All we could do, is laugh. As we rush out of my favorite fish on sticks place* to hail a cab, the rain is coming down mean and hard. The sidewalks are overfilling with steep puddles and I swear I see Noah’s Arc with elephants and giraffes lined up two-by-two heading our way.
“Should I call an Uber?” he asks. “This is Tokyo. Ubers are unnecessary.” I say. He looks back at me a bit skeptical and just when he was about to whip out his phone I spy an empty cab I successfully flag down. “See?” I say and he smiles, holds the umbrella up near the door as I rush in. Even with him shielding the rain with our shared umbrella, the downpour is so aggressive I’m immediately drenched. He climbs in after me making sound effects. He is wetter than I. We look at each other and laugh. The cab driver laughs — first at his gibberish, then with us as I say, “only thing left to do is laugh.”
200th post on this little blog of mine, thank you to those reading and especially those who leave a comment or two. It’s nice to know there are actually people out there interested in Japan and Japanese food. Updating this blog has been so much fun and I love sharing things about my culture, country, people and especially foods! Also, I’m such a food nerd and on occassion include things unrelated to Japan, so again, thank you to those who continuously read and check this site.
On this (self-proclaimed) special occasion, I am going to share something that I’ve been hesitating to share for quite some time; since May, to be precise. A huge part of the struggle is because I don’t want to ruin the magic for those who are visiting or planning to visit Tokyo and… Tsukiji.
Early this year, I started a pet project: Mission Daily Tsukiji in which I was determined to get to know the market inside-out before they move. What initiated this was a random solo visit after several extremely sour experiences. Going to the market alone felt like I was visiting some place completely different and fell head over heels in love.
After a week of research (googling, reading tons of blogs but in the end, I bought four Tsukiji guides in Japanese) gained enough confidence in my command of the market. Tsukiji is pretty overwhelming and once I’m standing inside of the market, everything I thought I knew or remember flies out of my head and I wander around lost, not knowing where to go or what to eat. So I built a plan.
Several months of daily visits to the stores and markets, eating at almost all the sushi places and non-sushi places including random food stands, getting to know the people of the market and asking them where their favorite places are and eating at those places, I got to know the market extremely well and realized something quickly.
It’s an ungodly hour in Tokyo but the fish market is alive and buzzing. We get there at 3:30am but barely make the cut into the second group to view the tuna auction. We walk through the door and given vests. The first group is bright green. We, the second group, put on blue ones. The room looks like a pretty big storage room cleaned out and turned into a waiting room. Hard concrete floors, bright halogen lights and white walls makes the room more reminiscent of a looney bin. I am the only Japanese and almost feel like a refugee waiting for Japanese immigration to give me permission to enter the country. It is not a pleasant experience.
Apparently, I texted a friend this photo who kindly sent it back to me. Sort of hilarious this is the only photo I have after my big, sad ordeal. We’ve been sitting around this room for hours and finally the first group goes out into the auction room. We stand around for a few more minutes and it’s our turn.
Being the only Japanese is a bit of a blessing and a curse. The workers are shocked a Japanese national is actually participating in the auction viewing but more so, I learn things I perhaps would rather not know. There are the things I learned.
Heads up: this may take the magic out of the experience if you are planning to go so I’m putting it behind a jump.
I scoured the Internet for a quote about what I’m feeling right now and nothing came even close to expressing this ultimate bummer. It might be a little dramatic but I lost my phone after an epic week of good food, drinks, laughter and adventures. There were so many once in a lifetime memories documented on my iPhone and to think it’s gone and lost forever makes me really sad.
I can’t believe I lost my phone the week I finally made it to the tuna auction in Tsukiji on a random Monday with endless down pour. Both of us were drenched. The waiting area to be escorted to the auction was jam packed by 3:30am and we barely made the cut to take part. The morning finished off with an incredible sushi breakfast which included a tiger prawn still alive and moving. Visited Gen Yamamoto. Raged in Golden Gai and accidentally opened up a bottle of champagne because we asked for sparkling (as in water) but they thought we asked for sparkling wine. Visited a bunch of quirky fun bars all over Tokyo — B Bar, the Baccarat bar in Tokyo was one of them… on and on the list continues.
I captured a bunch of precious moments so close to my heart, now locked only in my memories. It seriously bums me out. I guess I can try to write as much as I remember but it still really blows how I lost all the photos.
It’s a bit scary how reliant I am on my device. Even if I only take quick snaps I am still devestated I don’t have the photos anymore. Regardless of how mediocre the shots are. I’m writing this off as a reminder to be grateful for the memories I had the opportunity to make with some pretty incredible people.
When products hit shelves of high end and or trendy grocery stores it is a pretty good indicator that it will soon become explosively popular in Tokyo. I’ve been seeing granola and trail mixes, Greek yogurt but, the one thing that excites me more than anything is Rooster Sauce! Or Sriracha, as it is most commonly known.
