The Japan Trip – Tokyo 2014, Saturday Night Food Tour

Posted: November 9, 2014 in Diners Club
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Food tour – Tokyo by night – Japanese food tour:

So we were running late for our food tour, thankfully the public transport system here is a breeze and runs like clockwork. One of the things I really liked about the trains was the computerized screens above each door which showed you where you were on the loop, and how long to each of the stations. It would flick between Japanese and English so it really was quite easy getting around.

The trains were packed, each station seemed like a Flinders street sized station at peak hour – but unlike back home, the trains were designed to carry large numbers of people and it really wasn’t hard, everyone got on and off quickly, people seemed to just know what to do, where to stand – everything just seemed to work like clockwork. Knowing this, I also sensed that we would need to be on time for the tour…

Underneath Yurkocho station

Underneath Yurkocho station – we made it on time!

Getting off the train and trough the station in a rush was a bit tricky, but we managed to find the entrance where we were to meet our guide. Clearly we don’t blend in because our tour guide managed to spot us out the front of the station. Our tour guide came over and introduced herself, Silvia who was actually from Brazil. Interesting story, she had come back to look after her grandmother who was sick, after both her parents had migrated to Brazil from Japan. This gave her an interesting perspective on Tokyo, having only lived in Japan for 8 years, yet being Japanese by birth. She seemed really friendly and easy to talk to, she gave us the run-down of the night – her English was excellent so there were no communication issues.

This is a little alley under the train tracks. Here you find all the Yakitori bars

This is a little alley under the train tracks. Here you find all the Yakitori bars

 

We started off by heading down under the train tracks into what seemed like a scene out of Blade runner – this little tiny alleyway, food stalls and tiny bars to either side, apparently a place that the office workers will go after work for a drink and a snack before catching the train back home. It was in this area that there were a lot of Yakitori restaurants, which basically means to grill over coals. We were taken to a tiny little place, there’s no way you would know to come here without a guide – and Silvia proceeded to make the arrangements. We sat up at the bar, overlooking the grill, wood charcoal heating a grill on which various skewered foods would be placed and basted. We were presented with hot hand towels which Silvia explained were used before the meal to clear your hands – Japanese don’t tend to use napkins – they think they’re weird. You don’t use these towels to wipe your face by the way, just your hands. Fascinating little details you just wouldn’t know otherwise. Another detail that I learnt was that the lanterns out the front of a bar indicate that the place serves drinks and food – if they are lit, the place is open.

 

The chef at work at the Yakitori grill

The chef at work at the Yakitori grill

The Yakitori was really interesting, watching the chef at work was a treat – they use a sugar sweetened sake and soy basting liquid, which is sweet and salty, I think they also added some salt to the cooking meats and vegetables as they went. You see the grill flame up occasionally and get the smell off the grill – its mouth watering stuff. Apparently there are a couple of key differentials between each Yakitori place, first is the choice of wood used for the coals, you get a huge difference in flavor depending on the choice. And secondly is the choice of sake used in the basting sauce – generally it would be a cooking wine, however, at this place they use a dinking sake which is not the norm.  It seems like the meat is usually chicken, however there is also a range of vegetables and tofu. They get served on little plates and you generally eat it off the skewer. Although since we were sharing a few of them, I had to get the chopsticks out. I actually did pretty well, although Shane was much more adept than I was. For the tour you also get the choice of a beer or sake for the night, since we had planned to buy more drinks as we went we weren’t too fussed so we asked Silvia what would traditionally go well with Yakitori, the answer for Yakitori was beer so that’s what we got.  I quite like Japanese beer, it’s generally very fresh and lightly hopped. It’s not heavy like a lot of the beers we’re getting back home these days, and it’s always perfectly poured. They take that very seriously. I really enjoyed the Yakitori, the Gogi berries were interesting, they had that salty Edamamae bar snack vibe, but with a slightly different texture, the tofu skewer was actually pretty good, although my favourite would have to have been the chicken mince.

This selection includes the Gogi berries

This selection includes the Gogi berries

A selection of the yakitori that we had

A selection of the yakitori that we had

It was great to have Silvia to ourselves, it really gave us the opportunity to ask questions and it felt like a really personalized tour as a result – although she was just really easy going and fun so I am sure that even if it had been a bigger group it would still have been great fun. Silvia mentioned that quite often her groups are anything from 7 to 12 people so we got pretty lucky for it to just be the two of us on a Saturday night.

