For the month of September, 2012
Our second day in Japan began with onigiri. Delicious, delicious onigiri.
We found an onigiri specialty shop in Shimbashi station (when facing the entrance to the JR lines, it’s in the far left corner) called Mai Mai.
(We went there so often, the woman who works there started bringing out the English menu whenever she saw us coming!)
(And what is it with Japanese women taking pictures of posters? Every single time we passed this huge poster in the train station, there was always a group of girls/women standing in front of it, taking photos – no matter what time of day or night. I’m not exaggerating – there literally was not a single time we went by where there wasn’t at least one female (usually quite a few more) taking a picture of it.)
So back to the onigiri. One thing we really loved about the onigiri at Mai Mai was that they used a mixed-grain rice for it.
It was delicious.
The first time we went, we got an onigiri filled with mayo mixed with salmon, and an onigiri filled with miso paste. (The onigiri there are 220 yen each – about $2.75.)
I couldn’t tell you which I liked more, because they were both fantastic. Although now that I think about it, I’m still dreaming about that miso onigiri…
There was a bakery in the train station that we passed by every day, called Kobeya Bakery.
Apparently they’re known for their mango hand pies, so of course we had to stop in and see how they were.
And while we were there, we could’t resist drooling over all the rest of their baked goods as well.
Once we made our purchases, we walked back to a nearby outdoor plaza that had plenty of seating.
It’s no wonder the mango hand pies are their specialty – they were fantastic! Not too sweet, and full of perfectly ripe mango.
All sorts of people can be seen sharing a bench there – like a businessman trying to catch a quick nap, next to some schoolgirls enjoying a snack.
But the thing I was really excited about was the tonkatsu sandwich we also purchased from the bakery.
Hooooly cow. (Perhaps “holy pig” would be more appropriate in this case.)
I’m kind of obsessed.
The katsu sando was made with perfectly fried tonkatsu and a tangy sauce between two soft pieces of white bread. So simple, yet so ridiculously freaking good.
(806 yen for the mango hand pie and katsu sando – about $10.40.)
Back through the station…
… and then we were off to our actual destination.
(Not this takoyaki stand, though there is takoyaki in our future!)
No, we were headed to the Tokyo Dome that day. Though not normally much of a baseball fan, Son wanted to find a gift shop because there was some Japanese baseball team jersey he wanted to see if he could buy.
But before wandering the Tokyo Dome, we found we were hungry again (something you’ll find to be a common theme of this trip) so we sat down to eat another onigiri that we had gone back to Mai Mai’s to get after we enjoyed the first two so much.
This time, the filling was grilled cod roe mixed with mayonnaise. Delicious.
And then we got slightly (understatement of the century) sidetracked by a manga store that was right next to the food court we had sat down in.
So… we’re kind of closet One Piece fans.
In the first few years we were going out, we spent a ton of time watching episodes of it together.
It’s unfortunately been a while since we’ve had time to watch, but I’ve been wanting to for a while.
Which meant it was pretty much impossibly not to buy the manga I was holding a few photos up… and a One Piece shaped ice tray. Heh.
I’m going to be the Pirate King!
Aaaaanyways… after that minor distraction, we were off wandering again, trying to find the baseball gift shop Son had found online.
We wandered around Tokyo Dome City, finding some very interesting menus.
And some very interesting bugs. (I nearly sat on that!)
Finally we found the gift shop, attached to the Tokyo Dome (a baseball stadium).
Unfortunately we didn’t find the jersey Son wanted, but it was definitely interesting to wander around.
Then we went to find more food. Of course.
Like I said earlier, takoyaki was to be had today!
Such a guilty pleasure. Just look at those huge pieces of octopus! (450 yen for 6 pieces – about $5.75)
Son opted to get a salmon ochazuke. (750 yen – about $9.50)
Ochazuke is a dish where you pour a hot liquid (I’ve mostly seen it with green tea, but this one had dashi) over a rice bowl.
This is the first time I’ve seen it made with all these toppings, but it was fantastic!
Then it was back to the train station.
We love the train system in Japan.
Especially when there are little dessert shops right near the train tracks!
This one was in Akihabara station, which I believe was the station nearest the Tokyo Dome.
A quarter of a flan-like tart cost us about $4.70.
After that it was back to the hotel for a nap, then we wandered around the area for a bit.
There’s some really interesting architecture near the Shimbashi station.
By then it was late enough that we just wanted to find something to eat and get back to sleep. (Yep, still a bit jet-lagged.)
Son decided he wanted to go check out Ueno station and see what they had there.
Japanese train stations almost always have an excellent selection of pretty gosh darned good food, whether it be in restaurants or take-out.
Ecute is a little food mall in Ueno station that has a bunch of little stores selling a huge variety of both sweet and savory foods.
We looked around for a bit – there were so many options, it was hard to choose!
But we finally decided on a bento box (1000 yen – about $13).
After all the ramen and greasy foods (takoyaki and katsu sando aren’t exactly light foods!) of the past few days, I wanted something lighter, so I got a small salad as well.
