All right, I will get moving on some of these Japan posts I mentioned on Monday. It’s tough to select just a couple of photos for this post, so this is relatively long but I will try to keep other ones a little tighter and not bloviate so much. Some posts will be about specific cities and their food, and others will cover specific cuisines, but to get this started I will cover a grab bag of food related things we experienced as we traveled.
These first few photos are from Kappabashi-dori, the food related shopping district in Tokyo. This is where restauranteurs, chefs, and home-cooks all come to buy dishes, knives, tables and chairs – really, anything you can think of. Block after block, each shop generally specializes in whatever they are selling.
One such shop specializes in something which soon became very familiar – three dimensional models of food. Going one step past displaying the menu outside a restaurant, most lower to mid-level restaurants have display cases where there is an actual fake model of each dish they offer, the name of the dish or “set” of food, and the price. As a traveler who doesn’t know the language, it’s quite helpful.
Shopping malls are extremely popular venues for restaurants, especially the Isetan brand malls which are in every major city. Don’t think food courts, but instead these are multi-level complexes with never ending halls filled with every type of restaurant one may seek, from sushi to Italian, the latter I learned is quite popular. The restaurants are full service, some of them quite nice, and these restaurants are allowed to cook indoors with open flames. I have no idea where the exhaust goes. In fact, most restaurants are interior to office and shopping structures. As you walk around the city, you don’t see a storefront of a restaurant on the ground level like you often do here. Instead, you see a picture with the names of numerous restaurants (and often pictures of the type of dishes they serve) and then the connotation 3F or 8F or whatever. This indicates on which floor the restaurant resides. You take the often tiny elevator and end up in a windowless restaurant, which is no indication of quality or lack thereof.
We had Italian three or four times, it was a safe bet, especially for the vegetarian wife. They were almost always beautifully done. I guess noodles are quite familiar there. Sauces were sharp and tight, the tomatoes fantastic, and in the case of my pasta in Hiroshima on the right, each shellfish plump and not a bit overcooked. I was impressed, and a bit jealous that such pastas for $10 were readily available on most city blocks.
7 Eleven’s are everywhere and are a great place for a quick pre-made snack, and are also the best places to use an ATM.
I’ve read that there is one vending machine for every four people in Japan, and I wouldn’t dispute that. They are everywhere. Literally everywhere, ten of them side by side selling what to me is the exact same item – iced coffee or water, then ten yards up the street is the exact same thing. The coffees are a great pick-me-up for $1. This is less prevalent, and more likely in private areas such as the interior of buildings, but some of them sell beer. For beer machines on the street you have to insert your ID.
Curry houses are also to be found on every corner. They are often fast-food like, inexpensive 24 hour type of places for a quick bite, but we found a nice vegetarian friendly place on TripAdvisor (the best and easiest to use on my phone online source that I used on that trip) in Tokyo that did a really high quality version.
Foodie Buddha was in Tokyo a few weeks prior to me, and heartily recommended Bill’s, a super popular restaurant with a few locations in Tokyo, the only other city where Australian chef Bill Granger has an outpost outside of his home country. Though, his website says they are coming to Hawaii soon. We were quoted a three hour wait, but were able to talk our way in, citing the fact that we were leaving the country the next day. Not only was it a welcome change from Eastern food, but holy hell the burger and the ricotta pancakes were good.
Every single table in the place had an order of the pancakes.
While in Tokyo we used reward points and stayed at the Hilton in Shinjuku, the nicest Hilton in which I’ve stayed. The executive lounge on the 45th floor had an amazing breakfast buffet with soft, small-curd scrambled eggs. But we splurged on our last night and stayed at the Park Hyatt, legendary for their service, for being featured in Lost in Translation, and for costing more than my mortgage payment for one evening. I don’t regret it one bit, it was fabulous. The hotel starts on the 40th floor of the building, reaching to the 52nd floor where the New York Grill & Bar offers great food and even better views, with a lively, international crowd.
The service was exceptional. Our room was stunning, and the pool and gym near the top of the building offer views unlike any other workout. If able to manage, I absolutely recommend it. I justified it by telling myself that because I drive a car with 260,000 miles and a cracked windshield, that somehow offset this crazy expense.
A few dishes from New York Grill, salmon in white asparagus soup, local duck.
Our double-gulp what-have-I-done bill included breakfast in bed just a few hours before we departed for the airport. Look at the perfect, bright yellow French omelet. Look at it! Sigh.
Kit Kats are everywhere. Apparently the word sounds like Kitto Katsu which translates to “surely win”, which helps their popularity. The green tea with cherry blossom is a highly sought after seasonal version. Also in the “neato” department is the machine that pours beer for you, tipping it near the end to ensure a perfect head.
Coffee is extremely prevalent, and it’s almost always very good, especially in Kyoto. This stellar sixty-plus year old coffee house (which in general often serves as a respite from the busy city, so they are a little expensive), was in Kobe.
I should have purchased one of these grinders there.
Katie ate dessert at the coffee house. In fact, she ate dessert everywhere. She never complained about how many beers I had, and she got to eat all the dessert she could handle, which was a challenge because cakes and pastries seemed to be popular items.
One of the Isetan department stores we visited had a basement absolutely filled with pastries, jelly-like candies, macaroons and truffles from the biggest names in Paris ($$$!!!), and endless cakes and fruit based desserts. She was in heaven.
We took the bullet train a few times, and I ate “road food” including cute little sandwiches on white bread, with the crusts cut off, naturally.
If egg salad and ham sandwiches with sake isn’t your favorite breakfast, one could purchase a single smoked chicken wing or Hiroshima oyster (famous) lollipops.
And finally, of course there are numerous American outposts, such as Cafe Du Monde in the Kyoto train station, which of course sells…hot dogs. And yes, we did hit McDonald’s in a pinch. They are hugely popular, our effort to fatten the world is working. Not shame in a McMuffin though, and the iced coffee is absolutely fine, they don’t include sweetener and fake cream automatically when you order one like a certain country does.
Ramen coming up next!