The title may be a bit misleading – cuisine sounds expensive and beyond our budget – but the food we ate on our recent trip to Japan was so delicious that many may classify it as cuisine. None of the meals topped $25 per person and some were less than half of that but we enjoyed them all. Here is what we ate:
On our first night we sampled udon noodles at Tokyo Mentsudan. Udon noodles are soft thick noodles that are cooked by plunging them in and out of boiling water. Toppings such as egg, cheese, meat or broth are added for flavor.
The noodles were served with cold tempura of our choice. The meal was delicious, although some of us agreed that we would prefer the tempura be served warm.
We all woke up early the first morning we were in Tokyo – not just because our body clocks were off, but because we planned it that way. We headed to the Tsukiji Fish Market for breakfast. The inner fish market doesn’t open to the public until nine, but the outer markets and sushi restaurants open earlier.
We were told we should be in line by five -yes, five o’clock in the morning – if we wanted to eat at the most popular places. We didn’t quite make that, but were able to find a nice sushi restaurant where we only had to wait about an hour for breakfast.
The menu consisted of five choices – each one a different combination of the freshest, most delicious, sushi that we could ever eat. Our orders were taken while we waited outside, so the chef could prepare them while the previous customers were eating. The restaurant only had ten or twelve seats so the staff tried to be as efficient as possible. If you are ever in Tokyo, this is an experience not to miss.
We ate ramen for lunch at Ramen Yoroiya near the Sensoji Temple. We waited for about twenty minutes before being led to the upstairs room which had five or six small tables. Again, we ordered while we waited in line. We split orders of gyoza and then each had a bowl of ramen – another great meal!
We met up with my nephew and a friend for an izakaya dinner that night. An izakaya is similar to a pub, but often traditional in nature. As soon as we entered, we were asked to remove our shoes and put them in a locker. Then we were led to the table, and stepped down to it. The table itself was at the level of the floor, with benches underneath it.
Our friend speaks Japanese, so we let him order for all of us (Thanks, C-). He ordered several dishes, which we passed around to share. Some of the menu items were very familiar – pizza, fried chicken, salad – but there were also typical Japanese foods like sushi, gyoza and grilled whole fish.
We loved catching up with my nephew who has been traveling, while also hearing about our friend’s work in Tokyo. Great food, great company, great evening!
Our second morning began with breakfast from the Seven-Eleven located right next to the apartment we rented. We wouldn’t think of trying this at home, but in Japan, the breakfast offerings are actually pretty good. We tried a variety of sushi, coffee pudding, packaged pastries and waffles, along with more familiar items like yogurt and donuts.
We found a tempura restaurant in Tokyo Station – the main train station, which, like other large stations in Tokyo, has many stores and restaurants. We requested seats by the kitchen where we watched four or five chefs preparing tempura meals for the diners.
Some of us ordered tempura plates others ordered tempura rice bowls. I was the last one to finish my meal – my favorite of the entire trip – because I was so fascinated watching the action in the kitchen.
We wanted to try yakatori for dinner, so we went local. Memory Lane, (known as Piss Alley years ago, and still called that by some) is a narrow ally filled with tiny restaurants. Although the restaurants specialize in yakatori, or grilled skewered chicken, many offer a variety of dishes. The area is smoky from the many grills in the small space, but the experience was worth a bit of smoke on our clothes.
Before they let us in, though, we had to agree to the rules – everyone had to order at least one plate of food (many of the choices were appetizer-sized), everyone had to order at least one drink, and we could stay a maximum of two hours.
We agreed and were led up a steep staircase to a little room where were ordered pork, beef and vegetables along with the traditional skewered chicken.
Train Station Breakfast
Day three started with luscious pastries from a large French Bakery/Cafe in the Shinjuku train station, which was the one closest to our apartment. We ate before catching the train to Kamakura, a city 30 miles from Tokyo known for several shrines and a large Buddha monument (more on that in a different post).
Conveyor Belt Sushi
Another food item unique to Japan is “conveyor belt sushi.” As we sat in a booth in the restaurant, small plates of sushi moved along a conveyor belt within our reach. If something looked good, we could just pick it off the belt and eat it.
Prices were determined by the color of the plate and were detailed in a menu at the table. If there was something on the menu that we wanted, but we didn’t see it on the belt, we could order it from the chefs. When we were finished eating, the plates were counted and we were charged according to what we consumed. How fun!
Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki
We returned to Tokyo in the late afternoon and did a little shopping before dinner at Sakura Tei. This restaurant specializes in okonomiyaki and monjayaki, which are a cross between Japanese pizza and pancakes.
Each table sits around a griddle. Guests are given the ingredients and instructions to cook their own dinner. We tried one of each of the five types of pancake/pizzas. It was fun reading the directions and figuring them out – and the food tasted great.
Vending Machine Ramen
We had breakfast at the Seven-Eleven again this morning before heading out. For lunch, we went to a ramen restaurant near the train station where we would later be catching a train for the airport. This restaurant used a vending machine to take orders. The meals did not come out of the machine, but were served by people. We placed our orders, put the last of our yen into the machine, and waited for a table. Instead of tables, though, we were seated at individual booths. We could position a divider between our booths and those of the next guest. We pushed them back out of the way between our family.
The ramen was the best we had eaten – my second favorite meal of the trip.
When we were served our first meal on the flight home, we were given chopsticks and plastic silverware. I realized then, that we had not seen a fork, spoon or knife the entire time we were in Tokyo. I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been comfortable using chopsticks. I can imagine the funny looks we would get asking for a fork.
Very interesting stories of the “eating experience”. I could imagine myself being there. Actually, it made me very hungry….think I’ll raid the frig……………..