Back at the hotel we got into the food… I just love the bento boxes in Japan! So many interesting foods, you can’t possibly get bored with all that variety (and Son is obsessed with all the different kinds of rice).
The fish was fantastic, all the different tsukemono and types of rice were delicious, and I especially loved the little meatball – tsukune – in the lower right corner.
Day 1. Our first full day in Japan. We woke up to find we had quite a lovely view of Hamarikyu Gardens from our hotel room.
Since we weren’t able to get our JR Passes the previous evening when we arrived in Japan, off we went to Shinagawa station, where there was a JR Exchange Office.
And back we went to our hotel room, because someone (we won’t name names, but it starts with “S” and ends with “on”) neglected to bring their passport, and we couldn’t exchange our JR passes without it. (They wouldn’t even take a photocopy! Boo.)
But we weren’t totally empty-handed – since the first time we were in Japan we stayed across the street from Shinagawa station, we became quite well acquainted with the curry pan from a bakery in the station. Obviously, we couldn’t walk by and not get one.
Do you have any idea how impossible it is to resist buying a cream puff when you can smell them, freshly baked, the scent wafting through the train station? It’s like going by Krispy Kreme when that “Freshly Baked” sign is blinking, or In N’ Out when you can smell french fries cooking from across the street. Or smelling bacon, anytime, ever. Instant cravings.
Yeah, so there’s a Beard Papa’s shop in Shimbashi station, right near the entrance to the JR station. And Son has a coworker who’s OBSESSED with Beard Papa’s (hi, Victor!), so of course we had to stop by and see how the ones in Japan compared to the ones in the US.
All in the name of research and being a good friend. Yup. That’s our excuse, and we’re sticking with it.
No comparison. None. At all. Even just the plain custard-filled cream puff blew our minds. (Which unfortunately is, I’m pretty sure, the only one we had there that you can actually get in the US. Come on, US Beard Papa’s! What’s your deal?!) Best. Cream puffs. Ever.
So, after a quick jaunt up to our hotel room to retrieve aforementioned someone’s passport, off we went to Tokyo Station to exchange our JR Passes. (Tokyo Station is in the opposite direction of Shinagawa Station, a little bit closer to Shimbashi Station so cost us less, and also has a JR Exchange Office.)
After attaining our JR Passes, we decided to walk around Tokyo a bit. (When I say Tokyo, I mean the area around Tokyo station.) By then our stomachs were starting to grumble (a curry bun and a cream puff, shared between the two of us, does not make for much of a breakfast.)
Mind you, neither of us read or speak Japanese, and we’re only somewhat familiar with certain parts of Tokyo. So when it comes to finding a good place to eat… we’re pretty much useless. After a bit of wandering, we ended up at a ramen place with a line out the door for lunch – always a good sign.
I got the tsukemen, which is similar to ramen, but the noodles are served on the side and the broth is thicker than normal ramen.
Son had the miso ramen, and we shared an order of gyoza.
The tsukemen was ridiculously good. The weirdness of squishing into a table across from a couple of businessmen was worth it for that tsukemen.
Son’s ramen and the gyoza weren’t bad either, but we were both in agreement that my tsukemen was the winner of that meal. (The meal came out to 997 yen – about $12 – such a deal!)
After lunch, we walked around a bit, then headed back to Shimbashi station.
We couldn’t help but stop by Beard Papa’s again – more research, of course.
We also stopped by the Tully’s inbetween Shimbashi and Shiodome stations (on the way to our hotel).
Hoping for a taste of home, and unable to resist buying boba milk tea (me, an addict? Nah…), we stopped there for a second, and then sat down in the courtyard outside.
We were so, so sorely disappointed.
In the boba, I mean. The cruller-type pastry we bought from Beard Papa’s (filled with the same sort of pastry cream as the regular cream puffs) was fantastic! Quite possibly even better than the original cream puffs.
But that boba… ugh. Such a waste of 150 yen.
After a quick nap – jet lag had us utterly exhausted by that time – we took the train over to Harajuku.
We walked around Harajuku for a bit, then through Yoyogi park – one of our very favorite parks in Tokyo. This time it was too late to see the Rockabilly dancers or visit food stalls, but it was still nice, a moment of calm in the middle of a busy city.
We searched for the Sword Museum on the other side, but it ended up being closed by the time we got there.
We got to meet Boom, another Japanese-American who began working at Bassanova after Keizo mentioned on his blog that they were looking for more employees.
Son got the Tom Yum Ramen, a spicy Thai-style ramen. It was fantastic. Seriously, we haven’t had anything here that wasn’t amazingly good.
But that wasn’t what I was here for.
I came to Bassanova looking to get my Green Curry
Ramen Soba fix!
Ooooh, baby. That’s some freaking fantastic soba.
I’m still working on convincing Keizo to open a branch of Bassanova in LA, so I don’t have to travel all the way to Tokyo to get my fix!
