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Category: Japan Page 1 of 3

Air Canada Flight, Japan to Vancouver

Air Canada Flight, Japan to Vancouver

Needless to say the return trip on Air Canada was just as great as my flight to. Once again we were late to departure. Last minute planning and miscalculations had us sprinting to the gate with an hour to our flight. After a stressful train ride and the possibility of sleeping in the airport becoming a possible reality. We made it, just in time. Just in time to get a stern finger wagging. Luckily we weren’t the only ones begging our way on to the flight. Here Air Canada proved that they take of their Canadians, and they certainly go out of their way. The clerk rushed us and another party of three through the whole experience. Running us through bag check in, luggage x-ray, boarder check in, and immigration clearance. She was quick in heels. We got to the gate in time to see the other passengers board and to join in at the end.

All that rushing, only to be boarded, seated, strapped in; and told there would be a delay in our flight. That we do not have communication with a tower, so a new flight path would have to be planned out. It will be a longer path, we will have to avoid volcanic activity. We will arrive in YVR later, 1 hour and 30 minutes later. And all I could do is feel bad for my ride, hopefully they knew to check the flight number and that it would reflect the new arrival time. I just wished that we still had access to wifi, so that when we were made aware of this we could make arrangements accordingly.

Once again the meals to come were listed on the touch screen television sets in front of you. A tap of a button and you could anticipate your entree. Dinner has you choosing between beef or chicken. And now reunited and heading home with my partner I could see, taste, and blog about both. Basically it was two different proteins done in two different cuisines. North American meat and vegetables and a light Japanese dinner with familiar Japanese vegetables.

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Braised beef and red kidney beans in a wine sauce. Served with a side of mashed potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and sautéed mushrooms. A very hearty meal, cooked more like a stew with everything tender, and kidney beans to fill. I appreciated the rounding of the potatoes. They definitely tried to dress this one up, mimicking a steak dinner.

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Roasted chicken with Japanese radish, soya sauce, eringi mushroom, carrot, konnyaku, snow peas, and steamed rice. I really liked how the rice, topped with black sesame seeds, was separated from the meat and veggies in their own liners, just like in a bento box. I didn’t know what most of the listed elements were, but I would soon learn. I was sure there were no snow peas and that I was missing the radish. The green things resembled celery, but with a taste and texture more similar to squash. Was this Japanese celery? And the purple looking cube was a mystery. I couldn’t identify it through taste, but I liked its texture enough to finish it in two bites. It was like a stiff jello.

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We were however most excited by the round buns that sat fluffy in a basket. Golden brown atop of the airline push carts. Bread is just not the same in Japan as it is in Canada. And these were not the same cold, hard ones I got coming on the plane from Vancouver. My partner cleverly melted the butter that was kept cold, by resting the container over the hot entree. It worked. We had spreadable butter.

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For salad it was listed as a bean and Japanese vermicelli salad. I didn’t see or taste bean, but there was shredded carrot and seaweed with all the clear strands of noodles. Tangy, salty, with a slippery texture, and not much else. But I learned last time, you eat it all because you don’t get more in between set meals, unless you want cookies for snack. It almost feels like you are being rationed. I eat a lot more than my partner, out of the fear of being hungry with nothing to eat, so I cleaned both his and my trays.

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Dessert was a chocolate mousse cake. Gold flecks decorated the top of the square, making it pretty fancy for an airline. The cake was four layers, a sponge at the bottom, two types of mouse in the middle, and glossy chocolate on the top. I am not a big fan of mousse, but once again I saw the need to clean my plate. Overall it was too sweet and needed something crunchy to balance the smooth creamy textures.

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Complimentary beer and wine on a plane? When did this happen? In a plastic bottle of course. It made for a nice after meal drink to accompany my after dinner movie.

To our delight the pre-arrival meal was breakfast. And same as before the screen listed two options, one very North American in style, the other more suited to Japanese tastes.

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A plain omelette served with tomato sauce, potatoes wedges, and buttered broccoli. The presence of broccoli was a new one for me, but considering that the omelette was essentially a mound of plain egg, I ate the broccoli and it together. Beautifully presented but nothing worth writing home about. Ironic, as I am recording it here. The whole entree was bland. I usually don’t add salt or pepper to anything, but this needed all of both. I emptied both my little packets. There was hardly enough ketchup to split between egg and potatoes. It was more like a tomato paste anyways. The potatoes, which should have been the best part were disappointing, gritty and sandy, they were just empty carbs. Orange or apple juice served with sliced seasonal fruit, and bread with butter and jam. All the above was served cold and tasted as expected. A mix of kiwi, apple, and orange; and a round bun, not unlike the one from dinner.

The Japanese style rice congee with sticky egg sautéed takana mustard and white sesame wasn’t even an option. Looking at us we got the egg without pause. I was too timid to inquire. Plus I was more keen on the omelette after reading the two descriptions anyways.

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The last post to round out my amazing trip. Until my next adventure.

Donburi (丼)

Donburi literally means “bowl”, it categorizes any Japanese rice dish consisting of seafood, meat, or vegetables; served in a bowl.

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Sukiya, Shinjuku

It was 11pm and we were hungry. There isn’t much around our little neighbourhood of Yoyogi Hachiman, that is if you are looking for more than convenient store eats. So a train ride to the larger train station of Shinjuku was are best bet for late night eats. We were running against the clock, looking for what we wanted at places that were actually open, with the last train home leaving at 12:55pm. Our criteria: warm food, at a descent price, serving something “safe”. We would be taking a plane ride back to Vancouver tomorrow, and the last thing we needed were upset stomachs. So with our list of “needs” cutting our options in half, the hunt began. Sadly majority of the places we considered were closing their doors or had past their last call. That is until we stumbled on this 24 hour style diner, the first restaurant opened for 24 hours that I have seen, since I arrived two weeks ago.

