06 October 2011

Tokyo Tour Day 1 ~ Happy Landings in Shinjuku

After nearly 18 hours in transit we hit the streets of Tokyo. This is the very first hour of a ten day street food holiday, our third eating trip to Japan, our second visit to Tokyo, and we're near peeing our pants with excitement.

We're mad with food and beer lust. We bravely skipped airport and train snacks to save our appetites for our favourite Japanese institution: the standup bar. We discover standup bars are hard to find in Shinjuku, they seem to be a dying breed.

But somehow Alison sniffs out the only one in our area. It's a beauty too.

This tiny standup bar is packed and very happy on a Friday night. The owners are warm and friendly. We use half of our four word Japanese vocabulary to order 'nama beeru' - draught beer. Japanese tap beer is sensational, we're yet to have a shabby one. It's poured straight out of the keg, no lines to get dirty, it would make at least half the pubs in Australian hang their heads in shame. Draught Sapporo is so dreamy creamy.

We order food by pointing at what other folks are eating, saying 'kore wa' and grinning like idiots. Our first mystery punt is a winner: fried fish cakes with finely chopped shallots and ginger, with a splash of soy joy.

It's such a simple dish but cooked so well. It highlights what is so wrong about izakaya style food in Australia: it's either elevated to a high art with matching price tag, or cheap but lazily cooked. This is food for the people, cheap but always prepared with care and attention to detail.

Another mystery punt: pickled vegetables with sesame oil and a hint of chili. Joy. A kind reader tells us this is called za-sai - pickled mustard plant stem, originating from Sichuan, China.

Shumai - a Japanese take on Chinese dumplings, stuffed with ebi (prawns) and most likely pork, with hot mustard on the side. Again, simple but perfectly prepared.

Edomame - on the house! We must be extra good looking tonight!

We finish off with some yakatori. On the left is a random but delicious part of a chicken. It's fatty, salty and crispy, a perfect beer snack. But the stars of the evening are those little beauties on the right: quail eggs wrapped in bacon with mild, flavoursome, de-seeded chilis sprinkled with pepper. Perfectly cooked and seasoned.

The bacon\quail egg number is the last thing we expected to be eating in Japan. It looked like it escaped from a 1970's Women's Weekly (pass the Jatz and Cabanossi will you Vera?).

This drives home the fact that even after two serious eating trips to Japan, countless Japanese restaurant meals and much home cooking exploration, we still really know bugger all about Japanese food. And this is a wonderful thing. Japanese food varies from region to region, suburb to suburb, house to house. Food evolves with time and availability, cuisines merge, tastes change. Also perceptions differ based on experience. If aliens landed in Tokyo they'd swear the Japanese national dishes were curry and pasta. It means our food journey is endless, we'll be writing this blog forever, and it's going to be a good holiday. Cheers.


  1. The second dish is "za-sai" in Japanese.

  2. Welcome back. I missed the regular postings of your shenanigans and was having withdrawal symptoms, so it's great to hear how your trip to Japan went. Your last paragraph is quite universal because you could replace the word "Japanese" with "Australian" and "Tokyo" with "Sydney" and read it over again and there would be a lot of truth in it. Consider how our culinary landscape has evolved over the years "Vera". I would imagine that the Japanese are no different to us. I wonder what Aliens would think if they landed in Leichhardt and one hour later teleported themselves to Haymarket. "W.T.F." more than likely.

  3. Thanks for the tip anon, shall edit accordingly. The owner did tell us the name but I could figure out the spelling, thanks so much!

  4. Blogman - we thought of you as we saw so much Olympus Pen promotion in Tokyo.

  5. Oh, Japan. How I want to go back and eat all your food. XD

    Standing bar looks fun!

    Excited for all your Tokyo food posts!

  6. Welcome back! I was having streetfood withdrawals...

    Was the chicken cooked through in the yakitori? I had an experience at a yakitori joint in shibuya where they'd only sear the chicken leaving the centers raw. I was taken aback at first but when I wasnt shooting my a*** off the next morning i knew it was fine!

  7. Never come across the raw chook, how interesting, yes i'd be waiting for explody bottom after that too!

  8. 25 years ago as a full time student I used to celebrate the end of a study semester with my classmates in Chinatown. Back then you had eateries for dumb arse white Australians (Prawn Cutlets, Sweet& & Sour Pork, Special Fried Rice, etc) and eateries for the Chinese speaking community (Real Authentic Cantonese). We used to nominate out classmate (Paul Chong) who was fluent in Cantonese as he was from Hong Kong to do the ordering. We also gave him the authority to order anything he wanted for our collective dining group. Without him we would have been lost as none of the waiters spoke English and the only menus were in Cantonese. This place was on the ground level next to Covent Garden Hotel on Hay St. The stuff we used to eat was not available at the white man's Chinese eatery. I remember eating lightly steamed raw chicken as it made quite an impression on us white trash who were there for the ride. So I can say I've had near raw chicken and it didn't make me sick either. I think it's Aussie food regulations that prevent the Asian eateries serving near raw chook.

  9. Hey welcome back guys! Sure miss your posts. Regarding raw chook, I recall watching an episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain had some raw chook at a izakaya or Yakitori joint too. He seemed to enjoy it immensely!
    I had that same quail egg and bacon combi at a Yakitori place in Singapore too...yummmmmm

  10. It's only Bacon & Eggs.

  11. I subscribe to this excellent ramen blog by an ex-pat living in Tokyo. You may find some treasures in your travels: http://www.ramenadventures.com/

  12. There is surely a cuisine of raw part remained chicken called 'Sasami no Tataki',
    Sasami is the breast muscle and only the surface is grilled like medium as there is little parasite.

  13. love yakitori - in Sapporo I had the most delicious ever - simple baby leeks, unbelievably tasty, I don't know how they did it.

    In Tokyo running south (east side of the train line) from Ueno station I spent a great evening in the beer and yakitori stalls - mmm - I'll just have another one of ...


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).