Japan Food Hunt #1: 6am Sushi, Orgasmic Ramen and Chicken Butt
On Friday, the night before my trip to Japan, I started to pack. â€œDonâ€™t over pack, donâ€™t over packâ€, I kept telling myself. Six shirts, four pairs of jeans later, I was pretty much done. I made sure that my camera was fully charged and also brought along my Holga Camera that I got for $14.99. These cameras are known for producing super-artsy, over-saturated photos, so the colors are truly vibrant. I brought this along for photos of Kyotoâ€™s cherry blossoms. I then packed all my books on Japan that I had borrowed from Oishii Eats and a co-worker. I was good to go within 45 minutes.
I dreaded the long flight to Japan, and made sure that I had my goods with me. I recently subscribed to Food & Wine, Gourmet and Bon Appetit and packed those with me, along with my iPod. The battery life had diminished over the years, and I knew that I was guaranteed at least two hours of music. I perused my tour books and picked out all the common phrases iâ€™d be using most frequently in Japan. Like, â€œI think youâ€™re cute, wanna come back with me to America?â€ Or â€œCan I have more beer please?â€ While I was doing that, the stewardess came by with drinks and I gladly asked for a few bottles of Gin and Vodka to start my iPod/drinking party. My friends looked over at me and gave me the â€œYouâ€™re such an alcoholicâ€ headshake. So what, itâ€™s my vacation!? Then came the ‘Japanese’ airplane meal. Picture should say enough.
11 hours later, we landed in Narita International at around 6 pm Tokyo time. What a great feeling to know that your co-workers are talking shit about you while youâ€™re vacationing. All of their sentences starting out with, â€œFucking Dylanâ€¦â€. I smiled after that thought. But this wasnâ€™t all about play. I had my own job to do: to seek out the good eats of Japan for myself and for the foodblogging community.
We dropped off our stuff at our shack called Washington Shinjuku Hotel, courtesy of Expedia. A piece of shit I donâ€™t recommend anyone experiencing. I stepped into the bathroom and thought I was in a Winnebago RV bathroom. Yes, that small. We were hungry and didnâ€™t feel like foraging for food and ended up at this 24 hour joint. It was my first time seeing a menu on a vending machine. On the outside of the restaurant, plastic replicas of food were stored in glass displays. You then went in to the restaurant and selected your food from a machine that accepted cash and gave you a receipt. You would then bring the receipt to the cooks and voila, food was out in less than 5 minutes. I thought this was pretty cool b/c you could very well run these types of restaurants with just three people. No servers/hostesses or any other tip-hoggers to deal with. The food was less than satisfactory, but we expected that. We were in for a bigger deal tomorrow, so this meal was just foreplay.
A. Monumental achievements in the world of plastic and ceramic. I can look at these funky displays all day long. I think it’s so interesting that the Japanese invest all that time in making everything look so real. Even the bread crumbs on the katsu look real! I’d love to work for one of these factories.
B. The Ramen Robot. I wish we had one of these for mexican food. Instant carne asada tacos!
C. Instant crap! Gross.
It was now 4:45 am, and we had gone to sleep about 5 hours before. We didnâ€™t have a hard time waking up because of the jetlag and this was the best opportunity to catch the action over at the Tsukiji Fish Market in the Southeast side of Tokyo. I was so stoked about this. How much fresher can the sushi be. Weâ€™re like a Â¼ mile from the sea! We took a taxi over to the fish market and already saw quite a lot of tourists heading into the warehouse district. My friendâ€™s coworker warned him to be careful at the fish market because it was pure chaos. He was so right. Fishermen in trucks, forklifts and carts buzzed around the lot at pretty fast speeds, lugging huge flash-frozen fish, Styrofoam crates and other creatures of the sea.
A. Fisherman selling packaged goods like sea urchin. Maybe even drugs. Nobody knows.
B. Fresh packaged tuna. That is the epitome of freshness.
C. Tuna cemetary. You can’t see the other 100 flash-frozen tunas there. Inspectors carried fish hooks with them and hacked away at the tail area of the fish to determine it’s grade and marked them with paint. Truly an amazing site.
D. The Fish Market raceway. Vehicles were moving a good 15-20 mph in there. Look out!
E. Tuna bidding auction in progress. A bell was rung, and the auctioneer read out bids.
F. Fresh tuna. Each one of these mothers was a good 3.5-4 feet long and probably atleast 200 lbs. I couldn’t imagine how strong those fishnets were.
