect for grating fresh ginger and turmeric as well, a matcha whisk, chopsticks, and a sushi mat (because who doesn’t love the idea of making sushi at home?).
You can find all of these and more in the restaurant-supply district of Kappabashi and the Asakusa neighborhood.
Our team is very thankful for their rice press purchased from Kappabashi for our “not sushi” sushis that we serve at Bastian. The amount of time it saves on a busy Saturday night is key!
3. PANTRY ITEMS
If you are a matcha addict like my wife, this is where half of your luggage allowance will go. If you are more like me, your bag will be stuffed with everything from pocky to flavored seaweed to green tea kitkats. Pantry items are great, because they are all basically unrestricted by customs, you don’t have to worry about spoilage during your travel time, and you can buy almost all of these items at the nearest Family Mart or 7/11.
Japanese Whiskey. Shoju. Sake. Where do you begin? Start by bar hopping in Golden Gai and ask for your bartender’s recommendations. You’ll usually receive a few appetizers included in your cover charge, so expect to be well fed and boozed up on your “research visit”. Once you’ve figured out your poison make sure to note it down in your phone, because let’s admit it… you won’t remember the next morning. You can go hunting for it at a liquor store the next day.
My personal favorites include Nikka and Senjyu Kobata sake which we make sure to stock even at our tiki bar at Bastian.
While I appreciate a quality pair of whole cut leather shoes, there’s nothing like a sexy apron. At my restaurants, we currently wear denim with hemp yoga belts as the neck strap and ties, as I am not built for the typical Japanese apron. If you are, then you’ll love the variety of aprons available. From rugged fisherman to linen cross back, there’s an apron for every personality. These make great gifts as they are light weight, roll up for easy packing, and might even encourage someone to start cooking! If you don’t find what you are looking for while walking through the Tsukiji Fish Market, there are always affordable, androgynous everyday use linen aprons available at the Fog Linen Work showroom near the Shimokitazawa Station.
Bon Appetite or Itadakimasu as they say in Japan!
Follow the adventures of Kelvin and check out his restaurant, Bastian, on Instagram here: www.instagram.com/chefkelvincheung