Thursday, July 16, 2015

Japan 2014: 5 Things to Eat in Tokyo

I'm celebrating a one-week anniversary of a sprained leg. Oh, haven't I mentioned? My middle name happens to be Klutz. In case you were wondering, I sprained my leg on flat ground, while wearing flats. Okay, to be more precise, I was stepping off the pavement to cross the road (no traffic lights), so I turned my head to keep a look out for cars, and somewhere in between that coordination (or lack of) between my brain and my body, I sprained my ankle and managed to park my butt on the road. Talk about mortification. I'm not even going to think about whether I flashed anyone in the midst of my fall. *shudders*And it's no-exercise for the next two weeks or so. *wails*

It's not the first time I'm being clumsy, and sigh, I can't blame anyone except myself. Well, then I guess I should be glad that my overseas trip this coming long weekend was cancelled cos I can't do much walking anyway. As my friend had a last minute work trip, we had to cancel our tickets. :( Okay, I'm officially suffering from withdrawal travel symptoms.

SO. Instead of moaning about lack of travel plans, I decided to have a look at some of my old (way overdue) photos of our Japan trip early last year. These are the last set of photos, and it's all about food, glorious food.

Blacows, Tokyo, Japan 2014

Japan is the land of good food, as I'm sure everyone knows. I did not have a single bad meal in my Japan trip. The following are just my humble recommendations on what to eat in Japan.

1. Takeaway food from departmental stores dining halls

Most major departmental stores in Japans have a basement level dedicated to food. There will be a supermarket selling fresh produce and more, and also various food stalls selling food such as sushi, sashimi, bento sets, fried items, grilled meats, cakes, petit souvenir snacks and more.

My cousin raved about the beef burger from Blacows, so when we were in Tokyo, it was on my to-eat list. The original store in Ebisu seemed pretty far away, but an online search showed that they had a take-out counter in Daimaru at Tokyo Station. On our first day, upon arriving in Tokyo, we were starving. So we stopped by Daimaru first to buy some food before heading to our hotel.

There we were, pulling our luggage along while scoping out what looks good (read - everything, basically). What I loved about departmental food halls in Japan was there was just such a huge variety of food on offer and everything looked sooooooo damn good. In the end, we decided to grab a beef burger from Blacows, a tonkatsu cutlet from Maisen, and some sushi to share.

The burger was not too bad, but then as we ate it cold, so I couldn't really say how good it was (food always taste much better when it's served hot). The tonkatsu cutlet was really crispy, light and not too greasy. I wonder how the Japanese have perfected the art of deep frying without making it taste too oily. Must be some special breadcrumbs or something.

Blacows [Daimaru, Tokyo Station outlet]
Address: 大丸東京店, B1, 1-9-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Opening hours: 10am - 9pm

2. Slurping noodles [aka ramen] 

I'm not a big fan of ramen noodles, but hey, I'll make an exception since we're in Japan. There are ramen shops everywhere, but a popular to-go place for ramen is the Tokyo Ramen Street (東京ラーメンストリート) at Tokyo Station, where there are eight ramen restaurants all clustered together. The Sis, BIL and I picked Tonkotsu Ramen (俺式純) after walking around to check out the different shops.

It's typical for ramen shops to have a vending machine outside the shop, where customers order their choice of noodles via the press of a button. How ingenious. You have to buy a ticket, then queue for seats after making your selection, then when there are seats, you pass the ticket to the shop attendant, who will seat you and serve you once your order is ready. That's about it.

I wanted to try something new - so I got the tsukemen (noodles with dipping sauce). I know I've mentioned earlier that I was not a ramen person, but man, those noodles were super springy and delicious! The Sis and BIL on the other hand, both got soup based noodles.

Opening hours at Tokyo Ramen Street (information accurate as of 2014)

Tokyo Ramen Street (東京ラーメンストリート)
Address: JR東京駅, Tokyo Station Ichibangai B1, 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-0005, Japan
Opening hours: Varies, depending on each store

Another famous ramen place - Ichiran ramen. The BIL had googled for the nearest outlet when we were out one day, and as there was one outlet near where we were at then (Harujuku), we walked over to get ourselves a late lunch. Even though it was a non-peak hour, there was still a queue for the ramen shop. As per all ramen shops I've seen so far, the vending machine was present, outside the shop entrance, for you to key in your order.

