Tokyo Part 2: Eats

Okay, I admit: we probably ate more [junk] than was particularly healthy in the 5 days we were in Tokyo.  Even though traditional Japanese eats are generally fairly healthy, not overly greasy, fresh and all that good stuff; as tourists, we certainly strayed more into the strange only-in-Japan eats that are not very healthy, quite greasy, and all that jazz.

The day we arrived, I was jet-legged as heck.  My friend, having arrived from Korea was quite in her element (1 hr time difference I think), but in consideration of my floatiness we stayed close to home to eat.  It was almost 10pm anyway by the time we found our apartment, was introduced around by our host, and got ready to head back into the night.  We wandered around and decided on a little place underground that was for okonomiyaki.  For those who are not familiar, this would be a pseudo pancake made mostly of shredded cabbage, some meat of your choice, soba noodles if you like that, egg if you will, and all held together with a pancake-esque batter.  Many internet sites will tell you that Tokyian Okonomiyaki is quite different from Osakan Okonomiyaki (I made up these two tribe names, can you tell?) in that one is denser and the other has a more liquid consistency.  So I was prepared to have a goopier version of the ones we eat at home.  What I WASN’T prepared for, however was the SIZE of the okonomiyaki we got to share.  We expected pizza sized okonomiyaki…and got…literally pancake sized okonomiyaki.  Even with the addition of some pork and a serving of soba noodles to add in…it was MINUTE.  Good thing we were more interested in the beer (nama biru, anyone?) and the pancake was just to hold us until morning. lol.  But it was good, and it taught us 2 lessons: 1) don’t overlook the restaurants in the basements, and 2) don’t expect a meal sized meal.

[Tsukiji Market]

First stop, of course, for a fish lover like me…. the super famous Tsukiji!! We skipped the tuna, because frozen tuna and yelling people was not a good enough incentive to wake up at 3am…and went there for a brunch instead.  I have to say, it was a bit underwhelming.  I was in the understanding that the market was to be moved to a new location, but due to some issues with the new location they have not yet moved.  However, we didn’t find too many places to look at for fish.  A few larger sushi restaurants, a famous tamago (the egg rolls), some random sushi stalls, and a few small stores for everyday groceries….that was about it!  We tried the tamago place, and I got a grilled scallop with uni on top.  Then ducked into a small (I mean SMALL…there was a counter and 6 seats around it!) stall for some sushi.  My friend doesn’t like raw stuff, so I felt sort of bad for dragging her around here.  But, when that tuna rice bowl came, all guilt went flying out the window (or tarp…cuz there was no window…). OH.MY.GOD. my friend told me that Japan will ruin sushi for me when I get home…and he was right.  For Y700, I got 3 types of tuna: regular tuna, toro, and negitoro…on a steaming bowl of rice. I am drooling just thinking about it.  If you like Tuna…definitely go to Tsukiji and find yourself any stall and order it.  My friend had salmon bowl…which was good still but I can find that quality of salmon here in Vancouver.  However, the tuna we get is like…frozen sponges…in comparison.

My brother also recently came back from Tokyo and he lined up for one of the larger sushi restaurants for their tuna set.  His verdict is the same: even if you don’t like tuna, go to Tsukiji and try some real tuna.

[Asakusa]

The little shopping area in front of the famous temple in Asakusa is filled with stalls and stalls of snacks and souvenirs.  Off to the side was a little store that sold deep fried meat cake called Asakua Menchi.  It’s made with pork and some onions, breaded and deep fried. It was so so good, and at Y180 each, it was easy on the budget too.  The two of us shared one, and they are so busy that there is a little space next door for people to stop and eat (walking and eating is a taboo in Japan!  Don’t do it!).  The little space only had chairs, and a beer vending machine.  Either canned or if you want there is a Sapporo keg there too… so good.  Definitely recommended!  Lots of famous people go there, and this place was showcased a few times on Korean shows also.

