…Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’…
Thursday, May 17th, 2012
I met my grandmother and uncle on my father’s side for lunch in Tokyo on Saturday. We went to a tempura restaurant on the top floor of a nice department store, where they had gone with my brother a few months ago. It was the best tempura I’ve ever had. Everything was just so fresh and the best part is, they only give you a few pieces at a time so nothing gets soggy or cold. I’m not the biggest fan of tempura sauce so I ate it with different kinds of gourmet salt. Yum! Again, I didn’t whip out my camera for the meal because I felt a little self-conscious and regretted it afterwards. The nicest meals I’ve had were with my family and my dad’s friend but since we were in really nice places, I didn’t photograph my meals. My dad’s friend took Mike and I to the Japanese restaurant in the hotel where we had a 10 course meal, each a work of art and SO delicious. I still dream about that meal.
But back to my dad’s side of the family – my parents and I always joke because in a lot of ways, I’m so much like my dad, it’s slightly frightening. We have multiple moles in the same exact spot (is this TMI?), we both have crazy wavy hair, we get cavities all the time, and we have to have dessert at the end of the day. Sometimes multiple desserts. I loved it because my grandmother and uncle are also both sweets people and totally understood and appreciate my love of sugar. Actually, we also discovered that my alcohol intolerance also comes from this side of the family. I love when you discover things like that. I obviously didn’t grow up with my extended family around, though I saw them every year until I was 12 or so until I decided summer camp would be more fun. (Sigh, children are stupid) It’s such a beautiful and comforting feeling to feel so at home with your family even after not seeing them for so many years. This trip for me just felt like I was getting back to my roots in so many ways and I am so grateful I was finally old enough and mature enough to appreciate all of my different experiences. (I can go on and on but it’s getting a little too reflective for a food blog.)
Anyways, we had a really fun time laughing at each other (actually, mostly me) and then I was sent home with a bag of gifts!
I had some time to kill before meeting up with Mike so I shopped a bit (of course), explored Akihabara which is where Tokyo-ites go to buy electronics, and then bought a magazine and sat in a café. When I was studying in Kyoto, my friends and I used to sit in this chain café and study for hours there, so when I saw there was one right near my hotel, I had to camp out there for a while. I used to always eat a mont blanc which is a chestnut cream tart!
Felt a little different since this time it was consumed with business men around me who were smoking heavily and not my wonderful friends… Ah well. You can’t win them all.
I found Mike a little while later and we went to the bar at the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, where they filmed Lost in Translation. Mike got me a $97 drink and a pizza and we enjoyed the view of Tokyo even though it was a bit overcast. Okay, it wasn’t $97 but it was probably close.
The following day we went to the Tokyo National Museum and then headed back to Shinjuku and Harajuku for lunch. At some point we ate this:
It was like an okonomiyaki but I believe there was a runny egg involved somewhere…
For our “official” lunch, we stopped into a ramen place that was run by a father and son. Or at least that’s the story Mike and I made up, but I believe it to be true. It was a tiny hole in the wall but there was a line out the door, so we figured it was going to be pretty good.
I ordered the spinach ramen since it had been a while since I ate a serving of vegetables.
AMAZING! It was the best ramen I’ve ever had but it may have been because I was starving.
I’m a big fan of ramen. Thankfully, there are some good, authentic places to eat it in New York City, but there’s nothing like eating ramen in Japan. Totally different experience.
Later that night, as Mike and I were wandering around Shinjuku, we stumbled upon an okonomiyaki place that looked inviting and was rather full. (always a good sign)
It was nice that one of our last proper meals in Japan was okonomiyaki because it was the first meal we ate together in Kyoto. Nine years earlier, I had a slightly stressful trip to Kyoto, which involved me crying into a pay phone in the San Francisco airport, asking my parents if I could just come home instead of going to Japan. (answer = no) So after two long flights, an awkward encounter with another student who was watching Japanese television and smoking in my room, a big group of students decided to walk to get some food. Mike and I didn’t sit at the same table where you made your own okonomiyaki but I distinctly remember him being there. So it all came full circle and now we can be done being friends. Just kidding.
I got the vegetable okonomiyaki which is chock FULL of cabbage and a side of natto, which is fermented beans. Sounds gross, tastes delicious.
Mike got one that had meat and seafood in it. He is clearly very happy about what’s to come.