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The setting was a bar surrounding a work station manned by one employee. Looking around it wasn’t the cleanest of conditions, but given that things were running non stop, it was sort of accounted for. Though I couldn’t help but think of the hidden kitchen in the back, how did that fare? Though I had to push that thought out of my head, in order to be able to enjoy my meal.

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The menu resembled those of other diners that we have visited in the past: the usual bowls of rice and noodles with an assortment if meat and sides. I was most drawn in by the individual hot pot served over a flame, only to learn that it was only available until early evening.

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So instead I went with a visually appealing chicken and mayo rice dish. With the option of having it with or without an egg. When a choice is given, I always go for egg when it accompanies mayonnaise. A runny egg yolk and creamy mayo are always a winning combination, when served over rice.

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My meal came with two extra parts that I did not expect. A whole egg in a bowl and a metal contraption over another bowl. Common sense and a reflective look over the menu stated that I was to crack the egg over the metal scoop to separate yolk from white, then pour yolk over my chicken dish, as it was in the photo. In hind sight I could have used an explanation and a wet wipe during this cracking process. It was messy and I felt clumsy about it. Though I did like having an interactive element with my meal. Given the deep yellow to orange of the yolk and the thickness of it, I don’t think this was just an ordinary egg. Unless Japanese chicken lay such eggs. Either way it was a great addition to the shredded seaweed on rice. The egg gave the rice extra moisture, and together with the mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce it made for a sweet and creamy bite. The chicken was tender, but I wished for more, for a better meat to rice ratio. There was also a yolky after taste that lingered.

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My partner got the pork bowl set meal with miso soup and a corn and lettuce salad.

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The miso soup came with more than one shred of seaweed (like it often does in Vancouver) and plenty of dried tofu chunks. Other than that it was pretty standard.

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The corn salad was filler, nutrition- less cabbage and corn kernels from a tin. We ended up adding the corn to rice and discarding the rest.

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The pork was cut into large sheets, it made eating a task that required teeth and jaw to shred into smaller bites. Other than that it was a pretty standard dish. Hard to mess up stewed teriyaki pork over steamed rice.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
This one was pretty simple and straightforward. A good, every day kind of meal, open and available at the times that work for you. You get your food quick, you eat quick, pay quick, then leave to continue on with your day quick. Don’t deny your cravings.

Karaage (唐揚げ)

Karaage is a Japanese cooking technique in which various foods, but most often chicken is deep fried. The process begins with the meat or vegetable being marinated in a mix of soy sauce, garlic, and/or ginger. Once saturated, it is then lightly coated with a mix of seasoned wheat flour or potato starch. The battered piece is then deep fried in a light oil. The preparation is very similar to the that of tempura.

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Gaburichicken, Takadonobaba

My partner had visited once before. He came with a group of friends, so guaranteed the food was good and that there would be stuff that he would actually eat.

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I knew I liked the atmosphere as soon as we walked in. Not only did my partner’s friend open the door to invite us in, but the rest of the staff were as excited to host us as well. This was a busy restaurant filled with happy people, flowing drinks, and the smell of delicious chicken.

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I liked their quirky cartoon chicken logo. He dawned their awning and made an appearance on every menu’s front. He was a plucky character with a black and white hood and a red tie to match his red crown. He had with him other chicken, each dressed as comical. One was in a turban, another had flames shooting out of its mouth and an Elvis inspired hairstyle, one wore a leaf on his head, another cosplayed a tomato, and the last as a block of cheese. I think they were meant to represent different nationalities. India with the turban and lamp in hand; and Italian with the green, white and red bow tie drinking a glass of red wine?

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The uplifting environment was the perfect setting for a night out. A night of dinner, drinking, and laughter. A true bar setting with smoking and loud talking, even on this Tuesday night. The place was decorated with large novelty sized beer bottles and filled with rowdy business men on the prowl. A few surrounded us. Tonight they were letting loose by yelling loudly and cheersing several rounds. One such man even had to be led out by his friend hand in hand.

Then there were the breaks in eating to engage in jovial shouting, done to celebrate the arrival of a new mug to drink out of. The staff would chant, the customers would cheer, then with wide smiles the one getting the drink would chug. Our friend offered us the option to have such a chant preformed for us, to encourage our drinking, but I was too embarrassed to and didn’t want to attract the extra attention as a foreigner. Though it was later offered again, so that I could film it, this I accepted and did. Check out my Instagram @magmei to see the video, it’s quite the experience, and especially enjoyable a few drinks in.

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Your comfort and convenience was considered here. Our miniature booth had an outlet to charge your phones at, hangers and hooks to drape your coat on, and comfy cushiony seats for prolonged sitting. Even the washrooms was well stocked, all the hygiene essentials needed; including the usual mouthwash and tooth picks, and bandaids and female hygiene napkins as well. And thankfully there was a descent ventilation system in place to help clear the smoke from those who were smoking indoors. A commonplace sight at many restaurants in Japan, smoking in doors. Something Canada abolished many years ago. I wonder if employees get hazard pay in Japan, for having to breath in second hand smoke all day?

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Positive terms are shouted out for ordering this, their largest mug of beer. A heavy stein, that required two hands to start. For men you are deemed handsome and manly, and for women beautiful and awesome inside and out. I was game.

