Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tokyo - Day 4 - Tsukiji & Shimokitazawa

We nearly didn’t go to Tsukiji market

My goodness, what a mistake that would have been! 

Although we didn’t go to the famous tuna auctions, which now require people to be lining up by some ungodly hour of 3am to get tickets (which may or may not run out), even if you pop by later in the morning and just experience the ‘outside’ market of Tsukiji, it’s a real sensory feast. 

Tsukiji market is super easy to get to, with a number of train lines just a 3 to 10 minute walk away, and you definitely know when you’re nearby, with the swell of people and happy buzz. 

There is simply so much to eat and see at Tsukiji, we were only there for a little over an hour, but it was nowhere near enough for me, or my camera; the crowd, the energy and the vibrancy of the place reigniting the photography passion. 

We saw great big tuna’s get delivered to restaurants and to fish mongers, we ate sweet, and freshly made tamago (egg) on a stick, as well as the biggest and juiciest steamed oysters I have ever set eyes and moth on. The shell was bigger than my hand, and the oyster itself was bigger than my palm. Unbelievable. 

After walking around a little bit, we stumbled on to a sushi shop that I recognised, the very same one that I had eaten at when I was last in Tokyo in 2009. How’s that for memory? However, I don’t exactly know the name of the place, so uh…good luck finding it!

We had a most delicious sushi breakfast; the sushi chefs were friendly, posing for photos when they saw the camera pointed their way, the little old ladies taking our orders were energetic and had a bit of a laugh with us as we bantered back and forth in broken Japanese and English, and we of course had sake with our sushi breakfast. It’s the only sensible thing to do!

I made sure to eat my fill on all my favourite things, anago (sea eel), uni (sea urchin) and saba (mackerel) and only wished I could eat even more. Very many happy times. 

We also tucked in to some soft serve, which we thought was made in an interesting way. Each serving is in it’s own container, and when you order it, they just pick up one and pop it into the soft serve machine, where it’s then swirled out to perfection. Genius.

After our morning adventure in Tsukiji, we made our way to Shimokitazawa at the recommendation of one of our colleagues who ventured on her own there earlier in the week. From Shinjuku main station, it’s a simple 20 minutes or so away, just 4 stops or so if I remember correctly.

What a gem!

Our colleague described it as the Brunswick/hipster-ville of Tokyo which is a fairly accurate description. From the first step out of the train station, you are in no shortage of quirky little fashion shops, vintage and secondhand shops and adorable little cafes. It does remind me a lot of Melbourne, but just with a little bit more cool.

I picked up silk Dior scares for just $30, and found a consignment shop, the New York JOE Exchange, where I grabbed an awesome Gareth Pugh jacket for just $90 or so (his stuff usually retails for $1000+), so yes, I was in shopping heaven.

For those who aren’t as enthusiastic about shopping as I, the food in the area doesn’t disappoint either. We stopped by the J.S Pancake Cafe for a ‘Pancake Pie’, which is a pancake sandwiched between two sheets of mille feuille and either chocolate or chestnut puree (I opted for the latter obviously). 

Wow. Wow. Flaky and crunchy, not too sweet, fluffy and soft pancake, this was awesome. Just awesome. 

We also took a pitstop at Bear Pond Espresso, which is notoriously well known for grumpy staff and bad service, which we definitely got a little bit of as we got scolded when some of us started sitting inside when we said we were sitting outside. Oh. And no photos allowed inside either. My apple cider was very refreshing though!

If you’re into shopping and you’re into food, Shimokitazawa can easily fill an afternoon, or even a whole day! 

For dinner, most of the group split up for the night, so Jyotsana and I decided to go look for some tempura for dinner, as we had not checked it off on the list of Japanese things to eat yet. Although our initial first choice, Shinjuku Tsunahachi Souhonten, was closed for renovations, it was almost a blessing, as the second spot we decided to check out was one of the best meals I had on this particular trip. 

Funabashiya Honten has apparently been around in Shinjuku for over 100 years, and the second you walk in, you’re immediately swept up in the delicious aromas. The restaurant has a downstairs area with counter space that wraps around the cooking, but as that was full, we were sent upstairs and popped onto a table, which is not quite as exciting, but we definitely needed the space for all the food we had!

You could choose to order sets, or individual pieces, so we got one of the vegetarian set and one of the regular set which included seafood, as well as an additional serve of tempura anago and tempura scallops…since it’s not just something you come across everyday! 

Before the tempura arrived, our sets included grated radish, pickled vegetables and a delicious, delicious red miso soup with clams in it. Wow. They don’t make miso like this at home, so aromatic and rich in flavour!

The tempura came out quickly after and they did not disappoint, so light and crisp. Even with white paper lining the dishes to soak up the oil, they were hardly stained at all. We had great fun trying to pick out what the different ingredients were, from the thick cut lotus root, to the inoki mushrooms, prawns, eggplant and delightfully meaty scallops and anago. There were also fried bundles of grated carrot and other vegetables, which was simply one of the most delicious things we had eaten on the trip. Seriously. How do they do it? Everything went down a treat and I only wish we had more space to eat more. I have to say it was also incredibly affordable, and we only spent around $30 or so a head as well. 

Since there wasn’t really any dessert we were interested in, we made sure to swing by Baskin Robbins on the way home for rocky road goodness in Halloween themed cups. Good times!

So to wrap up, visit Tsukiji, you don’t need to be there super early to have an amazing time; Shimokitazawa is a little local gem that’s worth checking out; Funabashiya Honten’s tempura is the bomb and I can’t wait to go back later this year (I’ve already booked my plane tickets!)

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