Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Japan Trip and Food Journal Part 1: Tokyo!


We recently went to Tokyo and Kyoto a few weeks ago in the last week of March.  We tried to time our trip with the sakura (cherry blossom) season.  Alas, we missed it by a week or two as the trees weren't full bloomed yet when we arrived.  They were still beautiful.


Japan is full of amazing food.  I think it's one of the best places to get a good variety of all sorts of cuisines from all over the world!  A big part of traveling is immersing yourself into the culture, and food is a big part of that!  I tried to document as much as I could, but some of the stuff was so delicious (and I was so hungry) that I had forgotten to photograph them prior to eating.  This is quick recap of what we did and ate over the course of a week!  I'm going to break this up into two parts: Tokyo and Kyoto just so the post doesn't get overly long.  Here we go!

Day of Arrival in Tokyo (half day)

We arrived at Narita Airport after an exhausting 11 hour flight at around 4:30 in the afternoon.  On a side note, the food on Japan Airlines was quite disappointing.  I've only every taken ANA (All Nippon Airways) to Japan and the airplane food was amazing.  Japan Airlines was definitely subpar compared to ANA. 

Anyway, for dinner on our first night in Tokyo, my friend who is a local in Japan, took us to a really cool ramen place called Afuri in the Azabujuban district of Minato in Tokyo.  This was your typical ramen bar where you order from a machine, take your ticket to the counter and the restaurant prepares your food.  You sit down on some bar seating and it's pretty casual.  To my surprise, they had the most delicious yuzu shio ramen (salt ramen infused with yuzu flavor - yuzu is like a small grapefruit).  I loved how the broth at this restaurant is light and the noodles were thinner than regular ramen noodles.  So satisfying and tasty!


Tokyo Day 1

On our first full day, we ventured to the Akihabara district of Tokyo, which people refer to as electric town.  It's a haven for nerds and geeks as there are a ton of electronics stores, video game shops, arcades and pachinko places (kind of like casinos).  Pachinko is prevalent throughout all of Japan, not just in Akihabara.  We decided to try out the Final Fantasy Eorzea Cafe for lunch in Akihabara.  In order to secure seats, we had to purchase tickets in advance.  Neither one of us being Final Fantasy fans, I think we were a bit lost.  The food was also so-so, but they were definitely interesting to look at.  I think if we knew more about the game, we would've understood some of the drinks and food options on the menu more.

Our strange drinks... no clue what was in them but they were good! I think the green one had something that resembled Ramune soda in it.  The best part about the pink drink was the cotton candy topper!

Chicken karaage... pretty average!

This is the pizza Ifrit... I guess Ifrit is a the Flame God in Final Fantasy and this is supposed to represent his "Radiant Plume."  I really don't know what all that is about, but this pizza was delicious to our surprise!  It was light and crispy with the right amount of salami!

We also ordered a dessert, but I didn't take a picture of it.  It was essentially a molten chocolate lava cake with a really tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream and some frozen raspberries.

Overall, the Final Fantasy Eorzea Cafe is awesome for FF fans... for me, it was just okay and I didn't know what was going on for 90% of the time as the waiters described everything in Japanese.  It was still a great experience!

Akihabara is also home to Pablo, maker of amazing mini cheesecakes!  These little tarts were full of flavor and the shell of the tart had a nice crunch to it!  We got four different flavors - original, matcha, strawberry and chocolate.

There's definitely a line for this but it is worth every minute!!  We didn't get the larger ones, but I've heard those are even better than the mini tarts!





Lastly, for dinner that night we went to the Robot Restaurant in the Shinjuku neighborhood for the robot cabaret show.  There is no way to describe it except that it's an hour and a half sensory overload of girls dancing on top of moving robots with laser and strobe lights and techno music.  It was quite the experience!  As part of your tickets, you're provided with a small bento box.  People around us got some different bentos, so they must have various tiers of food with the ticket prices.  Ours came with 9 pieces of sushi.  They were pretty good... nothing spectacular, but not bad at all!


Oh and here's a glimpse into the craziness of the show itself:


Tokyo Day 2

Day 2 in Tokyo was a lot more relaxed.  We started our day off by with a visit to the local Starbucks.  When I was in Japan four years ago, they had an amazing Matcha Red Bean Frappuccino.  I was looking forward to that, but disappointingly, they no longer had it.  They had a regular Matcha Frappuccino, which is also available in the US.  That was our breakfast, along with some bread from a French bakery called Pompadour.  The bread was amazing and throughout the rest of the trip, our breakfasts mainly consisted of a piece of bread with coffee.

This was the day our friend drove us around Tokyo to look at cherry blossoms. So it wasn't as jam packed with craziness like Day 1.  For lunch, we went to this restaurant in Roppongi in Mori Tower that I don't know the name of as no signs were in English.  We had a traditional Japanese meal with rice and fish, miso soup and sashimi.  The other choice was tempura instead of fish, which my husband got and was equally good!


The menu looks like this... friends obviously ordered for us!


After lunch we went to Chidorigafuchi Moat that surrounds the Imperial Palace to see some cherry blossoms.  They were in full bloom yet, but were still incredibly gorgeous!



After that we strolled around the posh Ginza district to do some window shopping and sampled some tea at a fancy tea shop.  Ginza is where all the high-end stores are located.  We spent a good deal of time in the Sony electronics boutique in one of the buildings, which also had a Nissan exhibit on the first floor.  There's always something to see in Tokyo!

Dinner on day 2 was okonomiyaki!!  I don't know where we went (somewhere in Roppongi), but again, we went with a bunch of friends and it was definitely the most lively dinner we had all week.  If you don't know what okonomiyaki is, it looks like a pancake filled with seafood, meat, cabbage, topped with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, seaweed and whatever else you like!  

Here are three types of okonomiyaki.  The one on the far left is a yakisoba oknomiyaki while the other two are filled with meat or seafood.


Tokyo Day 3

On our third day, we decided to go check out the famous Shibuya crossing and walk around Shibuya.  It was raining that day, so we spent a good amount of time in the Tokyu Hands store, which is basically 9 floors of all kinds of things ranging from household goods, stationery, personal items to sporting goods.  

After perusing the stores, we got hungry and decided to check out Sushi Gonpachi in Shibuya.  We were really looking for yakitori places, but apparently those typically don't open for lunch.  We Yelped this place and it had 4 stars so we decided to try it out.  We ordered a set menu which included appetizers, salad, some yakitori, tempura, soba noodles and dessert.  It was $70 for two people, which I thought was pretty pricey, but it wasn't a bad meal.

Here are the appetizers as I forgot to photograph anything after eating this!

Appetizers with dashi-infused eggplant, smoked salmon and onions and tofu

(R) Salad with miso dressing and tiny little crunch fish toppers
(L) I don't know what this is called but it's a shrimp ball with these fried noodles surrounding it.  It was delicious!

After lunch we walked around Harajuku and decided to check out a Cat Cafe MoCHA.  We were desperately missing our little kitty at home and spent 30 minutes here.  These cats were cute, but definitely made us miss Fluffy more.



Our last night in Tokyo, we had dinner with our friend again.  By now, we were craving some non-Japanese food and decided to go to a burger place near our hotel called Pound-Ya in Roppongi.  This place basically specialized in steaks, but had great burgers too.  I got this really awesome yakiniku (Korean BBQ beef) hamburger with a fried egg on top.  I didn't take a picture of that as it smelled so good that I dug in.  I did get a picture of our wagyu beef gyozas though... yum!


That's it for the Tokyo portion of our trip!  Stay tuned to see what we did and ate in Kyoto!

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