Next we went in search of this ice cream shop that was famous for having the “matcha-est matcha ice cream in the world”.  The place is called Suzukien, and they showcase 7 levels of matcha icecream – from very mild to very strong matcha flavours.  My friend challenged the super matcha icecream and I settled for a normal macho flavour.  They have testers, so we tried 3 levels of matcha ice creams…and I have to say I was very disappointed.  The extreme super matcha was….just normal.  The colour was pretty intensely matcha green but, it wasn’t that much more matcha flavour than the normal one.  Not worth the hike over to this place.

[Motomura Gyukatsu]

This place.  This place…. was so so good, it seriously needs it’s own shout-out on this post.  It’s a deep fried Gyu Katsu, and it comes with rice, soup, and an individual grill so if you like your meat more cooked, you go ahead and cook the sh*t out of it.  The Gyu katsu comes out crispy and still rare on the inside, and it was MELT-IN-YOUR-MOUTH tender.  I just did a quick zap zap on the grill to heat it up.  Pretty sure I could eat just this for a month straight with no complaints. We went to one in Shinjuku.  If you Google Streetmaps Motomura Gyukatsu Shinjuku, it’ll actually show the lineup that’s usually outside this place.  We went at 11am hoping to miss the lunch crowd and still had to wait a little bit.  By the time we got out, the line was down the street.

Again, this place was underground…so don’t bypass all the little places that are in the basement!!

[Midori Sushi]

Yep that’s right, belt sushi.  Despite having had the chance to have the freshest seafood at Tsukiji, we decided that no trip to Japan was complete without trying out the sushi belt restaurant scene.

No disappointments here.  We went to Midori Sushi in Shibuya after visiting Hachiko and viewing the not really that busy crosswalk (more on that later)..and there was a MSSIVE line up.  But it moved along steadily and we got in before the hangries took over.

Seated at the sushi bar, we were right in front of all the action.  Plus the sushi chef was super attentive to the two really confused looking foreigners in front of him 🙂 Everything was priced by the colour of plate that the food was on, and there was a special menu that you can order from.  If you are in front of the sushi chef team, simply fill out the number on a little order form and pass it over the counter, or if you are seating in a booth further away you can play with the iPad and get sushi delivered to you via express rail (literally, a toy train that zips over with your food order!)

We ate till we burst, and still didn’t break budget. Plus everything was still super fresh and tasty – none of that North American half warm, will-this-make-me-sick, conveyor grossness here!

[Kushiya Monogatari Labi1 Ikebukuro – All you can Deep Fry Restaurant @ Sunshine City]

Ok.  You get to pick your food of choice, batter it if you’d like, add some bread crumbs if you like that…deep fry it to the golden browness of your choice….what’s not to like?

Well pretty much everything.  We hiked over the Sunshine City in Ikebukuro, and found the place. It was nice and clean and bright…the price wasn’t bad for all you can eat…but that’s about all the good stuff I could say about this place.  If you are a high school kid looking for cheap all you can eat fun, MAYBE.  If you actually have any opinion on what goes in your mouth, forget it.

The choice of food was limited: beef chunks that were hard and dry, mushrooms (3 kinds), zucchini, imitation crab, baby corn, eggplant…

The oil was likely not changed daily (we went for an early lunch…and already the oil tasted old).

Just. Yuck.

We purchased the buffet, and I pretty much just ate fried mushrooms and zucchinis with a side of corn salad. Totally not worth it.  Plus we came out smelling like old frying oil. Not cool.

So in short, find a tempura restaurant anywhere and satisfy any deep fried cravings elsewhere.

[Department stores & Convenience Stores]

Everyday on the way from our house to the train, and as well as on the way back at the end of the day, we would stop at a convenience store.  There were multiple meals that were just pick something up and eat at home because we were so knackered by the end of the day.

