File under: yikes

yikes

A few highlights:

Endless crowds, unknown neighbors and unruly behavior have drained many residents here of their sense of “omotenashi” (hospitality).

They now say that the hordes of overseas tourists who keep coming to the ancient capital are eroding the quality of their traditional lives.

In 2003, when only 5 million foreign tourists visited Japan, the government initiated the Visit Japan Campaign to double the number.

The number of visitors to Japan topped 20 million in 2016, and a monthly record 2.57 million foreign tourists came to the country in April.

If things go as the government plans, the foreign tourist number will reach 40 million by 2020 and 60 million by 2030.

Yikes. Read the entire thing here

*Side note: I rarely go to Kyoto anymore and when I do, I go with those who know the ins-and-outs. People who have been traveling there for centuries and have family relationships with businesses and restaurants. As warm and hospitable as Kyoto may seem on the surface, Kyoto people are known to be cold and unwelcoming.

Ingredients in Japan

I rarely eat Chinese food by choice. Dim sum bores me (to me, it feels like an endless  on parade of tiny baskets with fish or pungent meats and chives wrapped in dough), black bean sauce is way too potent and I can’t taste the ingredients. XLB are my favorite but there’s only so many soup dumplings one could eat. A lot of the fish has this slimy texture reminiscent to cheap catfish and a lot of the dishes — irregardless of style of Chinese cuisine — tastes like the pan (or wok?)

The other night I had Szechuan food for the first time in I can’t even recall how long ago and it was so delicious and flavorful. The dishes look extremely spicy because of the red peppers but the heat was subdued. There was one stewed chicken dish that literally blew my mind. I could taste every layer of the ingredients unfolding on my tongue — anise, sansho, soy, and I learned Szechuan peppers have this unmatched brightness, a subtle acid, that brings the dishes to a new level.

The chicken, fish, shrimp, beef, sansho peppers and all the greens are so optimal in Japan that it’s almost unfair. I swear, a cooked box of rocks in Japan would taste good.

Now I am keen on learning more about Chinese cuisines — especially Szechuan. Ahhhh the learning process here is never, ever, ending.

Directions in Japan

The other day I was just given an address for the spot we were going to for dinner. Looked up directions and got the most unhelpful navigation ever. “Unnamed roads” both on phone and computer in Tokyo (somewhere around Ginza/Akasaka-ish). The directions read like I’m in some farmland deep in the countryside!

“Turn left, cross the road, cross the road, cross the road.”

I meannnnnnnn seriously?! JAPAN, YOU ARE RIDICULOUS!

Sushi Saito

snapseed-1

In 2009, when Michelin decided to uncover Japan’s culinary scene by including us in their guide, two things happened. One: the world got a glimpse of our extraordinary cuisine. Two: it caused absolute chaos to the reservation situation in Tokyo.

Frankly, it’s now shit.

There is way more demand than supply since most spots seat only 8-10 people and for those who aren’t Japanese or speak the language, they are SOL (shit outta luck). Sadly a lot of crappy tourists bail last minute or worse, don’t show up or even call (seriously, who does that?) and have ruined it for others to score bookings. Nowadays, a majority of the higher end and exclusive places are invite only for quality control. This isn’t because Japanese people don’t like foreigners. It’s because when a place is so small they only serve 20 or so seatings a night, it hurts the business a lot when people don’t show up; especially since ingredients are purchased daily.

But as frustrating as the booking situation is, one of the best parts about dining in Japan is the intimate experience. A lot of high-end sushi and kappo (cuisine with heavy kaiseki influence – thoughtful presentation, high quality, hyper seasonal ingredients, open kitchen, usually counter seating where diners get to watch/interact with the chef and his apprentices) spots, the taisho (chef) is extremely generous with his knowledge and every time I dine, I always learn something new.

This visit to Sushi Saito, here’s what I learned:

  • Male shishamo tastes better than female shishamo. Shishamo is smelt and kokusan shishamo is Japanese smelt. For about 15 or so years now, Russian or Mongolian smelt are served instead of Japanese smelt since there is a shortage and kokusan shishamo is now hard to obtain. Female smelts are widely served carrying eggs (komochi shishamo) but I barely see male shishamo. I’m not sure if I’ve even had it before. Saito-san also shared that male shishamo is served raw (sashimi) and slightly seared in the spring. Amazing.
  • Kimo is fish liver and the most commonly served fish liver is ankimo (monkfish liver). Fugu (blowfish) kimo is also served — I had no idea. Saito-san told us his first fugu kimo was in a region far up north (I forgot where). When we asked him if it was good, he said: “It’s delicious but I can’t say for certain if it was tasty because it’s so rare or because it is truly tasty. Would I risk my life to eat it again? Probably not.” while laughing. And then he went on to say: “Nothing beats Kawahagi kimo. Ankimo has a kuse.” Kuse, means a distinctness — scent, texture, flavor, what have you — like blue cheese. People either love it or hate it. I kind of think he didn’t really like fugu kimo haha
  • Saito-san trained at Kanesaka and directly under Kanesaka-san. (Kanesaka is now legendary and has two restaurants in Tokyo, several abroad. I’ve only been to Kanesaka once and didn’t really like it but that’s a story for another day.) Saito-san calls Kanesaka-san, Kanesaka jiisan (Jiisan is old man but for Saito-san to fondly address him by that nickname is a huge sign of respect and signifies their closeness) and told us how Kanesaka-san taught him how to crab and fish. Saito-san also mentioned how they used to go together all the time. So cute ❤︎
  • Saito-san can tell the difference between a male and female fish; he said he has to feel them though. That’s pretty mental.
  • The best fugu restaurant in Tokyo is Ajiman

 …I feel like I’m missing some learings so I’ll add if I remember. 

