I have not written about my recent trip to Japan for a little while now. It is almost October and I travelled there in May 2019! That time has flown by. Mostly I have been busy especially now that I have the additional writing position with ShotKit.com. That site certainly keeps me busy as it is not just about reviewing the product in the confines of my office space. If it is a camera, or a lens, or anything else, I like to get out and about with it. Capture images with it and of it for the article. So Tokyo and my love of Japan has not so much as left my mind, but the little voices beckoning me have been quiet lately.
One of the best things about travelling to a country like Japan is the food. There is a strong bond between Japan’s rich cultural values and the way in which food is made, prepared and served. There is a lot of pride in observing traditions in food preparation just as there is a lot of courage in breaking those bonds and striving for new cuisines. I found this to be the case in Tokyo where there was a balance between the old and the new in the foods I experienced.
I think the best way to go about this is to break it down by days.
This was a travel day as my flight left Melbourne at 6am and I did not arrive at my hotel in Shibuya, Tokyo until almost 10pm. Once I had offloaded my luggage and took a quick shower, I walked out of my hotel to find Kirin City on the corner. I love Kirin beer so I made my way there. Far from a traditional Japanese bar, this was more of a smaller German beer hall style place. They served many variants of Kirin beer and had meals like sausages with sauerkraut or potatoes. I was starving and made do with what was on offer. It was, of course, delicious.
Most hotels around the more touristy areas of Tokyo will have a buffet breakfast that serves both western style foods as well as the more traditional Japanese breakfast. On this day I went for chilled Mackerel, braised chicken and vegetables, rice and Miso soup. At some point in the day I always stopped to grab a chilled Matcha Latte. At lunch, I grabbed a Bento from the huge underground food hall in Tokyu department store. So much amazing and fresh food all packaged up ready for you to take away and consume. That evening I made my way to Yebisu Museum of Beer first for a tour of the museum and a taste of several beers and then across the courtyard to the Saporo Beer Station for another german beer hall experience. I had a potato salad with a kind of meatloaf.
I didn’t feel like breakfast on this day. I made my way over to Shinjuku to check out the camera stores and especially West Shinjuku for street scenes. I grabbed an early lunch at Kizuna Sushi that included some amazing Sushi and also some Tempura. I made my way to Yokohama in the afternoon to meet up with a mate who was living in Japan at the time. Whilst we passed many amazing street food vendors and restaurants we were hunting street shots, not a feed. Once back in Shibuya, I again headed for the underground food hall and grabbed some Karaage Chicken with an amazing potato salad.
I woke stupidly early and was hungry so I made my way to a local Family Mart convenience store for an iced latte and a small tray of egg & mayo sandwich squares and katsu sando squares. No crusts. Super soft bread. Super delicious. Japanese sandwiches are a delight. Later that day I took a two-hour train from Asakusa Station to the country town of Nikko. Before I got on the train, I stopped at the special food stall on the station for an Ekibento. This is a bento box sold for longer trips specifically at train stations. It was sukiyaki beef on rice with a boiled egg and some sort of pickled vegetable. It was bloody amazing and I washed it down with a beer. When I arrived in Nikko I walked around and spent some time sitting in a quaint little cafe enjoying some cold beer and fresh cucumber. Later that night I ate in my hotel restaurant and had the Karaage Chicken set.
Thanks to the amount of Japanese Whisky I had tasted in the bar the night before, I woke needing a big breakfast. I spent the morning walking around the World Heritage Sites of Nikko including bridges, shrines and buildings. It was another hot day and on the way back to the centre of town I stopped for an Iced Matcha Latte – I love these things. I had a later lunch at a small little two-story cafe in the centre of town called Kanaya Hotel Bakery Nikko. I had golden beef curry on rice. It was so good and the restaurant was mostly occupied by locals. I arrived by train back in Asakusa where I was spending my last two nights. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring the many streets of Asakusa. I found an unremarkable-looking eatery on a side street and ducked in for some amazing local cuisine. There was no English menu so I simply pointed to photos on the Japanese menu. I ordered a side of potato salad and a pork cutlet with a draft beer. It also came with a bowl of miso soup with clams. Clams! This was probably the most amazing meal I had the whole trip.
My hotel in Asakusa had a tiny little restaurant area that probably sat only around 15 people. I had been slowly turned off cold Mackerel for breakfast so instead opted for the Western set with two giant fried eggs, baked potatoes and salad. I spent the morning walking from my hotel to Tokyo Sky Tree. After spending a bit of time walking around the giant shopping complex under the tower, I found a food court and ordered up a pretty decent bowl of ramen. It was hot by afternoon and I spent that time walking around Senso Ji and the many little side streets and grounds that surround the temple complex. I stopped for an early dinner at a tiny food vendor who only served a few dishes. I opted for some Karaage Chicken and baked potatoes with a cold beer. Karaage Chicken is seriously addictive. I hit up one of the many bars that line Hoppy Street right near the temple. I spent the afternoon there talking to locals and sipping beer and watching the world go by. Later that night I was restless and hungry for a second dinner given I had eaten so early in the afternoon. I found a restaurant still open that served me a plate of gyoza, fried rice and miso soup. The perfect late-night meal.
This was to be my last day in Tokyo. I decided against my hotel breakfast and instead found a local Starbucks for an Iced Matcha Latte and a toasted sandwich. I took my time that day to stroll around Asakusa and the Sumida river area. I had a very particular lunch destination in mind. Across the Sumida River is the Asahi head office and more importantly the Asahi Beer Hall. I had not knowledge or expectations of the food. They had two options available. One was to order from an A La Carte menu and the other was to take part in a pre-booked buffet. I had not pre-booked so I chose a simple pizza and some ice-cold Asahi beer of course. My last meal in Japan was at the Narita airport late that night. I cannot even recall what I ended up having I was so tired. I am fairly sure it was Ramen but I have no true recollection.
That brings us to the end of my Tokyo 2019 Food Tour. I had some truly amazing meals and some equally fun smaller snacks at tiny street food vendors. I didn’t get to have a killer bowl of ramen this time, but I did have some amazing Karaage Chicken a couple of times – one of my favourites. And of course I love to cook. Already I have made several Japanese dishes at home for my family since returning from this trip. Long live the flavour.