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The earlier posts in this series are all about authentic Japanese foods that we have been eating some exported versions outside Japan (Part 1 is about noodles, part 2 about izakaya, part 3 is about grilled foods as well as tonkatsu and curry, and part 4 is about wagashi.

Japanese snacks is an entire world of new experiences – fun or luxurious packaging, interesting ingredients, traditional or modern tastes – sweet, salty, spicy, fishy, in myriad combinations, or all at once.

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Our bag of crackers came from a supermarket nearby.  This slice of squid caught our eyes.

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Some pieces looked like fossils of ancient crustaceans recovered from an archaeological dig.

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Marbled with seaweed, they are tasty.

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We must be mad – taking portraits of rice crackers.

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well, after a long day of trekking around Tokyo …

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In addition to these supermarket products, we tried some fancy shrimp crackers that come in a gift box, ten individually wrapped and cost almost $20.  (we ate them quickly and are not shown here)

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While eating salty crackers, you might want something to drink. Not a problem around here. The street corner at the end of our street has ten vending machines !

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The machines sell mostly soft drinks, but also cigarettes.

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Pepsi, no Coke. Buying drinks this way is really inexpensive, most are about 120 to 140 yen.

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Marlboro and Lark.

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One machine sells alcohol, Asahi, and Kirin beer, sake and even whisky.

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The vending machines also sell warm/hot drinks – tea and coffee but also this warm sweet corn soup. It was quite tasty and felt nourishing – IT’s fav. There are more than 60 different kinds of drinks available from these machines.

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This is my favorite, Green DaKaRa – a watery juice mix or multi-flavored water. I(Chris) cannot describe it. One can work it out by deciphering the icons … ok, it has various citrus fruits, tomatoes, grapes, aloe, honey, white substances, black beans, diamonds and a gold bar ?!

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One of Sue’s fav is the peach water below.

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On the way to the airport, we bought all these drinks with the lose change in our pocket … before security check, without thinking … meaning we had to finish them while waiting in line !

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The earlier three-part series of posts are all about authentic Japanese foods that we have been eating some exported versions outside Japan (Part 1 is about noodles, part 2 about izakaya, and part 3 is about grilled foods as well as tonkatsu and curry).

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This post is about sweets – the traditional wagashi 和菓子.

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The specialist shop – Wagashi Mame まめ – is situated just around of the corner of our apartment in Minato-Aoyama 南青山 和菓子の「まめ」. Their webite is here.

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Although we pass it every day, it appeared to be closed most of the time.  Perhaps it only opens briefly and closes when everything is sold. On several occasions, when it was opened, there was a short queue outside.

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There are several different kinds of mochis and daifukus on offer. This one looks like a giant virus.

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They all came with nice packaging.

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苺大福 strawberry daifuku

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Nice and soft.

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Boxed ready to go.

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The olive color leaf is shiso.

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Perfect to go with tea.

DS picked this shabu-shabu specialist in Akasaka, not far from her office. The restaurant is situated on the 5th floor of a building with a McDonald downstairs.

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Definitely not a easy place to find, but it was full soon after we arrived. It is unlikely that any one would stumble into this restaurant by chance.

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It is a small cozy place, all the customers sit around a circular bar. In front of the customers cut into the marble are individual mini stoves where a pot of soup can be heated for cooking.

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We ordered the special dinner set which includes sashimi and additional seafood for cooking.

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.

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Unlike the Chinese/Southeast Asian style hotpot/steamboat, we were provided with three separate dipping sauces –  ponzu, soy and a garlicky sauce.

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The beef comes in three grades priced accordingly. One can also order pork.

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The beef are freshly sliced from a block which is frozen. I(Chris) appreciate a bit of the extra fat in the more expensive grade of beef but not the highest grade which consists mostly of fat.

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At the end, we were asked if we wanted to finish the soup with rice or noodles.

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We were given shredded nori, scallion and miso to accompany the noodle or rice.

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It was a relatively simple but very satisfying meal.

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The restaurant was founded in 1973 and their website is here.

Recommendable.

This is part 3 of a series of posts which is about re-acquainting with the authentic tastes of Japanese food that we have been eating outside Japan – all in the one week we had in Tokyo. Part 1 is about noodles, part 2 about izakaya, and for more traditional meals (click here and here to see those posts).

Part 3 is about grilled foods as well as tonkatsu and curry – staple foods of the Japanese.

On our first day in Tokyo, R and H came to meet us at Haneda airport where we were staying for one night in transit. Haneda was renovated a few years ago and has a collection of restaurants on a mezzanine just above the check-in counters. It is set up as a traditional village street with restaurants on both sides.