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The meal begins with a complimentary bowl of hard lettuce dressed in a sweet sesame oil vinaigrette. By itself there wasn’t much flavour, it was even on the plain side, but as a side with all the fried chicken to come, it was a great asset. It offered palette cleansing and allowed me to keep on eating.

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Sweet potato fries, mentioned on the menu with honey mayonnaise, but we choose just to have it salted over the curry or a spicy seasoning. The fries were not the orange yam we anticipated, but regular potato ones dust with chives. Maybe there was confusion on the order? They were crispy on the outside and especially at the ends, and starchy and chewy in the middle. Once again, these too proved to be a helpful break from bites of fried chicken.

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“Karaage”, Japanese fried chicken with your choice of parts: thigh with or without bone, gizzards, soft chicken bone, wing tip, neck. Or you can try a bit of each with the sampler pack of three. Not that any is needed, but available topping choices included an impressive ten. Some with leeks, others with tomato chilli powder, yuzu pepper, and even a peanut dressing, just to name a few. We let our friend host us, trusting in his judgment to bring back the best three. Given his proficiency in English he was able to return with a full order and to explain it all to us in detail. What parts each was and how they would taste. And then the sauces they came with for added flavour by discretion. Meat from the back of the neck, the thigh, and some with cartilage. As mentioned they already came heavily seasoned but if you should wish additional bottles of sauces were available for self use. Chili powder, a mild sweet soya sauce, a salt and pepper mix, and Japanese mayonnaise. I used the latter with fries and some over my battered chicken.

But if you didn’t want your chicken fried you can have it baked instead. Though not that any less oil would be used. This is called, “Honetsukidori”, baked chicken thigh with bone. We had the “hinadori”, baked “succulent” chicken which uses a younger bird; instead of the “oyadori”, a baked “tender”chicken that uses an older fowl. It was brought to our table whole, in bone, but we were given the option of having it cut into bite sized, sharable pieces. Our server did this at the bar with towel in one hand and kitchen scissors in the other. Like the fried chicken the baked too came with add ons for additional and unnecessary flavour. Black pepper paste, curry powder, cheese, chilli and tomato powder, and a super spicy powder. And once again we forfeited the use of any.

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“Succulent” was the right term used for this chicken. (We were given the English menu.) This tender and dripping with juice chicken leg was peppery and loaded with a roasted garlic flavour. Our host offered us rice balls with this dish. To do it like the locals, you keep the chicken dripping and use it to dip rice or a rice ball into. As delicious as this sounded and as great as rice would have been with this dish, I couldn’t fit any more into my growing belly after the big beer and all the fried chicken before. Shame cause that sauce was amazing and it was now going to waste. I would have loved to bottle it up as a dressing for future meals. It was very greasy though, but the flavour was unreal.

Definitely need a side to break the oil overload of both the fried and baked chicken. As mentioned both our salad and the potato helped. But if you need more of a palate changer go for one of their many sides, with just as much variety. Edamame, sliced onion and tomato, potato salad, fried spaghetti, mixed or celery pickles, cream cheese as is, or cream cheese over toasted French bread with a maple dip. Just to name a few. And if you need a base with your chicken try the rice balls, curry and rice, ramen, or just some simple soup. But for something more filling look to their “oven-roasted” section. Under it was deep fried tofu, fluffy omelet, baked smoked cheese, ground sausage, and vegetarian steak with yam and tofu, etc. And finally, not that you would have room for it, but there is even dessert. A cooling sherbet or cold ice cream, and even a frozen cheese cake. The temperature choice made sense after all the hot fried foods and how warm the restaurant was kept.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Who doesn’t like fried chicken? It’s an internationally known and world wide appreciated food type. And this isn’t your colonel’s secret recipe chicken, if possible this was some of the fanciest fried chicken I have ever had, with a taste incomparable to any another. We left bellies full and smelling like fried chicken, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I will have to figure out what kind of oil they cool with. With all that we ate and all the oil we ingested, I am surprised that I don’t feel more weighed down and guilt ridden. In fact only minutes after finishing we stopping at a vending machine for miniature drinks. And if that isn’t a good enough reason to visit, “Gaburichicken” in Takadonobaba is also the favourite hang out of all the time attack race car drivers in Japan. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

Certo! Pizzeria & Bar

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Pizza in Japan

Day ten and we were craving a taste of home. I wanted Pizza Hut, but that wasn’t really an option. We had seen a Dominos a few days back, but that was further away and there would be no guarantee that it would taste like what is offered at the locations in Vancouver. So we settled on our neighbourhood’s Italian joint.

We had considered visiting a few days back. The menu in both english and Japanese, and the plastic examples of the dishes served were enough to instil confidence in the place. I was just hoping for authentic Italian style cuisine. No Japanese twists, no sweet flavours where it should be salty. And thankfully they did not disappoint. The Italian flags on each of their uniforms and western hip hop playing over head further proved that they were going for a more western experience. I was most amused by Eminem rapping about his mom’d spaghetti during our stay.

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A walk down a set of stairs opened up to a beautiful and cozy setting. I was not expecting something this dressy. Light coloured walls, bubbled low hanging light fixtures, hardwood floors, and a tiled bar meant to mimic brick. Large spacious tables paired with couches offered comfort for larger groups. A few even had cubicle-like walls providing additional privacy. They were designed for drinking and the celebration of festivities. Anticipating extended stays, there were even metal bars installed behind each booth-like seating arrangement. It allowed for coats to be hung on the hangers provided. No taking up extra room with bulky winter jackets. They were definitely looking out for the guest’s experience. Each matte table was pre-set with metal baskets of metal cutlery and a stack of side plates. Perfect for sharing.

