Food Balancing Act

Food Balancing Act - Food Delivery in Japan on Bike

Don’t you hate it when your pizza arrives at your house all smooshed to one side?  Those pizza delivery guys can take a lesson from this guy.  I spotted this delivery circus act in Akasaka Mitsuke and had to scramble to take out my camera and do a thorough inspection of his balancing act before the light changed.  What he’s holding is just a flat tray without any handles or grips beneath it!  At stop lights, he balances it on his shoulder (like in this photo), and while he’s riding, he balances the tray on one hand while directing his bike with the other.  And to make it even crazier?  There’s definitely hot soup in those bowls.  He really gives a new meaning to “Look Ma! No hands!”

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Warayakiya: Bonito & Chicken

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Always busy and inviting with its outdoor patio, Warayakiya features food from Kouchi Prefecture – specifically charcoal-grilled bonito and chicken hot pot.  It’s always full of people who appreciate the quality of the food and the great atmosphere!  There are many locations all around Tokyo. Continue reading

Izakaya in the Streets of Summer

Asakusa Summer Restaurants

On nights and weekends during the summer, many small izakaya shops open up their “patios” and turn the street into a small street festival!  This is the one that we ran into in Asakusa, but there are many others around the city.  It’s great for people watching and enjoying cool summer nights!  Some require that you drink (or at least order) an alcoholic beverage.  Most people go for many, many glasses of beer!

 

Rules of Ramen at Abura Soba

My first meal ever in Japan was a bowl of Abura Soba.  I woke up mid-afternoon from a jet lagged nap and wandered down to Akasaka Mitsuke to a busy little shop I spotted the previous night.  I walked into the restaurant, flashed a number one with my index finger, and started heading to my seat when I was stopped by the store employee who was pointing to a ticket machine.

I had no idea how these things worked at the time and even less idea of how to read Japanese!  So, I put my money in the slot and just did an ‘eeny meeny miney mo” deal, and out popped a ticket.  The store employee read my order to the noodle chefs behind the counter, and I felt a bunch of eyes turn to look at me.  I supposed they could see the scarlet letter “F” on my head.. “foreigner,” but it wasn’t.

I sat down and waited for my hot bowl of noodles.  After a few minutes, the chef put a HUGE bowl of dry noodles in front of me.  I stared at it wide-eyed getting full just looking at it.  (Apparently I ordered the Double XL bowl!)  So I picked up my chopsticks with a “can do” attitude and was about to dig in when the chef cried out “ehhhhhhh!!!!” and threw his hands in front of my bowl.  He started explaining something in Japanese when I looked at him cluelessly and finally muttered, “I’m sorry – I don’t understand.”  Then without missing a beat, he switched to English and miraculously pulled out instructions explaining how to eat Abura Soba.  Apparently I was about to commit the huge taboo of not adding the appropriate sauces and mixing it all together before eating it.

Abura Soba Akasaka Mitsuke Small Bowl Mixed with Onions, Seaweed, and Char sui pork

I only made a teeny dent in the huge bowl of noodles even with my most ardent effort. When I stood up, the chef seemed so disappointed and said, “it’s too much?”  And being as full as I’ve ever been and with many eyes looking at me, I sheepishly replied, “…yes…”  I felt so bad to throw away so much food, which I could tell was looked down upon.

I left, relieved to have experienced my first meal in Japan.  What did I learn?

  1. Don’t order the most expensive thing from the ticket vending machine unless you’re prepared to eat a Double XL size.
  2. Ramen, noodle, and gyudon shops are very male-dominated places.  When you walk in as a woman by herself, be prepared for the male patrons to stare at you.  Women don’t typically eat at these kinds of restaurants because they’re not “feminine”, and because women aren’t common in these joints, the ones who do visit alone are considered “lonely.”  But it’s a 2-way street.  There’s many restaurants that will only be filled with women (some cafes, dessert shops, Italian and French restaurants), and a man in these places will also elicit staring.
  3. Some places around Tokyo will have English menus and staff.  Although you shouldn’t expect it, it’s ok to let them know you have no idea what they’re saying in the happen chance they have something that could help you immensely!
  4. Japanese are very serious about eating their food ‘correctly’.
  5. I love Abura Soba.
Akasaka Mitsuke 3-10-20
Tokyo, Minato-ku
Open: M-Sa 11am – 2am; Su 11am – 9pm

Golden Week Travel – JAL & ANA Discount Tickets Released

 

In Japan, the longest holiday is called Golden Week, which takes place at the end of April and early May.  It’s three national holidays that fall on consecutive long weekends, which creates almost an entire week of vacation.  There are two work days in the middle of the week, but people typically take these days off.  Some companies make these two days corporate holidays.  Golden Week is the unofficial start of summer, and people travel within and outside of Japan to enjoy the holiday.

– Flowers in bloom in Saitama (here) –

– Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi –

Since everyone in Japan takes vacation at the same time during this week, every travel option is almost double the cost as usual.  Sometimes smaller restaurants in Tokyo close  during Golden Week as the city is much quieter than normal.

– It’s the season for glowing firefly squid in Toyama (here) –

– It’s also the perfect time to hike the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route surrounded by walls of snow –

For those planning to get away for Golden Week, JAL and ANA just released their discount economy ticket rates.  Hurry and buy them before they get even more expensive!

Busting Myths about Japan: Sushi

“Do you eat sushi every day??”

Whenever I visit home, I field this question at least once.  I don’t blame them though.  It wasn’t until I moved to Japan that I discovered all the different Japanese food options.  Somehow, sushi is the one option that has really become popular and common in the States (although I’m still surprised how many of my coworkers and friends wouldn’t eat raw fish or only stick with the basics: salmon, cooked shrimp, and California rolls).

So here’s the 411.  Most Japanese don’t eat sushi everyday.  In fact, most don’t eat sushi that often.  Think of it like a steak in the States.  Some people eat it all the time while for most, it’s a “sometime food”.  You can eat it at home, but the really good and sophisticated ones are usually eaten at restaurants.  More commonly at home, sashimi is added to salad, rice bowls, or as an appetizer or side (kind of like adding flank steak to your salad or pasta).

“Sushi is so expensive.”

There are definitely many expensive sushi restaurants in Tokyo, but there are also many reasonably-priced ones!  When we’re feeling casual, we head to kaiten sushi (rotating sushi).  I like the one in Tokyo Midtown called Hakodate Marukatsu Suisan.  Their selection is always fresh and they remove sushi that stays on the conveyor belt for too long.  For two people, our bill is usually about 4,000 yen including beer.  Also, Midori Sushi in Shibuya’s Mark City has high quality sushi for very reasonable prices.  There is always a long line, but it’s worth the wait!  A little bit more expensive, but still on the reasonable end is the Tsukiji-Sushiko chain, which features fish that are in season but also includes all of the tried and true staples.