February 29, 2008

now or never

... or four years later, if at all....

Just a random bunch of photos that I recently took... thought I should be posting something on the 29th of February, as I can have a 2/29 post only once every four years! It'd be interesting to see if I am still blogging four years from now....

February 26, 2008

breakfast at tsukiji

At 7:10 in the morning, I was sat there at one of the small bars near the busy fish market, to a bowl of ultra-fresh sashimi chu-toro (medium-fatty tuna), salmon roe, and sea urchin on rice, along with a bowl of miso soup with clams. A sheer pleasure. Worth getting up before dawn and travelling almost one hour on the train for? Oh yes, I'd say, especially when it is with a good friend of yours who doesn't mind getting up before dawn and travelling almost one hour on the train to share the pleasure of having rather "special" breakfast with you. Well, actually, in her case she might not have had to travel one hour for that particular morning, although she did travel well longer than 12 hours flying in from Los Angeles the day before!

Now, done with our breakfast but not with chatting (two girls catching up after more than a year, what else would you expect??), we set off to explore the market district, with our eyes already on something for lunch!

*Pictures (from top left to bottom right): a sashimi tuna & rice bowl bar; our sashimi breakfast at the bar; outside an inner market building; a small Japanese sweets shop; walking down an aisle inside the inner market; inner market stalls; fresh oysters sold at an inner market stall; paper lanterns hung outside a shrine near the market; a wooden lion head enshrined at the shrine; shaved dried bonito sold in bulk at an outer-market shop; a globefish shop in the outer-market; a rice ball shop in the outer market. I didn't take too many photos there, as I thought I'd end up scaring some of you with images of raw, whole fish and seafood. And quite frankly, the sight of the massive amount of raw fishery products was rather overwhelming even to myself.

Going to the Tsukiji fish market for breakfast was long on my "bucket list", and it was great to finally get it done. Ideally, in my head, I'd have drunk through the night and have breakfast there before going home, but maybe it is for another time and for this time I did sleep at home the night before and did manage to get up early.

Although it wouldn't typically take 12 hours for most of us living in the Tokyo area, going down to this downtown fish market still is a bit of excursion. Or so it seems, perhaps because of the fact that you have to start travelling quite early in the morning to see the better part of what is going on; as is the case with any fresh food market, Tsukiji starts early and slows down early, too, with many businesses closing up for the day by midday. And here I am talking about jogai, or the area called "outer market" consisting of a cluster of eateries and retail shops where you can buy, eat, and generally poke around as you please. Jonai, or the "inner market" on the other hand, gets busiest even earlier - between 5 and 7 am -, with wholesalers and licensed buyers, but not the general public or tourists.

While you can still buy your fish, really fresh, from small stalls in the inner market, I didn't see too many random shoppers hanging out in there - in fact, nearly all non-market workers I saw in there that morning were non-Japanese tourists; in this regard, Wikipedia again is quite right in its remark that "[the Tsukiji market] is a major attraction for foreign visitors (few Japanese casually visit the market)".

The inner market aside, though, Tsukiji still is a fun place to visit for fish lovers or otherwise, if you fancy a taste of Japanese food and old Tokyo downtown townscape. Tsukiji might be best known as the country's biggest fish market, but it has a lot more beyond fish and seafood - fresh vegetables, kitchen tools, tableware, and even some fishy souvenirs. Make sure you start your day early, eat your breakfast early, and might as well grab some food for later, perhaps early lunch!

I left the place with some rice balls (fatty salmon belly, cured tuna and sesame seeds, and oyster) from a rice ball shop and Japanese-style omelettes (chesnuts and duck) from an omelette shop. And my ultimate treat among treats, flown fresh from its country of origin. None of these lasted very long, as I supposed market food should be consumed immediately, right? ;)

February 8, 2008

second time, more fun?

And so you made it back in Japan, this time around in the middle of the winter... sooner than anybody, including yourself, would have expected since your fist visit last autumn?

Get set and go, eat our way in the mid-winter Japan...

Welcome-back dinner at a Shibuya Thai restaurant, Tokyo; having gotten into central Tokyo after a 10+ hour flight and a couple of hours of train ride, you still managed to go out and party! We ordered way too much food for four of us, but we fared well, didn't we? It was nice to have my favorite Thai beer, Kloster Brauerei, after such a long time, so was their fresh Shrimp chips. Hope you'll get to have a spicy Thai mung bean noodle salad, or Yum Woon Sen, at your local Thai restaurant down the road (failing that, you can make your own at home)!

