Saturday, October 4, 2014

Tokyo is Winning! at Food

Many, many people, even people who had not been to Tokyo, warned us about the cost of food in Japan. After 6 days in this delicious city, it is my assessment that these people must have eaten only hotel food, food from restaurants with English menus, and/or Michelin-starred restaurants. 

We did none of these things, for many reasons - we're cheap, have a sense of adventure, we're cheap... In fact, we pretty much did the opposite, starting with our first restaurant (in the Sumida ward, on Mukojima Street), in which the poor waitress/owner had to stand on a chair to point to pictures of their food (as the entire menu was in Japanese with no pictures). See below:

Fortunately some words such as "shishito" and "shitake," are already Japanese!

We wanted to try everything, so we paced ourselves and only ate "snack" size meals, so we could stop in at any restaurant we wanted. Case in point, about 2 hours after the above meal, we popped into a conveyor belt sushi joint, called "Sushi Go Round," in the Asakusa district. It was self serve green tea, ginger, wasabi, and soy, and fish was charged by the plate. It was some of the best sushi I've ever had. I meant to only eat a couple pieces, and ended up having 4 plates.

the plate prices are listed to the left, on the wall.

so fresh and so tempting as it cruises by, and so easy to just pull off the conveyor belt.

toro (tuna belly) for only 500 yen, which is about $4.80.

We kept passing a little joint on our street (Mukojima) that had pictures of kobe beef in the windows. We took a chance and tried it. Although no one spoke a lick of English, a very kind fellow diner, who had spent a year in Australia and had perfect English, graciously helped us out.

our favorite friends to travel with, Josh and Bernice!

You can barely see it, but that bowl at the bottom of the picture above had a tiny grater and a salt rock in it, to grate onto the grill. Pretty neat. 

The gorgeous spread of beef. Unfortunately we couldn't read any of the labels!

That boat of beef melted like butter in your mouth. We couldn't stop thinking about it, especially since the meal cost less than $20/person - including our drinks, side dishes, and a huge salad with tofu so silky fresh, Mike even helped himself to seconds (and he hates tofu). Bernice swore it was just like burrata. So we went back two nights later and ordered the same thing, and then some.

One day we found ourselves in the Yokohama subway station, which is attached to an enormous, multi-level mall. The entire underground level was all restaurants and bakeries. We were starving and started deciding where we'd like to eat by staring at the fake food in the front windows. If all else fails, you can always run outside and take pictures of what you'd like to order. Katsu (food breaded in panko bread crumbs and fried) won out.

this entire meal set was only $10.00 USD!

Since the restaurant specialized in katsu, some items were unidentifiable until you bit into them. I lucked out with my order - I could tell what the shrimp and the Japanese eggplant were, but the circular thing on the left was a surprise. A pleasant surprise - it was a tender, succulent pork tenderloin medallion. YUM. The other things in the sadly over-exposed picture were shredded cabbage salad, Japanese potato salad, clam miso soup (with the cutest, tiniest mini-clams!), chawan mushi (an egg custard with mushroom, cilantro, and shrimp), and pickled Japanese veggies. 

After that meal, even though I was stuffed, I had to try Beard Papa since I was in Japan (there's several of them in Los Angeles). It tasted the same as in the States, so we're not missing out on anything!

Happy to report that the US Beard Papa is just as good!

As our confidence with communicating improved, we took more risks and ate in more dives, hole-in-the-walls, and random food stands. One late night, Bernice and I were craving ramen, and stumbled into this little place by the Sumida River.

this tiny ramen joint only had 8 seats and two choices for ramen.

Ramen topped with slivered wood ear mushroom, nori, egg, pork, and green onions.

Another day, we passed by a man selling yakitori (various meats and veggies, usually chicken, grilled on skewers over charcoal), so we stopped for a snack.

Josh and Bernice ogling the various yakitori - under $1.00 per stick!

Mike enjoying chicken grilled with leeks/onions.

We were wandering home from the subway that same day, and taking a wrong turn, we found another random stand - for sushi! Normally, I wouldn't buy sushi from a random street stand. But they had lots of customers, and hey, when in Rome, right? Besides, for 500 yen ($4.80) per roll, how could we pass it up? Although heavy on the rice, the fish was swimmingly fresh.

Yes, I wore my yoga pants around Tokyo - we were eating a lot!

Mike doing the ordering.
On one of our last days in Tokyo, we finally made it to Ramen Street, where there are dozens of little ramen restaurants, with greeters calling you at every doorway, trying to convince you to come in. When you do finally step in, they show you to the vending machine and walk away. 

I know, I was thinking the same thing - ramen from a vending machine?!?

Turns out you just order the ramen, gyoza, drinks, etc. from the machine, and it gives you a ticket, which you hand to the waitress. They bring out your food, and that's it! No money has to exchange hands, and the waitresses don't have to be bothered with people's bills. Quite clever, really.

Enjoying our meal! Yum.

I was so happy to have Bernice with me on this trip, because she loves food just as much as I do, and gets excited about things like miso-marinated beef tongue, and says "Yum!" instead of "Eww!" when I order liver skewers. I can't wait until we go back - 6 days was not enough to try everything we saw. I didn't get to try okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes), takoyaki (octopus stuffed into little dough balls), mochi (rice flour treats), or the crepe cones (crepes rolled up like ice cream cones with fresh fruit and whipped cream)! There just wasn't enough room in my stomach. So until next time, Tokyo!

At a late night izakaya, where we had a private room.