In September, I was lucky enough to be able go to Tokyo with Stella for two whole weeks. In those two weeks, we got to do, see, and eat so much. And I'm so thankful for the experience.
For the first of what will probably be many posts about Tokyo, I wanted to talk about food. (Of course!)
Tokyo has a ridiculously great food culture. No joke.
In my two weeks there, we both agreed that every meal was, at the very least, okay. For the most part, every meal was good, if not great.
Those great meals though, earned their way to a special spot in my heart, and need some special mention. I've listed my absolute favourite meals during our two weeks there, in chronological order.
Let's get started.
On our first full day in Tokyo, we had just come out of a fantastic showing at the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, when we wandered over to Golden Gai for one of our first ramen experiences in Tokyo: Nagi.
Walking our way up the steep and narrow stairway, we were greeted by a friendly face who explained that we could pay for our orders at the vending machine (our first experience doing that too!) and hand our tickets to him.
Once we picked our orders (we both opted for the niboshi ramen, which is an anchovy broth!), we handed our tickets to the person who greeted us, who then informed the chef of our orders.
After a few minutes of waiting in a pair of cramped seats in a corner of this tiny little ramen-ya, the chef handed us two bowls of some of the best ramen I've ever seen and smelled.
The broth was rich and tasty, the soft boiled egg was perfect, the meat was generous with the portions and delicious, the anchovy flavour permeating with every bite, and the noodles were cooked just right.
Oh man. I'm getting hungry just remembering how good this was.
During our first week in Tokyo, both Stella and I were working during the day. Generally, I worked out of our AirBnb, because of the easy access to electrical outlets and comfortable seating.
On one of those days, I decided to venture out for a quick and easy lunch, stopping in front of Shinbu Sakiya.
"Ooh, ramen!", I said to myself, as I began to read the different options on the vending machine.
"Wait, ¥1020 for a special miso noodle bowl with extra meat and extra noodles? Sign me up!"
I quickly paid for my order and walked in.
The quiet little ramen-ya became loud for an instant as the few people working inside shouted their greetings. I bowed and smiled, and handed someone my order as they showed me to a free seat.
Looking around, I noticed a layout that would become relatively common for me to see inside of many restaurants in Tokyo: countertops lining every possible wall outside of the kitchen, and individual stools evenly spaced around the room.
And then, my ramen came.
They were not kidding when they said extra meat.
My photos for this bowl are pretty bad because I took them with my phone, but oh man. Perfectly cooked meat, broth was just the right level of salt and tasted so good, with very springy, thick noodles. The vegetables were a great addition for texture purposes, and the soft boiled egg was absolutely on point.
I really, really enjoyed this bowl of ramen, to the point that Stella asked to come here right before we left for the airport to return home. We each got a bowl of miso noodle with egg.
While not the number one ramen from Tokyo in my heart, it left me absolutely satisfied and wondering if I should go for more.
The only thing stopping me was knowing that I was just being greedy, since my stomach was actually ready to burst from the amount of food in that bowl.
After a rainy day (common theme of our trip) of exploring the city, we ended up at Nodaiwa for a very early dinner.
We came early because we had read that Nodaiwa, which had made a reputation for itself over 200 years of serving perfectly cooked wild eel, would often get very busy and would have insane wait times.
After putting our name down on the list, our names were called after about 25 minutes of waiting in the tiny little reception area. ("Yu-sama!" is how they called us, I loved it.)
The main dining area seemed to be too full and busy to seat us, but we followed the lady dressed in a kimono (which was the attire for all staff) to the alternate dining room, which was a short walk away.
We both went for "Unagi Sanraku", which was a three course meal consisting of an appetizer, shiriyaki (grilled eel without the rice), and unaju (grilled eel with sauce, served in a lacquered box with rice).
The appetizer was called "nikogori", from what I remember, which is actually eel in jelly. Each piece was a solidified block of jelly and eel, and each bite was bursting with incredible flavour.
I really wished there was more...
Next, was the "shiriyaki" course, which is the grilled eel served without sauce and without rice.
It looks simple, because it is.
You really get to taste just how fresh and tasty that wild eel can be, without its sauce or accompanying rice. Cooked to perfection, too.
