How could I have lived in Japan and have a food blog without dedicating at least one post to ramen? I can’t. So here is my spiel on these delicious Japanese noodles. When I first arrived in Tokyo I had ramen for dinner almost every night. Then my friend told me that a bowl of ramen has the same amount of fat, calories, and sodium as a big mac, so I had to cut back a little. There are ramen shops on just about every block in Tokyo, but not all ramen shops are created equal. Below is a photo of just a mediocre bowl of ramen I had near my house.
Ippudo in Gotanda is one of the most famous shops, probably because there is also one in New York City that is amazing. There are many blogs solely dedicated to ramen. The New York Times featured an article about ramen in Tokyo in which it referenced a blog called Ramenate!. http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/travel/31ramen.html One of the ramen shops blogged about on Ramenate! was only a few blocks from where I lived in Tokyo. http://www.ramenate.com/2009/10/ramen-jiro-mita-honten.html The shop, called Ramen Jiro Mita Honten, is a mecca of over-sized portions of ramen. Ramenate! does a much better job than I can describing the ramen there, so I recommend that you read it. Jiro Mita Honton is only open from 10:00 to 4:00 Monday to Friday, but if you want to eat, better get there early. A line starts forming around 9:30 and wraps around the block by noon. There are only about 15 bar stools but the patrons wolf down their enormous bowls of ramen with heaping mounds of pork on top at baffling speeds.
The line at 11:00 am
The massive bowl of ramen. I couldn’t finish it – which is saying something coming from me. It ain’t pretty, but it sure was tasty. And the chef loaded garlic on to it, which is rare in Tokyo but extra delicious.
Last week I went to Il Teatro at the Four Seasons in Tokyo at Chinzan-so to enjoy their seasonal sakura tasting menu. The food was beautifully presented and we had the best table in the restaurant, overlooking the historic Chinzan-so garden with the sakura (cherry blossoms) in bloom. Below are photos of each course:
Sakura Smoked Salmon
Risotto with sakura
Red Snapper with fiddle-head ferns and sakura sauce
Sakura yogurt mousse
The third time is a charm!!! After two failed attempts at eating at Sushi Dai in the Tsukiji fish market, I finally was able to get there early enough to get to the front of the line. Achieving this entailed pulling an all-nighter at a 24-hour izakaya and hopping in a cab at 4:30 am to the market, and then waiting in line for an hour. Let me tell you – it was soooo worth it! Best sushi ever! The quality and the freshness of the fish is unparalleled. The only thing that freaked me out was the live clam that was still moving when you put it in your mouth. We did the chef’s menu, but you can order a la carte.
So excited to even have the privilege to wait in line! Getting into Sushi Dai is harder than getting into Bungalow 8. haha.
Sorry, the lighting is bad but this is the clam that was alive in my mouth. yikes.
Baby squid – surprisingly delicious.
We got to choose our last piece of sushi, and I chose salmon. Kind of a lame choice, but it was amazing.
All the food here is magnificent, even the stuff they sell out of carts on the side of the street. Below is a sampling of what I’ve eaten thus far.
These are mochi (pounded rice) balls on a stick. They are green because they are matcha flavored. You can also get plain ones and ones with sweet sauce. Super yum.
These pork shumai on a stick are from Yokohama’s China Town – the best China Town I have ever been to.
Takoyaki = fried balls with octopus chunks. It may sound odd, but they’re delicious. Especially when covered in mayonnaise and bonito flakes. Try and wait for them to cool off before devouring. I learned this the hard way and scorched the roof of my mouth. I’ll never learn patience…
This is a vendor truck I came across near Hakone (vendor trucks are all the rage, and Japan is not one to be left out on a trend). I didn’t try the fish cakes, but it looked nice.
The other vendor food you should try, but I don’t have a picture of is Taiyaki – cakes usually filled with azuki (red bean paste) that are shaped like fish. The most famous and oldest Taiyaki vendor in all of Tokyo is near where I live in Azabu Juban called Naniwaya Sohonten.
Chocolate covered bananas, squid on sticks, sausages on sticks, and crepes are also popular street foods. And the best thing is street food is always a bargain.
My first dining experience in Gotanda (a residential neighborhood in Tokyo) was a comedy of errors due to a vast language barrier, but in the end we were fed and had a tasty meal. The restaurant looks like a regular local izakaya but it specialized in hot pot. It took almost an hour to order because the staff didn’t speak any English. They tried avoiding us at first, and then ended up calling some one on the phone and writing down a choice of broth flavors in English for us. My friend and I ordered a seafood assortment hot pot to share. We weren’t sure exactly how to cook all the items on the platter, which included whole scallops, shrimp, muscles, and fish, but our waiter helped us out with cooking most of it. One of the best parts was drinking the broth that everything was cooked in at the end. Below is a picture of my confusion.
One of the nicest dining experiences I’ve had in Tokyo this semester was at an oyster bar in Gotanda aptly named “Tokyo Oyster Bar”, and it went without any communication breakdowns (a rarity for me) due to the wonderful English skills of our waiter. I looooove oysters and this place did them right. It wasn’t cheap, but for oysters, it was a good deal. We also splurged on a decent bottle of wine that was super drinkable. Tokyo Oyster Bar has an extensive wine list, with many coming from Washington. The first dish we had was just raw oysters from Japan, and then we had oyster bibimbap in a hot stone bowl and jumbo fried oysters, which was actually several oysters fried together in a ball. YUMMY
In order to appease my sweet-tooth, and to purchase another less expensive bottle of wine, we left the oyster bar to go to an izakaya down the street. We successfully found a bottle of red wine for under ten bucks and the only communication error ended up being in our benefit – we meant to order one chocolate brownie/berry/ice cream dessert, but instead we received two. I was okay with that.
My most recent time eating in Gotanda was at amazing ramen shop that my friend introduced me to. This place puts dumplings in the ramen!! How wonderfully excessive!! They also provide these spectacular dried onion bits to garnish to ramen with. The portion is huge (I got a tummy ache from finishing my entire bowl), but it also more pricey than the average bowl of ramen. It is so worth it, though. Freaking delicious.
I took a day trip to the lovely Kamakura over the weekend. Kamakura is a wonderful seaside town less than an hour by train from Tokyo. The town is famous for its giant Buddha and many beautiful temples and shrines. It was thoroughly enjoyable. The highlight for me, however, was the specialty cuisine of the town: purple potatoes. Kamakura is especially renowned for its purple potato ice cream!!! YUMMY!!! I started the day off with a pre-lunch snack – a giant rice cake made right before my eyes and served with piece of nori so that the sweet sauce on the cracker doesn’t get on your hands.
We also made a pre-lunch stop at a shop that sells pickled-everything. Anything you can pickle, they sell, and it’s all delicious. And the best part is – you can sample everything!!! I LOVE SAMPLES!! I have a radar for free tasters and it was definitely beeping at this place, because there were over twenty different items to sample. Pickled bamboo, pickled garlic, pickled tomatoes, pickled eggplant, pickled sardines, etc… So much fun!!
For lunch we went to one of my favorite types of places in Japan, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Unlike conveyor belt sushi outside of Japan, the ones in the country are for the most part all very fresh and delicious. If the place is busy, it’s probably fresh, and they are also usually very reasonably priced. I love conveyor belt sushi because it’s instant gratification: you see what you want and you grab it, and you can always eat the perfect amount of food.
Of course for dessert we had purple potato ice cream. I opted for the purple potato/green tea ice cream swirl – a fine choice indeed. The two flavors were subtle and complemented each other very well. It was blissful!