Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hello Kitty Chopsticks

I was excited for the opportunity to try fresh sushi, kobe beef, and green tea everything. Tokyo far exceeded my expectations by all counts.  The city is easy to navigate, even if you don't speak or understand a shred of Japanese. We did not visit many historical sights, instead, we spent hours touring the various prefectures of the city.  Everyone is friendly and helpful, and, while this was a city of 35 million, I noticed that hardly any bikes were locked when parked outside a store.

I also noted that most things geared towards women were pink and sparkly.  That pretty much moved Tokyo into a top spot in my own personal "World's Best List".  Oh, and not to mention all the fresh, delicious food that we ate pretty much every block along the way.
No post would be complete without me posting what I ate on the plane. As luck would have it, our original flight via Detroit was overbooked.  So, stealthy mileage runners that we are (by we, I mean Michael), we decided to volunteer to give up our seats in exchange for a travel voucher. We also received lunch and dinner vouchers for the inconvenience.  A measly $6 each, but for some reason I was (overly) excited about the idea of having a meal voucher for my pepperoni pizza at Sbarro.  After spending some time in the sky lounge, we decided to grab dinner before our next flight.  There is a new place in Terminal 2 called Croque Monsieur.  We all ordered the sandwich and took it on board our flight.  I was too busy shoving it in my face to take photos, but it was a good meal to hold me over while flying to LA.

The LA - Tokyo leg was about 12 hours, so we were offered a complete meal service.  The menu wasn't as exciting as the one I received on Singapore Airlines earlier this year, but it was better than no menu (I'm referring to the SEA - AMS leg I took earlier in June).

Beef with noodles, shrimp cocktail, and a brownie.

Breakfast was a croissant with egg

Per usual, I was starving when I landed (despite the influx of snacks, including 2 packages of milano cookies).  We missed the tuna auction at the Tsujiki fish market, but naturally made it in time to have some extraordinary sushi.  My personal favorites were the salmon, sea urchin, and toro.

After walking around the fish market for a bit, we decided to explore the neighborhood.  "Somehow" we found a food market, and samples were handed to us left and right.  We even got to participate in a demonstration! Becca and I made Tamago Yaki!

{The tamago yaki batter consists of eggs, soy sauce, and sugar}

{Street Food}

After all the samples, we needed a pick me up.  So we stopped for a coffee. I had read about "Japanese Style" coffee, and this particular coffee shop claimed to have it.  Apparently it is different in that it is filtered through a very narrow filter, only allowing one or two drips at a time.  This method produces a stronger, more flavorful brew than traditional methods.  I was just happy that granulated sugar wasn't getting stuck in my straw as it usually does when I get iced coffee from the NY street carts.

{Japanese style iced coffee!}

Later that afternoon, we joined a walking tour. Michael asked one of the tour guides for Kobe beef recommendations.  She gave us the top restaurants in the city, and even called one to make sure they were open! This lady was a concierge at one of the top hotels in the city, so we assumed she knew her stuff when it came to Kobe beef.  Of course, after the tour, we were "hungry" afterwards so began a search for ramen.  One of the other tour guides mentioned that ramen is readily available at the Tokyo train station, so we went in search of this.  Only, we couldn't find it anywhere.  Instead, we found some kind of gourmet food hall.  I tried a Pao Pao bun and had some ice cream.

{Pao Pao}

About 40 minutes later, we found a ramen place in a Shinjuku.  Words cannot describe how disgustingly full I was at this point.  But, I was still excited for our Kobe beef dinner later that evening.

After a much needed foot massage, we all trekked to another neighborhood to try this infamous Kobe beef at 511.  Kobe beef is not a type of cattle, but rather a type of quality of meat that comes from a distant region in Japan.  According to the link above, the highest grade is A5/12.  Apparently, all cuts of Kobe at this restaurant are the grade right below A5/12, or A5/11 (hence the name of the restaurant).  I ordered the eight course tasting menu.  Unfortunately, a few of the dishes were mediocre, but, the grand finale was excellent.

The head chef even came to our room and showed us the cut of meat we were about to eat.  The stamp indicates that it is qualified as Kobe beef! Oh my GOD look at that marbling!

One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the prevalence of vending machines, seemingly on every corner and in the subways in Tokyo.  You can buy drinks pretty much everywhere.  You can find water, hot coffee, cold coffee, Gatorade type drinks all available for sale.  I accidentally purchased a weird electrolyte drink 'Pocari Sweat'. I also purchased a delicious iced coffee - actually better than any street vendors here in New York!

{Iced coffee from vending machine}

{Vending Machine}

Not ones to quit, we took Sunday by full force.  We walked around a neighborhood and found a ton of vendors lining the streets.  Sanjay told us this particular neighborhood was "good to see" and that he'd accompany us. Actually his favorite Tokyo ice cream shop was in this stretch of the city, so we can see why he so generously offered to join us.

{Flavors of ice cream}

{Black Seasme Ice Cream}

We found many other snacks at this market - including some kind of doughnut filled with red bean paste.

THEN we decided to get lunch.  I found an Okonomiyaki restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet.  This was probably as authentic as it comes! We sat down on tatami mats and removed our shoes.  There was a grill in front of us where we were to cook our pancakes.  It was almost like Benihana's!

Okonomiyaki with pork and cabbage

Okonomiyaki with noodles

We walked around some more, purchased more street snacks, and then walked even more.

We had our last meal at a place named Tokyo Curry Lab.  It seemed to be an inexpensive sit down restaurant.  It claimed that curry came to Japan in the 1800's, when Japanese soldiers were stationed in India. The phenomenon quickly spread to Japan, and now Japanese curry is a very popular dish.  I know I've tried it at Menutaki.  

On our flight back, we were blessedly upgraded to business class.  This meant that I could sleep peacefully on the flat bed, seamlessly adjusting back into New York time, and have more lavish snack options and my meals would come on china instead of disposable trays. Oh, we also got to stuff our faces with breakfast foods in the sky lounge.

Champagne at 6:30am

Almond French Toast

Pork with Noodles

So after approximately 48 hours in Tokyo, what is my verdict? Tokyo is a huge win.  While I don't think I will be making sushi any time soon, I was inspired by quite a few ice cream flavors and look forward to trying those out in the future.  Not to mention trips to Asia are always a great way to get a 12k boost to your MQM!


Tacoma said...

Wonderful pictures.Yum yum.

Anonymous said...

hahah love asia trip miles :)

great pics jyo!! that pocari thing looks familiar, i've definitely had some pocari type drink from a can at the asian groceries here.

Leena said...

LOVE Japanese curry! Yum yum!