Behind the elevated kitchen you could actually see the two chefs preparing your meal from scratch. One was on pizza duty near the oven, the other over a stove top cooking pasta. Each wore a black apron over their white smocks, with a tall chef’s hat on their head to complete the look. They knew they were on display, especially for those seated around their bar, and certainly dressed for the extra attention. Similarly servers wore white shirts with black aprons around their hips.

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The lunch menu was an abbreviated offering of pizza and pasta. Just the basics displayed on laminated cards, collected together by a ring. No pepperoni pizzas or Hawaiian; no meat on any pizza let alone a “meat lovers”, in fact it was an all vegetarian offering. Slight variations on tomato, cheese, and basil.

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For it being made to order food, it came surprisingly fast. Though the portions were much smaller than those served in Canada, lunch time or not. As a result we cleaned our plates and were still left hungry, even with the addition of a complimentary side salad to start. Though with their flavours I really couldn’t see myself enjoying anymore as a large order of either pasta or pizza. Off to find something else to satisfy this craving for western food on.

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An individual sized “Pizza Margherita” went for 815yen, about $8.50 Canadian. There was lots of olive oil drizzled on top of both the pizza and pasta. Was this suppose to be a light drizzle? It didn’t take away from the food under, but did make the presence of wet wipes necessary. Though the olive oil on the bread-like pizza crust was nice. Other than that this was a pretty standard tomato and cheese pizza.

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Spaghetti and fried eggplant in a mozzarella tomato sauce for 723yen, $7.60 Canadian. After his first bite, my partner announced that it almost tasted Italian. The spaghetti was good, but no where near the realm. of authentic Italian cuisine. The noodles were over cooked and the sauce a lot watery. I would have liked some fresh Parmesan and grated pepper over it, for added flavour and salt. The eggplant was the best part, cooked well but not deep fried.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
It was nothing special when I flashbacked to the Italian restaurants I have enjoyed in Vancouver. But when you consider this is Japan, and Italian must be scarce here, this was a decent rendition. The perfect restaurant for a transition to Italian cuisine. Light pizzas and pastas with seafood. Familiar, friendly. And with boxes available you can even take their pizzas to go. Don’t deny your cravings.

Taiyaki (鯛焼き)

Taiyaki means “baked sea bream”. It is used to refer to a Japanese fish-shaped cake. A fluffy snack made using regular pancake or waffle batter. The batter is poured into a fish-shaped mould and a filling is added in, before it’s snapped shut. The most common filling is red bean paste that is made from sweetened azuki beans. Other fillings include custard, chocolate, cheese, or sweet potato. However the version I am documenting on is a twist on the original. They named themselves “Croissant Taiyaki”, it refers to the flaky texture of their baked fish, as apposed to the traditional spongy cake ones.

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Croissant Taiyaki, Shibuya

Seeing this snack food stamped in a swimming fish pattern, I thought I knew what I would be getting with this one. Spoiler, I was wrong.

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The little kiosk was just outside an indoor mall specializing in music and instruments. I went close to inspect their wood racks set with rows of fish. Four flavours in sweet and savoury, labelled in both English and Japanese. Custard cream, red bean their best seller, chocolate their seasonal flavour; and tuna, mayonnaise, and corn their only savoury option. The chocolate was clear with its darken colour. And I was amused by the thought of a fish being stuffed into a pastry shaped like a fish.

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Having tried a similar fish shaped dessert at our Richmond night market, I opted for their red bean version. Paying 210yen for my treat. I handled my parcel only to feel its hard exterior and realize this wasn’t what I thought it was. This wasn’t what I was familiar with, it was better. They claim this is an original French sweet. Though one I have never heard of, or seen offered at any French patisserie. I digress.

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It was a crispy strudel coated on one side with beads of sugar, and stuffed with your choice of filling. The crust void of filling was actually my favourite part. I wished for the option to have it unfilled. Though in hind sight, given its flakey buttery texture and the crunch of the sugar crystals, custard would have been a better filling choice. I can’t even imagine how the tuna and corn would have tasted. Though corn is often used in Japanese desserts as it is sweet. Or maybe they just omit the sugar all together for this one.

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By the mall entrance, indoors, there were a few seats available. Each labelled for use by their customers only. And you could tell they were used just for that. Each orange table had a scattering of crumbs, like confetti. Eating, biting, tearing into each fish shaped snack was a messy affair. I grabbed a seat that gave me a direct look into their kitchen’s operations. Four cast iron presses were set up right in front of the window. And a chef in white was manning all four. Arranged in a row, they were similar in design and use to the ones used to make Takoyaki and the Hello Kitty snack cakes, both which I have written about on previous posts. But instead these moulds were of fish, tails swishing to the side. The dough and the needed filling is pressed between the heavy sheets of metal. Any excess dough that overflowed was left and allowed to continue to bake, giving the fish its boarder, and an extra helping of crunchy pastry.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
This was a cute and unique snack. One I would love to go back for more of. They were made fresh and many leagues tastier than the strudels offered at local grocery stores in Vancouver. Don’t deny your cravings.

Ramen (ラーメン)

Ramen is a term blanketing Japanese wheat noodles served in a thick broth. Something that has become very popular in Vancouver as of late, but is prepared very differently in every different region of Japan. Each removing or adding different ingredients, in order to make it their own. Some places give you the option of having your broth made with either meat or fish, and others a choice of a soy sauce or miso flavoring for the soup. Ramen is typically topped with “chashu”, thinly sliced cuts of fatty pork; “negi”, a vegetable similar to scallions or leeks; and “nori”, sheets of dried edible seaweed.

