Friday, November 14, 2014

Ben's Tokyo Trip, pt. 6


I don't know about every one else in N. America, but my preconceived notion of what food would be like in Japan was somewhere in the realm of expecting everything to be disgusting. For instance, octopus entrail soup and chicken livers served with cabbage. OK... the chicken livers on a stick and the octopus soup are partial reality, but most food in Japan is delicious and good healthy meals can be surprisingly inexpensive! Here are some highlights of my culinary adventures:

One of our first forays out landed us in a small "mom and pop" sushi and sashimi restaurant in Fussa. It was made in right in front of us. New to me were the brown things; they are rice wrapped in a bean curd that was mildly sweet and very tasty. From watching, I learned a new way to spread wasabi on the roll he was creating! The cost for this un matchable meal experience was less than $10.

So one day off from our work, we show up at a restaurant just below Mt. Fuji and we are very hungry. Remove your shoes, be seated and this is your menu. What do you choose? Look at the photos, point to what you want on the menu for the waitress, and hope for the best. 
 Let me set the scene. The waitress approaches our low table much like what you would sit at in a N, American pre-school (or some people were at tables where you sat on the floor) and she would serve you hot tea. When you gave her a signal you were ready to order, she would kneel at your table and take the order. Once the food was served, the order sheet would come back to the table and stay there until you were ready to leave. Then you take the order sheet to the cashier and pay. No tip required. This is the same everywhere. We did tip occasionally as they were extra patient with us. We acted the fool sometimes on accident. That being said, even in the places where we were most out of place as non-Japanese speaking people, like this restaurant, people were quite patient and helpful as we figured out the polite way to do things. For instance, ML got some serious dirty looks from a group of old ladies near us as he came back from the restroom and forgot to take his shoes off when he re-entered the dining room...she smiled at him when he quickly realized his mistake, made an, "ooops" noise and jumped off the steps back to the shoe removal area!

This is what I ordered. Nothing tasted bad. Yes, some of it was raw, other was deep fried breaded pork... Yes there were some pickled baby fish in one dish, but they were good. No really, I am serious! This is probably the most traditional style of Japanese food we have found. These types of  restaurants are very common from what I have seen.

This kind family was seated beside us and taught us how to "sluuuuurp" your noodles properly! It was a "Grandfather" with his two adult daughters and their three young kids out having lunch. We shared a room with them.

Food order being taken.

 Nearly every restaurant has plastic displays of EVERY dish they serve, so this makes it a bit easier when you are in a place that has no English on the menu.

This is Green "Matcha" Tea ice cream. It is bitter and sweet simultaneously; a truly a modern Japanese treat.

Don't be fooled. There is every type/genre of place to eat in Tokyo. Italian, Indian, German, French, Hawaiian, Thai, British pubs, burger places. I mean they have KFC, Mc'D's, Subway and Domino's Pizza (albeit with  way different menus) for Pete's sake! They have a lot of French and German style pastry and dessert shops! Case in point, here is a photo of a bagel with blueberry cream cheese that rivals any New York City bagel with "schmear" that I have ever had.

Many Japanese work 6 days a week and from what I have observed they have commutes to work via train that can be 2 hours one way! Many eat on the go. This is a "bento box' of food typical of what you would find at the food shops in train stations. Contents of my lunch below starting at top left to right: Bean sprouts, some grassy bits, match stick carrots all in a simple vinegary dressing (Under sticker), pickled root (beets?) Rice with black sesame seeds and a spicy hot pickled plum. Below that on the left; a bottle of soy sauce (way better than that Kikkoman junk in the US) and a breaded pork cut-let with blanched and lightly salted cabbage leaves. Quite delicious actually.

 This is a plate from a "buffet"  we tried at the Aeon Mall in Fussa. Not  bad. The cool thing is that you get to boil your own ramen noodles (top left) and then add the soup broth you wish (there were 8 kinds of broth). I had to watch a 6 year old boy do it before me in order to figure out how to cook the noodles...

Everyone should have the experience of illiteracy in a different culture. What drink should I choose? Hint: Here, they are all delicious.