The Seibu Department Store has a very impressive selection of ready to eat foods in their basement floor.  There were different cuisines from around the world, and everything we had was so good.  Honourable mention goes to the amazeballs Egg Sandwich that we had, as well as the seafood salad.  Both were impeccably wrapped, and the seafood salad even came with a small ice pack and a warning from the little lady to eat it within 3 hours (note that this was communicated via hand gestures and pointing to my watch). Call me a small town girl if you must, but man was I impressed that within my set of chopsticks came a toothpick.  That is so thoughtful lol.  Plus the people there were super helpful.  When we couldn’t locate the egg sandwich stall, another worker from another store actually walked us there despite the crazy lineups THEY had at their store.  CRAZY!!!

If you are in Japan, please make an effort to try all their different instant noodles!  We discovered 2 that we really enjoyed, and one of them I have not yet found outside of Japan.  Nissin has a Tomato Chili flavour cup noodle…and it’s not at all spicy but its nice tomato based soup doesn’t leave that really salty after taste that most other cup noodles leave behind. Much to my displeasure – I have had to get my brother to import me one when he visited.  It’ll have to hold until next time! (p.s. why don’t we have this in North America?!…if anyone knows where I can get this outside Japan, please let me know!!!!)

The precooked foods from convenience stores were also surprisingly good.  We tried the steamed buns at a random convenience store in Asakusa, and it was SO good I wanted another…except I was so full I thought I was going to be sick =P

The ice creams from the convenience stores…were a hit and miss.  I love ice cream. I thought I loved all ice cream.  Not the case.  I tried this Egg Custard ice cream that is supposed to take after a famous egg custard tart you can get in Japan…. it was 100% sugar.  I couldn’t taste egg, or cream…it was simply a glob of sugar.  Nothing against the actual egg tart cuz that was great [you can get the real thing in Shinjuku and a lot of other places, it’s called Bake Cheese Tart – it’s really good, go try one!]…but man the ice cream version was UGH!  Haagen-Dazs has a bunch of Japan only flavours and I had hoped to find the special edition mocha ones, but alas…none could be found.  I also missed out on the Sweet Potato flavoured one…I love sweet potatoes…you can get bbq sweet potatoes at convenience stores as soon as the weather grows chilly.  Happiness is easily found in my world 😉

[Mutekiya Ramen]

I admit: I don’t like ramen. Instant ramen is find…but the real stuff…I don’t like it.  I will not go out of my way to go eat it.

Recently, a lot of ramen restaurants have popped up in Vancouver.  I have so far been to 3 (the 3 big ones along Robson towards to the Denman side), and only one of them I would actually go back to.

There was this little ramen place between our apartment and the train station.  Every day, regardless of the time or weather, there is a lineup… and I mean a LINE UP.

Imagine our surprise when one day, we decided to be lazy and leave the house at 10am instead of 9am…to find…only 2 people in line! Well…that meant we had to rearrange our schedule because there was no way we were missing this.  Turns out the place wasn’t open for another 15 minutes…but that’s ok…we waited.

Man, it was GREAT!  I ate almost the whole bowl (I have yet to finish that much noodles…of any kind…) and seriously if ramen tasted like that at home, I would have it always.  I wasn’t even thirsty after!!!  If you are in the Ikebukuro area, definitely go give it a try!  (Keep in mind I really haven’t tried that many different places so if you have other recommendations, I’m all ears!)

That’s all for now that I can think of! More later!

[Part 3: Sights of Tokyo]

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Tokyo Trip – Part 1

Once a year, I make a journey home to Hong Kong to visit my Grandma (and everyone else in HK =P).  I’ve done this for almost 10 years now, annually, and with all my vacation.  Until one year, I joined a group of friends in Mexico for a beautiful destination wedding.  Then it hit me – there is so much of the world to see.  Yet with 15 days of vacation per year, a girl can only do so much. Hong Kong is a non-negotiable…so making a pit-stop en route is my compromise.

The usual stop is Korea.  But we decided to shake it up a bit and head over to Tokyo instead in 2016.  So began my first ever trip to Japan (I don’t know why people are always so surprised when I tell them I had never seen Japan before this!)

[FLIES]

Air Canada (Because unfortunately, despite their shoddy service each year, they have the best flight time out of HK to go home).  Landed in Narita.  The other airport of choice is Hanaeda of course (which is much closer to the city!) – but my friend was flying in from Korea and the flights which matched mine from Vancouver were Narita flights.

