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Monday, January 18, 2016

Tokyo: Eating fruit and cream sandwiches, chocolate potato chips with ice cream and... vocal cords

Strawberry and cream inside the fruit sandwich at Takano Fruit Parlour, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Japan. After four trips to this incredible country, I'm still itchy to return for more. It's not just the food - although that alone is worth the trek - but it's also everything else that makes up Japan and its culture: the singular commitment to perfection, the respect for tradition vs the embrace of the new, and the tradition of family-run businesses that have passed on from generation to generation.

Map of our travels around Japan starting and ending in Tokyo

This is the final post of my trip to Japan last year, a circular route of over 4,300km that started and ended in Tokyo. After enduring the icy winds of Hakodate, it was a relief to fly back to Tokyo for last minute shopping before our journey home.


Kappabashi Street - Kitchen Town

Japanese Crockery in Kitchentown on Kappabashi Dori in Tokyo
Crockery heaven

Kappabashi Street, also known as Kitchen Town is always a mandatory pit-stop in Tokyo. Running for several blocks between Ueno and Asakusa, Kappabashi Dori (dori means street in Japanese) is littered with everything from traditional crockery to restaurant stoves to baking ware and plastic display foods.

Plastic steins with beer and foam in Kitchentown on Kappabashi Dori in Tokyo
Plastic beer steins

Plastic food displays in Kitchentown on Kappabashi Dori in Tokyo
Plastic display foods

The plastic display foods look incredibly lifelike and can make for quirky souvenir. The larger ones above aren't cheap though - costing upwards of AU$40.

Plastic gift bags in Kitchentown on Kappabashi Dori in Tokyo
Plastic gift bags of every size

I always end up in this plastic gift bag shop which has bags in all different lengths and widths - just the thing you need for presenting home-baked gifts.

Gift boxes in Kitchentown on Kappabashi Dori in Tokyo
Gift boxes 

I could easily spend several hours wandering here although this time we had to race through in about an hour. My favourite purchase this trip was an Iwaki cold drip coffee maker for AU$40.

Giant Japanese rhinoceros beetle in Kitchentown on Kappabashi Dori in Tokyo
Giant Japanese rhinoceros beetle outside a kitchenware shop
Asakusa
Rickshaws in Asakusa, Tokyo
Rickshaws and mobiles

We walked from Kappabashi Street to Asakusa, bumping into a festival with street food stalls along the way.

Street food skewers in Asakusa, Tokyo
Street food skewers

Takoyaki octopus balls in Asakusa, Tokyo
Takoyaki octopus balls

Hot baked potatoes with self-serve butter in Asakusa, Tokyo
Hot baked potatoes with self-serve butter

If we hadn't been on our way to lunch, I would have loved one of these baked potatoes. I love that even at outdoor festivals, almost everyone is making their food from scratch. Not a frozen nugget in sight!

Takoyaki octopus balls in Asakusa, Tokyo
Takoyaki station

Women dressed in national costume in Asakusa, Tokyo
All dressed up

Dressed up pug in Asakusa, Tokyo
Even this pug is looking sharp


Nakamise, Sensoji Temple
Crowds at Nakamise, Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo
Crowds on Nakamise, the alley of shops leading to Sensoji Temple

Sensoji Temple is always busy with tourists, but we found too late that our visit coincided with Sanja Matsuri, one of the biggest festivals on the Tokyo holiday calendar with more than 2 million people visiting the temple over the course of the three-day festival. We didn't have time to loiter among the crowds but we did spy a couple of local mikoshi portable shrines in the distance, being brought to the temple for blessing.

Lanterns for sale at Nakamise, Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo
Lanterns

We did a whip around the stalls lining Nakamise, the path that leads to Sensoji Temple, which is filled with souvenirs, trinkets and edible gifts.

Making taiyaki fish cakes filled with red bean paste at Nakamise, Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo
Ladling batter over red bean paste

The intense concentration by this man in charge of making taiyaki, fish-shaped caked holding sweetened red bean paste, was very impressive.

Freshly made taiyaki fish cakes filled with red bean paste at Nakamise, Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo
The finished product: taiyaki or fish-shaped caked with a red bean paste filling

Ladies in kimonos at Nakamise, Sensoji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo
Kimono crew

Sukiya
24-hour Sukiya restaurant
Sukiya open 24 hours

Food definitely doesn't have to be expensive in Japan. We ended up at a Sukiya branch several times throughout the trip. The meals here are super cheap and most outlets are open 24/7.

