DDD does Japan


I’m in Japan so I’m not cooking, but I’m certainly eating.  I’ve come to Tokyo for the first part of the week, then we’re off to Happo-one in Hakuba for some snowboarding at the weekend.  Yes, it’s a long way to come for a week, but what are airmiles for if not for your boyfriend to buy you a flight to come see him while he’s working there?

So I’m eating my way to, round, and back from Tokyo, and will post as much as I can about the good, the bad and the can’t-quite-tell-what-it-is-but-let’s-give-it-a-go.

Food on the way here was pretty amazing for a long-haul flight, cos I was in Upper, baby!

Real salt and pepper pots
Trio of prawns with Marie Rose sauce and pea shoot cress.
Grilled chicken miso yaki with teriyaki sauce, steamed rice, carrots, sugar snap peas and bamboo shoots
Cornish camembert, Denhay farmhouse cheddar, Garstang blue
They even offer you cheese and biscuits.  Neither of which come wrapped in plastic.  Please excuse the blurry shots: they’re from my phone, I’d had four glasses of champagne, and I was on a plane.

And then there was Tokyo. Tokyo is mind-bogglingly enormous, and I think I was a bit overwhelmed yesterday when I first got here, but I’ve done better today.  My main problem is that I feel horribly inadequate when I’m in a country where don’t speak the language (which is many, many places, I know), to the point that it often stops me doing exactly what I want for fear of utter communication breakdown and embarrassment.  So yesterday having made my way to the hotal, gawping out of the bus window at the sheer size of only the sliver of the city we passed though, I somewhat grumpily wandered round Shibuya, kind of hungry, kind of feeling a little bit sick (my stomach gets jetlag and initially complains when I jump too many timezones) but mainly struck dumb in awe of the choice and unfamiliarity of it all.

After far too many laps of the many food halls I settled for a friendly looking place that had pictures of some good looking bowls of something displayed outside.  The waiting staff had cute linen flat caps which won me over.  They didn’t look like they’d scoff at my terrible attempts at ordering in pseudo-Japanese, and I was right.  They’re idea of speaking “only a little” English is vastly different from my speaking only a little Japanese, to my shame.

Between me pointing at the menu photos and my waitress’s English, I got a bowl of thick udon noodles with pork in a milky broth, and a bowl of fishy beans on the side.  It was just what I needed.  With tea, it cost 980yen/£7.

Last night we went to Ouchi Sushi, a sashimi and sushi restaurant where we had the speciality menu at a slightly eye-watering 10,000 yen a head.  The sushi and sashimi nuts I was with absolutely loved it.  I thought it was lovely, but it’s just not my favourite type of food.  The freshness was astounding, not just the fish, but the wasabi.  Having dabbed their green paste on my fish, I realise I’ve never tasted the true flavour of wasabi at home, only the heat and so had missed it’s delicate flavour.

The restaurant was very traditional with a talented chef and charming manager, who is clearly delighted to serve such glorious food to those who navigate the back streets of Shibuya seeking the ultimate organic fish experience. For sushi the way it should be, and was originally, done, I’d say this is close to a perfect Tokyo experience.

With the office boys gifted a slightly later start, we had time to have a traditional Japanese breakfast together in the hotel.  I am now kicking myself that I forgot to take my phone or a camera, so you’ll just have to believe me that it was the most effort I’ve ever seen a kitchen put into the first meal of the day.  A baked soy cake with savoury garnishes, followed by grilled mackerel and omelette, some other little dishes of things I now can’t remember (dammit – must take phone at all times!) then rice porridge with pickles.  Although it might sound like a lot of food, it was a perfect amount to be happily full and ready to take on the day ahead.  Which for me involved a trip to Kappabashi-dori: a whole street of kitchen and homeware shops.  Heaven!

I knew I found the right street when I saw this looming in the distance

I did a full lap of the main section, poking my nose in many, many shops before spending a yen.  I wanted to get a good sense of what was on offer, mainly because I can’t stand being afflicted with buyers remorse when I’m on holiday.  And mainly because I love a good kitchen shop.  And this was a whole street of them!  Along the way I saw some amazing “only in Tokyo” sights, like this robot made of pans outside a “kitchen museum”:

 I resisted the allure of the Japanese steel:

Completion of my full circuit was marked by the sister building to the chef in the toque from above, so then the purse came out…..

But I didn’t resist the knives for long….on my second lap, I went in, just to look around, you understand…..and came out with a massive, heavy cleaver and a 4 inch vegetable knife, as well as a gift of a little folding knife from this shop, sold to me by a very helpful man.

I also bought some bits and pieces from other shops: some random utensils, an apple-shaped chopping board which I’m going to keep onion-free, some silcone mats, some bento/garnishing twiddly bits that a friend asked me to look out for, and some ceramic bowls.  I could go back and buy a lot more…..but I’ll wait and see what Loft and Tokyu Hands have in store for me tomorrow.

Shopping done, the effects of breakfast wore off about 3pm so I went to a little street food stall I’d walked past on my way to Kappabashi-dori.  I lost my nerve (having practised “Please can I have that one” along the way, to be coupled with some pointing.  Wimp) and just asked for one portion, and pointed.

The stall only sold one thing, although the photos suggested in a few different ways, and although I had absolutely no idea what it was, it looked great.  I wandered down to the Sumida river, found a seat to perch on and tucked in.

I admit it doesn’t look great like this, but it was 8 golf-ball size dumplings that had been cooking on a neat semi-circular grill, turned part way to form a sphere.  Although I didn’t see him pour any, I figured it was a kind of savoury batter, and from some googling, I think they’re takoyaki.

You might be able to see a bit better now, and please forgive my hacking with the chopsticks. Inside is a bit of octopus, and a creamy vegetable sauce/batter.  At 380 yen/£2.80 a portion, an utter bargain.  I had this at about 3:30 – it’s now 8:10 and I’m only now thinking about dinner….mmm, dinner.

My view while I ate: I had no idea what I was looking at but everyone seemed to be taking pictures of it.  Turns out it’s the Asahi Beer headquarters.  The golden building is meant to be a tall jug of beer with a foamy head and the short black one is the Super Dry Hall and is meant to look like a traditional beer glass.   With a random golden blob on top.  Hmm.

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