Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on March 2008
One of the most unlikely food crazes to hit Tokyo recently has been the obsession with collagen, that cartilaginous substance which serves as the source of gelatin. Although dermatologists argue that collagen is only effective as a skin enhancer if injected, that hasn’t stopped OLs from eating loads of it for cosmetic purposes. After hearing so much about this trend, we had to see for ourselves what the fuss is all about.
These days, even cheap izakaya serve collagen-infused foods, so we thought it would be best to find a slightly more upscale venue: One Garden, a cozy, elegant bar-restaurant located on the “other” side of Shibuya.
One Garden’s chef formerly headed the kitchen of the Japanese restaurant in The Westin Tokyo, and he specializes in healthy, traditional cuisine with a twist, like miso-pickled avocado and cheese (¥650) and smoked salmon with Kyoto’s manganji peppers (¥1,350).
In contrast to its sleepy neighborhood, One Garden’s compact interior, decorated with natural wood details and cream-colored furnishings, is populated by a genki crowd of OLs and businessmen. The service was excellent, as waitresses in collared shirts promptly showed us to our seats, took our coats, and covered our bags with protective white linen.
As we browsed the menu, our otoshi arrived: boiled pork with komatsuna in a clear, light dashi. For appetizers, we tried tofu (¥650) and a seasonal salad of Kyoto turnip and fried kuwai (¥850). The tofu was rich and slightly firmer than usual, which we assumed was because of the added collagen. Kuwai, a potato-like root vegetable, becomes puffy when fried, and in this dish it was served in a pesto sauce topped with pickled white turnip and konbu. An unexpected but well-balanced combination.
After enjoying the delicately prepared appetizers and sipping on beer, house wine, shochu and oolong-hai (all ¥650), we went straight to the main course of shabu-shabu (¥2,400 per person, plus ¥550 for the collagen). The dish came boiling in a nabe pot with a pale chicken-pork broth, along with two rectangular bento-like boxes. Stacked on top of the first were thin daikon strips and lettuce; lined up underneath were glossy slices of beautifully marbled, light pink pork. Then the waitress arrived with three balls of a clear substance with a glue-like texture: 100 percent fish collagen.
After waiting for the soup to boil, we added the collagen and other ingredients. The lettuce softened and daikon strips became almost transparent, and two swishes were enough for the pork to change color; we used a pinch of zesty yuzu kosho as a condiment. And to make sure that we didn’t waste even a bit of the precious collagen, we added smoothly textured sanuki udon (¥500) to the condensed soup after everything else was finished.
Feeling warm, full—and a bit anxious about the effect of so much collagen on our bodies—we left our spot in the “garden.” The following day, our skin looked clearer and our complexions brighter. Whether it was the miraculous nabe or just a placebo effect is a mystery, but it was enough to make our day.