It was my first time dining in a shop which was very solo-diners friendly. See, the shop layout was that each seat was an individual "booth", there was a divider separating each diner and the next (which can be opened and folded up if you happen to dine with someone). You don't have to fret about getting weird looks if you happen to be dining alone, and can enjoy your food in peace. Like how cool is that!

The ramen noodles here were different from the ones I had at Tokyo Ramen Street. They were thinner, and had a different texture. Oh yeah, you can totally customise your bowl of noodles here at Ichiran. Referring to white form above, you can choose the level of "oily-ness" of the broth, intensity of the broth, and even the doneness of how you want your noodles to be prepared. Ramen level up indeed.

Ichiran 一蘭
Address: Multiple locations across Tokyo, refer to their website here

3. Eat at a specialty store

This is pretty easy actually, as in Japan, I notice that restaurants tend to specialise in a particular dish/type of food. Like say - there are ramen shops, tempura shops, soba shops, yakitori shops, sushi shops, you get the gist. I guess it's their way of specialisation that explains why Japanese food is so yummy in Japan.

The Dad loves tempura, every time we have Japanese food, he ALWAYS gets tempura prawns. So while in Japan, we had a meal at a specialty tempura shop we found by chance one late afternoon.

Look at that really interesting tower of flavoured salts - wasabi, herb, seaweed and sea salt. I had fun trying them all with the various tempura pieces I had.

There were ala carte dishes, or set menus available. It's a no-brainer to which I chose heh.

BIL's ala carte tempura bowl

I thought that the set meals were really value for money as there was so much food! The food just kept arriving non-stop, and our table was crammed with plates (below photo does not show everything we had). Totally recommend this place!

Tempura Tsunahachi 天ぷら つな八
Address: Daimaru Tokyo 12F, 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-6701
Opening hours: 11am - 11pm
(multiple branches across Tokyo, refer to here)

4. Binge on delicious Japanese desserts

There are so many reowned Japanese patisseries, and I couldn't try them all in my extremely short trip. What a pity. But hey, I had my priorities, and I had a few key desserts that I *by hook or crook* had to chow down on.

Hidemi Sugino needs no introduction, it is one of the most famous Japanese patisserie in Tokyo, and there is just that one single store, no other branch anywhere else. Prior to my trip, I had previously attempted to make a Hidemi Sugino recipe before and if not for the recipe book being in Japanese, I would have gotten a copy of the book already.

We actually got a lil lost trying to find the store, and was just going round and round the alley trying to locate it when we finally found it. The store was discreetly tucked away in a quiet alley lane, but it was full-house when we stepped in, so we had to wait a bit before we got seated. In the meantime, I perused the desserts on display and tried my best to narrow down the choices (instead of ordering one of everything like I really wanted to ha!).

It was strictly "no photography" allowed in the store, but I managed to sneak a couple of shots using my iPhone, so pardon the low quality and awkward composition of the images.

 Pretty desserts! (with the BIL's hand photo bombing the shot)

The shop assistants were not so strict with using phone cameras while you are dining in I guess, cos I managed to get my shots without having to look around furtively too much (phone in silent mode of course).

Dining in: Belle Jardiniere; Arabique; Strawberry Pistachio

The desserts were so so good. The mousse in the cakes were oh so light and dreamy, without ever being too rich, and the sweetness level was just right. I had read that Hidemi Sugino cakes were not too sweet, and it was true. The tart shell was also crisp and delicious. Desserts in Japan don't come at a cheap price, and the cakes here were pricey, but I do feel that it was worth every penny. After consuming the treats, I bought two additional items as takeaway. The caramel tart was equally good, crisp butter shell encasing a thick caramel, with a perfectly formed quenelle resting lightly on top of the tart. The berry cake, was equally good as the ones we had in store. Seriously, how can cakes taste so good? *swoon*

Takeaway: Tartelette au Caramel + Sous Bois

Hidemi Sugino
Address: 3-7-17, Kyobashi 1F, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Station: Kyobashi or Ginza 1-Chrome Subway
Open: 11am to 7pm, Closed on Mondays
Tel: 03 3538 6780

Being a serial matchaholic, I was not about to leave Japan without having any matcha desserts. Surprisingly though, I brought back more matcha snacks from my trip, rather than had it there in Japan itself. One dessert place we checked out was Tsujiri (which I know have two branches in Singapore). They had more items on the menu in Japan compared to the Singapore outlets. We got a matcha parfait with the works to share between the three of us. Intense matcha flavours with all the matcha goodies crammed inside that tall glass.