Next stop was back to the Yurakucho train station, where we picked up some fish shaped sort of doughnut things called Taiyaki, which were filled with things like red bean past, fruit paste, cheese, chocolate. We got them early as the place would have closed by the time we got back from dinner. We ate these later when we got back to the hotel – I would suggest that they taste better warm, like doughnuts, but either way they were quite tasty. Back onto the train – this time it was good to have Silvia as she was able to explain a few things about the trains in Japan. One thing I learned was that the screens over the doors don’t just show you the loop and times to each station – as you come into a station they also show you which carriage you are on and where the stairs/exists are so you know which way to walk. Little things like this just make life so much easier.

Just in case someone falls onto the tracks - we know what to do now!

Just in case someone falls onto the tracks – we know what to do now!

Anyway, we were off to a different part of town for the second meal, an up market residential area called Tsukishima that’s down by the river. Again, not a place you would come to unless you knew what you were looking for. This is the area known for the Monjayaki style of cooking. Monjayaki is probably a style of cooking/food that you’ve never hear of – but some of you may have hear of Okonomiyaki, which we can get back home – it’s similar to this but has a much runnier batter. Anyway, Siliva took us to the area that is most well known for this style restaurants, the street here is almost exclusively Monjayaki! Anyway, so what is Monjayaki ? Basically it’s where you have a hot plate on the table and cook the food yourself – It’s really quite fun. You order the a big bowl of ingredients – it comes with a cabbage base, then seafood, pork, even cheese if you want it, there’s also a very light batter in the bottom of the bowl. You cook the veg and meat first and then make a space and pour in the batter and mix the ingredients all together.

Working hard on the grill - Monjayaki style

Working hard on the grill – Monjayaki style

Monjayaki

Monjayaki

You can make it into a pancake sort of thing similar to Okonomiyaki, or you can spread it really thin and let it get crispy on the bottom. It has a consistency of melted cheese, and like cheese, will go crispy if you cook it enough. You then just use the little spatulas to eat of the grill as you go.

Silvia making the Okonomiyaki

Silvia making the Okonomiyaki

It was a lot of fun, but hot work. Thankfully we had some cool refreshing sake to go with it all. The thing with sake, is that you are not supposed to pour it yourself, you should always pour it for your friend first, and you should never leave the glass empty. Apparently if you are dining on your own the staff will pour for you. Anyway, so the Monjayaki was a lot of fun, taste wise not the greatest food I’ve eaten, but I guess you would learn how to make it better as you go and what combos work, but for a unique experience I’d highly recommend. Once we’d polished off the Monjayaki, Silvia ordered the Okonomiyaki. Whereas Monjayaki is a local cuisine, Okonomiyaki is from further south in Hiroshima. This is the more common pancake that we are familiar with back home. Silvia cooked this one and you can see it looks much better, she added the sauces and the Benito flakes, although I had to get a taste in before Shane took the photo so I ruined it a bit!

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Finally (wow, getting full), we had to have dessert – in this case it’s called Chokomaki! It’s basically a crepe batter that they cook for you, and then add chocolate pieces to.

Chokomaki being made

Chokomaki being made

Chocolate added then rolled up

Chocolate added then rolled up

Tasty! After all this eating it was time to head back. Silvia took us for a walk around the area and down to the river; it was actually quite dark and not very well lit as you can see from the photo.

Tsukishima by the water

Tsukishima by the water

We walked back past a playground on the way back to the train station and of course Shane couldn’t hold back the inner child and just had to play on the swings… Finally we got back to the train station, Silvia gave us directions to get the subway back to Shinjuku instead of the Yamanote line, which would save us about 20mins, and then we were back in Shinjuku. It was still raining a bit, and it was getting quite late, but that didn’t stop people from being out and about. The bright lights of Shinjuku were pretty full on for our tired eyes – you have to remember that we had only landed that morning and had really been on the go all day – I mean what a massive day – to think only 24hrs ago I had been getting on a plane in Melbourne!

Pretty tired at this stage

Back in Shinjuku – Pretty tired at this stage

We decided to get a nightcap from one of the bars in Shinjuku before heading back to the hotel, we went to this tiny little whiskey bar on the 8th floor of a building in the shopping district of Shinjuku – I think there were three other people in there and it was crowded. After that I was pretty much asleep on my feet so we decided to head back to our rooms – where I pretty much fell asleep as my head hit the pillow.

 

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