Such a fulfilling meal both physically and mentally, which makes Sushi Saito one of my favorite places on the Earth.

 

Glorious Gyoza

gyoza
Salt. Fat. Acid.

via my IG

“Salt. Fat. Acid. Gyoza is my favorite flavor profile and probably the reason I eat shameful amounts 😳 A whooooole mess of latergrams of all the glorious gyoza in my Camera Roll. Some may or may not be taken at inappropriate hours 💁🏻🥂🍷🥃 餃子どんだけ好きやねん。この半年食べた量と種類、、、かなりヤバイw”

I really do eat too much gyoza. So much, I wrote 1,600ish words on gyoza in Tokyo. Do read if you’re interested. The piece is on Eater here.

Mona

Tokyo Bar Game Strong AF

img_4672

I get how people visiting Tokyo for the first time go through hell and back planning trips. I can also see why it’s hard to believe when I tell people: relax and just get… lost. But I promise, Tokyo is packed to the brim with good food, booze, and everything in between that all you have to do, is walk a few steps and BOOM. Anything you put in your mouth will taste better than whatever you last put in your mouths in your home countries.

Tokyo is so massive that even after living here for almost four years, I still stumble onto new places to eat and booze. If I don’t notate, I usually forget places I randomly find.

Last Friday, I re-discovered a bar I thought I would never find again because I forgot to notate and, well, my IG caption says it all:  “Found this super hidden bar I stumbled onto a while back and thought I would never, ever, ever be able to find again — shocked, delighted, but most of all, elated! My drink of choice: #Yamazaki Mizunara 🥃”

So if you’re planning a visit don’t be afraid to come without hours of research — Tokyo is one of the best places on the planet to wander without a plan. (Unless of course, you are looking to eat at all the Michelin spots).

And just for heck of it, here are some photos from another random bar — every piece of ice is chiseled to fit the specific glassware. So incredible! *pardon the laziness of uploading screenshots of my Insta; as of late, I don’t keep photos on my phone anymore… 

All the Feels

Tokyo
New York vibe; Tokyo flow

There’s been this tugging of my heart for a while now. Emotions well up in the back of my throat, usually followed by this hollowness and my heart tugs again. I’m feeling all the feels and I don’t know what to do; these emotions are messing me up.

I’m a thinker not a feeler. Independent, strong, fearless, and carefree, I’m the one everyone relies on, looks up to, the ‘crazy’ one who picks up and moves anywhere, achieves anything and everything I put my mind to. So what is going on? What has been going on…?

After returning from SF earlier this month I think I figured it out. I’m homesick.

In late 2013 I moved from NYC to Tokyo. It’s pretty hard to leave a city like New York.

There’s an unmatched vibrance you can’t help but pick up just walking down the street. It’s packed with people from all over the globe. Focused. Driven. Rushing. It seems like everyone has a purpose, a goal.

The colossal skyscrapers, the culture, the subcultures, the food, everything about New York is a daily reminder of how insignificant I am in this world. Manhattan humbles me and I always want to do more. See more. Be more.

New York drove me to always be the best version of me. Especially moving from SF (where I was raised) a city where everything was handed to me effortlessly and easily, I craved a challenge. Thrived on it. 

Then, I reached a cross-roads and what I loved so much about New York started weighing me down. I required a change of pace, a release, from the city that demanded so much from me, that I constantly wanted to please — needed to please — before I drowned.

In April of 2013, I visited Tokyo for 10 days. It was the first time in six years I stepped back into Japan. I was captivated.

Tokyo was bustling but not noisy. Busy, yet there was order. There was conformity but the city is so large, so diverse, there is room to be different. I knew this was the city that suited me after New York, LA, and D.C.  

So I packed all my stuff and moved.

Several years later, Tokyo still manages to constantly delight me. Surprise me. Catch me off guard.

Tokyo has everything I love about a big city and more. It’s convenient. And clean. Pockets of old within new, new within old. There are so many layers, so much history. Every day I make a new discovery within the so many things that make zero sense.

Tokyo keeps me on my toes, yet it is peaceful. Non-confrontational. Passive yet aggressive. Just like the people. My culture. My roots.

I am at ease in Tokyo. But I am also alone. My friends, family, and loved ones — my support system — are all Stateside and with every visit back, my heart aches more and more when I reach an airport to fly back to Japan.

I’ve always liked being alone and never needed people in the past. Moving abroad has changed that, changed me. Or perhaps I’m simply learning that solitude and loneliness are two very different things.  

But I know I can’t leave yet. I need to achieve something anything that defines my time here. Something that validates me … but then I wonder, is it really worth this emptiness?

I am homesick but more so, I need others for the first time ever. What do I do with all these emotions…?