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My first bowl of ramen in Japan was at a food court in DiverCity, Odaiba. I choose this bowl of ramen based on what I have had and found familiar, from previous experiences in Vancouver. In this case it was the murky beige of sandy broth, the bold orange of a soft boiled egg yolk, and the spiral of a pink and white patterned fish cake slice. Though as it is often the case, what appears in photo, isn’t always what you get in person.

This style of ramen was served with the soup and noodle separate. Presentation was not taken into account. The pre-boiled egg was dumped whole into the bowl, the two slices of pork sank to the very bottom, and the sheet of black nori was the only colour added to the mound of thick yellow noodle. But at least it tasted good. You grip a few strands of noodles and dip them into your bowl of soup. You allow them to soak up some of the sauce before you slurp them up. Overall better than most I have had in Vancouver. But not as good as my second ramen experience. See below.

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I was in Shibuya to try a more authentic bowl of ramen. At this point I am very familiar with the machines used to order. Push button vending machines that provide quicker service than a waitress taking orders, and offer a more fluid meal preparation during busier dining hours. You insert your money and make your selection with a push of a button. Any change is returned with the push of another button.

Truth be told, I actually came in because the clerk opened the door and invited me in. Originally I was coming in close just to check out prices and compare dishes offered, still deciding where I wanted to dine. But after she took the time to open the door and went through the trouble of inviting me through the threshold, I felt too bad to just walk away.

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I was directed to one of the available bar seats facing the kitchen. Here I gained a telling look into the preparation of ramen. Noodles are made to order, and added to broth that is prepared ahead of time. Similarly all the ingredients are every at the ready, stored in individual tins, until they are needed for assembly. Each tin looked like recycled bulk Heinz ketchup containers.

Once again I selected my ramen based on the prospect of enjoying it with an soft boiled and by the colours most familiar to me. Squinting at all the small images on the machine. Sadly, not really considering what the area’s national type of ramen was.

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Either way the chef’s wardrobe choice, a tee with the wording “no noodles, no life” across the back, gave me confidence in his skill. Watching, it seemed like he moved from muscle memory. The noodles were cooked in a special contraption. A stainless steel vat of boiling water, with a sheet of metal over it. The sheet had holes cut out and was left to rest over the basin. These holes were the perfectly sized circles, made to fit a deep basket in each. The baskets would hold a single serving of noodles and cook them in a contained area, thus making it easy to scoop out when el dente.

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When assembling the bowl, first goes in the noodles. A few hard shakes of the basket ensure excess moisture is dredged. Next three large scoops of pre made broth is poured to fully coat all the stands. A good broth takes hours to make, doing so the day before is standard. This allows all the flavour of the pork bone and pork fat to be slowly incorporated into the soup. And finally with hand in several tins, the chef dresses the ramen with the appropriate ingredients.

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As mentioned, this version of ramen has its noodles already submerged in broth. My bowl had two fatty chunks of pork, a halved soft boiled egg, a few bean spouts, shredded raw cabbage, green onions; and three types of seaweed: a shredded brown, a leafy green, and a sheet of nori added in last to complete the bowl. Each element had its own spot, and everything was highlighted in harmony. Taste wise, the fat of the pork was perfect, it melted in your mouth, any more would have made you nauseated. The noodles themselves were surprisingly light. I was able to almost finish the whole lot. Good thing as there was a lot of them for a smaller serving, and a certain lightness was needed to balance out the richness of broth and pork.

It was very hot shop, and made even more so when having to ingesting hot ramen. It had me sweating and wondering how was it possible that the other patrons were able to continue eating in their down filled jackets? And here I was stripping down to my tee. Sadly, I forgot that Japan etiquette requires I slurp my noodles and bring the bowl directly to lips for sipping soup. Thus showing appreciation to the chef. I hope my empty bowl was as clear of a sign that I enjoyed what I had.

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The staff were constantly moving. Two, the server and the chef. When it slowed in the restaurant, and the server had assured those of us dining in were well taken care of, she proceeded outside to usher more customers in. But when one of her patrons left she immediately came back to bus their table and handle the used dishes that were left behind. Similarly, as soon as a new guest would enter, she would follow them in. Then ensuring that they were greeted appropriately and welcomed thoroughly. And when all the above was comfortably achieved she would begin primping each setting. Checking that all the containers were filled, and that all the jars were full, essentially finding work to keep herself busy. She almost seemed relieved when someone came in or someone left. Something to do to keep the day rolling I guess. 10 hour days, doing the same repetitive action are norms here. The chef would keep him self busy in a similar fashion. Preparing noodles and washing dishes, anything to prep and keep his hands moving. All the while two hardly spoke. Only to call and confirm the understanding of orders going into and coming out of the kitchen. A very different retail environment than in Canada for sure.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I am not particular about my ramen, I don’t know enough about it to be. But what I do know is, I liked what I had, and would not hesitating coming back here for more. Though realistically from store to store, the ramen I saw through windows and the bowls of ramen that were printed on menus looked fairly consistent. But the great thing about such places is that it is not out of the norm to eat alone. It was nice to be able to enjoy a space, with the company of others, and yet not feel the need to make small talk with them. You come in to simply enjoy the food and the space. Don’t deny your cravings.