Tsujiri 茶寮都路里
Address:千代田区 東京駅八重洲北口 大丸東京店 10階, Tokyo Daimaru Level 10
Opening hours: 10am - 8pm

Crepes are a popular street snack in Japan. We had crepes a few times in Japan, but my Sis says her fave is the one we had at the popular crepe shop - Angels Heart at Harajuku.

There are two crepes stand at the Harajuku Street, just opposite each other - Angels Heart and Marion Crepe. There were queues at both shops the day we were there, so I guess both are equally popular. We ordered the strawberry crepe to share and my Sis proclaimed that the strawberry ice cream here was so damn good.

Angel Hearts
Address: Japan, Tokyo, Shibuya, Jingumae, 1 Chome−20-6
Station: Harajuku

Besides local Japanese patisseries, popular European patisseries have branches in Tokyo - such as Pierre Herme and Laduree. One night, after dinner, we popped by Laduree for dessert. The place was relatively quiet by then, and there were not many desserts left to choose from. We picked some cakes and macarons to share, but well, it was mainly just to rest our feet for a bit. The place was done up really prettily, so I guess the view in the day would be very lovely (especially if you are seated at one of the window booths overlooking the main street).

Address:4-6-16 2F Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Phone: 03-3563-5288
Opening hours: 10am - 8pm daily
Website: Multiple outlets in Japan, refer to

5. Have a pint (or two)

I mean, everyone loves to drink. Right? We popped by a drinking hole one of the nights for some Japanese beer (so thankful my fams are quite hip like that HA!).

Kirin City is a specialised beer pub owned by Kirin Brewery Company, the largest brewery in Japan. There are fruit foam beers! I've never seen such a thing before and thought it was quite cool (later I found out that it can actually be found in Singapore bah).

It was in January, right after the Christmas period, so they probably had leftover Christmas decorations, thus the snowman topper on the beer. The foamy beers tasted pretty good! Will probably check out the bars in Singapore in future for these.

Hey, you made it to the end of the post (if you did, congrats). 

I'm gonna end the post with one of my favourite shot of the trip (taken using my iPhone actually) - a wall filled with bentos. To me, a bento embodies Japanese eating. Food for the soul. So perhaps, my post should really be 6, and not 5 things to eat in Tokyo, for the 6th would be -

6: Eat a bento

The photo was snapped at the bento shop at Tokyo Train Station in the early morning rush hour, and cos I was busy choosing which bento to get for our train ride, thus I had no time to pull out my DSLR from my bag. 

The shop, Ekibenya Matsuri, was opened in 2012, and ever since then, has been very popular, selling thousands of bento boxes on a daily basis. There are more than 100 different kinds of bentos, featuring bentos from different prefectures across Japan. To say that it was difficult (I would even say agonizing) to choose one bento is an understatement. The bentos were visually appealing, and I had no doubt that each and every one of them would taste just as good as they looked. There's just something elegant about a Japanese lunch box - where the items are so delicately arranged and presented in a way that it is almost like art. I had the pleasure of enjoying two bento boxes in my Japan trip (refer to images here) while on the train to Osaka and back, and I really recommend to buy a bento box to try. 

I love how the Japanese have the bento culture, where school students and working adults alike bring lunch boxes to school and work respectively, and enjoy a healthy homecooked meal at least once a day. And also, bentos are readily available for purchase at convenience stores, train stations and more if cooking at home is not an option. I've been making my own bentos for the past two or more years at work (especially frequent this year in fact) and I hope that I get to continue so in future too.

Here's to hoping my next Japan trip is sometime soon...

Ekibenya Matsuri 駅弁屋 祭
Address: No. 1-chome, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 東京都千代田区丸の内1-9-1 (located inside the JR Tokyo Station)
Opening hours: 530am - 11pm

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