23 October 2011

Tokyo Tour Day 3 ~ Ramen, Sushi and Yakatori Without Tears

The Tokyo tour of gluttony continues with ramen in Harajuku, udon in Shimbashi, yakatori in Ginza, and sushi in Shinjuku. Plus some ponderings on the perils of privilege.

We start the morning with a train to Harajuku and wonder if this ad should read 'cafe creep'.

This Japanese pasta joint looks great but it's not open and it's the wrong time of day anyway...

We missed breakfast and it's Shawn's fault, he turned his nose up at a perfectly good noodle bar back in Shinjuku. The same noodle bar later became his favourite eating hole in Tokyo. He is duly punished by being made to sit and think about his actions for an hour while Alison trawls a 100 yen shop for crap, ahem, treasure. Fortunately Takeshita Street is a fine place to sit and watch the world go by.  It's like Sydney's Paddington on a Saturday, only with far wackier fashion.

We like to try everything but life is too short for Cafe Nescafe...

We waddle around looking for food with not much luck. Harajuku doesn't really wake up till around lunchtime so we miss breakfast. Dang! On a ten day trip with three meals per day we've just lost one-thirtieth of our meals, or one whole 'eating opportunity' as Alison calls it.  There's only so much stomach room and it must be managed well. Once you lose an eating opportunity, it's gone forever. Such are the perils of privilege.

Low-blood sugar crankiness starts setting in, then Afuri Ramen appears just in time, no more tears.  We hesitate before going in, it looks a bit posh for us, then laugh at ourselves for being such such reverse food snob wankers. Idiots.

Afuri Ramen is one of those new-ish wave of ramen joints run by young hipsters, beautiful food made by beautiful people to be eaten by, well, us. Inside Afuri  Ramen is modern and sparkly clean. The place soon fills up and a queue forms outside, we were lucky to get a seat. Beautifully dressed, elegant, rich Japanese ladies sit at the bar and slurp their noodles with gusto, stuffing their faces like truck drivers, then daintily dabbing their lips with hundred dollar hankies.

Afuri's ramen is sensational, perfect noodles, melty pork and a light broth with a tangy, lemony, fishy kick. We find slithers of lemon zest and a lovely soft googie. A magic travel food moment.

How could we not order snackages from this super happy looking street food vender outside Yoyogi Park.

Baby castelha - a wee warm little sponge cake, yum!

Tokyo has tons of attractions, galleries, museums, fancy restaurants and nightclubs, but our number one Tokyo attraction is the dog run in Yoyogi Park. Loads of spoiled rotten hounds, mostly off-leash, but in-pants. We saw one owner not only pick up her doggy's poo, but wipe it's butt afterwards, carefully polishing the pink doggy dot with a Wet Ones.

Kiddies going nuts in the park. Note the one girl with her head in her Nintendo DS.

We walk through the park to Shibuya and start feeling tired. Maybe we should get a ride with this guy.

We stumble upon a small carnival type affair. And where there's a carnival, there's carnival food, such as this noodle burger stand.

Noodle burger under construction.

 Noodle patties, cabbage, mystery meat and bbq sauce. It sounds like crap, and doesn't taste much better. The noodle patties kind of taste like crumpet.

The effervescent noodle burger chef and his singing cat.

More carnival food.

Pickled cucumbers on a stick smeared with miso. These buggers tasted great but refused to focus in Shawn's camera.

Pooch pampering is taken to a whole new level in Tokyo. This spaniel has a protective hat to cover up his long floppy ears, it makes him look Amish.

Passing bald convention.

From Shibuya we jump on a train to the fancy pants business\shopping area of Ginza. The streets are closed to traffic on Sundays making it quite a surreal place to walk around. It gets to be hard work on a hot day, these folks have the right idea...

We stumble upon the area around Shimbashi Station which looks like a great place to eat, we earmark it for later feeding. Reconnaissance is such an important part of gourmet travelling.

Is there anything more exciting that a tops exciting hall?

This looks right up our alley, suitably dodgy, but once again our tummy timing is out - oh the perils of food travelling.

Perhaps we should drop into this bar for a dull time instead?

Shawn has been craving udon noodles ever since falling in love with udon soup for breakfast in Osaka.

This joint is just like the wonderful Menya Mappen in Sydney: order your preferred noodles; help yourself to a range of deep fried extras; slide your tray along and pay at the end.

Shawn's udon soup turns out not to be a soup but something even better: udon with a runny poached egg,  grated daikon, shallots, seaweed, and just a small amount of broth at the bottom. The egg mixes with everything and coats the noodles becoming like a carbonara. It is so simple but so, so good. Shawn has since been making a lazy version at home: cracking an egg on udon noodles with just a smidgeon of soup in the bottom of the bowl.

Can't resist some fried crap:  eggplant, squid and sweet potato.

Zillions of restaurants in the arches under the train line. Nothing really excites until...

We find this suitably dodgey yakatori joint. Alison first visited this place years ago on a one day stopover, and is now back for a third time.

All kinds of foks drop in here, it's not just for beery blokes.

The inside section...

Drinks menu - in English - yay!

Yakatori menu.

A romantic table for two.

Breaking the seal, there goes the rest of the day...

The yakatori man hard at work in a tiny kitchen. Smoke billows out from the charcoal grill. The smell of bbq meat drives us crazy.

The yakatori is sensational: juicy with that magic bbq flavour. We go for pork, chicken skin and intestines. It helps to be offal-friendly in these bars, but you don't have to be.

The yakatori joint across the hall is shut on Sundays. It looks like it has been there since the 1950s.

More good looking yakatori joints.

