February 27, 2012

Japan - Shinjuku (Tokyo)

Our first destination in Japan was Shinjuku, Tokyo. What did we think of the place? We sure did like it there! We had met up at Narita airport and took the bus out to Shinjuku station, our hotel was a mere 8min walk from the station. Well... that's if you start from the correct station exit! It took a little longer than expected and by the time we had found the hotel everyone was ready to eat. We were so excited, we were about to have our first meal in Japan!

Although we later realised that this place was a) a chain and b) a Japanese take on Chinese food (the sign seems to indicate chinese style noodles), it was still a great start to our two week culinary bonanza in Japan: simple, good food at very reasonable prices (around $6 a bowl) with friendly and efficient service. We all enjoyed a delicious bowl of harusame ramen (all except Dave who I think ate something different) and shared some tasty pan-fried gyoza which were delicious. Such a simple 'average' meal but very satisfying indeed!

Ok.. so it's a chain and it's Chinese style noodles...

But there's self pouring tap beer, tidy counter seating and a compact little kitchen which all speaks Japan!

Harusame Ramen (490yen) was delicious and Gyoza (200yen for 6)

Our first dinner was particularly exciting for Jack who had obsessed over Street Food's post featuring Piss Alley (omg! Jack just revisited Street Food's awesome post and they went to the same chinese-style chain, how cool is that!). So we arrived at Piss Alley and did a quick tour to see which places looked good. They all looked good, some were packed full including one place which even had a lady sitting on top of her suitcase at the doorway, enjoying some yakitori.

We finally settled on a place and were seated upstairs with a view of the lines above the railway tracks. Food is simple but flavoursome, perfect accompaniments for beer - skewers of chicken, pork, liver, mushrooms, eggplant and tofu. Hiyayakko tofu is chilled tofu topped with grated ginger, eschallots and bonito flakes needed just a draping of shoyu, whilst salt-seasoned salmon with grated radish needed only a squeeze of lemon juice. The non-complimentary starters ("otoshi") were light and refreshing salads - a mix of vegies and tofu served cold. But the most interesting translation on the English menu was "crab guts lightly" recommended to go well with beer. It's a strong crabby-tasting paste which we picked at in turns.

Piss Alley - yay!!!
Love the atmosphere of Piss Alley. Love luggage-lady even more!
Our chosen dining destination.
Otoshi, Crab Guts Lightly and crisp, fresh  Japanese draft beer.
Hiyayakko Tofu.

Skewers galore - chicken, liver, fried tofu, pork, mushrooms, eggplant...drool...
Back on the first day when we were still trying to find the hotel, we noticed a modest looking tempura place which had a queue of local Japanese outside, convincing us that we had to try to this place. We made it back to Tsunahachi Tempura a few days later for a tempura menu set lunch which was so good we weren't sure if we could bring ourselves to eat tempura again (thinking about it makes my mouth water). Except for Dave, we all had the "Hiru Zen" set menu for 1260yen which included tempura of 2 prawns, whitefish and 2 vegetables, shrimp kakiage and osoroi (rice, miso soup, pickles). Dave went for the "Special Tempura Zen" (2730yen) which from memory had about 4 additional pieces of tempura including shellfish and conger eel.

The osoroi was brought out first and ooh! the miso soup had tiny little clams in their shells. Then came the tempura, freshly made and so light. Then the shrimp kakiage came, a crispy clump of prawny goodness. The full set is both satisfying and filling, definitely value for money. We don't know how Dave managed to squeeze in the extra pieces that came with his set! We did add one extra item from the a la carte menu - I think it was eggplant wrapped in shiso leaf and then given the tempura treatment. It was indeed "とてもおいしいです" (it's very delicious), something we found ourselves saying about every meal and snack in Japan.

Tempura Tsunahachi - lucky for us there was no line at this brunch hour (who eats tempura for breakfast?)
Tempura masters at work!
Pickles, grated radish.... makes one excited about the upcoming meal...
Eggplant in shiso leaves tempura, miso soup with tiny little clams.
Our lovely waitress serving fresh tempura, and to finish - shrimp kakiage.

Shinjuku served us well as our base for exploring Tokyo and surrounds, but more importantly for some good food options as you can already see from our first few meals. It was a sign of more good food to come so watch this space for more Japan blog posts!


  1. AWESOME post!!! I miss home... :-) Sounds like you had a blast. I'm going in April and hope to eat as much as I can. Hehee.

  2. Oh I miss Japan, loved every single word and pic of this post.