A day for culinary challenges17 March, 2011 by Chad
Today was essentially a free day to secure some minor goals and loose knots. We made plans in the morning to meet up with Bryan, who runs Japan Bash and Ramen Adventures. Yan was a long time fan of his ramen blog and myself an avid follower of his travel experiences. Together we’d tackle a secluded restaurant, that apparently served Pizza Ramen.
We dropped by Tokyo Station since it was on the way. There were renovations going on outside but business was as normal in the underground shopping area. Yan wanted to make the stop to get some nama ramen from a famous tsukemen shop here called Rokurinsha but they refused to sell him any. It wasn’t that they didn’t want the business but rather prided themselves in serving only their ramen fresh, any ramen ordered to go here had to be consumed within the hour.
So off to Oimachi Station East Exit where we had agreed to meet Bryan. Wilson and Yan decided to split up to look around the area after waiting for a while and seeing no sign of the tall dude.
Wilson returned some time later with Bryan whom he found waiting at the Tokyu Station instead. We had made a similar mistake on our first day by not determining an exit. Note to self, confirm the station too next time.
The shop was a distance away from the station, unmarked and hidden along one of the side streets. Bryan lead the way, while Yan chatted excitedly about noodles.
Eventually we found our way to ajito, which was indistinguishable from all the other buildings in the alley. There was a certain indie vibe to the shop, which was decorated with posters of different Western musicians and punk rock music played in the background. The friendly owner wondered how an American and a bunch of Singaporeans managed to stumble upon his shop.
Our purpose for visiting ajito was the novel Pizza Soba (Ramen is known as Chinese soba in Japan). The dish is only served here on Wednesdays, though the owner mentioned that he was thinking of making it a permanent menu item.
There were two versions of the Pizza Soba, a “Standard” version which was served with salami and anchovies and a “Buta Tama” version with the familiar soft boiled ramen egg and pork spare ribs. You could also choose from a small, medium or large portion of noodles. Bryan decided to go for a medium sized standard, which the owner jokingly warned was pretty huge. Yan went with a medium butatama version, while Wilson and I decided to play it safe with a small size standard.
Our orders came soon enough and Bryan remarked that the medium sized bowl was indeed rather large, to which the owner laughed and replied the Japanese equivalent of “I told you so”. The noodles were the thick chewy kind and the dish resembled a kind of tsukemen, my greatest weakness. Had it been any other broth, it would had likely been unpalatable for me and the pizza flavor definitely helped to make the dish lighter and more enjoyable. Even the smallest bowl was kind of big though when you consider how starchy tsukemen noodles are.
We went our separate ways later as Bryan had a lesson to teach. Wilson returned to Harajuku to do some shopping while Yan wanted to return to Nakano to check out more AKB48 stuff. I needed to get another luggage bag since the one I had now was already full. There was a Don Quijote near Nakano station so I tagged along
We returned to Trio2, which was the shop that dealt in reselling official AKB48 photos. As I had mentioned before, the stuff here weren’t exactly affordable though. The newest or rarest stuff graced the front of the shop. The photos you got randomly from newer theater CDs started at 1000 yen. With the older Sakura no Shiori and Junen Zakura ones going from 3000 to 7000 yen. Crazy stuff.
Over at the back of the shop items were sorted by member. Items from the more popular members were packaged individually, while the less popular photos were put on racks along the wall. The most popular girls went for 1575 yen ($24) each after tax, while the rest of the senbatsu members went for 1050 yen ($16). The undergirls and theater girls sold for 840 ($13) and 525 yen ($8) respectively.
Sato Natsuki’s went for 105 yen each and were placed in a sad corner by the floor. I wonder what she did to deserve that. Though not a big fan, one of my pet projects was to assemble her Visual Book photos so I bent down in the corner to look through the pictures, to which the Japanese guy beside remarked in surprise “Eh? Nande?” which roughly translates to “Huh? What for?”.
Nothing suitable turned up at Don Quijote. On our way back to the station we made a quick stop at the cake shop I was eyeing at Nakano Sun Mall a branch of an old sweets chain called Ginza Cozy Corner. The colorful pastries were just asking to be eaten. Cozy Corner only sells cakes to go, so I grabbed a couple for later.
One of Yan’s goals for the trip was to ride a jet coaster and what better coaster to ride than the Thunder Dolphin at LaQua.
Sadly, I had heard news prior to our trip that a man had met with a fatal accident at Tokyo Dome City a couple weeks ago and the park was closed until further notice. But Yan wasn’t about to admit defeat so easily and urged to to take a look anyways. So it was off to Suidobashi next. We had time to kill before meeting back with Wilson at Shibuya in the evening anyways.
Sure enough both Tokyo Dome City and LaQua had all but shut down. With the rides left awaiting a future inspection perhaps, though the accident wasn’t so much to do with the rides than human error. The only things still open were the food outlets, supermarket and adjacent department store.
What would Singaporeans normally do when they have free time on their hands? Eat of course.
Yan spotted a cart belonging to the franchise of crepes that we previously saw in Osaka. It’s the same one that Minegishi goes to in 600sec and he decided to order the exact same thing, the onsen egg salad crepe.
Also chanced upon a Baskin Robbins. It’s the largest ice cream franchise in the world so you can pretty much find one everywhere. Everywhere except Singapore that is.
Ordered a variant of the Strawberry Sunday which was advertised at the front of the store. There were an assortment of seasonal flavors in addition to their normal offerings. Decided to go with “Tea and Scones” flavor. It was sweet and affordable too as far as ice cream parlors go. There were real scone bits inside.