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We went to Kushinbo 串の坊 – a chain from Osaka specializing in deep-fried bits of food served with various dipping sauces, lemon and sesame salt. The concept is a bit like McD chicken nuggets.

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Everything they served were on a skewer (except the poached egg) and used the kind of panko that covers tonkatsu (not the type for tempura).

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They served the skewers one by one and as we finished each skewer, they served another of a different kind.

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During the week, we had dinner at a tonkatsu restaurant.

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Sue ordered a curry with hers. Simple but tasty.

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And then we had a curry dinner. I had the curry with tonkatsu. This curry restaurant Temma is on the corner of our street and the main thoroughfare Aoyama dori.

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I did not take any photo of the food itself because it was eaten quickly. But I took pictures of the plastic versions of their menu while waiting for Sue.

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I must say the skill of the artist who created these plastic dishes must be congratulated. Curry is not something that can easily be reproduced in plastic and look palatable. It could look crappy literally.

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Although we did not try it, the curry puffed pasty looked really good.

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Part of the reason we went to Japan in February is this woman. She is not getting younger and we reckoned if we do not grab a chance to see her perform live on stage soon, she might retire. Hope she will be around longer than David and Prince.

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We are not die-hard fans but enjoyed her music over the years and heard many good things about her concert tours.

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We could have seen her Rebel Heart tour in Zürich in December 2015. But IT managed to get tickets for Tokyo. Japan is certainly a more exotic location to see her than Switzerland. Initially, she had one concert in Tokyo but as it was sold out quickly, then she added another date on February 14.

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Her concert was held in the Saitama Super Arena located just outside of Tokyo – a multi-purpose indoor arena located in Chūō-ku, Saitama City, it’s a bit like Wembley to London or Flushing Meadows to NYC.

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It was in the news that her concert held the day before started two hours late. So we took our time and arrived about an hour late. People were mostly seated when we entered the arena. Within 10 minutes of our entrance, the concert started. Great timing.

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Our seats were not bad but not great either. You can sort of see what’s happening on stage but really too far to feel it. The big screen helps but it is not like being in the pit.

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She did not have an opening act (as far as we know since we arrived late).

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Having dancers on the flexible poles (like in Mad Max 4) was a novelty. They were swinging wildly on top. Very acrobatic indeed.

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She did some songs from her latest record and a bunch of old favorites – e.g., Like A Virgin – the white “thing” on stage (below photo) is Madonna in her bridal outfit.

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She performed well throughout, definitely aerobically fit for her age, but somehow the energy I was expecting was not there. May be we were too far from the stage or we set our expectations too high.

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We saw some fans dressed like the 80’s Madonna but not many people were dancing.

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The showed ended after a little bit more than 2 hours. She did one encore.

Bye Bitches !!!

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Overall, it was a fun experience but not as much power and action as we hoped though.

 

 

 

This is part 2 of a series of posts which is about re-acquainting with the authentic tastes of Japanese food that we have been eating outside Japan – all in the one week we had in Tokyo. Part 1 is about noodles, and for more traditional meals (click here and here to see those posts).

Part 2 is about drinks and snacks.

We spent half a day at Skytree with CK from the US who happened to be on vacation in Japan. Skytree is Tokyo’s main broadcast tower, completed in 2012, with a commercial center on the east side of town. There were of course all manners of shops and restaurants, and also a world beer museum.

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The “museum” is really just a drinking place with several bars decorated according to some notion of what bars in other parts of the world look like.

Northern UK pub ?

tokyo food 2-4US bar ?

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German

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We ordered german sausages as snacks.

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We chose a range of Japanese beers none of which we had heard before – Coedo, Baird, Mongozo (Mango), White by Hitachino and one that mentions red miso on its label.

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Izakaya居酒屋 is a type of informal Japanese gastropub, casual places typical for after-work drinking. Think of it as a tapas/pintxos bar if you like.

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After a hard day of walking and shopping in Shibuya, we wandered into 鶏屋 – 東方見聞録 (“chicken house – il milione” or “Chicken house – The Travels of Marco Polo”) –  it is one of seven in a chain of izakaya owned by Sanko 三光 (click here).

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This izakaya is located on the fourth floor of a building packed with restaurants – two minutes from the Shibuya JR station.

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It is a chicken house, hence, a parade of BBQ or deep-fried chicken.

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Finger-licking good.

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Since we were not able to use the tablet to order the dishes (the food is meant to be eaten slowly and ordering on-demand while drinking), we ordered everything in one go and ended up with more than what we expected.

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We even managed to order a couple of rice dishes.

tokyo food 2-8Can’t believe we ate it all.

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Kanpai !