For those who don’t know Sriracha it’s a widely loved condiment that hails from the U.S. Most people are a bit surprised to learn it was invented in America and became as ubiquitous as ketchup with zero marketing. The back story of how Rooster Sauce came to be epitomizes the American Dream. If you’re interested you can read about it here and here and here.
One of the biggest surprises when people visit Tokyo is how heat isn’t really a flavor profile in Japan. There are Sichuan pepper corns which evolved to suit a Japanese palate called sanshō, typically used with udon thick wheat noodels or unajyu eel over rice bowl. There is a seven chili pepper spice called shichimi tōgarashi used with noodles, sprinkled over grilled foods like yakitori and bowl foods donburi 丼. Rāyu which is a hot chili oil that is originally Chinese used in ramen but we don’t really use punch-in-your-face hot like Tabasco, habanero sauces and Sriracha.
As someone raised in the States, hot sauces are widely used and I even went as far as carrying my own bottle of Tabasco to sprinkle on foods at chain restaurants like Denny’s, IHOP, and diners. I used to douse almost all my food with Tabasco. When Sriracha came into the picture, I replaced Tabasco with it and used to carry my own bottle of that in my purse. I know, I’m weird.
I don’t really use hot sauce anymore, especially since moving to Japan but Sriracha has a special place in my heart. I never knew I could get excited over something as ordinary as hot sauce but when I saw these Sriracha potato chips, I had to buy them. And of course, document it here.
I estimate around a year before there is a massive boom.
You heard it here first, everyone! #braggingrights
The man in a tie and slightly wrinkled, baggy white shirt swiftly chooses three old fashioned porcelain cups with matching saucers out of hundreds, lined up on a wooden cabinet built into the back wall. He picks each cup up, lifting them above his head towards the light, thoroughly examines them, then swipes each cup with a crisp white cotton towel. He does the same to the matching saucers. Lift up towards the light. Examine. Wipe down.
My friend and I sitting side by side at the bar looked at each other and exchanged a silent: wtf. Who is he? And what is this place?!
Chatei Hato is an extremely old school coffee shop located in an alley on the non-busy side of Shibuya. (Non-busy side = opposite from the famous Shibuya crossing.) The interior seems to be in tact from when it was built over 25 years ego.
The master (masutā, as we pronounce in Japanese) is the neck tied gentleman responsible for the pours. Each cup of coffee takes about 15 – 20 minutes and boy, is this place something else.
I first visited back in July and failed to write about it until now. A chef friend and I were meeting Namae-san (of L’Effervescence) who suggested three cafes. He texted verbatim: “Fuglen Tokyo— a cozy place to sit and talk. The Roastery — a nice place to sit. Closer to Harajuku. Chatei Hato will be an experience. James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, says this is the original idea of third wave coffee.”
Which is how we ended up here.
Third wave coffee, by the way, is the high-end coffee movement in which the cafe invests in curated high quality, specialty beans which are ground to order. Then there is special care put into the brew, pour, temperature, etc.
We arrived right at opening and sat at the massive wood bar and was immediately greeted by this ↓
A handwritten menu which changes daily. My chef friend chose the Brazilian blend I believe and Namae-san asked the masutā for a coffee, masutā’s choice that is low in acidity — or sanmi 酸味 — as we say in Japanese. I stopped drinking coffee in January but I couldn’t sit in this coffee shop, right in front of the masutā and not order coffee. So I chose what Namae-san was having.
As soon as we placed our coffee orders, it was like the curtains drew up in a theater and the three of us sat frozen in awe, as we silently watched the masutā, this coffee magician, go to work. I never knew such a simple act as scooping and grinding coffee beans then pouring a cup of coffee could be so artistic.
And the level of care and detail going into each and every cup he pours is astounding. He even pours hot water into a coffee cup, pours the hot water into the saucers so they are the same temperature as the cup.
They serve lattes, cafe au laits, and teas and other beverages. I don’t know about you but as a patron, I would be extremely uneasy to order anything but a straight cup of black coffee. Which is why I broke my no coffee streak and ended up drinking one cup (which had me wired for a while afterwards).
This place is definitely a Japan only experience and a must go for all coffee lovers!
Chatei Hato Drop this into Google Maps↓ 東京都渋谷区渋谷1-15-19
Open daily from 11 am – 11 pm (last order is at 11 pm)
No website, no English menu
Decided to try Luke’s Lobster again – this time, a lobster roll instead of a crab roll unlike last time. Also, with another New Yorker who eats Luke’s back home.
I took a bite just to try it and it was exactly like I thought. The lobster is like imitation crab. I kept mum as I didn’t want to ruin the experience for him but he said the same thing: “It’s good but the lobster has weird texture and there’s seasoning on it.”
This time, I made sure to ask Luke Lobster’s staff if 1. the lobster is shipped from Maine (it is) and 2. if the rolls are shipped from Maine as well (it isn’t).
Luke’s in NY probably tastes better, as they freshly pack Maine lobster every morning and transport to NY to be used within the day. Luke’s in NY probably tastes ten time better than the one in Tokyo. The fresh lobster probably doesn’t require seasoning as well.