Pork on rice with cheese from Sukiya, Tokyo, Japan
Rich cheese tondon 490 yen / AU$5.40
Pork on rice with cheese

Gyudon is their usual specialty, a stewed beef dish on rice, but this outlet near Shibuya had tondon, or stewed pork on rice. Adding grated cheese and a raw egg on top lifted this dish to another level.

Curry rice with pork from Sukiya, Tokyo, Japan
Curry rice with pork 630 yen / AU$6.95

Japanese curry is hugely popular, although its sweetness does take some getting used to. The curry rice with pork is warm and comforting.

Double portion unagi eel on rice from Sukiya, Tokyo, Japan
Double portion unagi eel on rice 1180 yen / AU$13

I went with the unagi eel on rice, maxxing out on the double portion which still only set me back AU$13. There are few things finer than the rich and fatty sweetness of eel glazed with soy and rice wine.


Tachi Kui Soba Kimidzuka
Tachi Kui Soba Kimidzuka near Ikebukero Station, Tokyo
Stand-up ramen and soba house near Ikebekuro Station

We stayed near Ikebukero and ate at this noodle house both mornings. You'll have to stand up to eat, but service is fast and prices are super cheap. You can order a bowl of soba noodle soup for less than AU$4.

Tempura display at Tachi Kui Soba Kimidzuka near Ikebukero Station, Tokyo
Tempura display

Most people add on a deep fried side to their noodles, everything from tempura prawns and fish to shredded vegetable fritters.

Soba noodles at Tachi Kui Soba Kimidzuka near Ikebukero Station, Tokyo
Soba noodles with pork and nori 350 yen / AU$3.85

Katsudon fried crumbed pork cutlet with egg on rice at Tachi Kui Soba Kimidzuka near Ikebukero Station, Tokyo
Katsudon 400 yen / $AU4.40
Fried pork cutlet with egg on rice

I went with the katsudon one morning, a crumbed and fried pork cutlet on rice with egg and katsudon sauce, a fragrant sauce made from dashi, soy, sugar, sake and mirin.

Katsudon crumbed chicken fillet with egg on rice at Tachi Kui Soba Kimidzuka near Ikebukero Station, Tokyo
Crumbed chicken fillet

Apparently katsudon is often eaten by students the day before a major exams because the verb "katsu" means "to win" or "be victorious".


Yakiton, Shinjuku
Yakiton at Shinjuku, Tokyo
Entrance to Yakiton

While in Tokyo, I caught up with long lapsed food blogger and ex-Sydneysider Yas. He took me to Yakiton, a tiny kushiyaki joint in the back streets of Shinjuku.

Dining room with hand drawn menus inside Yakiton at Shinjuku, Tokyo
Seating and coloured drawings, including the location of the bonjiri (rooster pic at 10 o'clock)

Kushiyaki refers to meat and vegetables on skewers. It's the kind of joint you unwind with friends over snacks and a couple of beers. Yakiton had a huge menu with all kinds of offal on the menu - I couldn't have been more excited.

Aji fried horse mackerel at Yakiton in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Aji fried horse mackerel and raw cabbage with miso

We ate half the menu, crunching on crumbed aji horse mackerel and raw sweet cabbage leaves served with an addictive miso dip.

Pork neck with leek and pork tongue skewers at Yakiton in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Pork neck with leek and pork tongue skewers

A sticky glaze was brushed liberally over hunks of pork neck interspersed with young leeks and slices of pork tongue cooked so they maintained their juiciness.

Fried potato with tomato sauce at Yakiton in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Fried potato with tomato sauce

We laughingly ordered the fried potato, but even these were good - hand-cut wedges fried so there was a contrast between the crunchy surface and its fluffy middle.

Tsukune meatballs and bonjiri chicken hip at Yakiton in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Tsukune meatballs and bonjiri chicken hip 

We thoughtfully chew on tsukune meatball skewers as well as bonjiri, translated here as chicken hip but known by others as chicken butt. These hips don't lie. They're fattylicious.

