Food, glorious Food!

When lunchtime rolls around in Ireland, Latimer and Ridley find themselves getting hungry, but roast dinners and stews aren’t what occupy their thoughts; no, they’re reminded of their culinary adventures in Tokyo!

Latimer: whenever I get hungry, I think back on food I had in the past. And for me, it can be the very distant past.

For example, my sister went to college in London when I was 6yrs old; when she moved there, myself and my mother went with her, to help her settle into her dorm for a few days. One night we were very hungry so we decided to get chips. I can remember it vividly, how dark and cold it was (my sister tells me now that it wasn’t a good area to be in at night time!), the roads were black, wet with rain, and the chippy was a little suspect.

We got three bags of chips wrapped tightly in newspaper (old school!). They were massive bundles and the chips were delicious!

There were so many that we could only manage to eat a few.So the majority of those chips were tossed in the bin.

That was a lifetime ago, but to this day, I remember those chips when I get really hungry. I think back and always say to myself ‘oh why did I toss them! I wish I could eat them now!’

It’s such a strong memory. We always remember a good meal, as if our body is saying ‘yes, remember how much you like to eat! How tasty food is! REMEMBER!’ Somehow it seems like the body is afraid one day we might not like food anymore!

When we went to Tokyo, it was one of our aims to eat well everyday. When we were in Japan 4yrs ago, we were with other people and it was hard to find food that everyone wanted to eat. This time, we had no worries; we’re pretty similar in that we wanted true Japanese food, and we wanted to eat!

Thankfully, Tokyo was only too willing to feed us!

Every time we went somewhere, I took out the camera and snapped some pictures. Because we wanted to remember the food; we wanted to show people; ‘look, look at the food! Look how yummy it is… we ate that! We remember the taste’.

Looking at these pictures now, I have very fond memories of sitting in these places, munching on this food as Tokyo and its people flashed passed us; we ate in good company, had good chats and dreamed good dreams… so with that, let me show you our food memories!

Day one of serious photo taking involved yummy okonomiyaki (sort of savory pancakes) at the famous restaurant, Sometarou in Asakusa. We mentioned it in a previous post, but it’s worth another mention. It was amazing!

It was also the most tradition place we ate in, and while it was roasting sitting by those frying-slabs, it was just perfect!

Ridley lovingly paints our pancakes, with a substance we didn’t recognise but had the consistency of tar!

Cuttlefish and tiny red shrimp- probably us at our most adventurous I think!

The next day we were off to Ueno Park.

Now the Lonely Planet guide book didn’t recommend many eateries in Ueno, so we were stuck. It was a hot day, the park was vast and we were hungry. Looking around the periphery of the park we managed to find the Korean cafe.

Ah, we love Korean food, it’s hearty stuff, so we were very happy with this find!

Although the waiter didn’t understand us, and we had some mishaps ordering, which left Ridley with food, and me with a drink! Ha! We managed to sort it out and I ended up with food, but Ridley didn’t get her drink! But she didn’t care by then, it was too much hassle!

But actually, the drink was AMAZING! Like drinking sunlight (big assumption!).

The food was typical Korean fare (yummy!)….

Except for these….

Ahhh! What are they? They’re looking at me! Ridley ate them without looking as far as I’m concerned! When I pointed it out to her, she was two mouthfuls in… she was rightly aghast!

When we went to Ikebukuro, we ate in one of the shopping malls.

Which we were kind of thinking was a cop-out as we should eat ‘authentic’ food out in the little restaurants. But the guide book (not that it had become God in the last few days…well actually it had, all hail guide book!) said that the malls actually have some really good places to eat in!

They were right! This was a veggie noddle dish, with rice, served in a pipping hot stone bowl. Which, in winter would be just amazing, in summer a bit too hot, but still lovely!

At one point I remember we spent hours looking for this one restaurant around the Ginza area I think.

Ridley had her google maps out and we managed to find the place where the restaurant should have been. But it was mysteriously absent (she was annoyed because we had spent all that time looking and it was almost like the map had bested her!).

So, falling back on the God, Lonely Planet, we headed into the nearest shopping mall. We judged based on pictures what restaurant we would eat in.

It was on the top floor and faced a massive sky-bar that loomed over the mall from across the road. We sat down, and a lovely waitress came over and explained the menu (we had been staring at it completely bewildered). She had very good English (we were soooo happy!). The first thing she asked though was…. ‘have you ever eaten Korean before’.

Haha, we didn’t even know we’d come into a Korean restaurant. We were even happier!

The food was cooked (by her in front of us) over a small hot plate, in a large steel bowl.

