Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tokyo: Land of Tempura and Shabu-Shabu

Ah, Tokyo... It's been more than 10 years since I last went to this bustling metropolis, and I have forgotten how wonderful it is. The people are so polite and nice, the air so crisp and cool, the food so appetizing and delicious.

Let me just run through a list of restaurants I've been to in Tokyo then post another blog entry in a few days about the interesting sights to see in that city.

Meiji-Jingu Park
Inside the grounds of the Meiji-Jingu shrine is the Yoyogi Restaurant, just a few steps away from the gift shop. I had Fish and Vegetable Tempura bento which tasted quite different from the usual tempura back in Manila. This is authentic Japanese cuisine! Busog!

This place has been famous since 1930 for its hamburger steaks, and now I know why. They're really good. The juicy burgers are cooked in foil and placed on sizzling plates. They come with baked potatoes as well. One burger plate costs 1,260 yen. Quite pricey when you convert it to pesos (100 yen is about 50 pesos), but reasonable when you convert it to US dollars (about $12).

Kamishakujii Train Station, Nerima-ku
Coming off the train, you'll see this inviting little coffee shop with delicious-looking soft breads. It's no French Baker (Manila) at all. Cheap but yummy.

Marunouchi Building near the Tokyo Station
This is a famous ramen house, and there are several outlets in Japan. This one in Marunouchi Building is just a few floors down my nephew's office in Bloomberg. We had gyoza, which was just perfect, and Hakata ramen. I've never had ramen this good before. No wonder foodies have been blogging about Akanoren. Read these: and

We were curious: would the gyudon taste any different in Yoshinoya Japan than in Yoshinoya Manila? Surprise! It tastes the same. Still yummy. My brother said I should try the sukiyaki. Next time then.

Disney Sea Resort
I had turkey ciabatta while Alec had salmon sandwich. Good New York style sandwiches.

Skylark would be like Pancake House back in Manila. It's a good old family restaurant. There are several set menus with calorie count (cool, says my son). We went there just for snacks though, so I was only able to try the maple chiffon cake. It was just right; not so sweet. Goes well with the whipped cream it came with. Bottomless drinks available at the drink bar.

My sister-in-law's family took us out to dinner here one night. The sirloin steak is tops! But what is memorable for me here is the salmon breakfast plate. This is a traditional Japanese breakfast with rice and miso soup that's filling and delicious! Bottomless drinks available too at the drink bar.

2F Tokyo Culture Hall, Ueno Park
In between museum-hopping, we had lunch at this popular restaurant. There's a queue at lunchtime. I had fillet of pork cutlet (tonkatsu, I guess) for 1,050 yen, while my son had beef curry. Good food!

Shinagawa Aquarium
After viewing marine life in the aquarium, we were famished. This child-friendly restaurant sits overlooking a pond. I had something like chicken a la king, while my son had the Dolphin Special -- not dolphin meat, but tonkatsu if I remember right. Food's great. :-)

Lalaport Toyosu Mall
This is the food court in this spanking new mall. You can take your pick from a number of international stations: Japanese, American, Singaporean, Indian, Chinese, and Italian. I got Braised Soy Sauce Chicken on Rice from Imperial Treasure (Chinese; 850 yen) while my son had Beef Sandwich with Fries from the Oregon Bar & Grill (American; 750 yen). My sister-in-law got something from the Thai section but she couldn't eat it because it was too spicy. When in doubt, go safe and pick the food familiar to you.

near Tokyo Bay
We couldn't leave Tokyo without going to a real sushi bar, and this was it. I'm not really a fan of sushi and sashimi but I can eat them. I'm glad I could, because the sushi and sashimi we ate here were superb, especially the salmon and the amaebi (sweet shrimp). I also liked the kappamaki (cucumber roll) and the maguro (tuna). My son was more adventurous and devoured the unagi (eel) and the anago (sea water eel). Great with the miso soup with clams and piping hot green tea.

You think all McDonald's are the same? Well, maybe, if you're talking about the Big Mac and the Cheeseburger. But there's something new with every country's McDonald's. Japan's McDo, for instance, has creamy corn soup, tomato chicken fillet and choco pie. The Philippines' McDo has spaghetti and fried chicken. The American one has burrito. More reasons to visit McDonald's everywhere.

This is Japan's answer to Starbucks. The latte is good, and so are the pastries. Ambience is cozy. My brother craves for Doutor coffee.

* Takoyaki: Octopus cooked in gooey stuff eaten from a stick a la barbeque. The Ueno Park stand looked so inviting, so we tried it. Quite good, actually.
* Chocolate banana: Good old banana dipped in chocolate with candy sprinkles. For 100 yen, you can have fruit and chocolate too! Got one at Ueno Park and it tasted really good.
* Crepes: A number of crepe stations in little Volkswagen vans can be seen around Tokyo. We tried one in Harajuku which had a line of young people waiting to place their order. The strawberry crepe with vanilla ice cream was really good. I also saw one at Kamishakujii station and another one just outside the supermarket in Nerima-ku.

After all that yummy food outside, though, nothing beats real Japanese cooking done lutong bahay style. I am so blessed to have a true blue Japanese sister-in-law who cooks sooooo well. From tempura, nabe and teppanyaki to shabu-shabu, tonkatsu and miso soup, she can do them all by scratch. And her salads are so yummy too! I told her she could open a restaurant already; she's that good. So after a long tiring day walking and doing some sightseeing, we would gladly wait for her outside the small supermarket on the way home as she would pick up the freshest vegetables and meats so she can lovingly cook dinner for us at home. Bon appetit!

VERSE OF THE DAY: But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love. Psalm 33:18

BOOKS OF THE WEEK: Myself, Elsewhere by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil is an engaging memoir about her life in prewar Ermita. This was Ermita during peace time, long before it has become the chaotic, shoddy area it is now. She eloquently describes the customs, manners and way of life of the Ermita elite up until World War II when many passed away. A good read.

The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen. During World War II, ten thousand Jewish children from Austria and Germany were allowed to board the Kindertransport, a rescue train. The kids became refugees in England. 243 Willesden Lane in London was the hostel some of them lived in. This book is the story of one of those refugees, Lisa Jura, a 14-year-old gifted pianist from Vienna. A poignant and moving story of music, love and survival during a very difficult time.