Tsukune meatballs at Yakiton in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Tsukune meatballs 

Chicken giblets at Yakiton in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Chicken giblets

I love the crunch of chicken giblets. These were grilled simply with salt and pepper over charcoal.

Pork heart and chicken large intestine at Yakiton in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Pork heart and chicken large intestine

Pork hearts had a gentle chew and the chicken large intestine was springy in texture.

Nankotus vocal cords at Yakiton in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Nankotsu vocal cords

We finished up with chicken thighs and nankotsu vocal cords, the latter were kinda crunchy like cartilage.

Chicken thigh skewers at Yakiton in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Chicken thigh skewers


Takano Fruit Parlour
Fruit sandwiches and fruit parfaits at Takano Fruit Parlour, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Fruit sandwiches and fruit parfaits

We rolled onto dessert. I'd always lusted after the fruit sandwiches on Yas's Instagram feed, so he took me to Takano Fruit Parlour. Takano started as a premium fruit shop in 1885; today it's like walking into Tiffany & Co. The Shinjuku store spreads over three floors with high end luxury fruit baskets and spreads for sale.

The Fruit Parlour on the 5th floor is a dine-in dessert house. They have an all-you-can-eat fruit buffet which sounds like a glorious concept we should adapt in Australia as well. The buffet had closed by the time we arrived so we ordered a la carte.

Musk melon fruit parfait at Takano Fruit Parlour, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Musk melon parfait 1,944 yen / AU$21.40

The price of the musk melon parfait almost made me weep - AU$21.40 - but it's a sobering reminder of how much Australians take the affordability of fruit for granted.

This musk melon was supremely sweet though, each segment offering a juicy mouthful of perfection.

Mixed fruit parfait at Takano Fruit Parlour, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Mixed fruit parfait 1,296 yen / AU$14.25

The mixed fruit parfait had a little bit of everything, including dragon fruit, pineapple and mango. Considering that most dessert menus in Western restaurant feature heavily on chocolate and dense desserts, the abundance of fruit felt so refreshing.

Fruit sandwich at Takano Fruit Parlour, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Fruit sandwich 1,080 yen / AU$11.90

But I was most excited by the fruit sandwiches. Fluffy white bread sandwiched with cream and fruit. It's like a pavlova in sandwich-form. This is a wicked idea I definitely intend to recreate!

Strawberry and cream inside the fruit sandwich at Takano Fruit Parlour, Shinjuku, Tokyo


PABLO
PABLO fresh baked cheese tart at Shinjuku Station, Tokyo
PABLO at Shinjuku Station

Since I was passing through Shinjuku Station to get back to my hotel, I stopped at PABLO to get their famous baked cheese tart takeaway. The Japanese seem to have an obsession with light and fluffy cheesecakes.

PABLO fresh baked cheese tart from Shinjuku Station, Tokyo
Fresh baked cheese tart 741 yen / AU$8.15

The tart sustained a slight crack via the  journey home which made me glad I didn't opt for the "rare" tart which is deliberately undercooked for a gooier texture.

The pastry base was noticeably thicker than other tarts we've had, but the filling was luscious yet light and airy.

Inside the PABLO fresh baked cheese tart from Shinjuku Station, Tokyo
Inside the cheese tart


Takeshita Street, Harajuku

Takeshita Street in Harajuku, Tokyo

Our final day was spent in Harajuku. The four-storey Daiso here was the only disappointment, with a much smaller range of crockery than we remembered.


Calbee+
Calbee+ in Harajuku, Tokyo
Entrance to Calbee+ at Harajuku

But we perked ourselves up with a visit to Calbee+, a shop that offers all your favourite Calbee snacks as well as soft serves and freshly made chips - together if you prefer!

Freshly fried potato crisps at Calbee+ in Harajuku, Tokyo
Freshly fried potato crisps

Hokkaido soft serve with ROYCE chocolate and potato chips with double cheese at Calbee+ in Harajuku, Tokyo
Hokkaido soft serve with ROYCE chocolate 280 yen / AU$3.10
Potato chips with double cheese 230 yen / AU$2.55

You can get a Hokkaido soft serve (so creamy!) drizzled with ROYCE chocolate and garnished with a potato chip or go savoury with freshly made potato chips with cheese. They also do a maple syrup and cream cheese combo that straddles both sweet and savoury. You can choose between thin and flat or thick and ruffled chips too. We watched them use a machine to slice fresh potatoes before they were transferred to the deep fryer.