She asked us if we wanted rice or noodles, we said noodles…. but they didn’t materialize. We were baffled, but we ate away not caring.
It was great, sharing food over a hot plate like that. Korean food is so hearty and built to share (kind of facilitates conversation too!).
When we were finished the waitress returned with the mysteriously absent, much discussed noodles. She put them into the remaining sauce and added water, leaving it to bubble away… It was so good!
It reminded us of being in a Korean drama! It was the best feed I think we had while in Japan.

I get very hungry thinking back on this dinner… sigh. On another day we contemplated going back to this place, but Ridley frowned, “I don’t think I could find it even if we wanted to, we did so much walking around… I wouldn’t know the way.”

Ridley is like a human GPS, so if NavWoman couldn’t find it, it wasn’t possible!

Of note here, is that myself and Ridley have this deep love of ramen. It started really from watching anime (Naruto mainly). We always wanted to taste the real stuff in Japan. We managed to on our first trip a few years back and we always regretted not eating more of it (our other friends didn’t really like it that much).

So this time we were noodle crazy- we wanted to go to ramen places as much as possible. It’s a massive bowl of happiness!

This place was a ramen shop around where we were staying (Akasaka). It wasn’t the best ramen we had, but it was nice. We had to use the typical vending machines the Japanese use in eateries like ramen places and curry houses.

Bascially you select the meal you want, pay for it, get your ticket and give it to the people in the shop. It’s a brilliant idea, because us foreigners aren’t left feeling confused… although a few times some kind Japanese people had to step in and help us! You have to match up katakana, kanji and hiragana symbols to identify the food you want on the machine (a little time consuming, so we had to make sure no one was waiting behind us, or sidestep and let them in first!).

I was actually always very happy to see these machines in the places we were going to eat in- a deep sense of relief!

Our search for ramen brought us to another cool, traditional restaurant around Akasaka. This ramen was delicious!

These were Ridley’s gyoza (dumplings… she didn’t like em- too many onions!)

My yummy ramen (I love sweetcorn)

Ridley’s pork ramen (looks delicious)

The best ramen we had, we got in the Ginza district, in yes, another shopping mall! This was our last night in Tokyo, so we finished it with the food we had loved most- (well, next to the Korean food!).

This business man was eating beside us. He was a little rude to the guy making the ramen.

I found at times the meat that was being used was tough. But this was melt in your mouth pork. I feel like Homer Simpson at the moment, drooling away at the thoughts of eating.

I was so tired this night. Me and Ridley sat at this bench for ages. We were the only people there. I nodded to sleep at one point (resting my eyes, haha). When we got up to leave, the two ramen chiefs smiled over at us and gave us big goodbyes and thank yous. It was a nice way to end our ramen adventure!

A side project we had was to have proper Bubble Tea/Milk Tea. This is popular in Asia. Basically it’s a milk-based, flavoured drink, with tapioca balls in it. The straws are thick so you can suck them up. The desire to get the Bubble Tea wasn’t that strong as the days wore on. It was only as we passed through Harajuku on our third round that we found this Pearl Lady place. Which seemed to be where all the kids hung out.

It was all pink and open plan and full of cheap fast-food places selling curly potato fries and so on. 

After about 10mins of trying to remember my Katakana (argh, I hate Katakana). I was able to figure out two flavours, caramel and strawberry! That’ll do we thought!

We settled down at the window overlooking Takeshita dori. We slurped on our Bubble Teas, with intermittent coughing/choking fits when we gulped down a tapioca ball or three, or ten.

We’ve had some bad Bubble Teas (Christmas market, Berlin brings back bad memories of gingerbread, hot Bubble Tea! Oh nasty). So, I was dubious. But this was so tasty. I wish we had of known about this place sooner! Check it out if you’re ever there- it’s so good!

Following a delay in our flight (actually an out and out cancellation), we ended up in an airport hotel. I finally tasted the strange green-tea and cherry blossom flavoured kit-kat I’d bought. It was actually nice. But doesn’t it look weird?

We were offered a free all you can buffet lunch- I should never be offered such a thing! I tried a bit of everything (and felt sick afterward). I snapped a picture of the fancy Japanese sweets because they looked so lovely. But I didn’t like them- they were made from rice dough and filled with bean-paste… I was expecting chocolate- so I was left grimacing, while Ridley nodded, “yep, bean paste! Knew it!”.

On the way home, our fly was practically empty- it was heaven for a long-haul! Everyone, I kid you not, everyone had a three seats to themselves! 

I won’t end with airplane food- don’t worry (it makes me sick and I can’t eat it). But I was able for this ice-cream….

Our final taste of Japan, for a few years at least!

On a book related update, the editing of our book is nearly finished! By me at least… procrastination must be the way of getting things done in a weird way! I’ve done so much of it. Soon we’ll be sending it to the professionals. We are so excited to be walking down this road! Ridley is busy with her book trailer too, so all is going well!