Tea at a hotel lounge 70-story high up in the Landmark Tower, Yokohama; after a brief but important trip to the city, we were a bit tired and desparately in need of a little break. Although the tea was rather pathetic and overpriced in my humble opinion, the view through the window well made up for it I guess.

Kobe beef shabu shabu at a hotel restaurant, Kyoto; YES it was Kobe beef and YES it was a real thing. Hope you enjoyed it (phew)! I had a piece myself, too, and it was my first ever and might possibly be the last ever... who knows. It was rather nice, of course (what if it hadn't been????), and yet I was quite happy with my yudofu (warmed tofu) set. And by the way, tofu is much more than just a meat substitute for vegetarians, you see!

Brunch at a cafe up on a bushy hill, Kyoto; you really seemed to have liked there the last time, so I am glad we made it there again. Food and drinks there are fine, but what really gives the place a special beauty is its hideout-like hilltop location with a view overlooking the city of Kyoto and ranges of mountains beyond, creating such a serene atmosphere all over the place. People there are nice, too, and I'm also glad that we eventually managed to find those wine glasses they used at the cafe back in Tokyo (and that they've made it all the way back home!); here's me hoping to have my wine in one of those next time I'm over at yours.

And yes, you made it! Pocari Sweat from a random vending machine (and there was even some Calpis right next to it, which you didn't try to reach... next time I suppose?). Last time you missed your chance to give it a try, so I am REALLY happy you did this time around! And you actually liked it and even brought some home... shhh, I won't tell anyone.

Kaiseki dinner at an onsen ryokan, Nagano; onsen hot springs and traditional Japanese-style ryokan inns are such a must if you visit Japan in the winter, so it was great that we got to squeeze it in! You were literally cooked in the onsen as our dinner were being cooked... and some ice-cold beer must certainly have helped.

Breakfast at the ryokan, Nagano; the following morning we had snow-white yudofu on the breakfast table, and the real white snow outside the window... it was the first snowfall I'd really seen this winter, and the first real snow you said you'd seen in a long time.


Coffee at an old coffee shop, Nagano; after some walk and drive around in the snowy afternoon, my mom took us to one coffee shop that they like. Small and old but quiet and friendly, the place was like a good old pub, you said... and you were probably quite right. It just celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, and from every small thing you find in the small place, you could tell that this must indeed have been well loved by many people for many years.

Toge-no Kamameshi on the Nagano Shinkansen train; in my book, this is the ultimate ekiben. I like kamameshi or earthen pot-cooked flavored rice dishes in general, but there is something really nostalgic about this particular one, which may perhaps have to do with the fact that this was what I'd always look forward to on our rare rail trip to Nagano as a kid, when we'd buy ours either at a train station along the way or on the train.

I hadn't had it myself in ages, and it actually tasted better than I'd thought it would... you know, childhood memories tend to get romanticized over years, but I was pleasantly amazed by an exception like this. From what they say on the shop website (in Japanese), by the way, the pot do seem to go into the oven safely as well as on stovetop... it might actually be a perfect way to cook your rice at home!

Tea & coffee break at a cafe, Tokyo; and it was your last day in here, spent walking, shopping, and generally taking it easy.

Your other discoveries foodwise this time around included onigiri or rice balls, nikuman or steamed meat buns, miso soups, and apparently, yoshi-gyu, or Yoshinoya's gyudon beef bowls. You even seemed okay with umeboshi pickles, green tea (not matcha sweets though), and sashimi and sushi... who would have imagined half a year ago that you'd even touch raw fish?

And as much as I appreciate that you were brave and polite enough to try most of the things served in front of you, I know there were certain things you didn't care for, and one thing in particular even disgusted you by a mere look of it. And I wouldn't tell you exactly what it was or how it usually come by in other dishes, because, like you kept saying, "if you don't tell me what it is, I'll eat it" (which was why I eventually stopped giving you explanations of the food you were eating); so next time you are here, chances are that you might be eating it without even knowing... and chances are that you might even like it. (Don't look that horrified.)

We've got another snow forecasted for this weekend over here. I haven't really seen snow in Tokyo yet, but it's certainly been a rather cold one so far. I've heard you haven't had snow yet over there... well you at least saw some "proper" snow while in here! Keep yourself warm and cozy, and enjoy your Pocky. Thanks for coming over, and hope we still have something you find worth coming all the way here for (maybe not in the middle of summer though, but well, if you ask for it....)