We have arrived in Tokyo! This was where we met up with 3 other friends and got to enjoy 2 days of being prompted to go outside our comfort zone with our food choices.
First thing I noticed in Tokyo: the vending machines. They were on EVERY street corner. All the beverages you could want; hot, cold and in-between. However my twisty cokes were in short supply. I did manage to find them though.
I was sad though because the vending machines were all mostly normal. No fun ones like i’d heard of: electronics, underwear, you name it.
We headed over the hostel and put down our bags. It was about 1pm when we got there and Brian and Dalila had been waiting for us to grab lunch. The hostel provided us with a map of all the recommended restaurants around and we decided to try the tempora place. Only problem was we went into the wrong restaurant and found a very expensive menu. Instead of being smart and moving on we decided to eat. The food was mediocre, definitely overpriced, but at least no seating charge this time.
Also at this point I have to apologize in advance for the lack of pictures of the food. I seem to have blacked out during some of the meals, and frankly I meant to take pictures of the desserts but I scarfed them down and was greedily licking the remains off my fingers before I even registered the giant camera around my neck. My bad.
We wandered around the technical/electronic part of Tokyo called Akihabara which has all sorts of shops, including some fun adult places. If you’re into alternate food sources, you can always try a vampire bar.
Or if you just want some good ‘ol American grub, look no further than the hot dog wearing an american flag restaurant.
Or if you’re just looking for a snack, pop into 7-11 and enjoy some dried tentacles.
But the best thing we found in Akihabara that had us coming back were these cream-filled Mochi, the likes of which i’ve never had before. And again, I have to apologize for the lack of picture, but I was too busy sighing in ecstasy at the heaven that was in my mouth to think about it. Plus, we had to wait 10 minutes to eat the things after we bought them to defrost so we tore into it without thinking twice. If you don’t know what mochi is, it’s a typical japanese treat made up of rice that has been mushed and stretched and kneaded into its basic glutenous form and is either eaten as is or can be filled with goodies and eaten that way. It has the texture almost of marshmallows but without the flavor. On its own, it’s not my favorite dessert. In fact, I usually don’t like Mochi. But these were incredible. The mochi was so thin and the cream filling was so fresh and delicious and just perfect. It worked like nothing else. I want to find them here but I don’t think I can. Closes thing is apparently the ice cream filled ones at Trader Joes. I guess i’ll just have to make due.
Anyway, so after the disappointing lunch we decided that we would find a fun and affordable sushi place for dinner. We wanted the fun “sushi train” experience, or kaiten sushi, where the food comes around on a conveyor belt and you pick it off. Now also keep in mind that while in the US “affordable” and “sushi” in the same sentence can equal a bad case of food poisoning, in Japan you don’t really have to worry too much since that’s the birthplace of sushi. Or at least that’s what I told myself.
We wandered to this nice restaurant over by the river and sat down at the sushi bar. You sit around the conveyor belt at a counter and watch as the food goes by. You then pick off what you want and keep the plates since they are all color coded to show what you’ve eaten. You can also order off a menu for different items. The one thing that is really cool is that at each seat there is a spigot with hot water to make tea. There is powdered green tea and tea cups all along the back of the counter. Super fun.
This was Melissa’s first sushi, and she had the shrimp and the tamago, or egg sushi. Brian, Dalila and I are all experienced sushi eaters, although Brian and Dalila are much more adventurous than I am. I had my usual tuna and salmon, and while the tuna was outstanding I have been spoiled by the fresh amazing Pacific NW Salmon and so the salmon over there was just not as good.
We had fun experimenting and were so full of fish after. However, that did not stop Dalila’s or my sweet tooth so we both stopped for some delicious crepes from a cart while wandering home in the rain. While crepes may not be typical Japanese fare, they have stands all over the place just like in Paris. And also just as yummy. More on deserts in a bit.
Dave joined us late that night and the next morning we headed out to explore the Imperial Palace and were wandering around for hours. Famished, we tried to find some place to eat lunch and settled on a food court in the bottom of a high-end shopping mall. I was very happy with my lunch as I finally found some of my japanese curry! It had chickpeas, chicken and rice and was very yummy. Not unlike Indian curry, but less pungent.
After lunch we decided to wander the shopping district and we happened upon a pastry shop. Oh. My. Heck. (as Kortnie would say) Japanese cream puffs rock. Like knock your socks off rock. Again, no picture of the puff, but there is this chain that I found years ago in NYC called Beard Papa that has amazing Japanese cream puffs and recently they have come to Oregon, right near me in Beaverton in fact, and have brought this deliciousness close to home. So dangerous.
I agree with Dalila in that I don’t know why more people don’t tout Japanese desserts and pastry like they do french pastries. Now don’t get me wrong, croissants, pan au chocolat and Parisian macarons will always hold a special place in my mouth. But the Japanese are giving the French a run for their money. Those are some mighty fine pastries they got there.
The afternoon saw us indulging in beer and snacks at a sumo tournament but nothing of culinary interest there. The sumo itself was awesome and you can read more about it on getjealous.com/rebandmelinjapan, but I won’t go into detail on a food blog.
For dinner we wanted to counteract all the sweets we’d had that day (as we had to go through Akihabara to get back to the hostel and we got the cream Mochi every time to eat on the way home. What? They were addictive and as i’ve said before calories don’t count on vacation). We decided on a ramen place two doors down from the hostel.
People had been telling me for some time how skinny the Japanese were and how huge i’d feel over there. I got there and couldn’t figure out what they were talking about since I felt perfectly normal. Now I know why. Portion sizes. I ordered a small bowl of pork ramen and 3 dumplings. The bowl was at least the size of a large anywhere else. It was huge. Dave ordered the medium and it looked like I could bathe my nephew in it. I can’t image the large. Probably big enough to double as a wading pool. So delicious you wanted to finish every last bite. And some did. They also complained after that they could feel the liquid sloshing in their stomachs when they moved after. Totally worth it.
After we went to karaoke and indulged in some delicious cold sake. Now i’m not a huge sake fan, but the stuff they serve there is smooth and goes down easy. Also relatively tasty. It’s like wine in France; you really can’t go wrong.
The next morning was a trip to the local market for the rest of our souvenirs, a lunch of tempura at the place we should have gone the first day, and now wish we had discovered at the beginning of the trip because it was amazing. We then headed out to the airport and back to the states and the land of burgers and pizza once again.
I really love to travel, and a huge part of the reason is discovering a new culture. I love to learn about the food and taste as many things as I can make myself try. While i’ve said no to fried bugs in Cambodia and still screaming guinea pigs in Peru, I will step into the unfamiliar by eating in Alpaca in Chile and fried meat of unknown origin in China. I have been to so many places around the world and it’s only now that i’ve started documenting the food as well as the scenery and people. I hope to continue this through all the rest of my trips, and really show people who may not have the same adventurous spirit I do that it’s all part of the fun of leaving your comfort zone and engaging all your senses in a new and strange part of the world. Totally amazing experiences that will last a lifetime.