Tokyo: Day 3

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On our first full day in Tokyo, we had sushi for breakfast, which was a real treat. We typically eat American breakfasts at home, meaning fruit and cereal or oatmeal on weekdays and pancakes or pastries with eggs and breakfast meats on weekends. They’re not the most balanced meals, and they’re usually high in sugar or fat content. When traveling, we love to leave our eating habits behind and embrace the food culture of the place we’re visiting. In Asia, that usually means eating just another meal like lunch or dinner.

So what did we do? We walked around Shinjuku in search of something that was open and looked enticing. We found this shop somewhere north of the Shinjuku station, across the street from McDonald’s, and started to study the shop’s kiosk. The pictures definitely helped, and after putting some coins in and making our selection, we went in and gave our tickets to the woman staffing the kitchen. A few minutes later, the next customer came into the shop and spoke to same woman in the kitchen; immediately afterward, she came over to us, said something in Japanese, and handed me ¥180. After a moment’s confusion, Tim tells me I put too much money in the vending machine, and that Japanese people are so honest and nice that it was in the open on the street until the next customer came in and honestly gave it to the restaurant who honestly returned it to the last customer, me! Wow, that really blew me away. That would be like leaving $5 on the sidewalk on 42nd Street in New York…. see what I mean? Wow.

Now the curry itself was good. I actually liked it better than the curry rice we had the first night. And the tonkatsu and ebi furai (fried shrimp) were so freshly fried they had extreme crunch, really great texture. We were already impressed with Tokyo at this point in the trip, and that experience just added to it.

After breakfast, we walked around Harajuku and Shibuya and made our way to Meiji Shrine that’s dedicated to the Emperor and Empress of the Meiji era. Walking through the grand forest was serene, and everything from the architecture to the trees surrounded us with their beauty. You simply must visit Meiji Shrine when in Tokyo.

We made our way back to Ginza for lunch at Sushi Kanesaka, and I can say that it’s the best sushi I’ve ever had. It was such a special meal, I’m saving the details for an entire post on its own.

We had a short list of things to buy in Tokyo, and glasses from Muji were at the top of that list. We went to at least 5 Muji locations in search for them, but were unsuccessful. We finally found Muji Yurakucho, which was the largest Muji of the ones we visited. There were bikes, many floors of housewares, beauty/skincare products, furniture, plants, and most importantly, glasses! After picking out frames and giving them a prescription (which they confirmed by examining Tim’s current pair of glasses), we were told to come back in 30 minutes.

We took that time to sit and relax at Muji Cafe & Meal. Much like IKEA does, Muji offers food cafeteria-style, using their own housewares. For our afternoon snack, we picked an orange brioche and a milk cream bun to go with our iced coffee and tea. We are true Mujirers, so it was quite an experience sitting in the Cafe & Meal eating our Muji goods waiting for our Muji glasses. Yes, I realize how ironic that is, considering Muji means “no-name”, but we are still big fans of the quality of the “no-label” goods.

After more walking and a tiring trip to Akihabara, we decided that our last dinner in Tokyo would be more ramen. One of the places I wanted to visit was Tokyo Ramen Street, located in First Avenue Tokyo Station. By the time we got there, it was late and we were exhausted and famished. The lines weren’t too bad, but we were in no mood to wait for a line. We tried studying the guides/maps to find a shop with no line that served the kind of ramen we wanted.

That proved to be impossible, and we gave up by finding Ramen Mutsumiya and ordering miso ramen with chashu and corn and tsukemen with chashu and shoyu dipping sauce. It was all very good.. not quite as good as Suzuran, but it fit the bill considering how tired and hungry we were. I’d love to go back when I have energy to wait on line for supposedly the best tsukemen at Rokurinsha Tokyo.

Muji Yurakucho
東京都千代田区丸の内 3-8-3
インフォス有楽町1-3F

Tokyo Ramen Street
At First Avenue Tokyo Station
B1F Yaesu South Exit

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Categories: Eats

Tokyo: Day 2

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The second day’s activities exhausted us by lunch time, so it was a nice break to sit down for a three course Italian meal at Faro. Faro is on the 10th floor of the Shiseido building in Ginza, not to be confused with Faro Slow Time which is on the 9th floor. We made the mistake of going to the 9th floor and were seated at Faro Slow Time. After getting situated in the comfy chairs, the maître d’ came to tell us that our reservation was for the restaurant upstairs!

We got used to making mistakes and getting lost at this point, so we bowed our apologies and found our table at Faro, nicely surprised that our reservations were for the higher-end of the two! Our cousin Elisha, being fluent in Japanese, graciously took care of our reservations in Tokyo. (Thanks Elisha!)

Okay, so onto the food and service at Faro. We each ordered the Porto lunch which included appetizer, pasta, dessert, and coffee for a steal of ¥2,800! This deal is only good for weekdays, but I highly recommended fine dining for lunch since dinners easily cost 2-3x as much.