Kare Raisu (カレーライス)

This is Japanese style curry with rice. If you hear curry and you think nostril singing heat and fragrant spices, you are thinking of Indian style curry. Japanese curry is different. Introduced from Indian, but adopted and adapted as their own. So widely is it consumed that some would argue that it is one of Japan’s national dishes. A wide variety of vegetables and meats are used to make Japanese curry. Though the basic ingredients are onions, carrots, and potatoes. For the meat: beef, pork, and chicken are the most popular. Below I will be writing about Katsu-karēc a breaded deep-fried pork cutlet served with curry sauce.

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Nakau, Shinjuku

Like most of their guests, I slowly wandered in. Using the coloured photos outside to help ensure my decision of stopping here for lunch. This was the first time I would be using one of the ordering machines on my own. With a little English included I was able to get as far choosing to dine in over dining out. Where I got stumped was during payment. The machine did not take 10000 bills, the equivalent of a $100 Canadian. Luckily a fellow diner saw my distress and helped me hail a server to guide me through my first solo machine ordering experience.

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I prefer human interaction during this process. The use of machines removed the personal element, but was probably very useful during busier times. It freed up a server to deliver orders and bus tables. With the machine you push buttons, make your selection, feed it a bill, then receive your change and a ticket. After you clam in your seat, the server comes to claim a portion of said ticket. This confirms your order and payment, its wording is then broadcasted to the kitchen through a quick shout, and concludes with them beginning to prepare your meal. The above process is as quick as the arrival of your food. At such places speeds is key. You have limited time, you want a quick and hot meal and cannot afford to wait, as seen by the fury in which patrons devour their meals. They were shovelling it in, and here I was taking my time, writing, enjoying, actually chewing.

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I choose a seat at the bar, closest to the door. It seemed like the place to be for those, like myself, who were here on their own. Although group style seating was available for multiples. I appreciate the fact that eating alone is common place and expected at certain places. Where in North America majority of dining out is reserved for an event and with others.

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Each station comes with the necessary assortment of eating implements, and any seasonings one may need. Though this was the first I have seen a help button. A red push was all that was needed to hail for help.

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Trying to hit up all the major Japanese cuisine types I choose the Curry chicken tonkatsu don. Crossing curry and katsu off my list. Though they serve a lot of the other major cuisine types too: udon, katsudon, and the sukiyaki-style beef bowl; all with a wide variety of sides. The curry was a sweet sauce coating carrots, lotus root, potato, and finely shredded chicken. Flavourful as is with just the rice. But as I mentioned above I wanted the most out of this experience and added on a piece of breaded pork. A popular pairing, but one that was not necessary. They were each great on their own, and could each be an entree. The pork was tender and its flavour paired well with the sweeten curry. I did appreciate it for its texture, giving crunch to an otherwise soft dish. Moistened semi sticky rice, smooth curry sauce, melted root vegetable, and starchy lotus root. The plate, also came with Japanese pickles, which seem to be a very common thing on most plates. With the option to scoop more on from a self serve jar at each eating station. Though the former was brown, the later the more common pink. I guess it was a good way to break up the taste and to change things up. But it over powered and really didn’t compliment my meal well. Towards the end I wished for more rice, this was a lot of curry and there was too much flavour, if possible. Or I just needed a better rice to curry ratio. I ended up fishing out ingredients, saturated heavy in curry sauce. Though the chilled cups of green tea and cold water provided did help with the above. I was left satisfied and very full with all the starches I ingested.

The washroom was a cramped space. A unisex stall that allowed one patron to relieve themselves while those just wanting to wash up, could in the sink situated outside. It was a larger more convenient sink with hand soap available.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
There was nothing really special about this one. Just a convenient meal at a more than convenient price. Everything on the machine was under 1000 yen, with one of the least inexpensive being 300yen. About $10 and $3 Canadian respectively. Don’t deny your cravings.

Yakitori (やきとり)

Yakitori, is best referred to as chicken grilled and served on sticks. A popular type of food to accompany drinking and dining with friends. The word has grown to include anything grilled and pierced with a skewer; which includes vegetables, as well as other types of meat and seafood.

Toritetsu, Nanako

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This would be another authentic Japanese dinner thanks to friends living in the city of Nanako. This restaurant was in a tower on the third floor, one of those places you need to know where you going, to know to look up.

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On this cold night, the warmth of the place was inviting. The humidifier sounded, the smell of cigarette smoke filled your nostrils, and the laughter of the room set the tone. As in most places, the employees welcome you in with a roar. We were directed to a room divided by a permeable bamboo drape. It housed two tables of four. The wooden divide created space, despite the table’s close proximity and encased room. Each table was set with all that you would need: ash trays, tooth picks, soy sauce, napkins, salt, Japanese all spice, and a small slender vase to store all your used skewers in.

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We watched the employees, indicated by their shirts with the restaurant’s name stencilled on their backs, scurry back and forth. They looked frantic from our view of the kitchen. It explained why it was so hard to get a hold of one each time we needed another beer. We began our meal, like most with a hot towel. This seems a commonplace practice for sit down restaurants, serving dishes that would required you to use your hands to eat. Tonight I found these hot towels a blessing to hold with cold hands.

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We left the ordering to our host’s discretion, as such, I cannot be sure of all that we had and their proper names. What is listed by my best guess from taste and appearance.

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A bamboo woven dish of warm tofu was served as a complimentary start. There wasn’t much flavour, it was just regular tofu. I assume this is the equivalent of Canadian bread and butter to start?

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Boiled Quail’s egg. Each egg is boiled in shell, in a seasoned sauce to obtain its brown hue and salty flavour.