[STAYS]

A nice little apartment in Ikebukuro.  It seems to be a taboo thing in Japan still, to book an apartment on this little website that we make full use of in NAmerica… however the selection in Tokyo was amazing!  My friend and I weren’t too picky about the place, as long as it was safe, and convenient…oh and it had to have a decent sized fridge.  The beer had to be cold when we got home.  This place was definitely convenient!  A quick 5-10 min walk from Ikebukuro Stn (it’s the 2nd largest station in Tokyo!) which connects to the NEX train from Narita.  The host was great at responding to all my mundane questions before the trip (Her name is Sanae, if you want to try and find her on the website).  Apartment was Tokyo sized, tatami style (aka we slept on the ground but it was just fine), and the washroom was so small that for once in my life I was glad I am short.  However, everything worked, and we were happy there.  Hotels in this area would have cost quite a bit more, and would’ve been a bit further of a walk…so we were glad to have found this little gem.

[GETTING AROUND]

From Narita, we took the NEX (Narita Express) into the city.  It was a good 1+ hour ride, so by the time we got to the city it was night.  However it is convenient – the ticket counter was right were the arrival gates exited, and the train was just underneath.  We also chose Ikebukuro Station because the NEX goes there directly.  That was important as I didn’t feel like being lost after a 10 hr flight in.

The ride from the city to the airport was brilliant.  Especially if you are a Studio Ghibli fan like me.  The train goes through small towns and farms, and the scenery is not unlike the scenes you would see in Totoro.  I wish I spoke some Japanese so I could survive in a small town or farm for a few days…but alas.  Anyway, it was great to sit and just reflect on the week of whirlwind activity.  I was by myself on the way out as my friend had to catch an earlier flight back to Korea, so it was definitely an unexpected hour of peace just for me.

We also took the local subways as much as possible as it seemed to be the fastest most fail proof way to get around.  Which of course meant we planned our trip according to where the stations were clustered.  Lots of places were close by enough that we could just walk from place to place (and end up a few stns away from where we began).  Advice, get the Suica/Pasmo card as soon as you get to a station.  The machines speak English (literally one I used could talk), so it was no problem.  You can use that card for paying at convenience stores, and as well the lockers inside most stations will accept the card as payment and re-entry.  Plus you can customize your card and print your name on it…a great souvenir.  There is deposit required for the card (Y500), and when you return it I think they charge Y200.  So might as well keep it for a souvenir!

 

[IKEBUKURO STATION]

We stayed here, so I’m a little biased.  I found this station to be super convenient and highly recommend it for first time travellers.  A few lines connect to this station: the NEX as mentioned above, the circle line which takes you all the way around and back in Tokyo, a line which cuts straight across to Ginza, lines that take you out of the city…etcetc.

Around the station are the major department stores which come in handy because their food and supermarket floors are out of this world.  We found ourselves buying food and going back to the apartment to eat on more than one occasion simply because we were too exhausted to battle dinner time crowds.  There were many 24hr convenient stores and marts along the main road, floors upon floors of restaurants and bars (advice, look up and into basements for great food choices!)…and our absolute most favourite store: Don Quijote.  It was a 24 hr store in Ikebukuro, 7 stories of extreme random, extreme cheap buys.  Think dollar store mixed convenient store mix pharmacy (I mean Japanese pharmacy…where they sell all sorts of non medical beauty products along side all the drugs).  We were there daily… and found that the same item would be much cheaper here if it is in stock.  They even sold charcoal baked sweet potatoes..yums!

Daytime is a bustle of activity, and nighttime is quieter, especially if you walk a block away from the station exit.  Plus didn’t feel like I would be dragged into an alley and mugged even when I am alone at night.

