***This is part 5 of my “Fat and Furious” trip report detailing a recent trip to Japan which included stops in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Matsuyama***
2. Star Alliance First Class Lounge at LAX
3. Singapore Airlines Suites Class Los Angeles to Tokyo
4. Conrad Tokyo
5. Eating Tokyo Part 1 – Department Store Hopping in Ginza
6. Funaya Ryokan In Matsuyama
7. Living The Onsen Life In Matsuyama
8. The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
9. Eating Kyoto – The Search for Matcha and Geisha
10. Kaiseki Dinner at 3-Michelin Star Kikunoi Honten
11. The Peninsula Tokyo
12. Eating Tokyo Part 2 – Maids, Robots, and Cosplay
13. Eating Tokyo Part 3 – Cherry Blossoms and THE BEST STEAK EVER
14. ANA Business Class Lounge at NRT
15. ANA Business Class Tokyo to San Jose
Enough airplane and hotel food – we had landed in Japan and it was time to really chow down.
After failing to wake up at the break of dawn to visit Tsukiji Fish Market, we decided to delay our visit until the end of the trip when we returned to Tokyo. With a full day now at our disposal and a more-than-full stomach from the hotel breakfast, we needed to walk around to work up an appetite. And walk we did, covering about 10+ miles all around the Ginza district. The main strip in Ginza is just a short 10-minute walk from the Conrad Tokyo.
It appeared that most buildings only had a single occupant, which must be quite the status symbol to have a brick-and-mortar store on Ginza Street.
An hour before the Apple store was scheduled to open, a line had already formed halfway down the block.
Many of the buildlings featured cool designs, including the Mikimoto building.
And we ran into this guy, who was absolutely loving the attention. But as much as I enjoyed this scene, right meow all I could think about was eating again.
Even though the US Dollar was extremely strong at the moment, neither of us had any urge to buy anything at the name-brand stores. So after some light window shopping we started our department store crawl since we heard that these were some of the best places to find great food. First up, Mitsukoshi.
In the basement level of basically every department store is the food court. And we aren’t talking about your run of the mill food court in your average shopping mall. You know, the ones that have a Sbarro, Auntie Anne’s, and if you’re really lucky, a Panda Express.
No, the food courts in Japanese department stores are an attraction in their own right, and feature some serious gourmet eats. After taking the escalator to the basement floor, first thing we ran into was a beautiful display of colorful mochi that looked too pretty to eat.
Japanese people sure have a sweet tooth and also like cute things. Marry the two together, and you get buns shaped like pigs. We quickly fell in love with the melon buns just to the left of the pigs, which featured a crisp and sugary exterior with a pillowy soft interior. In particular, I really liked the melon buns that were also filled with melon-flavored cream.
And these cakes which appeared to be a bee flying around a honeycomb.
On to the savory stuff – a delicious assortment of yakitori.
And on to the fish section.
We grabbed a couple things here and there, but in general it’s actually really hard to find a place to sit down to eat at the department stores. And we had been told by people that eating on the street in Japan is considered to be rude. So we just had a few quick bites before heading back to street-level to find a proper meal.
We stumbled upon a huge line that spanned an entire block leading up to a “Soba” sign. We surveyed the people in the line and they appeared to mostly be locals. Long line + locals = DELICIOUS FOOD, which is not to be confused with long line + tourists = RUN AWAY.
With nothing but time on our hands we decided to line up, and eventually one of the workers came out to distribute menus.
I got distracted by this guy and followed him around the corner to take a closer look. He had a matching yellow ensemble on (both pants and jacket) and would have been completely camouflaged against his yellow Lamborghini if it weren’t for his glasses.
The vending machines in Japan are no joke, and I quenched my thirst with a Pocari Sweat.
The entire menu was in Japanese, but lucky for us I had taken 4 years of Japanese language in high school. And I remembered that #1 stands for the first thing in a list, and in the context of a menu, in Japanese culture it usually represents the restaurant’s most popular dish (OK I made that up, but 95% of the time it’s true, right?).
My wife took this opportunity to chastise me for being useless at Japanese, at which point I reminded her how “useful” her French was last time we were in Paris.
About an hour later we were next in line, and I was excited for my bowl of Soba. Or so I thought…
The restaurant only had 8 seats, but since our order was taken in line, as soon as we sat down our food was placed in front of us. Gotta love Japanese efficiency.
Hmm, I thought soba was dark in color? Must be some special type of light-colored Soba, I thought to myself. I didn’t care since whatever I was eating was off-the-charts delicious. It’s considered a compliment to the chef to slurp your noodles, and my slurps could have drown out the sound of a crying baby.
We walked away fat and happy but after some investigating it turned out that our meal was actually Tsukemen, or Japanese dipping noodles, and the restaurant was a ramen shop called Ginza Kagari. I considered reporting them to the Japanese noodle authorities for false advertising, but because their food was so amazingly good, I decided to let it slide.
After lunch we were on the hunt for sweets, and once again I can’t overemphasize how awesome it was to have the pocket wifi device. My wife was on a mission to eat a lifetime’s worth of green tea- flavored desserts on this trip, and her matcha radar (aka Yelp) brought us to Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki where we ordered a green tea croissant along with the Valencia cake.
Not sure if it was food coma or jet leg, but by early afternoon we were absolutely shattered. We went back to the hotel for a quick nap before heading over to Ebisu to meet up with some friends for dinner where we had a great time at a Izakaya restaurant. In my jet-lagged daze, which wasn’t helped by all the beer, I forgot to take pictures of the meal other than this shot of some sashimi and the tastiest draught Sapporo I’ve ever had.
Not a bad first day in Japan, but overall I’d grade my day 1 eating performance as a solid “C”. I needed to step up my game, and what better place to do that than in the udon noodle capital of the world, Shikoku.