G. Snow crabs enjoying their last few shots of oxygen.
H. Fisherman filleting eels (unagi). He would nail a stake into the head of the poor bastard and with one swift motion, fillet the whole eel. This guy was a pro. Anyone who can work while puffing away on a cigarette definitely knows what they’re doing.
I. Sea eels taking a bath in their own blood. All they needed were bubbles, Champagne, candles and Kenny G.
J. Flash-boiled octopus. I took my first Holga photo of these octopi. The reds should show beautifully in the photos.
After going through the warehouses, we were hungry and had to have some fresh sushi. Most of the restaurants were either too small to contain our group of seven or were just too crowded. We found an empty shop, which was a sure sign that they didnâ€™t know too much about sushi. Who cares, letâ€™s go. We ordered the 1800 yen special ($16.35) which came with like 10 different things and a few beers. The sushi was good, but not the best that Iâ€™ve had. While we were eating, I took a peak over at the other restaurants â€“ still people waiting outside. I kinda wish we had tried those joints but we didnâ€™t have the patience to wait another hour. By 7 am, my friends and I had a nice buzz going.
Next we headed over to Akihabara, also known as Electronic Town. There I expected to see some electronic products from the future. We were disappointed because most of the stores only sold cameras that we could get back here in the U.S. we did find a really cool Sony product store. Nothing was for sale, only for viewing purposes. I saw some of the nicest looking TVâ€™s and laptops. Just wait a while, weâ€™ll get it here soon.
For lunch, I decided it was time to finally have a bowl of ramen. My friend MK and his gf went along with me for the search for good Tonkotsu ramen. We found this one place that advertised its pride and joy on a large photo. There, I was confronted by a 5â€™ x 4â€™ photo of a glistening bowl of white-broth ramen. Ansel Adams would have shot a photo of this if he had been alive to see it. We headed down the stairway into this underground ramen joint and heard the quiet, yet socially-accepted slurps from the patrons. Again, we got to choose our food from the vending machine. Fun. A few minutes later, I saw our waitress carrying our bowls of ramen. The steam violently rising from our bowls of goodness. Wow. Arigato gozaimas. I had my chopsticks ready, spoon ready, condiments all in front of me. Togorashi chili pepper, sesame seeds and a huge container of freshly pureed garlic. This was what I was waiting for. The ramen was awesome.
A. Ramen haven or secret ‘massage’ parlor?
B. Good ramen robot! They ran out of rice though. How do you run out of rice?
C. True food porn: lovely ramen and mosaic-censored eater.
D. A bowl of heaven. Thick, white broth. Not overly salted. Super tender pork that pretty much broke when I picked it up with chopsticks. A perfectly boiled egg, with the yolk still runny. A 36-24-36 bowl of ramen.
For dinner, we checked out an area called Roppongi, known for their nightlife. Amidst all the strip clubs and dance clubs, there was a wealth of good food. Nearly every alley had a nice selection of restaurants. As we were walking, I got foodsmacked right in the nose. It was something superfamiliar… ah, yes, yakitori! Before I consulted with the friends, I was already walking towards the entrance. I gave them a look like a kid asking his parents for a toy at the store. We walked in and found the place kind of dead. And the 55 year old waitress didn’t make things anymore exciting in Strip-Club City. The food was good and we walked out. Unsatsfied, two of my friends joined me as we went to look for another yakitori restaurant. After 5 minutes, we were successful. This place was a little bit more happening. We got a bar seat right in front of the yakitori ‘master’: the one responsible for meticulously flipping the skewers over and over and over again, for the whole night. I thought to myself, what a shitty job! The food here was EVEN better.
A. Yebisu: a popular Japanese beer. I thought it was nasty.
B. Sake waterfall. My first time drinking sake in a wooden box. I know they do it here though.
C. The best yakitori wings I’ve ever tried. This puts any California yakitori place to shame. Crispy, juicy and flavorful.
D. Bacon-wrapped asparagus and chicken butt. Chicken butt is tasty!
E. Yakitori popsicle. This was made out of ground chicken, cartilage and leeks. This was grilled and served with yakitori sauce and a raw egg. The waitress told us to swirl the egg yolk into the sauce. Goohr goohr!
F. The yakitori ‘master’, turning sticks for a living at 600 yen an hour.
Yes, that was a lot of food for one and half days. 6 restaurants total, 2 uncounted for! I couldn’t wait to get to my RV and sleep normally. For tomorrow, we would be heading out to Osaka, the land of good eats.
Thanks for reading. Day 3 Osaka is up next!