I swear, it’s like a drug.
And 1800 yen (about $23) for 2 bowls of ramen makes it a very affordable drug.
After hanging out at Bassanova with Keizo for a bit, we took the train to Shibuya to walk off all that ramen.
Then back to the hotel to pass out. Day 1 was a ramen-filled success!Continue Reading
As some of you might know, in January of this year I started a podcast – Miso Hungry Podcast, all about Japanese food! – with Rachael Hutchings of La Fuji Mama. (And if you didn’t know, then you should definitely go listen to one of our 25 (plus 2 mini) episodes! Seriously, go. Now. This post can wait, promise. ^_^)
A couple of months into the podcast, Rachael mentioned that she was planning a trip to Japan with her husband in the summer, as she does every summer. (They lived in Japan for a while a few years back, and his job takes him back to Tokyo for a few weeks every year.)
Half-jokingly, one of us proposed that I should go too, as a “research trip” for the podcast. The more we talked about it, the more it sounded like an awesome idea… and when I mentioned it to Son, he was totally on board.
So what started as a wild, “that would be cool” sort of idea, ended up as a full-fledged trip to Japan. In the middle of June, solidly in typhoon season, six of us (on three different flights) headed off to Japan – Rachael, her husband, and their two daughters, and Son and I.
Son and I booked our flight on Singapore Air. It’s the same airline we flew the first time we went to Japan, and we highly recommend it. Even though we fly economy, they have great service, friendly flight attendants, and food that’s actually pretty good.
To say I’m a bit out of touch with what’s trendy/cool/”in” would be an understatement. Especially when it comes to anything having to do with any sort of alcohol.
The super-sweet flight attendant who took care of our part of the plane recommended that we get a Singapore Sling, on one of the instances when she came by with the drink cart. (I think she thought Son and I were on our honeymoon.)
So we got one to share, which she made super-weak (I’m pretty sure it was practically a virgin cocktail) because neither of us ever drink.
Of course I, the dork that I am, was sitting there thinking, “How cool, they have a cocktail named after their airline! And it’s not half bad, either… actually pretty good, for something with alcohol in it.”
(Remember the part where I said I don’t drink… and I’m waaay out of touch? Yeah…)
Dinner was buta kakuni (Japanese braised pork) with rice, which came with tamago and shrimp on the side, a rice cracker, a roll w/ butter, soba with dipping sauce, and chocolate brownie ice cream. For airplane food, it was damn good.
(Asian airlines always have the best food! I’m told food on the American airlines can’t even compare. Word to the wise – although both options offered by Singapore Air at each meal are pretty decent, the one with Asian food is almost always better.)
After a few hours of “sleeping” – aka Son watching various movies and me reading an entire Robert Jordan book on my Kindle, we got another light meal – this time chicken curry with rice, which came with a roll with butter, seafood salad, and a mocha cake. Again, delicious (although the cake kind of sucked.)
We landed at Narita Airport around 7pm Japan time… which unfortunately was juuust too late to exchange our JR Exchange Order for a JR Pass.
(PRO TIP: if you are going to be staying in one city, without traveling elsewhere much, then the JR Pass may not be worth it for you, since local trains usually aren’t too expensive. However, if you’re planning on using the Shinkansen a lot – we used it to go to Kyoto and Osaka – then it might be worth buying one before your trip to Japan.)
So, since we were too late to get our JR Passes, we ended up spending 2800 yen (about $35) for tickets on the Rapid train to get from the airport (which is about 1 hour away from Tokyo) to Shimbashi station (which is the closest big station to the hotel where we were staying.)
By the time we got to our hotel, we were 100% completely and totally exhausted. Also, kind of lost. (Park Hotel Tokyo, which is where we were staying, is kind of hard to find from the subway station level, and the lobby is on the 20-somthingth floor.)
And by that time, everything was closed. Luckily for us, there was a Family Mart convenience store (aka “combini”) on the subway level of the hotel building, which our bellboy was kind enough to point us to.
Thank goodness for Family Mart. Open 24-hours, always brightly lit, and always with plenty of food… it became our favorite place over the next two weeks. Every morning we would buy a bottle of water there, every night a tuna with mayo onigiri for the next morning’s breakfast… and any time we found ourselves still hungry when most restaurants were already closed (or we were too exhausted to go out), Family Mart was there with plenty of good food.
Seriously. I’m not kidding about it being really freaking good food (um, hello American convenience stores, get your act together please!)
For our first meal back in Japan, we ended up with inari sushi and futomaki, fruit jelly, and a cherry soda. (Sushi was good, Son ate the fruit jelly, and I’m generally not a fan of cherry-flavored things so I didn’t really like the soda, but Son says it was good.) All for about 800 yen (about $10). Only in Japan will I ever advocate getting convenience store sushi! ^_^
Okay, so our “first” day in Japan wasn’t so exciting… hence it being labeled “Day 0”. But the next day included ramen, cream puffs, and more ramen… so stay tuned for the next post!Continue Reading