[LOCKERS]

There are lockers in almost every station we went to, especially at the bigger more touristy locations.  It was very convenient to just put all our shopping into a locker and just come back for it on the way out.  You can opt to pay with coins, and the machine will give you a little receipt which you will have to keep and scan for re-entry.  You can also choose to use a password for some of the lockers.  Otherwise, you can also use your Suica/Pasmo card as a form of payment, and when you need to get back into your locker you simply tap your card again and it will open up!  We aren’t talking grungy gym lockers here guys…these are high tech, very well kept (even when the locker seems to be in a sketch part of the station!) and super convenient.

[Part 2: Tokyo Eats]

 

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I cannot rest from travel, I will drink life to the lees…

Okay, I’m terrible at this.  It’s been years since my last post…but not much has changed.  I still have a healthy appetite to test out new activities, and the travel bug is still with me.  Recently it seems there’s been lots of fancy names for this thirst for travel.  For me, it remains simply that I like to travel.  I like to see new places, learn new cultures and explore each unique place’s history.  In the past 4 years I managed to wander here and there…and hopefully, as the wonder Lord Tennyson once wrote,

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
– Ulysses, Lord Tennyson
I am hoping to compile some of those adventures here, mostly because y’know…old age…getting forgetful an all that 😉
More, I am hoping that whoever is looking for some travel information on the places I have gone, my detours and dead ends might help them find their own way too.
More soon!

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So close…

Recently, I’ve taken up sport climbing (by recent I mean in the last month or so…)
Somehow, it’s a sport that’s really clicked.  Maybe it reminds me so much of all the monkeying around in elementary school… back to the days when the mentality was “if there is something in front of you, it can likely be climbed on” (…trees, walls, fences, poles…rocks…sorry neighbours!).  

It’s clicked so well that even my thought process alludes itself to climbing. Recently…it’s been confusing.  So as per every confusing climb, I shut the world out and thought.

 

Before you start, you stand and look at the goal at the top.  You can map out the beginning of the route, but soon it all seems too far – too far out of reach, to see properly, to plan properly.

 

Still you take a deep breath and start the climb, one careful step at a time.  Up and up, towards that ultimate goal.  You run into a dead end…take a side step….take a step down….try again.

 

So close….

 

Until you reach a point where it just hurts.  It hurts to reach, it hurts to hold on, and it hurts even more to let go and fall.

 

So close…

 

10 seconds…
1 minute….
Until it feels like a lifetime that you’ve been clinging on.

Until you realise letting go isn’t that hard.  You won’t fall far because there’s someone holding you; and even if there wasn’t, you’ll always get back up to climb again.

 

And at that moment you wonder to yourself why you hung on so hard in the first place…. because in the end, that’s what made you hurt the most.

Still…when you look back up at that goal….it hurts knowing you were so close.

 

….yet so far.

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[Oops]

holy it’s been a year…

what an insane, i-have-no-idea-what-happened year… (well i do know…but you probably don’t need to know)

let’s start new, shall we?  

다음주말에 한국에서 여행가요~ 
it will be trip number 2 to korea, this time with my aunt flying in from HK to join me before we both head back to HK.  i very much look forward to the trip…there is still so much to see, so much to eat in korea.  unfortunately i will be doing some repeats as my aunt hasn’t seen it…so…it will be the blind leading the blind for a 5 day whirlwind tour of seoul 🙂

then off to hk we go…and as per usual i will be hit with my annual dose of guilt from the family to move back to hk and work there instead.  and then i’ll probably come back to vancouver and try and consider it again…. and then i will realise i really can’t work and live in hk, i will simply fade away.

———– xo ———–

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한국어…

So…I’ve finally decided to sign up for Korean classes at a local language school here in Vancouver.  I gotta say, it’s so much fun that even though my thursdays end up being 12 hour days including work and class, I don’t actually mind (that’s saying a lot from someone who totally hates mornings with a passion).