Yan wanted something else but somehow ended up ordering some flavor with pop rocks inside called “Popping Shower”. Unique to say the least.
Met up with Wilson at Shibuya where we’d spend the rest of the evening. Yan wanted to bask in the atmosphere of the crossing. Personally I hate the crowds but at least it wasn’t a weekend. Some crazy white guys were doing handstands in the middle of the road.
Since we were in the area, we thought we’d might as well drop by Red Chili Restaurant from the Top 10 Spiciest Foods in Tokyo.
The restaurant was located in a dark basement along the main shopping street, just a couple blocks down where the old HMV used to be. As the name suggests, it sold a variety of chili based dishes with hot pot their seeming specialty. It was run by a bunch of young Indian guys so you could trust the place to be spicy.
It wasn’t quite time for dinner yet so we thought we could run in just to try the Dangerous Super Habanero Chicken but the unfriendly waiter insisted on a cover charge and us ordering their overpriced drinks. I guess some could say it was kind of impolite of us to just go in to try the chicken but you’d think the staff would have been more humoring of our challenge. The waiter returned repeatedly to urge us to buy more food in the 20 minutes that we waited.
The wings came with a hotness level ranging from 1 to 5, with 5 claiming to be the spiciest chicken wings you’d eat. Of course it was going to be level 5.
The chicken was cooked in and covered with habanero powder which is about 40-70 times spicier than the jalapeno based chicken at Sunset Grill & Pub. The waiter passed us gloves because apparently they were too hot to touch or something.
I’m not particularly good with chili, so it came as a disappointment that the wings just weren’t as spicy as I imagined. Sure it was spicier than anything I had eaten so far but it was bearable. The wings weren’t burnt like the one at Sunset Grill so they actually proved to be actually rather tasty. I’d definitely have eaten more, if not for the fact that each wing cost 200 yen ($3.20) and they didn’t even give you the drumlet part.
Yan suffered some after effects though since it didn’t cross his mind and the time that pairing beer with spicy food wasn’t the best of ideas. So we took it slowly while searching for the Tower Records that he wanted to check out.
Despite having came to Shibuya countless times, I’ve never actually been there but Wilson remembered passing by a couple days ago while we were busy wotaing. It took us quite a while to find it, eventually having to resort to asking a police box for directions.
There was a large aiko exhibit at the back of the store promoting the release of her new album. It had a time line of her single releases among other things. Yan’s a big aiko fan so he grabbed some of the fliers on display.
aiko had created some personalized messages and decorations for where her CDs were on display. There was also a scrapbook where fans could write back to her. Perfume had left a similar book for their upcoming new single.
Kuwata Keisuke (of Southern All Stars fame) had just released his solo album today. There were large banners of him outside the building and a bunch of people holding a lucky draw outside for fans who purchased the release. You could win some Keisuke key chains.
Fans wrote messages to Keisuke on his banner, mostly words of encouragement for his recent battle with cancer.
Being a fan of his music, I considered deeply on whether to purchase the album. The normal album cost 3300 yen, while for a thousand yen more you could get the special limited box set which included a DVD and book by Japan’s sexiest old man.
I decided to pass on account of all the money I had already spent, but regretted the decision later.
Next we returned to a Parco we passed by on the way to the music store to check out the Cospa shop there. Cospa sells a lot of anime inspired clothing for those that want to show off their otaku-ness but not too much. Ended up getting a pretty neat Evangelion T-shirt there, it was the only one that looked remotely wearable.
The girl there passed me a loyalty card, the kind that gives you rewards after you collect enough stamps. I asked her when it expired, to which she replied “never”. That’s the way loyalty cards should work no? I’ve never managed to fill up any loyalty card before it became useless in Singapore. During this time of promotion, they also gave away a button badge with each purchase.
For dinner we planned to return to El Chateo del Puente at Ochanomizu for some of their incredible paella. But we reached there to learn that they had already taken their last order. Akihabara was also empty by this point of time.
We chanced upon a Matsuya, which is the largest beef bowl chain in Japan other than Yoshinoya. Despite warning him that these were the two worst possible foods you could eat in Japan, Yan wanted to give the place a try.
Being Asian, rice is both a staple and a love. I’ve grown up eating short grain rice my entire life, only having to resort to the tasteless white or jasmine rice in only the most dire of situations. I could pretty much each plain rice (at least of the first kind) with just about anything (or nothing at all) and still be fine but that’s only because of how awesome it is. So it confuses me greatly at how the short grain served at Matsuya managed to be so awful.
The rice at Matsuya is so utterly tasteless, that you’d have a hard time believing that you’re even eating rice. The only taste came from the raw egg included, which also helped to make the tasteless rice soggy enough to down.
It was back to our hotel after. Somehow the yellow glowstick from yesterday was still glowing more than 24 hours later.
For me the day had been filled with lots of disappointments and hurdles of the culinary kind. But at least I still had cake to ease the pain.
There wasn’t any coverage of Nippon Terebi over at Osaka and we ended up missing last week’s episode of AKBingo. But there was no excuse not to watch it now that we were back in Tokyo. It turned out to be a really fun episode of AKBingo, a continuation of their ongoing Battle Burger Shop game show. Lots of Haruna in this episode as she was completely dominating. Lemon-chan brought some fresh new humor to the show too.
No time to brood over the day because tomorrow we visit the happiest place on earth, Disneyland!