Various dessert items from the buffet. My favorite: the lower right side of my plate has slices of some kind of alien fruit with a pink rind. It has the consistency and seeds of a kiwi, but a very very light flavor of honey dew melon with a hint of plain sweetness. I have no idea what it is. FYI, the brown bowl of stuff above it was a really watered down molasses flavored jello; not disgusting, just not my thing.

Fish market in Tokyo with everything you could imagine. Dried squid anyone?

To be noted, noodle shops are ubiquitous and are the everyday Japanese "go to" meal. I still have not met a bowl that I did not enjoy.

I recognized these on the menu and ordered them for us. The Dover, OH Wigtons call these "mandoo" (because it was the only thing we could read on the lable) and have been eating them for years since Becca found them at an Asian food store in Canton, OH. I was unable to understand the waitress when I asked her to tell me what they were really called...I call them DELICIOUS.

MMMMMMMMMMM...... YES, you must eat it this way and also sluuuurp it, otherwise you would be eating it wrong. By the way, the "ramen" you find in the US is nothing like this; this tastes good and has a great consistency in the mouth, not  anything like those rubbery MSG laden noodles I ate when in college...

Crunky anyone?

We took the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Niigata and saw the Japan sea...and also found a Chinese restaurant. This was my lunch: perfect and only $7

OK, mystery food. This lady was wrapping something in some type of leaves and selling them. ZERO idea what it was, but this is a normal occurrence when you are in a land and cannot read or speak the language.

Cheers mate! 

Gratuitous fish head photo. Only 1200 Yen ($12) and this could be your lunch on the Shinkansen (bullet train).

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ben's Tokyo Trip, pt. 5

Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
On Nov 8th we bought a rail pass open only to tourists on a temporary visa in Japan; to take the fastest train in the world around North and East Japan. We decided to go to Akita in NW Japan nearly 400 miles away. It took 3.5 hours to get there...

This train we rode in was made in 2013 by Kawasaki. 

YES, that GPS app on my phone says 195.3 Miles per Hour!

This little boy is sad that his train is only going to travel 50 miles per hour.

The trains are brand new and yet everyone else is already bored even though they are in a giant Formula 1 race car...

This boy is happy to be eating delicious food at 200mph in very comfortable seats. The trains are  immaculate, the bathrooms are small but clean, and phone chargers are at every seat.

Here is an idea of what  it is like when a Shinkansen goes by you:

 The annual average of our train for NOT being on-time in rain, sleet, snow, and sun is 6 seconds...That is, it has an average of being 6 seconds late. Take that Delta Airlines!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ben's Tokyo Trip, pt 4


At some 60 square miles, Tokyo's sheer size makes New York City look like my backwater town of  Dover, OH. With a population of 35 plus million people (including all the suburbs) it seems to span the horizon when viewed from the air. The sheer amount of concrete is staggering. The below photos are from a test flight we took in one of the aircraft we are working on.

Tokyo's Center is the Emperor's Palace
Surrounded by a moat, the inner gardens are only open twice a year to the public. We got to see the whole thing on our test flight. Below this first photo from the air are some photos we took from the outside as we walked by the palace on our first visit to Tokyo. It seems that there is so much of Tokyo one could spend a lifetime and still not see it all.

...but it looks so soft and lovely

How did we get to Tokyo? The Japan Railway and the Tokyo Metro. On the Japan Railway, there is no such thing as "personal space" Seats are for the elderly, pregnant mothers, and the disabled. The rest of us get to be sardines. It took 1 and a half hours to get from Fussa to Akihabara (the technology and appliance sales district) . We made train line changes in Tachikawa, Shinjuku, and Ebisu and each time, the trains got more full!

The metro in down town Tokyo was less crowded.

This is the appliance sales floor of a store in Akihabara

This isn't Portland, OR, folks. In Tokyo it is cool to use an umbrella! You could buy them for $4 everywhere.

 However, it is NOT cool for your umbrella to DRIP in someone's store! Most places had a special basket for them to be put in OUTSIDE the store or big stores had special plastic bags to put your soggy umbrella in. NOTE: Store keepers get VERY anxious if you walk in with out having properly attended to your drippy umbrella! SERIOUSLY! 

We ended up in Roppongi for dinner.

An upscale Karaoke Bar, folks!

 It was a long day. We walked 4+ miles and rode many trains.