So far, it’s still quite beginner, introductions and such…stuff that I already sort of know.  But it’s getting tougher now and I’m really excited.  My Korean friends and coworkers often point out certain words and phrases for me…now I just have to learn in class how to link all those phrases together to make a meaningful conversation. 😛 keke I have found many similarities with Chinese (well…duh…considering…lol) so it’s been ok remembering words and sentence structures.  Soon (hopefully)..I’ll actually understand all the songs I’ve memorized! Or watch a show without having to read the subs! (wishful thinking, I know….ha >_< )

Pororo is also a great help if you’re learning Korean. Seriously, cutest cartoon…. and it’s for kids…so you learn certain phrases in each episode (and how to write them!).  I spent all 10 hours of flight to Korea watching Pororo and his friends lol.

I have 2 more classes in my introduction-introduction course…before moving on to the beginner-introduction (they’re not actually called that … just…that’s what it is haha).  Hopefully in the next 2 weeks, I can figure out how not to write like a 5 year old. Not sure if even Pororo can help with that one. 😀

When I go back to Korea next year (fingers and toes crossed)… I vow to at least be able to ask for directions and order my food 😛 Must…work…to…fit…in…with…my…name! (My Korean friends gave me a Korean name…lol 저는 박준희 에요…반갑숩니다~….did I write it right?)

…학생!Image

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Korea…

It’s been a while!  Life has been a zoo…and while I can’t say I loved every minute of it, it’s definitely got it’s moments.

I spent 2 weeks in April in Korea this year.  It was my first ever trip there, and my first ever trip where I went not knowing what to expect.  It was sort of a spur of the moment sort of trip, mainly because my friend would be there and could take me around, and partially from the curiousity that korean pop culture has instilled in me.

The flight there was fantastic.  My ever faithful travel partner (a stuffed monkey by the name of Bobo) and I jumped on to our Korean Air flight heading to Seoul, and landed to much excitement and more than a little nervousness.  My friend would be spending three days with me at my hotel, then I’ll be off on my own for a bit before joining up with her again for a side trip to Jejudo.  It was great that her sister was able to join us, and in the end it was her sister who booked everything!

Long story short, Korea met every expectation I had and more.  I visited the old palaces, old shrines, the Royal Tombs, ate everywhere, and shopped even more.  I loved that the people of Korea carried with them so much pride in their culture and history, but at the same time they are so…modern.  The fact that I could look out the front gates of their Gyeongbokgong straight out into the busy streets of Seoul…or walk from in between rows upon rows of high rises into Insadong and have tea at a traditional teahouse… or how different the scenery is if I took an hour’s bus ride out to the royal tombs, then bus back and end up at one of the trendiest shopping areas before walking back to my hotel.  It was such a thrill….

Of course, I did a whole bunch of crazy tourist things: took sticker pictures while wearing a hanbok, had bbq til I sweated bacon, ate mile high ice cream cones, had much street food, went to Namsan tower at night to look at the lights….etcetc. Oh yeah and I shopped of course.  Surprisingly, I didn’t buy much!  I think I was more interested in visiting the places and living the culture….and visiting JYP Entertainment in Gangnam. Hahaha.  Yup….I’m crazy =p

My friends all asked if I enjoyed my trip there…and I honestly replied that it would be a place I can see myself living in.  I’m not sure how I would find working there because I haven’t tried…but in the city, there is so much activity and so many people – not unlike Hong Kong.  But unlike Hong Kong, there’s so much space, and so much CLEAN space in Korea – which is not unlike Vancouver.  So in my mind it is best of the two places that my heart is stretched over.

Then there’s Jejudo…if you go to Korea, you must spend a couple of days there.  This place was spectacular….so many things to see…I want to go back and climb Hallasan…I want to go back and watch the sunset again..I want to go back and just sit at the cliffs and just be.  It’s hard to find a place where you can just BE. And maybe while i’m being, I’m going to eat oranges and drink makguli 😉

In my two weeks there, I felt the warmth that was reserved for foreigners as people stopped to help me when I got lost….or helped me find someone who could help.  It really opened my eyes and made me reflect on how I should treat people who just need a hand, and how much a simple smile could make someone’s day.

Thank you Korea for a wonderful time.  My theme song for the entire time I was there was “I’ll Be Back” by 2PM (of course)….and I will be…I promise 🙂

….Saranghae~!

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