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Creamy avocado. Ripen avocado dressed in a sweet brown sauce and sweet Japanese mayo. It was soft like pudding and easy to eat, but every bite felt like it was missing something. A base, a crunch, something to actually smear the avocado on.

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Raw chicken on salt block. This was a new one for me. I didn’t even know you could eat chicken raw. What about salmonella? If you can get past the look of its gummy texture, the texture is tolerable. The meat is unseasoned, you rub each piece on the block of salt that it is displayed on before bringing it to your mouth.

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For additional seasoning horseradish, yuzu pepper, and daikon slivers are available. I chose the least raw looking slice out of the two varieties, and could only finish it. It was a mental thing. 

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Yakitori platter, in no particular order: peppers, mushroom, various dark chicken meat, chicken parts mashed into a hamburger-like consistency, chicken stomach, liver, chicken skin, and a fatty piece of cartilage. You basically choose a stick and commit to eating all that is on it. We played it safe with the meaty portions and left the organs and the unknown to our host. Smokey, with a nice char flavoured, but not very filling.

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The steak is served rare and was still a little bloody. The decorative greens at the bottom helped to soak some of the red up. It looked better and tasted better than its texture. It was a vert chewy and fatty piece of beef.

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Chicken cooked on a cast iron hot plate. Served with lettuce leaves and soy and chilli sauce for dipping. The presentation was impressive as it continued to sizzle our table. The pieces of chicken were tender and the portions that got additional time to cook were extra crispy.

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Four types of wings, served i four portions of three. Each plate was seasoned thoroughly in Japanese all spice and barbecue flavourings. The first bite was best, as you broke through crispy skin and had clear juices running down your chin. Inside it appeared that each wing was stuffed. Our host explained that they remove the meat, mash it into a paste with green onion, and then stuff everything back in for these thick looking wings.

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Deep fried soft shell crab. In my opinion, this was the best dish of the night. A great finger food, enjoyed with chopsticks. Some thing you can easily pop into your mouth between conversations. Each little crab was crispy like a chip and tasted like shrimp. When we were done, what was left was a bowl of lost limbs, legs fallen off from fragile bodies.

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And as is the case with many tapas/izakayas, a type of Japanese drinking establishment that serves food to accompany drinks; the washrooms were well equipped for your after meal needs. They went all out with oil blotting sheets, gauze sheets, cotton swabs, tooth picks, and individual pots of mouth wash.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I liked the setting, this is definitely a great place to unwind at after work. But as is the case with most of these authentic establishments, if you are not a local, it is hard to enjoy without a guide hosting. Aa you can see some of what we had was pretty out there for Canadian standards, and most were things we wouldn’t even think of trying, let alone actual order. Don’t deny your cravings.

Teishoku (ていしょく)

Teishoku means “set” in Japanese. Restaurants like the one below specialize in set meals: a main and a few sides, all at an economical price. 

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Sunshine city, Ikebukuro

This was not our first choice, but as the lunch lines were continuing to grow well after 2pm, we settled on the one in the area with the shortest queue. The restaurant is located in the basement. Its sign at street level was alluring enough, and it’s lack of seafood in any photo or within its logo was what drew my partner’s approval.

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Down a brick wall and tiled staircase we walked. We joined a line ascended up, bodies waiting behind a sliding glass door. Here, like at several other places we have been, you gently tap a mechanism attached to where the door knob should be, and it opens itself for you.

The kitchen was visible to those of us in line and from the dining room tables. An open space with just a pane of clear glass shielding their work counters. As a diner, there is a certain comfort in being able to watch the chefs, in their clean white smocks prepare your food. The care they take to dress a plate and the quality they put in, because they themselves too are on display. An organized dance of bodies moving and bowls mixing. A loud orchestra of clattering porcelain and regular kitchen clamour. Though the music playing overhead helped to deflect this noise. Bluesy beats to set a calm environment. It helped, as the dining room was still. Panes of glass separated booths. It created seclusion and privacy. And majority of the patrons kept to their groups, speaking in whispers and bringing plastic to mouth, at what seemed to be as slow as possible. It was like the goal was to move as if they were coated in molasses and to open their mouths as little as possible. Such places also don’t leer at the use of cell phones and tables. We fit in well with this acceptance. My partner on his car forums and me collecting notes for this blog.

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Above each table hung hooks and a hanger. Their purpose was to allow for the hanging of coats out of the way, although not one was used. Guests instead were content with leaving their jackets by their sides when in booths, or on the back of their seats when in chairs. And with fold out baskets provided at each table for parcels and other items to be stored neatly on the floor, there was really no need for any of these hangers. With all of the hung up around the room, it appeared the restaurant’s theme was inspired by a laundry mat.

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The servers were in uniform, white button ups with red tie and matching red apron, and a black kangol style cap on each head. They were attentive, refilling cups and always a wave of a hand away.

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The menu had photos, but without English characters, we couldn’t be sure of what each cuts of meat was. So we went with their newest special and hoped for the best. It was a little bit of everything, meat wise, and it came with sides. With all the small dishes and little parts, it almost felt like we needed instructions. In hindsight I wish we had looked around the room before we began eating.

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We were most curious about the bowl filled with a yellow sauce. It looked like melted cheese, but was cold, and had the texture of a raw whipped egg. It tasted salty like miso, so wasn’t something you’d take on its own, so surely this was meant as a dip? In our minds, the only logical thing was to dip our meat into it, so we did. It made each bite fulsome, and did help to take off some of the hot spice. Though it wasn’t until after we settled our bill did we notice that other tables were pouring this sauce over their rice and adding the pickles, another one of the included sides, on top. Our Japanese friend laughed when we relayed to him what we had done and revealed that this was actually a sauce of yams. How did they get this texture I wondered?

