13 December 2011

Tokyo Day 8 ~ Are We Not Ramen?

We sniff out the food under and around Tokyo Station, try some Japanese Italian, get jiggy at a Japanese synthpunk gig, and wash it all down with a killer ramen. And we discuss our favourite aspect of traditional Japanese culture: the Softbank dog.

Once again we visit our favourite Tokyo eating hole, a noodle bar in Shinjuku station.

Soba noodles with okra.

Plain simple soba noodles. One of the finest hangover cures available.

We read in the brilliant issue 1 of Lucky Peach magazine that there's a world of good food underneath Tokyo Station. We expected a humble food court but it's a huge labyrinthine of restaurants and shops. Tokyo Station is a great option for nervous eaters, it's super clean and sanitized down here, it's like a Westfields of street food. It's also a great option in bad weather, or if you want to sample a lot places in a short time. We made the mistake of hitting it at lunchtime, most of the restaurants were packed with office workers, many places had queues out the door.

Shawn is obsessed with this hot dog shop.

Hot dogs with egg.

Sweetie hot dogs.

Seafood hotdogs. If only we had the stomach space.

Cutesy sweeties.

Filtered coffee joint.


Coffee shop.

We stumble upon this brilliant little shop that sells presents for intercity commuters. There's a massive range of flavoured Kitkats which are very hard to find elsewhere. Green tea Kit Kats are to die for, you can find them in Australia if you hunt hard, Alison found some in Marayu Japanese supermarket in Sydney city, about $4.60 each.

Hot Japanese Chili Kitkat. There's no chili in the first bite but it gives a surprise kick at the end.

There's a whole range of kooky instant noodles.

Japan Airlines instant noodles, for that special plane nerd in your life.

Standing sushi bar.

Make friends with salad.

The serious business of lunch.

\Tokyo Station is a good place to hunt for ramen, a few ramen joints had big queues.

Junk food is taking over.

Large mystery brown thing.

A pinup of our favourite Japanese hound, Otousan, star of tv commercials for the Softbank phone carrier. Otousan is a fluffy white dog but is the head of a family of Japanese humans. He has a Japanese human wife and a daughter, and a human son of African descent.

We wonder if something this surreal and wonderfully silly would work at home.

Shawn's favourite Softbank dog ad.

One more for good luck. Search 'Softbank dog english' on youtube for some beauties.

We found one ad where the daughter asks why her Dad is a dog, Outisan suggests it is too early for them to understand (apparently the final line is translated incorrectly).

Back to Tokyo Station... Soup Stock Tokyo is a hit with the ladies. We have a sneaking suspicion that it's healthy.

Udon magic.

It's a bit too sanitized for us beneath Tokyo Station so we head outside and find a lovely eat street, Yaesu Naka Dori.

Are we welcome in here? Shawn pops his head in the door and a tops old lady gives him a huge welcoming smile - come on in!

The photo doesn't quite capture the vibe of this joint, it feels old fashioned and very Japanese, history and life stories ooze from the walls. We wonder if the dapper old men in suits have been having their lunch here for the past forty years.

We're a bit stuck with the menu. Alison takes the boss-lady outside to point at the plastic food in the window. Shawn says 'Katsudon?' All sorted.

Set lunch with soba  noodles, sashimi don, pickles and veggies. Photos and words cannot describe how good this simple office-worker lunch is.

Katsudon set. A pork schnitzle with soft sweet onions and egg in sweet sauce. The simple side soup is mind blowing. This lunch almost cures Shawn's hangover.

This also would cure Shawn's hangover. A rare alco-vendo siting on the street. Vendo-spotting has become a sport.

We could go a bit of that.

Back underneath Tokyo Station we discover mochi cream. Frozen mochi filled with flavoured cream\ ice-cream. We're instructed to wait about 15 minutes before eating them to let them melt to the perfect temperature.

Mochi cream.

Mochi cream donuts.

Mochi cream innards.


Udon noodles under construction.

Noodles are cut and put into wooden boxes. The udon noodles we had in Tokyo were square, thick and chewy. Many places made them fresh on the premises.

Koiwai cheesecake from Tokyo Station. Japanese cheesecake is light and not overly rich, we're big fans.

Another apparent institution from Tokyo Station:  Tokyo Banana.

Banana cake filled with banana flavoured custardy goo, a Japanese banana Twinkie. Delicious.

Great subway ad for CC Lemon drink. CC lemon apparently has "the vitamin C of 70 lemons in every bottle".

We hit Yoyogi at night for some Japanese pasta and pizza. Last time we were in Tokyo we saw folks going nuts over Cafe Pronto's pasta, so we're excited to finally try it.

Pronto cafe menu.

Pronto cafe menu.

Pronto cafe menu.

Pronto cafe menu.

Pronto cafe menu.

Pronto cafe menu.

Pronto cafe menu.

This gent belongs in a late night seedy whiskey jazz bar, not an Italian chain restaurant.

Spew cheese - yay!

Garlic bread.

Salmon roe spaghetti.

Japanese pizza. Thin, garlicky and cheesy. This is far superior to many pizzas we've had back home. We're amazed at how a chain restaurant can produce such tasty food.

It's rock'n'roll time. At 6.30pm - yeah baby! Gigs start early here, we assume it's so folks can drop by after work and get on their way home before the trains stop at midnight. Whatever the reason, we love the early gig thing. You can see a band then go have dinner or do whatever, it doesn't take up your whole night, we wish it would catch on in Sydney.

Zher the Zoo is a tiny basement club in Yoyogi, only ten minutes walk from Shinjuku.

Polysics play "technicolor pogo punk": high energy guitar rock mixed with synthpop, they're Devo on crank, complete with wacky outfits. Like most Japanese bands we have seen they are incredibly tight and give 150%. Gigs we since seen in Sydney seem half-arsed after this.

Filming didn't seem to be the done thing so we just took a couple of short clips just to capture the vibe. The tiny basement room must have hit 40 degrees Celsius as the crowd pogoed for two hours solid. Everybody was drenched with sweat, many folks wore little sweat towels around their necks. You could even buy Polysics sweat towels and the merch table. Cultural notes: a single file orderly queue formed at the bar between bands, stretching from one end of the room to the other. And the toilets were squeaky pine-o-fresh clean. Rock venue toilets anywhere else in the world are biohazardous.

Time for a post gig feed - this little ramen joint looks good but it's full dangnabbit.

Freaked out rubber chicken in an amusement arcade.

We find a ramen joint with room for two hungry geijin.

Ramen noodle cooking station.

Big pots of broth.

Suntory time...

Ramen fixins.

Thick, porky tonkotsu ramen. No matter how 'authentic' ramen may get back home the experience is never the same. Sitting at the bar and watching the energetic and precise movements of the ramen chefs, and listening to their chirpy banter, it's is mesmerising. We'd love to see somebody recreate the ramen bar experience back home, we wonder if it could work.

Something looks appealing about this joint three flights up, be we're Street Food, and we're stuffed.

We love Japan. And Japanese music.


  1. I tried Moochi Ice-cream in Hawaii...pretty dang good! I like an early gig...if only it would catch on here for Nanas like moi

  2. When you were under Tokyo Station did you see that Sushi place run by a guy called Jiro? They've made a documentary about his search for perfect sushi; looks really good. It's called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I think the trailer's up on YouTube somewhere. Great blog by the way!

  3. Ah Jiro Dreams of Sushi - looks great - thanks for the tip!

  4. Nothing better than Ramen in Japan. Another amazing post. Keep them coming !!!


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).