 

We spent almost half a day in Daikanyama 代官山, most of the time in the Tsutaya bookstore蔦屋書店. For Chris who has been photographing bookstores (for example, Livraria Cultura in Sao Paulo, Alexandra in Budapest etc.), this Tsutaya branch is a temple for worshipping.

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In a perfect world, all bookshops near me would be like this. Opened in 2011 after three years of development, the whole site is created by the owner of Tsutaya Books with the concept of “A Library in the Woods”. We would love to live in the midst of it.

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The company, Culture Convenience Club (CCC), founded in 1983, owns a chain of bookstores and video rental outlets. It brands itself as being a culture infrastructure company in the lifestyle navigator business providing comprehensive entertainment.

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If CCC is building a real estate business on top of entertainment, it may very well be a winning business formula for the 21st century. With all this talk of creating a virtual ecosystem (think Amazon) where your customers do all their shopping and content consumption, this could be an equivalent, a real-world ecosystem where your customer lingers and even chooses to live around the site.

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Most of what we have written below here is taken from the official web site of T-site at Daikanyama. The site consists of three buildings connected by a walkway which splits the buildings into six different departments.

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The letter “T” is used as a motif which forms a laced façade on the white exteriors, echoing “T-site”. The exterior also forms a big “T” (see below). This design was the winning submission from among 80 firms in a competitive architectural request for proposals.

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Books and magazines (Japanese and Western), current and vintage are placed together in six specialty categories: Cuisine, Travel, Cars and Motorcycles, Architecture and Design, Art, and Humanities and Literature.

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Starbucks is served on the ground floor.

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We headed upstairs to Anjin-  a salon accented by rare collections of books and magazine from around the world – 30,000 vintage magazines from the 1960’s-70’s.

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There is a skylight in the salon bringing in natural light and a footbridge that connects to the other buildings.

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A short line was formed of people waiting for a table. We were gently told by the waitperson that there is a 45-minute seating limit. They needed that time limit because the place is so comfortable and people simply do not move.

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The customer is surrounded by artworks, books, old and new magazines, all for your browsing, with a cappuccino (or alcoholic drinks) and delicious cakes and snacks.

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As the line of waiting customers disappeared, we were left to stay as long as we liked (at least nobody came to ask).

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Past issues of Studio Voice (click here) – a Japanese music magazine Chris had browsed in the past (might still have them), definitely collectible (if we have the space).

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The music department is installed with hi-end vacuum tube McIntosh amplifiers and fancy speakers (cannot imagine them being allowed to operate properly in a bookstore).

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The video department is intent on offering a complete selection of everything that can be bought in Japan. For classic titles previously unavailable as DVDs, they can be burned right at the store as disks to take home. While Netflix is ubiquitous and quite comprehensive, it cannot match this place for choices.

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Outside the bookstore are a selection of retail stores, including Kitamura Camera Specialty store (where we bought an iphone accessory that adds a choice of macro and telephoto lens).

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The T-site offers multiple eateries and even a pet grooming service and a bicycle shop in the pedestrian zone which blend into the other specialty and fashion stores in Daikanyama.

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Daikanyama is a bit more grown up than Harajuku.

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According to the T-site website, “The young adults who came to us for lifestyle navigation 28 years ago are now 50-something and 60-something years old. So we decided to re-invent lifestyle navigation for these adults.”

Great concept.

 

 

 

 

 

On this trip, we wanted to re-acquaint ourselves with the authentic tastes of various genres of Japanese food that we have been eating outside Japan. More traditional fare, we had during our ryokan stays (click here and here to see those posts).

We had just about a week in Tokyo and managed to eat ramen, shabu-shabu,  tonkatsu, Japanese curry, izakaya dining, yakimono, localized Italian and French. First up is ramen. Our first bowl on the trip was eaten at the Kagoshima airport. Nothing special.

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It so happened that a few of our friends just finished skiing in Nagano and were on their way back to the US. Before they got on the Narita Express at Tokyo JR station, we met for a couple of hours and suggested that we go eat tsukemen つけ麺  at the food street (ichibangai) beneath the station.

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We heard of this noodle place – Rokurinsha 六厘舍 – through Lucky Peach, a magazine/webzine edited by David Chang of Momofuku fame in NYC.  There is a world of information and insight on ramen on Lucky Peach – start here.

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The line for the restaurant wrapped around the corner. We waited patiently for about 15-20 minutes and bought our ticket at the machine.

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The concept of tsukeman is simple: one bowl of intensely-seasoned broth and one bowl of plain boiled noodles. You dip the noodle in the broth before slurping it up.

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At Rokurinsha, they provide a small heap of ground katsuobushi (dried fish flakes). They also consider dipping and slurping as something difficult to master without making a mess – they gave us tourists paper aprons !