Last, but definitely not least, was the "unaju" course. Grilled eel, with sauce, on a bed of rice, served in a lacquered black box, along side a host of side dishes.
Talk about delicious. Oh man.
Melt in your mouth texture, cooked to absolute perfection, with the delicate balance in flavours and textures of the sauce, the eel, and the rice.
Every bite was bliss, and I was even happy to eat the extra rice that Stella couldn't finish.
What a meal.
And something we learned later, is that Nodaiwa has a Michelin Star. Given the quality of the meal we had there, we were not surprised at all, and we were both glad that we got to eat at a restaurant in Tokyo with a Michelin Star!
Yakiniku in Tokyo was definitely in the plans, and we were recommended Kintan for its high quality and value.
After sitting down and having our server walk us through the menu (in English, no less!), we ordered a set course of various meats and vegetables for grilling, with appetizers and salads before, and a dessert at the end.
I'll mostly let the photos do the talking here, but you can see just how gorgeous this meat is. I believe the above is beef tongue and beef tenderloin.
It grilled easily and quickly, and was delicious on its own or dipped into one of the array of sauces that we were given. In addition, after every course had been served, cooked, and eaten, our very attentive server would come and replace the grill for us.
Every. Single. Time.
Man, that meat was fantastic.
Our meal at Kintan was a great experience, from start to finish. It was one of the pricier places that we ended up eating at, but the value is definitely on point. If you're a fan of really great meats and amazing service, like we are, then you'd also love Kintan.
One of my favourite places that we went in Tokyo, and one of my favourite meals, was inside of Ebisu Yokocho.
Ebisu Yokocho is an awesome place: called an "izakaya arcade", it's essentially a repurposed shopping mall, where food stalls have set up where retail stores used to be, and have started serving food and drink to the numerous guests that walk through its halls.
We did a full walk through from end to end, and were amazed at just how many people were there for dinner and socializing on a regular (and rainy) week night. Wall to wall tables and seats, with a thin space for people to walk through, in their search for an empty space at any of the stalls.
Stella managed to find an empty table at a random stall, which was great, because we were happy to sit and eat anywhere.
Thus, began our meal at Kinoko.
Kinoko is something special: an izakaya that specializes in mushrooms.
As in, many (possibly all?) dishes involve mushrooms in some way, shape, or form. Izakaya fare meant that plates were small, and snack sized, but the variety available was mind boggling.
We picked out about seven or eight dishes that piqued our interest, placed our order with our very busy server, and also asked for a couple of beers to really complete the experience.
This was whale sashimi.
I have a history of picking the weirdest or most interesting things on the menu, and I demanded we order this. At worst, I stated, we would get some goofy dish that's some play on words with whale.
At best, which is what we got, was the brand new experience of eating whale sashimi.
Buttery yet firm, each bite was tremendously flavourful. Paired with the enoki mushrooms sitting underneath and the flavourful soy sauce, the whale sashimi was a fantastic way to start our meal at Kinoko.
Mixed mushrooms sautéed in butter.
It sounds simple, and it was, but it was amazing. The flavour of the mushrooms managed to shine brightly, as though accentuated by the butter, and I'm pretty sure we both devoured this one as quickly as we could.
Deep fried stuffed mushrooms, with ground meat cutlet.
I remember we made these two disappear pretty much the second the touched the table. Maybe not that quickly, because I do remember them being quite hot.
So damned good, though.
I'm not actually sure if there was any mushroom in the chicken karaage, but we really wanted to give karaage a try in Tokyo, and boy, were we not disappointed.
Cooked perfectly. And I've thrown that around a lot in this post, but come on, how the heck are you making this chicken karaage so damned well, single person cooking in the kitchen?!
Kinoko was probably my favourite meal during our time in Tokyo. There's something about being surrounded by the loud and cacophonous mess inside of Ebisu Yokocho, sitting at an izakaya while eating and drinking delicious food.
It felt surreal, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to experience it.
While these were just my favourite meals, we definitely ate at many more places!
Stella wrote a lovely piece on all the cheap, fast foods we had in Tokyo, and you can be certain that this won't be my last piece on Tokyo!
I definitely can't wait to go back.