So you just mix everything up and then put in on the grill.
And then when you’re ready, you flip it over. Mike will demonstrate:
LOL. Best picture of the trip for sure. We couldn’t stop laughing. I’m laughing hysterically just looking at it again.
Mine with sauce and mayonnaise:
That would be my name in Japanese. You also put shaved bonito flakes and dried seaweed on top.
We went back to the hotel after dinner because we were planning to wake up at 3:45am the next morning to visit Tsukiji Fish Market. This fish market in Tokyo is famous for their tuna auction. It’s exciting, quick, and the tuna is GINORMOUS!!!
It became a tourist destination much to the chagrin of the tuna buyers. They all come representing restaurants and all have their name on their hats. They take an instrument that looks like an ice pick and flashlight to inspect each tuna, which is flash frozen.
The auctioneer helper writes the highest bidder’s restaurant name right on the tuna and then the bidder takes it away on a small wagon. I think the whole thing took about 15 minutes and was really fascinating and civilized.
After the auction, Mike and I walked a few hundred feet to a row of restaurants. We just picked a random one and had the freshest sushi I’ve ever had in my life.
Every piece was delicious and melt-in-your-mouth perfect. The sushi guy behind the counter just placed pieces as you finished eating so I didn’t get all the pieces in at once, unfortunately.
Amazing. I think by the time we finished eating, it was about 6:30am :)
We then went back to the hotel to nap a bit and then stayed in the area until check-out time since we didn’t want to be lugging around our suitcases all over town. We went into a convenience store and picked out a bento and snacks.
We found a nearby park and tried to get as much outdoor time as we could before we were stuck on a plane for 13 hours, even though it was quite chilly. We found a bench and as I placed my bag of cookies next to me, a HUGE crow took it and flew away! I think you can see him in this photo:
It was traumatic not only because I hate birds (I don’t like any kind of flying thing) but because it meant I didn’t get to eat my cookies. It was a sad moment – let me tell you.
To warm up, we stopped into a Starbucks for some coffee. I love Japanese Starbucks because their smallest size is actually manageable. Here it is next to a water bottle:
After we killed some time, we got back to out hotel to check out and then headed to the airport. We took a cab to train station and while our cab driver was a slightly aggressive driver, especially for Japanese standards, he got out of the cab when we got to the station to show us exactly where the elevator was and how to get to our platform. So nice!
Mike and I thought we would go to the airport and get some food at a convenience store but there turned out to be none there which was such a HUGE disappointment. We ended up filling up on random snacks and a beef donburi (rice bowl) that was just microwaved at the airport stand. Sadness. And then we were off!
Sigh. And so concludes my Japanese adventures. I’m already saving up for my 2014 trip ;) Stay tuned. But before I sign off, here are a few practical tips I learned on this trip that I thought I would share with you:
1) Always wear comfortable walking shoes. Trust me, it hurt to ruin a cute outfit with sneakers but it’s basically a must. Plus, you can always just take pictures from the waist up and no one will be the wiser ;)
2) Invest in a Japan Rail Pass if you’re planning on going to more than one major city – especially if you’re going to spend a good deal of time in Tokyo. You can use the pass for all JR Lines, including the Narita Express.
3) Make sure you enjoy the company of your travel partner. I know this is one of those “duh” things but it’s so important to be comfortable being crankypants/hangry around him/her and to know they won’t ditch you in stressful situations. In fact, if you can, have Mike travel with you. He’s the best travel companion I’ve had so far.
4) Never say “no” to food when in Japan. Even if it looks or smells suspect, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised.
5) Book through a travel agent. You get a lot of free perks.
6) Don’t underestimate the power of a onigiri from a convenience store when you’re in a pinch. (This applies to absolutely any situation – food related or otherwise) Seriously. In fact, I would advise you to always be within 5 minutes from the nearest one.
7) If you’re considering getting a tattoo before your trip – don’t. You won’t be able to experience one of the best things about Japan – hot spring baths. Trust me on this one.
8) Beware of Japanese crows. They will take your cookies.
9) Don’t be afraid to ask for directions – even if you don’t speak Japanese! People are so helpful and will muddle through broken English just to help you. Eight times out of ten, they’ll probably draw you or outside a diagram.
10) If you happen to find yourself in an earthquake, try to get to Roppongi Hills. You won’t feel it.