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We encountered a branch of Rokurinsha at Skytree – a new cultural/shopping centre on the Sumida side of Tokyo. If you want to see more about tsukemen, watch The Mind of Chef – season 1, episode 1 – in which David Chang talks about ramen including tsukemen.

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Our next ramen stop was at Ippudo 博多一風堂 –  it was a late night dinner around the corner from our apartment in Aoyama. The restaurant is located in the basement of a building with another noodle restaurant on the top floor (but it was closed).

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Ippudo is probably quite familiar for folks from New York. We tried their first store near Astor place in 2009. They have now opened a second store in midtown near where we used to live.

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Founded in 1985 near Fukuoka, they appeared to have branches in major cities all over the world – London, Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.

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We tried different varieties of ramen and were happy with all.

ramen-11Chinese-style, spicy.

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Chris asked for extra noodles.

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They seem to provide a lot of extras (8 items) on the table to customize your noodle experience.

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Last but not least, in Shibuya, Chris had a bowl of udon with oyster tempura, oysters happened to be in season.  It was delicious but the deep-fried nature of the oyster was lost in the clear soup.

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Well, our noodles experience has been limited to chain restaurants thus far – we have to return and try the masters.

On Valentine’s day February 14, Sunday, we encountered a protest in Tokyo.

Harajuku is the geographic area spreading from Harajuku JR Station south along Omotesando down to Meiji-dori. It is better known internationlly as a center of youth fashion – especially Takeshita dori (竹下通り).  After we crossed Meiji-dori, Sue and IT stopped at a vintage clothes stand to peruse second hand fur coats and kimonos.

We heard them at first, then we see a column of protesters led by a police van, clearing the streets ahead the crowds.

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“Smash Fascism ! Abe out !”

 

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Rappers doing their thing on trucks were leading the chant.

 

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“Take Back Democacy. Keep Calm and No War.”

 

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“Teens stand up to oppose war.”
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People from all walks of life participated. Not just young people.

 

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Young and old people, men and women – . “This is what democracy looks like …”.

 

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The protest was very organized and people were behaving. But it created a huge traffic jam on Omotesando all the way back to Aoyama dori.

 

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We saw the protesters again just outside the Harajuku JR station.

 

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“No nukes. No war.”

 

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“Make some noise, Tokyo”

 

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They certain did make a lot of noise. A peaceful successful protest indeed.

We had about a week in Tokyo and wanted to reacquaint ourselves with as many different genres of authentic Japanese food as we can. We managed to have sushi (see below), yakimono, wagashi, ramen, shabu-shabu, tonkatsu, localized chinese, french and italian, japanese curry and izakaya snacks (see later posts). We had lunch with IT’s friend who made the reservation at Matsue.

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Matsue is a serious sushi place without the high-end Michelin prices. Like many of the famous sushi restaurant, it looks inconspicuous on the outside. Matsue is within easy walking distance from the Ebisu station.

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Founded in 1966, the restaurant is a little larger than some of the most exclusive sushi places (that we saw on TV), but still tiny compared to restaurants in the US or Europe. Reservation is a must here, apparently according to Tripadvisor.

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We sat at the counter facing the chef who spoke some English. Very friendly and attentive service. Sue and I ordered omakase.

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Unlike many other sushi restaurants, there was no refrigerated counter separating us and the chef. None of the fishes was on display.

Octopus and abalone.

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The chef advised us not to use soy sauce as the pieces are all appropriately flavored.

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We started with some warm dishes, like this slightly charred scallop which was to be wrapped with the toasted lightly salted seaweed, and eaten like a sandwich. It was divine.

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We can see tiny flakes of salt in a few pieces. And no soy sauce was needed.

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It was more than 10 years ago when we last visited this metropolis. The Tsukiji fish market 築地市場 was not a tourist hotspot at that time, and now it needs crowd-control measures every morning. There we had the reputedly freshest sushi in Tokyo. 

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In November 2016, in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the Tsukiji market will be closed and moved out of central Tokyo. It is the loss of a landmark for Tokyo. Several local magazines are publishing special issue to commemorate its closure, given its operation since the 1930’s. 

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The luxuriating texture of uni (sea urchin).

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This restaurant liked to use the torch on its sushi.

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Their rolls were particularly tasty as they paired the fish with some subtle pickles – excellent, never had this before.

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IT ordered a piece of unagi (eel) but it looked rather pale compared to those we had before (not grilled ?). Apparently it was great.

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We were probably the last customers to leave the restaurant. The chefs were cleaning and preparing the pieces for dinner – we saw many kinds of seafood, including snow crabs.

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Matsue was definitely an experience that cannot be had without local guidance. Highly recommended.

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FYI, Matsue has a newer restaurant of the same name at Roppongi.