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Three distinctive looking, thinly cut slices of meat. It wasn’t until later did a friend confirm they were all pork, all from different parts of the pig. And as mentioned above, the pork had a spicy hot chilli pepper flavour. A flavour we bit whole heartedly into and were caught off guard with. The cuts were flavourful, but dry. It was a chewy texture that was hard to break into, requiring tedious jaw motion from our part.

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A clear pork broth with lemon grass and the side of pickles.

As with most places focused on turning around tables, the bill is already at your table. It is delivered with your food, and kept rolled up and safe in a cylindrical acrylic. This eliminates the need to hail a server when you want it and to have to wait for them to bring back change or usher over a debit machine to pay. Instead it is here for you to take to the register when ready to settle and go.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Out of all that we had, this one was one that I liked the least. It wasn’t anything unusual, just simple food prepared in an average way. It had a nice set up, but was nothing I would crave for, or need to try again. And now thinkinging back, it sort of seemed like the setting and the chefs were over done for the type of cuisine served. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

Soba (そば)

Soba noodles are Japanese buckwheat noodles served hot or cold with a variety of toppings.

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Edo Soba, Chiba

We came as guests of RWB, Rough World’s Akira Nakai, the world famous Porsche tuner. That in itself is quite the experience. A late night visit to his shop in Chiba, resulted in an invitation to dinner with him and his friend. We assembled into his van and he drove us to his favourite late night cafeteria. Many lone and long nights working resulted in many dinners here, he said.

Despite his celebrity status in the car world, Nakai is an extremely down to earth man. He offered us drinks and took the time to make small talk with us during our intrusion. He reflected on his life, how he does what he loves for a living, and is able to travel the world and build Porsches because of it. When it was time to break for dinner, Nakai invited us along, even going so far as to drive us there in his van, and then offerred to pay for our meal. The van was necessary as we were a group of four, plus I don’t think his Porsches are for daily driving. Though he did have ten of them on site.

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He raved about his favourite late night dining spot in Ciba, and its close proximity to his garage. He stressed the value in its “cheap” prices. The restaurant was large compared to the smaller shops in town. Its billboard, roadside flags, and bright lights were visible from the road. Though its parking lot was fairly empty at 9pm. Nakai pointed out that there weren’t too many people visiting at this time, and those who did were often single men. He pointed to himself.

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As a native to Japan and being pretty skilled in English, he lead us on this dining excision. I was delighted at how supportive he was when he heard I was a food blogger. He gave me notes for this post, suggested how to eat our meal most effectively, and even explained the significance of a photo on the wall. He was an amazing guide for our tour of soba. Soba noodles are light soya sauced noodles, the use of buckwheat makes them on the healthier side, he explained.

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He continued, that the word “edo” in the restaurant’s name referred to the old Tokyo style. In this case, the origins of soba, noodles that were born from an area near by. Back then they were delivered door to door by one man on his bicycle. A story Nakai reflected on as he pointed to the black and white mural sized photo on the wall.

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Upon entry Nakai proceeded to the two machines used for ordering, both located in the centre of the foyer. At this point this was our first encounter with them. The first time we had seen them and our first need to use them. He taught us the process and walked us through our options. By now my partner was infamous for not eating seafood, so our choices were either between fried tempura or stewed pork. Each dish would come with a bowl of soba noodles. Either cold or hot in broth. After Nakai translated and we made our selection, he paid. Tickets then printed out. They will be used to claim our meal once ready. A call from the counter announced this and we walked up to receive our meal.

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I had the pork with egg over rice, and a side of soba noodles in soup. Apparently this is “old mother’s style” of cooking, according to Nakai. The lightly breaded pork and the scrambled egg did taste homey, something that could be prepared in anyone’s kitchen. The soba noodles were flavoured with the broth and used the seaweed and tempura flakes to add a different texture. It was as light as Nakai promised. I could have had more.

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My partner had the teriyaki pork over rice with the same side of soba noodles in soup. Pretty standard, tender pork, sticky sauce, and moist rice.

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Nakai had curry with rice and an extra helping of beans. This also included a side of soba noodles in soup. Seeing my interest he offered me a taste. I wanted to, but didn’t want to impose. Plus I don’t really know what the Japanese thought is on sharing food. The curry looked runny, and more like a stew. It submerged all and any of the vegetable included. The red pickles that topped the plate helped to add visual appeal. Which was then lost when he added more lumpy brown on top, in the form of baked beans mixed with egg.

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His friend had his soba noodles cold. Served plain to be dipped in to a clear broth topped with dried tofu and leeks.

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For more heat, dried chilli flakes are available at the front counter. You help yourself to as much as you need, to add as much spice as you want to your meal.

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Nakai brought over cups of regular water and ones filled with soba water. He suggested adding regular water to the soba if we found it too strong. The soba water tasted like rice. It was murky and thicker, and definitely a surprise if you took a sip expecting water. According to Nakai, who chugged his portion before dining, soba water is used to help clean the digestive system, and it also decreases blood pressure.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Try as we might, we were never again able to find a similar style of budget cafeteria, in any of the other areas of Tokyo that we visited. Here everything was about $5 Canadian. The food was good, it came quick, and minutes later you could eat more of it again. Great food to fill up on and continue working on cars parts after. Don’t deny your cravings.

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