Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tokyo Day 4

Tokyo Day 4 was quite interesting... to me the entire country is interesting, so bare w/ me.

We started out with Ikebukuro, which is the northeast part of Tokyo metroplex. You get to go out of the train and you see Seibu department store as you try to exit the station.

My mom and I love Seibu because we are used to having that in Hong Kong. It's a great department store and we can spend the day at the food court. Yes, we love food... But it is a special treat to be in Japan's original Seibu because they are really neat to the max.

When we exit the train at the station, the floor we first come to is the food court... not just a regular food court with different cuisine, it is all sweets, cakes, gift boxes. We are talking about bakery and patisserie from all over the world to have a booth there. We are talking about French macarons by at least 3 famous makers and I ended up buying from Pierre Herme's macaron, hello! It's just awesome!

They have another floor of food court, except that's more like a grocery store/food market. Most of the food are from farm or catch to the store, they are ready for you to take home and cook. Definitely can get all your shopping in one place. Oh, and don't forget to check out their top floor, which is ususally their clearance and/or special market. When we were there, one section were all clothes, and another sections were prepared foods like jerky, cookies, and such. Of course, check out the neat stuff Japan has to offer in this giant department store, but I digress.

Anyway, the goal is really to go to Ikebukuro, supposedly they have the largest Tokyu Hands and couple of stores that I wanted to peak at. The thing is that we needed to find the Sunshine City.

On the map, it doesn't look very far from Seibu, but when you actually walk it, it is quite far. It's the giant city blocks that kills ya. But, it's a nice walk nonetheless. By the time we got to Sunshine City we were starving. This place contains the famous Tokyo Prince hotel, the place is older than the pictures I've seen, but it's near the food court, so we journey on.

In reality, Sunshine City is a giant mall with few food courts, several on the top floor w/ the Observation Deck, also higher end, couple in the midst of the shopping. But the other food area are tucked away in an annex. We came across a teppenyaki restaurant. As you can see, the fake food looked good... how can you resist?

Well, when we actually come to it, it is actually a you-cook-it type of place. The poor waiter seeing that we don't speak a lick of Japanese and pointing pictures, he felt bad and cooked it for us. While we were more than happy to experience the cooking procedure, since they have pictures and all, but he just saw how pathetic we were, he just cooked it for us. We had ordered a teppanyaki dish which has meat, and egg, and noodle. But it dosen't turn out like they did w/ the fake food. It was yummy nonetheless... told you, it was an experience.

One thing, total side bar, I have to tell you is that there are several cats houses/playground. This one in particular is on the top floor of Tokyu Hands in Ikebukuro. As a matter of fact, it is called Nekobukuro.

You pay $6000 yen, go thru these cat doors, and you entered to their playground. Cats run around or sleeping, you can pet them, and play with them. It is the oddest thing to see in person, but also the funnest, and very true Japan. So, if you are a cat lover, make a point to go there. If you don't want to go to the crowd of Tokyu Hands (which can be listed as a department store type place), they do have a Cats Apartment/Cafe you can visit across from the Complex.

Later in the day, I headed over to Harajuku. That's more of a young speed, also more foreigners hanging out there. One thing I do see alot of are these crepe stands. In Texas, finding a crepe stand is like finding that diamond in the rough. They are very few and far between. If you have a good one, you better hold on to them.

That said, there are crepe place everywhere. I'm guessing it has the thing to do with Japanese love the French culture. Kid you not, my baby French knowledge I had, actually came into small use when it comes to reading a few menus, and no I wasn't having French food in Japan... go figure.

I did consult w/ a Japanese native, and she did say that Japanese people love their crepes, which is why you see at least 30 different varieties at each stand you walk by. Trust me, you don't have to purposefully go looking for them. You can smell them near you by any main area you walk around... (you can definitely find them by the Tokyo Tower). These booths are mostly small 2 people operations, but as I said, they can handle more than 30 different type of crepes, don't you worry.

At night, we decided to have dinner by where we stayed down in Hanzomon. We've been eyeing on their dumplings and Chinese food for quite some time, and finally decided to walk in and give it a try.

The funny part is, the staff, with the exception of the head waiter, are all authentic Chinese. By their accent, we guessed that they're from Shanghai. Of course, their cooking also gave that away.

We weren't able to speak it, and can only point to pictures, but the entire Chinese cuisine were cooking in Shanghai style, so we figured it out. Their dumplings are fine, and you could easily find these yummy dumplings if you walk around mainland China. But in Japan, it's really rare and strange to find such great artisan in a tiny neighborhood.

From the looks of it, they do most of the business w/ delivery, which is also in competition with the Indian food and Steakhouse across the way. But, it is very good and interesting to find the diversity in food in a neighborhood that no one speaks English.


In case you didn't know, I have this big obsession on macaron. Don't ask me why, I can't explain it, and I'm playing w/ recipes to try out different things.

As I said before, we were at Seibu, and they had several booths selling the world famous, top notch macaron the world has to offer. I've heard so much about Pierre Herme that I just HAD TO try them out for myself. Since I'm not going to Paris anytime soon, Japan will do.

Here's a very nice box, and in it, are the very nice macarons. They're light, not overpowering, flavorful and when you get the flavor card you can really appreciate the artistic love that went into the cookie. Every single one of them were delicious. I got overdosed on the sugar, but they were great... don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tokyo Day 3

I know, when you think of Japan, you don't think: Starbucks. But I think as Starbuck's popularity raise globally, it is getting as prevalent as McDonald's. I am by no means trying to compare Starbucks w/ McDonald's, but it's widespread-ness is to match for an American company aboard.

