Friday 20 September 2013

Gourmet tour of Tokyo

My sister SJ, who visited a couple of weeks ago, is a foodie.  She loves going to restaurants, trying different kinds of food.  In a previous post I wrote about going out to dinner with a friend (Eriko) who is a food and wine writer here in Tokyo.  She had said to me that when my sister came to Tokyo, she wanted to take us on a gourmet tour of Tokyo.  As soon as SJ heard about that, that was one day already planned.  It was nice of Eriko to take time out of her schedule to do this as she was packing and preparing to leave for France to live for a year one week later to study gastronomy and write articles for the magazine she writes for (if any of my Japanese readers would like to know which magazine she writes for, you can find the website here)

We met Eriko and her friend Akiko outside of Tsukiji station.  Tsukiji is home to the world's biggest fish and seafood market.  Prior to 1923, the fish market was located at Nihonbashi but after the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 that destroyed large parts of Tokyo it was rebuilt at it's current location in Tsukiji.  The fish market will soon move again to Toyosu as the location in Tsukiji is considered prime real estate and it wouldn't surprise me if the land is used for the Olympic Games of 2020 in some way.

We started walking toward the market.  It was about 12pm and most of the action at the market had died down (the activity at the market starts at about 3am, so 12pm is the end of the day!).  There were, however still a lot of stalls selling to the public.  Most of it was selling seafood

of one variety

or anotherHighly prized tuna, really expensive here.

Some amazingly huge crabs!

Not everything is fish though.  There are vegetable stalls.  These are wasabi plants that when ground down, makes the beautifully spicy wasabi paste used for sushi and sashimi.

Mushrooms.......yes, mushrooms.  These are Matsutake mushrooms.  They are highly valued for their smell as well as their taste.


I saw a guy dragging a bucket along the ground, too heavy for him to carry it and I stole a look at what was in the bucket......

a giant tuna head!  If the head was too heavy for him to carry, you can imagine how heavy it was with it's body attached!

Finally we arrived at our first stop of the day, Daiwa Sushi.  Sorry that the photo is not really clear, but the link will take you to a review and information about the restaurant.

The restaurant is very popular, especially at breakfast when you can wait in line for a long time.  We got there at about 12:30 and only waited 5 minutes and we were in.

The man closest to camera seemed to be the head guy there and we were lucky enough that he was serving us.  He was a friendly guy and said that the restaurant had been open since the 1950's and he had been a sushi chef for about 27 years.  The sushi started coming out, and we all started with the best, magoro and toro, both cuts of tuna, very soft and tender, they were almost melting in my mouth!

Next, they brought out some miso soup, soul food!

This piece was mackerel I think.

I must apologise as I kept forgetting to take photos of everything we ordered.  Just as well I don't do a food blog!  Next up (that I took photos of at least) was some tuna rolls.

Sitting in refrigerated glass display cases were all of the slabs of fish that they were slicing away at to make each piece.

Chatting away to the chef I mentioned that I was from a place in Australia called Port Lincoln which is famous for being Australia's biggest tuna town and that each year there is a festival in January that celebrates tuna.  One of the more interesting events at the festival is the tuna toss (you can find some youtube footage here).  I showed him a photo and he thought it was hilarious!!

Feeling very satisfied, we paid the bill and made our way outside and on to our next destination.

Next stop on the gourmet tour was the shopping district of Ginza.  Eriko's favourite soba noodle restaurant is located there.  It is called Narutomi (and here is the official website in Japanese).

Stepping inside, the interior was nicely decorated with classic style wood furniture.  The menu came out and we left the ordering to Eriko (on the left) and Akiko (on the right).

and luckily we did, as the results were spectacular!  Eggplant (or aubergine depending on where you are from),

some tempura,

soba noodles

and tempura in broth

 It was the best soba I have eaten!  The place settings were really nice and rustic.

Feeling full all over again (1 hour after I got full last time) we rolled out of the soba place and headed off to a nearby Jewellery shop that is owned by one of Akiko's friends, a lady from Australia together with her Japanese husband.  Along the way, we passed a big Kabuki (taditional Japanese theatre) theatre.

We arrived at the jewellery shop (Atelier Shinji) where they have a shop and also their production area downstairs.  Some of the pieces were absolutely beautiful.  I took some photos but some of them didn't turn out so well.  I had the "food shakes" after having eaten too much sushi and soba, so you can check out some much better photos on their website here.  Some photos did turn out ok though, so here they are.

Really nice pieces.  As I said, my photos don't really do the quality of the craftsmanship and detail justice, so feel free to have a look at their website for some much better photos.

We left the shop ready to head to our next destination on the gourmet tour which was located in the district of Roppongi.  Roppongi is well know for being an entertainment district popular with Japanese and foreigners alike, but there is a classier side to it as well.  Tokyo Midtown is home to a classy and stylish shops, restaurants and a museum.  It was also home to our next stop, Toraya a classy cafe that does coffee, tea and Japanese sweets.  There was a line-up so we stood waiting our turn patiently and gradually we moved our way closer to the door.  Finally our wait was over and we made our way inside.  They brought over an English menu so SJ and I could order comfortably.  I ordered coffee and a beautiful Japanese sweet which took my breath away when it arrived.  It was just amazing.  I felt bad eating it, but happy after I finished!!

I wasn't sure if anything could top this but I was prepared to find out.  We jumped on a bus and made our way to Shibuya for the last stop on the tour.