In the editing process I have been armed with my moomin cup (always full of Lyons tea) and my moomin pen for the taking of notes (both bought in Kiddyland in Harajuku)! The kit-kat, yes, is one I bought in Japan. If it keeps I plan to eat it when the book goes ‘live’ so to speak! Keep watch… it might not last that long!

Fantasy dining

Ridley: So the tagline for our holiday seems to have become ‘that’s so weird’, mainly because we’re actively seeking out things that are weird, strange and just something you’d never see at home. Interesting is the other word we could use, along with a raised eyebrow!

So with this in mind, we discovered fantasy dining in the Ginza district (I keep calling everything districts, it’s like the Hunger Games, or here, Battle Royal! Mwhaa…). Fantasy dining is where the restaurant is themed and the waiters/waitresses are dressed up. We don’t have this at home, as far as I’m aware (though if we did, it would be epic!), therefore it’s a definite novelty for us! We’ve gone to see both an Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant and a Vampire café.

We first went to the Alice place-Latimer is a fan of all things Alice in Wonderland- it was brilliant and the staff were very friendly. They were mainly dressed up like Alice but there were also a few mad hatters wandering round. The entrance hall was lined with giant ‘pages’ from the book, inside the restaurant the walls were covered in man sized deck cards.there was a hanging light made of top hats over one table and in the middle of the room was a giant cup that was also a seating area. Latimer: Within the giant cup there was a group of people we named the ‘High Rollers’. All night they beckoned to the Alices and Hatters, ringing a bell to summon them for more beers or unusual cocktails. They were hidden inside the cup, away from prying eyes. I imagined them walking into the place in a wave of Yen and dollar signs; “we wish to be part of the atmosphere but not of them plebs. Put us on a step above them all… inside a large white cup, so that we may watch them, but not them us!”. Personally, I think the menu was the most unique thing about the place (and that’s saying something!). It was a box, like a big cube, where one side slid open (the menus were made up of this ‘wall’) to reveal a little diorama and it had a tiny battery operated lamp in it. Latimer: A very cool and novel way to sell the fantasy! Lewis Carroll would have been proud.No point to it really, but it was still fun. There was also a cocktail menu that opened up like a picture book into a glossy hat.

The food was decent too, though nothing spectacular. Though Latimer did get a cocktail with a rose in it and then when it arrived they sprayed perfume on it! Latimer: I don’t know what it added to the taste… but it did smell like perfume. The food didn’t sit well with me, pretty ‘blah’ pre-cooked stuff. Not nice, but you pay for the atmosphere and the fantasy, so I didn’t mind so much.

We’ve never seen such little roses with stunted growth, Latimer decided there must be plant battery farms all across Tokyo growing roses that are destined to be cruelly chopped down before their prime and used in our drinks… Latimer: Ah battery rose, of stunted growth, the casualty of fantasy dining.

We also got bread with a little dish of butter (that didn’t taste like butter, just looked like it) It was provided with a little instruction tag, ‘Eat me’. Just like in the books! All in all, I really liked this place. Latimer: When this dish arrived, Ridley thought it was her starter (garlic bread). Even though it didn’t taste like garlic. When her food arrived she looked confused. Ha.

The Vampire café was freaky, that’s the only word for it. We stepped out the lift and tiny little plastic skeleton heads to our left popped out and screamed at us. Then the hostess popped up, dressed in a black maid’s uniform with white make up and red eyes. Scary! It was the waiter though that was really unsettling….and in a weird strange way quite compelling too, for the half an hours we were there (possibly the bad boy attitude he had going on)…I wasn’t the only one, there were quite a number of giggling Japanese girls there, some dressed up too. He was about half a foot taller than me (I’m 5’10)-he had big platform boots on, so it was an artificial height-he had black eyes, black lips, white white make up, the red eyes and back-combed long hair. He was wearing a sort of robe thing, long flowing and swirled quite well when he moved. But I have to say he was quite abrupt. Maybe that was his appeal in a way, in a country that has smiling, unbelievably welcoming people, he was the exact opposite. Not rude exactly, just…like a superior vampire really…! Latimer: We were laughing our heads off during the whole experience, and maybe he didn’t like that. We weren’t taking it seriously, but as Ridley pointed out with a narrowing of her eyes, “HOW can you take a vampire café seriously?”. Haha. Anyway, in retrospect he was just plain rude.

The bathroom there,with free mouthwash!