One thing Starbucks pride of themselves is the consistency across all stores, even if you are in Japan. (I know, I used to be a barista there when I was in college.) That said, there are differences. Obviously, they greet you as you walk in, that's just a Japanese thing. But in addition to the overhead menu board, they also have a very nice traditional printed menu. It allows them to print on nice glossy cardboard to impress all the customers.

I find it very interesting that they gave me this Soymilk card to note that my drink is soymilk... I do turn it in when I grab my drink, but I'm not sure it's helping me any, since I ordered it that way. Wouldn't it make more sense to give it to the bar??? Hmm...

Anyway, we were at Odiba to see the Statue of Liberty (tm) mini version, and really to go see
the Venus Fort. That is really an Outlet mall that has a new Hello Kitty's Kawaii's Paradise. (Sorry for the sideway pic) But as you can see, Hello Kitty's Pancake house offers not just sweet pancakes as you and I know it in the States. They also offer lettuce, tomato and other ingrediants between the shortstacks. Hmm... interesting.

I suppose pancakes is just cakes, doesn't have sweet or savory taste to it, which is why we add butter and syrup, but with things in between? That's a tad unusual for me.

While I didn't get to eat at the Hello Kitty's Pancake house, we did get lost to a sushi restaurant. The entire Venus Fort has several components to it, as you walk and walk and walk, you tend to get lost. We got to Snoopy World, which is a small booth w/ merchandise and snacks; it leads you to a hallway of more food.

Honestly, trying to find sushi restaurants were harder than I thought. Most Japanese go to these quick stores for fast food that puts these sushi places on the outs. I heard someone said that sushi restaurants are for old people. Hmm???

For me, I just love those sushi restaurant w/ a conveyer belt around. I know that's not exactly authentic, and as my friend Pat from Cali was saying that they do have something like that in LA, but these sushi is made by real sushi chef that are Japanese... to me, that's authentic... -ish.

You sit down, grab you a cup and get some matcha powder and there's a hot water sprout right there in front of you. Grab your chopsticks and you're ready to eat.

For those of you not familiar w/ the concept, you sit down at this bar, and there's a conveyer belt around the sushi chefs and they make the food inside and as they put out different plates, they put the food on this conveyer belt, and you grab what you want to eat. How they tally up at the end of the meal is by the number of colored plates. Each colored plate represent a price. It is very easy to get carried away. Not just because the food is good, but little by little you don't realize how much you've eaten until they started to tally up for the bill. I would say this is one of our more expensive meals in Japan.

This is just a random shot at a bakery in the train station... I was just so impressed that a tiny little neighborhood bakery, no claim to fame, produced the cutest bread around... I'm not sure I can bite into a cute bear or turtle.

The next stop we headed to Tokyo Tower. From one non-authentic Japanese landmark to another. The Tokyo Tower is a gift from France to Japan. It is exactly the same, I would venture to say that it is a bit smaller by size, but it's still pretty big.

The tower is literally 5 mins walk from the closest station. You do have to walk up to a half hill in order to get to the main lobby. On our way up, we saw this vendor selling....

Dim Sum. I don't think the guy wrapped all of these himself, either he represent some food truck or he has someone doing it. Or worst, buy them frozen and steam them there. But they are the biggest shu mai dumplings I've ever seen. No wonder he's charging 200Yen for them (that's about $2 US)

Funny antedote: when we arrived to the lobby, there was a JPop star in Japanese school uniform w/ her backup dancers giving a free concert. The site was a very uniformed crowd standing there, dancing along w/ the singer. Upon a closer look, all of the audience were doing the dance moves and singing along, to a T like the singer was... I thought that was neat.... Young people has tons of time to mimic their idol. I remembered that phrase. Then, look closer... these are all middle-aged Japanese men that are singing and dancing along w/ the singer. Urh.... hmm... interesting.

Anyway, I smell crepe as I walked up to the lobby, and this is the array of variations they offer. There must be at least 50 different types. They operate like a tiny food booth, which impress me even more to have that much to offer in that tiny of space.

At night on the way home, we decided that another 'MUSTs' in terms of Japanese food is the beef bowl. They are very popular and easy to make for the Japanese, not to mention yummy.

On a Sunday nite, we went to our nearby Beef Bowl place that's opened 24hr. Since we stay near a business districts we didn't expect alot of people. But at 8pm, there are people walking in one after another, so we either picked a very good place to eat, or no one is cooking at home. haha....

The beef bowl comes in 6 sizes... yes I said 6. They have kids size, lite women size, normal size, senior size (for older people), men size (means big), and supersize. Yeah, not sure if having 6 sizes is necessary, I think the lite women size and the senior size should be the same, but hey, I didn't make that up. In a place where everything is pretty much porportionate, I was suprised to see Supersize... why? Then, again, you don't see alot of fat Japanese, unless they're Sumo Wrestlers. They walk everywhere and can probably walk off that Supersize.

Anyway, for about $6US, you get the normal size beef bowl, I got mine w/ curry sauce because I'm addicted, and a bowl of miso soup. One thing I noticed is that instead of diced tofu, they now give you the fried tofu skin. While the taste remain the same, it's just different. I like my little diced tofu.