Potato chips with ROYCE chocolate and Hokkaido soft serve at Calbee+ in Harajuku, Tokyo
Potato chips with ROYCE chocolate and Hokkaido soft serve 410 yen / AU$4.50

I went with the easy-to-eat potato chips drizzled with ROYCE chocolate sauce and a mini cup of Hokkaido soft serve for dipping. Chips and ice cream with chocolate are a thing, trust me. Don't deny it til you try it!


Marion Crepes
Marion Crepes on Takeshita Dori in Harajuku, Tokyo
Marion Crepes stand at Harajuku

And you can't leave Harajuku with eating a crepe. We usually eat at Angel Crepes but this time we ate at its competitor directly across from it, Marion Crepes.

Plastic crepe display menu at Marion Crepes on Takeshita Dori in Harajuku, Tokyo
Plastic crepe display menu

This is where Japanese plastic display food is invaluable - a visual menu that transcends all languages and a numbering system that makes ordering super easy.

Cooked crepes at Marion Crepes on Takeshita Dori in Harajuku, Tokyo
Crepes ready to go

Like all Japanese workers we saw, the staff here were a picture of polite and friendly efficiency, working non-stop with constant smiles on their faces.

One worker made crepes constantly, each one uniform in size and height.

Prepping strawberry cheesecake crepes at Marion Crepes on Takeshita Dori in Harajuku, Tokyo
Prepping two strawberry cheesecake crepes at the same time

Watching them assemble the crepes was impressive too. Look at those giant blobs of cream!

Strawberry cheesecake Melba from Marion Crepes on Takeshita Dori in Harajuku, Tokyo
Strawberry cheesecake Melba 540 yen / AU$5.95

I had the strawberry cheesecake Melba, a wedge of cheesecake offering two desserts in one. Add strawberry ice cream, fresh strawberries and strawberry syrup and you've got one helluva sweet street snack as you watch the crowds go by.


Maisen
Katsusando from Maisen at Shibuya Hikarie, Tokyo
Katsusando from Maisen 421 yen / AU$4.60

We ran out of time to have lunch at Maisen but had just enough time to grab a takeaway katsusando or pork cutlet sandwich from their restaurant in Shibuya.

Katsusando from Maisen at Shibuya Hikarie, Tokyo

We'd raced back to our hotel, grabbed our bags and got back onto the train again to the airport with minutes to spare. We were flushed with heat and our pulses were racing, but as we unpacked our Maisen boxes and opened the plastic wrapping, the world felt a little calmer as we paused to admire the simple beauty of crumbed pork in fluffy white bread.

We relished that sandwich as our train hurtled toward Narita Airport, mournfully savouring each mouthful as we headed closer to home. Japan - we will back soon.

Kitchentown on Kappabashi Dori in Tokyo


<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid

Japan 2015: Toyama > Kanazawa > Nagano > Kyoto > Nara > Osaka > Kobe > Kagoshima > Hakata > Hiroshima and Miyajima Island > Sapporo > Otaru > Hakodate Tokyo


Calbee+
1-16-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81 (03) 6434 0439

Maisen

2-21-1 Shibuya, Shibuya Hikarie, 6th floor, Tokyo, Japan
Tel: +81 (03) 3486 2365
Open daily 11am-11pm

Marion Crepes

Shibuya Jingumae 1-16-15,  Junes Building, Takeshita-dori, Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan
Tel: +81 (03) 3401 7297
Open daily 10.30am-8pm (from 10am Sat and Sun)

PABLO Shinjuku

Metro Shokudogai B2F, 1-1-2, NIshi-shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0023, Japan
Tel: +81 (03) 5381 0826
Also at Shibuya and Akihabara in Tokyo

Tachi Kui Soba Kimidzuka 立喰いそば 君塚

Ikebukero West Side, Ikebukero Station
Sugiyama Building, Street level,
Toshima, Tokyo, 170-0014, Japan
Tel: +81 (03) 3982 4419

Takano Fruit Parlour

3-26-11 Shinjuku, Takano 5th floor, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
Tel: +81 (03) 5368 5147

Yakiton
3-17-17 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81 (03) 3352 0080
Open daily 5pm-12 midnight (Sat from 4pm, Sun and national holidays 4pm-11pm)

16 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/18/2016 12:56:00 am


16 Comments:

  • At 1/18/2016 2:10 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    ohhh man you've made me miss japan so much it hurts!