To start, we had octopus and grain salad topped with yuzu foam and a mixed shellfish salad topped with uni and citrus dressing. Both were very clean and fresh in taste, and we liked how the seafood was enhanced with light use of citrus and not much else.

The pastas we chose were a creamy fettuccine topped with roasted corn and shrimp ravioli with tomato and basil. Every dish was simple, but elegantly done. Pastas were perfectly al dente and fresh ingredients stood out on their own. People questioned why we chose to eat Italian in Tokyo, and it’s because we knew it would be good. I read that Faro offers an uni pasta in certain seasons, but I didn’t see it on the menu. Otherwise I would have loved to try it and see how it compared to Marea’s.

And the best part about lunch was dessert. When it came time for dessert, our server rolled the dessert trolley over to us and asked what we’d like. It’s not advertised, but you can choose as many as you’d like! We were shy and only chose two each, but afterward I saw our server cut a piece of every dessert for another customer. But each piece was tiny, so the benefit of choosing fewer pieces meant we had larger serving sizes. We slowly enjoyed our choices with finely pulled espresso (passionfruit/raspberry cake, rum cake, raspberry meringue cake, and flan), and decided lunch at Faro was very relaxing with just the right amount of service and attention.

After more shopping and more walking, we decided to search for a ramen place in Shibuya that would be open for dinner, and not surprisingly, we got lost. We actually found the place by chance, and it was the big picture sign of ramen that tipped us off. Based on a Google Street View image, I was looking for a large sign, but there was none! They removed the sign I was looking for! I read about it being behind the police station, but even Google Maps couldn’t help us because I was fixed on that one landmark. Defeated by the streets of Tokyo again.

When we tried to go in (this was around 5:30PM), we were told it be another 30 minutes before they open for dinner. Sigh. So we walked around some more, being careful not to stray too far. When we finally sat down and ordered our chashu miso ramen and chashu shoyu tsukemen with tamago, we were famished with a hunger only noodles could satisfy.

The ramen was great. It was better than ramen in New York, but like I said about Sushi Daiwa, not orders of magnitude better. And the tsukemen was also great. The noodles were definitely some of the best noodle I’ve ever had, but I thought the shoyu sauce was very salty. I’m not a tsukemen connoisseur, so maybe that’s how the dipping sauce usually tastes, but it was extremely salty for me.

Of course I’d recommend visiting this place as it’s talked about on many forums and blogs. But I’d also recommend visiting a variety of ramen places to experience the subtleties of different styles of broths, noodles, toppings. If only we had stayed a few more days…

Faro
10F Shiseido Bldg
8-8-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku
03-3572-3911

Suzuran
Better than an address, use this link to find Suzuran!

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Categories: Eats

Tokyo: Days 1 & 2

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The trip started with Tokyo, so that’s where I’ll begin. I have to admit that I “prepared” for my trip by watching Lost in Translation, and I’d forgotten how great that movie was. We were extremely fortunate to have stayed at THE Park Hyatt Tokyo where the majority of the film took place. While we weren’t waited on like Mr. Harris, it certainly was the best service we’ve received from any establishment hands down. If you’re going to Tokyo and haven’t stayed there before, you must go. But first, sign up for the Hyatt Visa like we did to get two free nights (thanks for the tip David!).

I said we spent three days in Tokyo, but really, it was even less than that; we arrived Sunday afternoon and flew out Wednesday morning, so we only had two full days. On Sunday after we checked in, we only had energy to explore around the Shinjuku station where we ate quick curry at a counter then enjoyed pricey desserts before we decided to rest up for an early start at Tsukiji fish market the next day. The curry was great, and we were surprised it wasn’t orders of magnitude better than what we can get in New York. But the desserts.. they were perfect in taste and presentation. I mean, look at the menu picture and the actual dessert itself! I’m still not sure what flavor the jelly was, but it went very well with the kinako powder and vanilla ice cream. And the matcha azuki shaved ice made me a very happy girl.. even though it cost us nearly ¥1600. Pricey indeed.

Our first full day started at Tsukiji Fish Market, but not as early as we had originally planned. Since we were already packing in so much in our two full days, we decided to skip out on the 5:00AM tuna auction, but we still left relatively early to get our sushi breakfast.

Skipping the early auction couldn’t have worked out better for us. We stumbled upon Sushi Daiwa just after 8:00AM, and the line was so small that we had to double check we were at the right place! We only waited about 10 minutes before we got our seats at the bar, and as soon as we sat down, the meal continued at that pace. We were immediately shown a menu, but we didn’t need any because we asked for the ¥3,500 set.