"Fujiya Honten" is a very old standing bar that is always full, always buzzing with conversation, and always cheap!  All you have to do is put down whatever amount of money you would like to spend for the time you are there and start ordering.  The staff simply take the price of whatever you order out of the money you have placed on the bar and when it is all used, your night is finished.  This concept wouldn't work in many other countries but Japan is a country where you can trust that the staff will only take the exact amount!

We started ordering and first came some edamame (salted boiled soy beans).

Next was some Karaage (fried chicken, or JFC as my friends in Australia know it as!), some fried shumai (dumplings) and some tofu salad.

The place has an open kitchen so everyone can see what is happening there.

You could tell it was a place that has a lot of regulars as the staff were chatting away to everyone.  One of them even had a chat to me about baseball in English as he saw I was wearing an LA Dodgers shirt.

All too soon, the gourmet tour was over.   Thanks so much to Eriko for showing us around, and showing us a little slice of the gourmet that Tokyo has to offer.  A little known fact is that Japan has more Michelin star restaurants than France, so it mustn't have been easy for her to choose where to take us!

And with that, SJ's visit to Japan was nearly over.  I loved having her here and showing her all of the many sides to Japan.  I think she left with a pretty good idea of why I now call Japan home.

Thanks again for reading, and feel free to leave comments.  See you again soon.


  1. Hi again Jason,another interesting blog.Eating in Japan was a real pleasure for me too.The food was always tasty and fresh and there were so many intersting little restaurants that cooked just the one thing,but with many variations.Whilst in Ginza,I did find a wonderful noodle place and there I ate preference over soba and ramen.I suppose by now you are slurping your noodles,like most people do in Nihon.I may have told you this story before,that whilst I was eating udon at Nagoya Eki,the person next to me, asked me why I wasn't slurping my noodles.I explained that in Aust. we are taught not to make this"sucking in" sound whilst having soup.He went onto explain that to get the best flavour,it was best to slurp and that it also helped to not scald your throat and also,by eating quickly, we save time..I guess to get back to work.I don't know how true all this is,but I suspect slurping does help in the eating process for all of these reasons.The only trouble is with noodles,one tends to splash one's clothes... a bit like eating pasta and you can never remove the stains it seems.Bye for now and keep slurping,Noel.^_^

    1. Hi Noel,
      always a pleasure to read your thoughts. You are right about restaurants here. They mostly cook the one style of food rather than the western approach where a large variety of dishes is cooked.
      As far as noodles go, I haven't mastered the slurping method. Every time I try, I end up choking myself! I try to avoid noodles on the days I am working so I don't splash my work shirt!!
      Looking forward to the Grand Final. I hope Freo can get up!

  2. Hi Jason,I'm with you,but the Hawks look too strong up front...but then again Freo are strong in defense.Norwood look like taking out the cup here..West and North thrash it out this weekend..the Eagles should have beaten both these teams after leading for most of the time,but ran out of legs in the end and were inaccurate in front of goal.I have a feeling Mitchell of the Hawks may win the Brownlow tonight and Selwood of the Cats should go close.Ablett is the red hot favourite.Goodwin is looking to leave the Dons,Crameri one suspects will go to the Bulldogs and Wellman has packed his bags and is leaving the football scene.Mark Harvey is a possibility to coach the Dons next year.The announcement should be in the next 2 weeks I feel.Good to see the AFL have dropped their case against.Dr.Bruce Reid.Still talk of infraction notices against some Essendon players,but the AFl deny this;but don't deny the possibility depending on further investigations by ASADA.As a matter of interest,does your laptop keyboard have hiragana under the roman letters and are you learning to type in hiragana to your Nihonjin tomodachi?Noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      I see Ablett got the Brownlow. It's hard to believe that he has dominated the competition for so long yet has only won 2 of them!
      I saw that Westies went down to Norwood on the weekend. I am hoping my Bloods get over North this week then pull off the impossible. It has been a long wait since 1983! It's a shame that Goodwin will leave. I was really hoping to have him around for a while. Is Bomber Thompson staying?
      My laptop is the same one I had in Australia, so there is no hiragana. I am trying to master reading and writing hiragana and katakana. That will make life a lot easier!
      Anyway, take care Noel and enjoy Grand Final week!

  3. Hi Jason,

    Thank you for passing by our workshop/store with Akiko and also writing about it!
    It looks like you had a great gourmet tour day in Tokyo! :-)
    Please feel free to pass by and say hello next time you are in the area.

    Btw, recently we have launched two websites about our travel tips in Japan.
    One is about the Japanese islands that we recommend, and another one for Tokyo from a local designer perspective. Please feel free to check them out.

    Islands of Japan - tips by Ippei & Janine:

    Tokyo Tips by Ippei & Janine:

    Ippei and Janine

    1. Hi Ippei,
      thanks for leaving a comment. The day, including the visit to your shop was a great adventure.
      I will check out the websites. Visiting an island is high on my list of things that I want to do, not only for myself, but also for the blog.
      Take care,

    2. Hi Jason,
      If you need any tips, please feel free to ask us. We have visited so many islands in Japan (not many enough as Japan has 6,852 islands!) and we try to visit a different island every few months.
      If you are interested, you can see our photos from the Japanese islands we have visited recently from the link below:

      Best regards,
      Ippei & Janine