14 June 2009

Awesome Tokyo

On the flight back from Tokyo to Singapore, my travel companion and I marvelled at the amount we accomplished during our short 7 day break in Japan. The sheer amount we ate was enough to make us absolutely satisfied with the way the vacation went (and also fearful of the weighing machine of course), without even considering the sights along the way.

Very much has been written about Tokyo, and the places one just HAS to visit. In my preparation for this trip, I consulted Chubby Hubby's Tokyo Hot List, knowing that the places recommended would never disappoint. We would have tried all the recommendations if not for the limited time we had. Here's our little list of food/places we tried which includes those in CH's list:


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One) Yakitori - Gingko Nut

I have always been rather averse to Gingko Nuts. If I do eat them, it could only be for one of two reasons - health purposes (I treat it like medication) or sheer accident. Oh wait, add to that the pure curiosity I had when my companion ordered it. Grilled over high heat and lightly salted, these gingko nuts were incredible. Not in the least bit bitter, it was even a little sweet!

Two) Park Hyatt Hotel - Sunday brunch at New York Grill
3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku
Tel: +81 3 5322 1234

Located in the heart of Tokyo, the restaurant perched on the top of the hotel at the 52nd floor is encased in floor-to-ceiling glass windows allowing a fantastic view of the city below. The Sunday Brunch's appetisers and mains were decent, but do leave space for the dessert buffet or, like me, you'd be missing out on the best part of the meal. Reservations are highly encouraged - do request for window seats.

Three) Hida Beef
In my previous post, I mentioned briefly how I was unable to find Kobe beef in Tokyo (more specifically Ikebukuro) but was instead offered Hida beef. While it is not as rich or buttery as its counterpart in Kobe, Hida beef was also an excellent example of beef which I assume has similar breeding methods. The Hida beef sushi was sublime. It simply melted away and was well accentuated with a cube of tangy jelly among other things (we didn’t bother to ask what it was since the waitress, while helpful, was not in her element speaking English).

I can’t seem to find any information online on the breeding programme for cows from Hida. The search instead brought up a couple of other varieties of beef (some of which have apparently triumphed over the Kobe in some competitions) – Matsuzaka, Yonezawa, Lake Towada, Ishigaki, Yamagata.

Four) Cool Train Service
The novelty of beautifully packaged and very decent food on trains has not worn off despite having taken the Japan Rail train numerous times. The conscientious packaging, taking care of even your post-meal needs (wet towel and toothpick), made sure that neither function nor form was neglected. The styrofoam (my one gripe: not environmentally friendly) container that looked like wood was very hardy and very neatly separated the rice from the abundant side dishes. On a side note, it was rather amusing to see the service staff as well as train conductors bow before entering and after exiting every carriage.

Five) Sadaharu Aoki
A must-do we chose from Chubby Hubby’s Hot List, we fully agree with his judgement on the ├ęclairs. The chocolate ├ęclair we tried had a delectably smooth chocolate filling. We also had a bite-sized selection of cakes, our unanimous favourite being the-one-with-hazelnut (sorry, I was too engrossed to take down its name). Neatly wrapped cookies and financiers were also available and made great souvenirs for foodie-friends. We were not particularly pleased however with their compulsory drink order per person wishing to eat in, not especially since the drinks averaged an astounding SGD15.

Six) Hidemi Sugino
Kyobashi Daiei Building 3-6-17 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku
81-3-3538-6780
Thankfully, Hidemi Sugino’s cafe was more hospitable in that respect – no compulsory drink order. However, finding the shop was a challenge as it was in a small and non-descript alley. My companion and I had to resort to asking a passerby, who very patiently helped us by calling the shop and asking for directions. He seemed mighty amused that we were looking so desperately for a cake shop, and drew a very comprehensive map using a pink highlighter he took from his shirt pocket. When we arrived, I was slightly disappointed that they only had 4 varieties of cake left. We arrived only in the late morning, mind you. The cakes were supremely light, with a good balance of textures and flavours in each of them. All the walking (most of which was in the wrong direction) was well worth it.

Seven) La Bombance
Of the four gourmet experiences recommended by Chubby Hubby, we chose to try La Bombance because it sounded most exciting. Our dinner at La Bombance was fabulous. Though, it would have helped knowing exactly what we were eating. The menu was entirely in Japanese and the chef was only able to go so far as to say that what we were eating was a kind of vegetable or a kind of seafood. A friend later helped me decipher and menu and it seems that our first course was a soup with Tortoise(!!). Nonetheless, every item (except perhaps the curried aubergine mousse with tomato jelly which was a hit with my companion) was sublime. Service was pleasant, despite the language barrier, and presentation of food was elegantly simple. In fact, a pair of men sitting 2 seats away admired each course for a l.o.n.g t.i.m.e before tucking in. My companion and I, on the other hand, very unsophisticatedly lapped them and lapped up every morsel.

Eight) Tsukiji Market and Unforgettable Sashimi Place

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We forced ourselves to wake up at the most unearthly hour in order to reach there at 445am, in time to fumble our way towards the big warehouse - where the action was at. The tuna auction was an absolute entertainment. Potential bidders were examining each tuna with a hooked prong, by thwacking the exposed end to extract some flesh. I saw some mashing of the flesh between fingertips. I saw close examinations of the flesh under a torchlight. Furious ringing of a bell indicated that an auction was about to commence. I was baffled, trying to figure out how the auctioneer determined the winner of each bid, but enjoyed the 'performance' nevertheless.

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The rest of the market was full of yummy goodies that made us hungry even at 6am in the morning. It made me incredibly envious of the Japanese who have access to such fresh seafood. Some things made me cringe though - the battered and deep-fried crab that was still alive and frothing at the mouth (top left in photo above) - as well as the huge octopus eggs being hawked (bottom left).

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The highlight of our visit to the Tsukiji Market was our wonderful find in a small back alley that led to a passway for huge containers of seafood. It was serendipity. After buying some Tanda black beans from The Bean Guy, we decided to turn around and ask him for a recommendation for a place to eat sashimi. He first went to the alley behind his shop then peeked his head out from around the corner, and waved his hand beckoning us to follow him. What we were led to was a small, 9 seater sashimi restaurant where we had sashimi that blew us away. I'll never look at Hotate (scallop) the same way again. Even the tamago sushi impressed us to no end.

We were understandably grateful to The Bean Guy for this superb recommendation and would strongly recommend anyone to visit this sashimi place if they're in the vicinity. Unfortunately, they do not have an English namecard, and all I could get is pictured in the top right hand corner of the photo above. I would suggest printing the picture out and asking for directions to the address at the market itself. What would also be useful is the Tsukiji Market calendar that indicates when the market closes.

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