The set included tea, miso soup, 7 pieces of nigiri and 1 maki roll. The sushi itself was pretty good, no doubt. The only piece that stood out as tasting significantly better than some of the best sushi we’ve had in New York was the otoro (fatty tuna belly). It was so creamy it melted in our mouths. Besides the otoro, we were impressed by how great sushi tasted and felt for breakfast. Filling up on lean protein to kick start the day makes perfect sense! It’s probably not traditionally done, but it was fun to try at the biggest wholesale fish market in the world.

After our morning at Tsukiji, we planned to shop around Ginza before our lunch reservation. We are big fans of Muji and Uniqlo, so we visited almost every store we saw in Asia.. probably at least 8 Mujis and 10 Uniqlos? Yikes. The flagship stores were fun to visit, but the 12-story Uniqlo in Ginza felt underwhelming compared to the 5th Avenue one in New York. But then again, that could be a good thing, meaning that they did such a fantastic job with the store layout, that all 12 floors were manageable and easy to shop. Tokyu Hands was another store I could easily spend days in. The kitchenware floor.. the stationery floor.. all the washi tape! Ahh, I’m still surprised at the self-control I exercised there.

Because this post is already getting lengthy (and I’m not halfway done with Day 2), I’m going to leave lunch and dinner for another post! The next post will cover lunch at a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant and our first ramen experience in Shibuya.

Sushi Daiwa
Tsukiji Fish Market
Building 5-2-1 (but don’t bother looking this up, just look for the lines!)
near the Tsukijishijo Station on the Oedo Line

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Categories: Eats

Asia Trip 2012

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I’m back from my Asia trip (it’s actually been a few weeks already!), and I have so many fond memories from those 16 days abroad. I had such an amazing time exploring Tokyo, I seriously contemplated “missing” my connecting flight back to the States while at Narita… but reason won over, and I got on the plane and came back to New York.

I did promise to share my trip with y’all, but I’m having such a hard time sifting through my photos and choosing which ones to post about. I can’t look through them without getting lost in thoughts.. so while I sort through my experiences, here’s a taste of what to look forward to.


I know I had high expectations for my visit to Tokyo, but they were met, and then some. Three days in this city was such a tease, and I cannot wait to go back.


Our time in Bangkok was a chance for us to relax and hang out with family. The fruit and the malls in Bangkok.. the two best ways to beat the tropical heat.


Taiwan was a crazy whirlwind for us. We toured around the entire island in under a week! Our family lives all over the country, so this was our itinerary: we spent a day and a half Taipei (mostly in 101),


then we took a train to beautiful Hualien where we stayed two days,


then we drove seven hours all around the coasts to get to Tainan,


then we took another car to Kaohsiung and spent a day there,


and then took the high-speed rail to Taichung where we caught a cab to take us to Cholan.

Whew, that was tiring just typing. Like I said, there’s just so much for me to process! But I’m working on it, and soon enough, I’ll have tons of stories and pictures for y’all.

Have a great weekend, and hope you’re making the most of summertime!

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Categories: Briefs

Whereabouts

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Dear Friends,

Long time no blog… again. In these past months, there were times when a lot was going on, and then there were moments when I had the time (but not the capacity) to publish my posts. If I still have any readers out there (maybe a few of you?), here’s what’s been going on.

Back in April, I was forced to take a break from everything due to a health issue – it wasn’t anything terribly awful, but it was serious enough to take me out for a month. Looking back, I can’t believe that was already three months ago, but thanks be to God, all is well with my health now, and it was a blessing to have found true rest that month. Around mid-April, I also started my container garden from seeds of radishes, Thai basil, purple basil, sweet basil, lavender, Thai chili peppers, and sunflowers.


In May, I took my new perspective on rest and did my best to incorporate it into my previously nonstop life. I was back at work, but I tried to spend most my time at home. I was back to cooking (but not baking), and after helping organize our church’s annual Memorial Day Picnic, my involvement with various events increased, and so did the pace of life.


Then with June came the rainy weather as well as a downpour of work busyness. My container garden grew and loved all the rain, but my work days also grew longer as I kept busy with different clients in NJ and CT. Luckily during long commutes, I got the chance to plan my upcoming Asia trip and began learning Katakana so I’ll have some hope in getting around Tokyo.


Which leads me to today. Today I’m packing my bags and getting ready for my 16-day trip to Tokyo, Thailand, and Taiwan. I’ve never been to Japan before, and in all the research I’ve done about Tokyo, to say I’m excited is an immense understatement. Three days in Tokyo is barely enough to get a taste of the city, but it’s all we could spare in our family-centric trip. We’ve got at least four upcoming family gatherings, set in Bangkok and all over Taiwan, and we’ll have seen over 60 relatives at the end of these two weeks.

I will be documenting this trip in detail, so I promise you’ll be seeing updates from me once I’m back from my trip. And then once I’m rested, I’ll try to get back to baking and blogging regularly shortly after that. But until then..

またね! สวัสดี ค่ะ! 再見!

With love,
Talida

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Categories: Briefs