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Sunday, Aug. 12, 2001

TOKYO FOOD FILE

The life of spice in the big city


Our column last month on looking for laksa in Tokyo generated a good number of comments and recommendations. One correspondent felt we had not properly pointed out that these spicy noodles are also hugely popular in Singapore, not just in Malaysia. It was certainly not our intention to ignore or slight the people or excellent food of that mighty little city-state -- it's just that we were not aware of any restaurants in Tokyo that represented its complex cuisine.

Monsoon cafe has restaurants in Nishi-Azabu (top) and now, Ebisu.

So we are especially grateful for being pointed in the direction of Daichi no Ki (the English name for which is Big Land's Tree), a cheerful little place in Takadanobaba run by a Singapore native and his Japanese wife. Tucked away well off the main drag, it looks unprepossessing from the outside but is bright, clean and friendly once you've squeezed into one of its 20 or so seats.

The sign outside says "Welcome to the Small World of Eating Paradise." And for such modest premises, they offer a surprisingly wide menu, from simple starters such as gyoza pot-stickers and Singapore-style smoked duck through a good range of stir-fries and seafood dishes. Chinese flavors predominate, at the expense of Malay and Indian influences, but there's no doubting the authenticity of the laksa lemak (ask for the Singapore Curry Noodles).

Daichi no Ki (Big Land's Tree), 2-14-18 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku; tel: (03) 5272-8819. Open: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. (closed Sunday).

From Takadanobaba Station, walk in the direction of Waseda University, turn left at the second street, then right at the first. Daichi no Ki is on the right-hand side.

In that same column last month we referred to another Malaysian restaurant, Rasa Malaysia, but without giving the address and other details. In response to a separate inquiry, here is the lowdown:

Rasa Malaysia. Fujimoto Bldg. 4F, 1-6-6 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku; tel: (03) 3209-9315. Open 5-11 p.m. (Monday-Friday); noon-11 p.m. (Saturday, Sunday and holidays).

From Shinjuku Station, head down Shinjuku-dori, turn left between the Mitsubishi-Sumitomo and Fuji banks and walk down to Yasukuni-dori. Cross over and continue straight ahead. Rasa Malaysia is in a building in the first block on the right.

Meanwhile, the newest branch of the rapidly expanding Monsoon Cafe chain opened recently just round the corner from the East Exit of JR Ebisu Station. In terms of menu, decor and ambience, it follows the same tried-and-true formula -- but why should they mess with a good thing?

The most notable feature here is that the entire front of the ground floor opens onto a quiet side street (unlike at the Azabu branch, where the only vista is Roppongi-dori and the expressway above). Good news, too, for nonsmokers: The 66 seats in the mezzanine area and second-floor dining room are all tobacco-free. Serving their ever-reliable take on the pan-Asian street-food experience, they stay open till 5 in the morning, seven days a week.

Monsoon Cafe, Marix Ebisu Bldg., 4-4-6 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku; tel: (03) 5789-3812. Web site: www.global-dining.com Open daily 11:30 a.m.-5 a.m.

Leave Ebisu Station by the East Exit and walk down to the Fuji Bank crossing. Make a sharp left up the street next to Kinko's. Monsoon Cafe is on the right after about 50 meters.

More spicy food bulletins: Athara Petara, the excellent Sri Lankan restaurant, has moved to the other (busy) side of the Roppongi tracks and is now situated above La Fiesta (which, strangely, also happens to be its sister restaurant). We haven't visited the new premises yet, but we're sure the devils and string hoppers taste just as good there as ever.

Athara Petara, Hantsubaki Bldg. 3F, 3-15-23 Roppongi, Minato-ku; tel: (03) 3478-3898.

And, finally, moving to the subcontinent proper, one of our pet peeves with Indian restaurants here in Tokyo has always been that their evening menus are too complex and expensive. Because they want customers who linger over multicourse dinners, none of them encourage single diners who just want a light snack.

Now, at last, Samrat has rectified that oversight by setting up two no-frills "curry houses," much in the vein of Japanese-style curry-rice counters but imbued with real Indian flavors. You have a choice of eight different curries from 690 yen, complete with rice or nan bread. As side dishes, you can order tandoori chicken (300 yen for a skewer) or sheek kebab (400 yen), and they also offer sweet lassi if you want some dessert.

Samrat Shibuya Curry House, Toyoda Bldg. 1F, 36-4 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku; tel: (03) 3462-8284. Opposite the B2 Entrance of Tokyu Hands. Samrat Takanawa Curry House, Fujinami Bldg. 1F, 1-1-2 Takanawa, Minato-ku; tel: (03) 5420-9230. Web site: www.samrat.co.jp One block toward Furukawabashi from Shirokane-Takanawa Station on the Nanboku and Mita lines.


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