nihon ryoori, the sequel : january 03
Nihon Ryoori - The Sequel.
FYI: $1.00 US = 109 Yen approximately
One of the best places to get food for your money and that won't break the bank is to dine in the department stores. Department stores are an integral of the Japanese way of life. Depaato, as they are known, are giant monoliths of concrete and stone that could very well run 10-12 stories high and with 2-3 basement levels. You can buy practically anything and everything in them. Some of the most famous ones in Tokyo are: Seibu, Tobu, Takashimaya, Daimaru, the soon to be closed Sogo, Isetan, Mitsukoshi, Matsuzakaya, Matsuya, Tokyu and probably a dozen more than I can't recall. But let's get back to the food shall we?
In every department store, there is always one floor or more dedicated to restaurants. It is on these floors that you can get a wide selection of foods ranging from tempura, katsu, yamu-cha (aka dim sum), to sushi, ramen, udon, and curry. And most of the time, it's going to be decent enough for you not to know the difference of whether it's good Japanese food or bad Japanese food. Plus you have the added amenity of all those plastic displays in the window for your viewing and pointing pleasure.
I've eaten many a meals on this trip in depaato resutoran. All of them are rather affordable and you don't have to worry about walking into some dining establishment that might cost you an arm, leg and torso. Afterall it is home of the Yakuza in Japan. The foods in the windows have their prices neatly displayed and there is always bound to be a daily set meal near the entrance way of the restaurant too for your perusal. You can easily get a very filling and good meal for under 1,800 Yen.
If you wish you venture out on your own and check out local restaurants, there are a few fast food places that can be very cheap such as First Kitchen, with its red and white sign splashed monumentally across many large cities' intersections. Or perhaps you want to drop in on Don-Don, a restaurant where you walk in and purchase your meal through a ticket system. After paying the correct amounts and getting your ticket(s), a worker will come by your table and pick up your tickets and promptly process your order. Your meal should arrive at your table in no more than 4 minutes or so but usually in 2.
There's always McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken. But don't expect the same foods. In fact, this time while we were there - McD's was featuring a new Kalbi Mc, Kalbi being the Korean BBQ Beef over a meat patty sandwiched between a bun. I tried out KFC during my stay in Osaka and the biscuits were divine. Yup, divine.
Japan has got to be heaven for coffee drinkers. Nearly every few blocks, one can find minuscule coffee shops such as the branches - Doutor, Pronto, Cafe de Crie, Excelsior and of course Starbucks. Most of these coffee shops are opened until 10pm or so and most of them offer sandwiches, hot dogs and pastries to go along with your caffe latte, ice cocoa, espresso, cappuccino, lowfat half-caf or whatever. I ate frequently at these cafes since I could get a drink, sando and soup for 800 Yen!
Another extremely popular and tasty food item in Japan are Crepes! Crepe stands are just about everywhere where there are alot of people walking about and shopping. And that practically covers everyplace. Crepes are rather inexpensive and are filled with everything from bananas, cream, chocolate, ice cream to tuna fish and other salty items. I haven't tried the salty ones but the sweet ones are heavenly. They come out warm and are wrapped up like a giant waffle cone about 6-8 inches in length....almost like a giant hand roll.
The last thing people would think Japan would offer is excellent French food. But it's indeed true. French bistros and cuisine are a rage here in Japan and from the number of French restaurants here, I believe it. I hear from the locals that it's easier to find a good French table here in Japan than it is in Paris. I don't know French food much. I'm not into roasted baby ducklings. Perhaps Young can suggest some good French food that I may like. I DO like escargots though.
Back to the department stores for a brief moment though. In the basement level(s) of these gargantuan depaatos...you can find a whole city within a city down there. And I'm talking about foods baby! The ones I found especially jaw dropping are the Seibu in Ikebukuro and the Takashimaya in Osaka. The holidays were especially busy but people come here to purchase meats, fish, seafood, veggies in one section. Another section offers breads, pastries, mochis, cookies in the most jaw dropping packaging. Other areas sell tea and coffee solely while another caters only to cooked foods such as croquette, katsu, tempura, boxed sushi, tsukemono, agemono and such. These basement levels are almost always easily accessed via the Subway level and most of the time, this is the level you'll come to straight off the subway and into the depaato.
Once you're inside, everyone moves around you at an electrifying pace as salespeople from each counter shouts out their specialty and try to lure you over to them. If you're just browsing you will undoubtedly be pushed and banged into numerous times. Get used to it. That's how life is in a crowded city. But the sights and sounds you take in as you browse past rows upon rows of counters filled with items so beautifully presented will leave you undoubtedly in awe. And you will come to the concluding thought:
"Why don't they have these back home?"
I mean, is it so hard to have a beautiful presentation for tasty foods? And how about the to-die-for packaging? If you're idea of beautiful presentation and packaging is a Tommy's Burger on a plate instead of the cardboard container...then perhaps you don't get the gist of my message here.
I don't sightsee. I don't really like to do touristy things. I just like to immerse myself into the daily ins and outs of the local person there. I like to eat at small, hole in the wall places or even those ramen stands that pops up around 8pm and open till the wee hours of the morning. I like to live how the locals live. You will never catch me in a Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood.
Thanks to all for the welcome back emails and for the kind mentions on your sites. I'm getting that warm fuzzy feeling again...kinda like the Zojirushi Fuzzy Rice Cooker. ;)
And Cami, I think you could make it big in Japan considering their obsession for people with mixed ancestries...particularly Asian x American. Ever considered modeling? ;) And man, just you wait till I start talking about the groovy scene over there. The people, the clothes, the makeup, the music - it makes America very tame in comparison.
Oh and Lan...sorry no time for Love Hotels. I passed by a few but didn't have a partner to venture in with, at least one that was willing to for free. However, I passed by several sex shops, sex districts and watch some porn too. I'll cover all these in another update!