     
  • At 1/18/2016 7:45 am, Anonymous John - heneedsfood said…

    Oh man so much goodness! And badness!

    I did a double-take when I spotted your pic of the rickshaw guy - I wonder if the moose-like shoes make him run faster? Lol

     
  • At 1/18/2016 11:08 am, Anonymous Berny @ I Only Eat Desserts said…

    I'm gonna spend all my money at Kappabashi Street :D This place sounds like my idea of heaven!

    Fruit is soooo expensive in Japan (and meat) where I had the most unhealthy diet. A giant apple was $4 but tasted like nothing - I gorged myself on fruit once I got home from my 6 month exchange in Japan. And meat as well :)

     
  • At 1/18/2016 3:09 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I love the kindness and politeness in Japan. They wear face masks to prevent colds - if they have a cold. Such civic duty! And tipping is offensive,they serve with smiles without it. We can learn so much from them. I miss Japan!

     
  • At 1/18/2016 3:56 pm, Blogger Amy zhong said…

    this is so helpful, im heading there later this year. Thanks for the tips!

     
  • At 1/18/2016 4:22 pm, Blogger Maddie Loves Food said…

    Totally agree - there is just something about Japan (other than the food ;)) that is so out-of-the ordinary. How funny it is that katsudon is meant to be good luck for exams! What a genius idea those fruit sandwiches are - who would have known that the humble loaf of white bread could do so much?

     
  • At 1/18/2016 4:27 pm, Anonymous Cath @ Confessions of a Glutton said…

    Ahhh I'm going to Japan in May and I've been a little shocked at how expensive some aspects are, ie the JR pass, accomodation, etc - so it's great to see that I can eat well with the rest of my budget! Thanks for the recommendations :)

     
  • At 1/18/2016 7:23 pm, Blogger Yvonne Zhong said…

    Hey Helen

    Long time reader - I helped you on a ramen post many years ago.

    I live in Tokyo now and if you're ever in town again, would love to take you to some of my haunts. Keep up the good work on the blog - you keep me in touch with all the happenings in Sydney and beyond.

    Yvonne

     
  • At 1/18/2016 10:04 pm, Blogger Karen To said…

    What an epic journey!

    Well now that you've finally finished writing up your Japan trip, I think it's time to go back for another round don't you think? :)

     
  • At 1/18/2016 11:22 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    Wow! Absolutely loved this post! I spent a wonderful day in Kappabashi Kitchen Town a few years ago and bought so much stuff, haha!

    That fruit buffet sounds amazing too - putting it on my wishlist for my next visit to Japan. :)

    xox Sarah

     
  • At 1/20/2016 12:45 am, Anonymous Leona said…

    Oh man I just came back from 3 weeks in Japan best eating trip I've ever had! Can't wait to go back again

     
  • At 1/20/2016 12:46 am, Anonymous Leona said…

    Oh man I just came back from 3 weeks in Japan best eating trip I've ever had! Can't wait to go back again

     
  • At 1/20/2016 1:48 pm, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    A friend of mine has one of the pug dogs and it is OUT OF CONTROL. I'm a huge dog lover but that dog put my love to an enormous test. I like how the potato chips are freshly made. But the cost of fruit! I was really desiring one of those melon parfaits - but then you told me the price! xx

     
  • At 1/20/2016 9:45 pm, Blogger irene said…

    There's just so much gorgeousness in this post. Love your Japan posts, Helen!!

     
  • At 1/21/2016 5:43 pm, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    So lookin forward to my Tokyo trip after seeing this! Will definitely hit up Pablo, Calbee and the street food at Asakusa!

     
  • At 1/27/2016 12:16 am, OpenID berniethehungry said…

    Wow. Thanks Helen for having those pics to help me recollect my visit to Japan. Love the tonkatsu sandwich and crepes and my tummy is rumbling as i am flipping those pages. Yummy.... The cheese cake from Pablo seems incredibly delicious.... oh....

     

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