Tokyo in 3 days (the food edition)

Eel and scallop on a stick at the Tsukiji fish market.

Three days in Tokyo is like being in a Katy Perry music video fast forwarded and on repeat. This megatropolis city (over 38 million including surrounding Tokyo) has more food, anime cats, vending machines, black suits, and bars per square foot. I thought NYC and Europe had some of the most creative ways to squeeze toilets, sinks and kitchens into tiny box-size apartments, but Tokyo wins.

On this whirlwind tour we were walking from 8am — 1am, speaking a hodgepodge of “Ja-nglish”, (more English than Japanese, but I tried), and eating (on average) every hour. Some of our eating highlights go like this:

Shinjuku —Ready for breakfast, we woke up and made it over to Shinjuku, a massive shopping area that also features the famous Omoide Yokocho (yakkitori alleyways). “Hole-in-the-wall” must have been born out of these tiny vendor shops. Lots of tourists walk by, but seem too scared to enter. When I travel, I find it’s a good idea not to be timid, especially when it comes to talking to people and trying food (especially in Japan).

So, we popped into a yakitori stall (surprisingly) run by a young woman and ordered a quick snack: shisito peppers, bacon wrapped asparagus, and chicken skins served with a sweet terriyaki sauce. It’s the simple pleasures.

Omoide Yokocho — yakitori alleyway in Shinjuku. Literal hole-in-the-walls that are not for the average tourist.

Tsukiji fish market
The biggest fish and wholesale food market in the world and probably one of the oldest — it was moved to Tsukjii neighborhood in 1935 after the earthquake. It is actually moving again this year (outside of Tokyo), so really glad we got to see this historic landmark. This place is packed with tourists oggling over dishes of sushi and large tuna arriving off ships, packed in ice. It is also full of locals buying fish for the day, or out for Saturday brunch. Sushi here is expensive, but for good reason, the quality and freshness merits the price, not to mention that overfishing makes this resource scarce and precious.

Catch of the day at Tsukiji fish market.
Sharing a sushi bowl: uni, ikura, maguro, seared maguro & toro.

Japanese curry
So glad I got to see my good friend, Rie, who I met while living in Paris. I told Rie we wanted to eat the best Japanese curry. She said that normally people don’t go out for curry, they make it at home, but she found Hinoya, a small restaurant known for being one of the best. Yea, so… I wish I could eat here every week!

Fun times ordering food in Japan — sometimes restaurants have a vending machine for ordering: slide in money, press the button for the menu item you want, grab a ticket and present it to the chefs to cook up. The tricky part is that menu items are not written in English and unless you read Hiragana or there are food pictures, a blind guessing game ensues. Thanks to Rie, we ordered 3 katsu (pork) curries from the ticket machine.

Japanese curry, unlike Indian, or Southeast Asian curry, is not spicy. But it is so f’ing delicious. Hands down, unforgettable, and the best curry I have had.

All done.

Scallops & Sapporo
Ueno park — known as the electronics and anime quarter, but really you can find anything here. Street markets lined with cheap clothes, vintage camera, handbag, and high-end watch dealers, and street food and small restaurants everywhere. Between the teeshirt and sneaker vendors we meandered through stalls of fish mongers selling octopus, scallops, sea urchin, bonito...on and on. Tired from all the market walking and about 30 minutes after devouring a huge plate of Japanese curry, we ducked into a stall for some grilled scallops and Sapporo. Yum.

Beer is everywhere in Japan, like in vending machins that are on every block, and in street food stalls.
Grilled scallop at a street food vendor in Ueno Park.