Tokyo is the city that lives in my heart. Last week Carol and I took vacations and went to Japan ! Tokyo is like a paradise: first of all, food is awesome ! Very unlike NYC, everywhere you go, food is good. There is not much need to choose much, you are choosing between great and super awesome food. It may be that if you compare the best restaurants in Tokyo with the best restaurants in NYC or Paris, they might be similar. But comparing a random place, there is probably nowhere that can beat Tokyo. That being said, a guidebook is not so necessary, but I got two anyway: the first was the Rough Guide to Tokyo, which turned out not very useful and we ended up leaving it in the hotel most of the days. We had Google Maps (T-mobile now has free worldwide roaming) and the main reason to have a Rough Guide was to orient in the city, was mostly gone. We still checked it every morning to read about the neighborhood we were visiting, but I believe I could get a similar thing from Wikipedia or Wikitravel. The second guide we bought was called Food Sake Tokyo and it was a guidebook only about food. This one was super useful and we carried it most of the time. Guide was nice to navigate the options Tokyo offered and the variety of cuisines in Japan. Half is restaurant recommendations, and half is just a book about Japanese food, specially things outside the usual or hidden restaurants that were very popular. In the end we used this guide half the time and half the time we picked places at random. Another book that I read was Pretty Good Number One. It is a travel diary of an American family (a couple and their 8-year old daughter) spending one month in Tokyo and falling in love with Japanese food. This is not a guidebook but I found a really nice inspiration for a trip.
We arrived in Japan in the night of April 12. Sort of anxious, since we wanted to see cherry blossoms. A week before, a friend of mine living in Tokyo wrote saying that trees were blossoming, I should come quickly. I thought I’d arrive and they would be over. The first thing upon we arrived was to go to the gardens in Shinjuku Gyoen to see if we could still spot some cherry blossoms. We were super happy when saw the park was still full of cherry blossoms. Some of the trees are late bloomers and the flowers appear one week after the first cherry blossoms. We then went to the park, bought some sweets with cherry blossom themes, of course, and filled with cherry boossom (sakura) paste and stayed there for appreciating the flowers. Here are us and the sweets:
As the title of this blog post is saying, this was intended to be a food diary in which I describe what we ate in Japan. So let’s go for it. Forgive me if I sound like a snob, but food in Tokyo is just too awesome not to write about it). Here we go:
Sunday: After spending the morning in the park, we start to get hungry (even after all those cherry blossom sweets). So we go to Nihombashi to eat eel. I am fascinated by eel and the first thing I felt like doing in Japan was to try how eel tasted like in Japan. Most of the time I eat eel in the US is unagi, i.e. fresh water eel. So we went to try anago, the leaner sea-water eel in a restaurant in Nihombashi (Anago Tamai) which served a single dish, which was anago grilled over rice. They served together with tea and recommended to eat the final 1/4 of the dish as ochazuke.
After lunch, we went to the depachika in a nearby department store in Nihombashi. A depachika is a floor devoted to food. We spent at least one hour browsing eating all kinds of sweets. The stores are usually divided in a section with Japanese sweets (Wagashi), sweets made of beans, green tea and fruits and a section with Western sweets (Yogashi), mostly French.
For dinner we met Leandro Hideo, who took us to an Izakaya specialized in food from Hokkaido, the northern region from Japan. Besides getting sashimi (in particular, we got uni, which I was super excited to eat) and a crab (which I believe it was a snow-crab). Here is me, Hideo and the crab.
Monday: After visiting the Zozo-ji in the morning, we walked to the Tsukiji Fish Market to have an omakase sushi lunch at Sushi Bun. We waited in line for a while, but it was definitely worth it. Fish was super fresh and nice. In the evening, we walked in Ginza and went to a place at random. It was a yakitori izakaya specialized in chicken yakitori. We got a tasting menu, which brought us skewers with some less conventional parts of the chicken. As a Brazilian, I am a big fan of chicken hearts. I also learned in this meal that chicken necks can be super tasty.
Tuesday: We got some really good street food near the meiji shrine. First, we got takoyaki, little octopus balls — which is my all-time-favorite fried thing. Second we got some pastries in the shape of a fish filled with sweet red beans. Finally, we sampled a bunch of sweet shops. The simple lunch sort of counter-balanced the dinner, in which we indulged outselves in a kaiseki dinner . We went to Tsukiji Tamura, just outside the fish market. Kaiseki meals are multi-course menus, known for the careful presentation and seasonal ingredients. In total we had eight courses, which were more of less like that: (1) the first course resembled an appetizer. It was a round wooden dish with a piece of raw fish, a small cooked fish, a small bowl with two small squids, a skewer with vegetables, a piece of beef, some cooked roots, … (2) second dish was a tofu dish served in a bowl with a lid. (3) third dish was a bowl filled with ice and sashimi on top (3) a piece of broiled fish and snail sashimi, eaten directly from the shell. Here I was lucky to eat my own snail and the one Carol’s dish. (4) a vegetable course; (5) a second vegetable course; (6) a hearty rice dish. (7) a light fruity desert (8) a sweet bean soup; (9) a cup of matcha.
Wednesday: On Wednesday we took the train to Kamakura, a city 1 hour from Tokyo known for its many temples and shrines. Food-wise the city is well-known for the Zen cuisine, very light and based on vegetables and rice. Carol got for lunch rice with curry and vegetables. I got tamago gohan, which is a dish of rice mixed with a raw egg, spices, soy souce and sesame oil. It was quite nice, specially because I got a bowl of rice, spices, oil, sauce separate, and an unbroken egg and assembled the dish myself. Later we further got some deserts in the city:
In the evening, we got okonomiyaki at the train station — which is a pancake with pork (it actually can contain pretty much anything, but the one we got had pork inside) and a bunch of things on top, like mayonnaise, mustard, bonito flakes, …
Thursday: For lunch we got Chirashi in Kagurazawa (Futaba) — which is a bowl of rice with small pieces of fish on top. The restaurant again had only one dish and one price (which was around $15 dollars). Having only one option is great, specially in Japan. For two reasons: they really focus on preparing this option perfectly: the ingredients are fresh and seasonal. Besides, you don’t need to decide — which is hard since all the menus and explanations are in Japanese. They asked us to pay to a cashier, showed a table and brought our bowl of chirashi:Our final dinner in Japan we chose to walk around the neighborhood we were staying (Nishi-shinjuku) and sit in the first sushi place we found. As it was Japan, it was great !
Friday: In the last day, we had to catch our flight back. We had a little time, so we walked around Roppongi and Azabu. We finish with a fantastic view of the city we got from the Roppongi Hills:
Here are our travel pictures.