On the train back to Shinjuku we discover that neglect causes a route of smoke to go up non-smoker's bottoms.

TV break... A shows about the naughtiest brothers in Japan who will get their kit off and streak at any given opportunity.

Hunting dinner in Shinjuku. We've had our fill of yakatori bars for the day and struggle to find something just right. Alison decides she wants something upmarket and downmarket at the same time, as crankiness sets in we dive into a 'beef bowl & cheese' joint, but we can't work the vending machine and the place smells real bad, even by our shabby standards, we give up. Sometimes it's hard to be a food nerd...

Just as tears are setting in we find a fine looking sushi train - toowoot!

We fall in love with chuhai - a highball mixture of schochu spirit and soda. It's light and refreshing, not too sweet. Best of all it's much cheaper than beer. Lemon chuhai is a winner, Green tea chuhai is an acquired taste... One variety of chuhai we wish we tried was Calpis chuhai - a fizzy fermented milk soda with schochu - it would either be very very good or very very bad, we suspect the latter.

Sushi masters as work. The place is jumping. We're upset to see another westerner in here: don't they know that we are only white trash cool enough to be here? Not you buddy, get thee to McDonalds. What, you can speak Japanese? And you actually know what you're doing? Get out of our exotic travel fantasy you smarmy-fluent-in-Japanese-expat bastard!

In ten days we see barely a handful of western tourists, we're just a drop in the ocean compared to the domestic and Chinese tourists. We see a lot of expats and we're never sure if we should say hello or not. Do we say hello to a stranger in the street just because they're the same colour as us? Is that racist? If we say hello are we spoiling somebody else's little fantasy?  Or is that person secretly bursting to speak English to somebody? Next time we're just going to say g'day and be done with it. Incidently we learnt that Japanese folks generally don't know what g'day means, we thought it was universally known that Aussies say g'day before throwing Qantas on a barbie.

Sashimi sushi is so much cheaper and generous in proportion than in Australia. Most of these pieces were only 150yen, the more expensive (Hokkaido scallops on the bottom striped plate) were around 400 yen.

Chuwanmushi - steamed savoury egg custard with prawns and mushrooms. This blows our little minds.


  1. oh god, this post makes me want to go back to Japan like NOW!

  2. I love the travel food posts that you guys write! This is just in time too, I'm off to Japan soon and this has given me lots of ideas - so glad you guys are food nerds :)

  3. That yakitori place looks like it'd be a unique food experience. I love the look of it. XD Remembering for next time I go!

  4. All of the food looks amazing....especially the chicken skin and intestines.....mmmmmmmm.... I really must make my way to Japan. Maybe a weekend to eat and shop! Ramen always reminds me of the movie Tampopo.

  5. Funny you mention that now Eve - we just watched Tampopo last night - what a movie!

  6. I loved loved that film. Now that is a foodie film. It got me started on ramen way back when I first saw it.

  7. I miss Japan. Such amazing food experiences. Though we were a little shocked at the 'sushi train' we went to which only served raw seafood. Not what we're used to in Newtown!

  8. Ok...so Mr Shawn is making Menya Mappen Udon in his kitchen. At home. Why was this not mentioned to me before. I require step by step instructions on how to do this at my house (which is over 20kms from Mappen I might add).

    Love the doggy park - they must be itching to get out of their trousers though.

  9. $199 Jetstar specials are looking pretty tempting about now - if only we could get back just for the weekend.

  10. LOL at "We're upset to see another westerner in here: don't they know that we are only white trash cool enough to be here? Not you buddy, get thee to McDonalds. What, you can speak Japanese? And you actually know what you're doing? Get out of our exotic travel fantasy you smarmy-fluent-in-Japanese-expat bastard!"

    Could not stop laughing, totally made my day! thanks for yet another great post!

  11. Re."Get out of our exotic travel fantasy you smarmy-fluent-in-Japanese-expat bastard!"

    Oi !!! That's not the Aussie tradition.

    In practice an Aussie Rugby club (which often has an unwritten constitution which states no wogs allowed) organises a trip for it's members to Japan and ya always travel together as a group. It's all about male bonding and havin a good time with your mates. Ya all go out together, drink piss together, are very loud and act belligerently so that everyone observing knows that your part of a travelling Aussie Goon Squad.

    The Aussie way is to stick with your mates.

    Ya always have breakfast, lunch and dinner together when travellin O.S. with ya mates!

    None of this "doin it on ya own business".

    So when is the next time your going to Japan
    with all your mates (while the women stay home barefoot and pregnant) from the local footy club?

  12. Beautiful pictures!I hope that you enjoyed these tour days,and while the food looks scrumptious,it is the 'Baby castelha' that seems to be interesting me!
    P.S. Thank you for sharing!:-)

  13. The little puff balls were great, kind of like the ones that get long queues in Chinatown. A bag of a dozen or so were quickly scoffed on the way to look at the dog park.

  14. Woaw such a great day in Tokyo, awesome post guys ^^

    The yakitori place looked really nice, I love going there and randomly picking things without knowing what I am ordering as they normally wont have an english menu...
    I wish I could go there on a food adventure again. Can't wait! XD

  15. You are brave enough as you eat in such cheap bars.
    If it is other countries in Asia, you would suffer from diarrhea.
    Well, if you want to have fresh sushi at reasonable price in Tokyo, you should go to Tsukiji, near Ginza.
    Btw, the last dish is not Chuwanmushi but ChAwanmushi.

  16. Came across your blog again as I was research JP food options. I've missed this place!

    Also, the lemony flavour of the ramen at Afuri is most probably due to Yuzu.


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).