We were shown to a little booth lined with red curtain (Latimer: It reminded me of how in Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine offers Elizabeth Bennett the chance to use her maids piano in her house. She says ‘you’ll be in no ones way in that part of the house’. Implying that Elizabeth should be hidden away from the eyes of the gentlemen and women. It felt like myself and Ridley were being treated the same way!), there was a giant coffin in the centre of the room with dripping red candles on it in a candelabra. And the hall floor was lit up showing pictures of red blood cells…very weird! Haha… The vampire boy didn’t even say goodbye when we were leaving (we said thanks and bye)! I think maybe there was a little bit too much laughing from our booth during our meal, we got a sense that we didn’t take the place seriously enough.

We only got ice cream and cocktails there. We ordered from a menu shaped like a coffin.

We’d already eaten in a very old authentic Japanese restaurant where we got to grill our own food. It was called Sometaro (2-2-2 Nishi-Asakusa, Taiyo-Ku) in Asakusa. Again google maps did not let us down, put the address in and you’ll find it. We got okonomiyaki (cabbage battered pancakes) there.

Now that was brilliant, if absolute sweltering (it was already 24 degrees out and then add in the heat from the grills)! The place was made of old dark wood, almost like a tavern, there was a real sense of history to the place. We got a lot of food there, we wanted to try everything we could, two pancake type dishes and yakisoba (noodle dish), we realised our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. We had to take off our shoes and sit on the cushions beside a low table that had a large black hot plate/grill that was heated with gas underneath. For one of our pancake dishes, we picked eggs, cabbage, pork, little cuttle fish and onion, they were all mixed up together and cooked by us (well we got help, being the idiots we are!)

Latimer: This place was great. Felt very traditional. Really enjoyable food and atmosphere. As we search out food in Tokyo, I am gravitating back to ramen (my love). I want us to eat at the best ramen place in Tokyo… but where is it? Damn I wish I knew.

Our food journey continues daily…. ichiban (no.1) ramen…. we will find you!

Happy Stomach Exploding Day!

Ridley: Or as it’s more commonly known by everyone else, Pancake Tuesday!

After Christmas and before Easter it’s my favourite ever food day! Where you eat and eat the same delicious thing until it really does feel like your stomach could burst-no fast movements now!

It never ceases to amaze me how many different ways people can eat them really, the various toppings, sauces, foods and things that are put on pancakes here.

1. Lyle’s Golden syrup from the tin (or lions as I always end up calling it) is the most popular topping here. So much so when we popped to the shop after realising we were completely out of it at home, we found out so were the three big supermarkets in town! Not a single tin was left on the shelf! We were disappointed to say the least (and no, it didn’t matter that we already had lemon juice, Nutella, ice cream and strawberries to choose from! What are you the toppings police?)

Lyle’s is the proper topping to use in my opinion. It’s sweet, gooey and thick. We tried Maple syrup before, while that was okay, it seemed almost runny compared to the Lyle’s, we weren’t converted!

2. Nutella is another popular option; Ferrero Rocher centre in a jar! There is a restaurant called Lemon is Dublin that do these particularly well (not that there’s much skill in putting chocolate spread on a crepe in my eyes, for me you’ll get it right if it’s lathered on, nice and thick!) This option always feels European to me and kind of Christmas-y. Mainly because I’ve been to both Germany and Italy around Christmas and there’s always some little street vendor selling hot Nutella crepes. Gorgeous! Especially if it’s a cold day!

3. Lemon and sugar is old school. What parents and grandparents will favour if they’re not into the ole Lyle’s golden. Sweet and sour! They’ll squeeze lemon juice all over the pancake, sprinkle it with white sugar and eat it happily. Seems a bit bland and unexciting to me, but to each their own!

4. Ice Cream and a hot pancake, says it all. There are numerous options, it could be plain vanilla or an exciting Ben&Jerry’s combo. There could also be sprinkles or chocolate sauce involved in this one. Adding ice cream is generally for the people who like to indulge. They’re the Nutella crepe eaters taking it that one step further. Hats off to them!

5. Fruit for the slightly healthier pancake eaters, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, you name it and I’m sure someone’s eating it!

6. Butter was another option I heard today. While the reaction to that was generally a disgusted ‘Eww’ and it doesn’t seem to be at all that popular, it must be a topping somewhere. Notice all the pancakes that pop up on google images when you search, there’s a nob of butter on most of them. Though I’ve never had butter and pancakes in my life! 

7. Then there’s the savoury options, of which there are loads! Adding in sausages, chicken, beef, cheese and mushroom, stir fry. The list is endless and just depends on the taste buds, who are your buddies!

It doesn’t matter what you layer them up with though, pancake’s are the tastiest of foods! If anyone remembers Sabrina the Teenage witch, they even had an episode where people were addicted to pancakes in ‘the other realm!’ It was a problem

So the one question I leave you with as this years flour-y pancake Tuesday draws to a close, how do you eat yours?