I am now wrapping up the final hours I have in Tokyo. Tonight, my friends and I will be saluting the city of cities in true fashion with some sushi and karaoke. Today was nearly a perfect final day here as I accomplished almost every one of my final objectives in the city.
We started the morning in Tsukiji and saw everything from 4 men breaking down albacore cross sections to shellfish that I did not know existed. It certainly stretched the limits of my seafood species’ knowledge and humbled my thoughts on what I or anyone might consider as “fresh”. I bought a box of small sea urchin which had been cleaned and packaged during the morning – spending all of $15 on what would normally run a tab of $40 outside of the market.
In Tsukiji, you’re either getting in someone’s way or you already are in someone’s way. It’s nuts. I wish I had that access to the seafood options on display. In a way, it struck me that if I had been given such choice, quality and access to this seafood, I think I would represent it in its simplest form: raw or lightly prepared – which from the sense of the Japanese approach to cuisine, is exactly what they do best.
From there, we went to a little coffee shop and roast company named Cafe Maple – a notable shop that has garnered features (including a reference on a NYTimes article) and acclaim for their roast and single source offerings. Their preference of delivery was french press. The barista took her time and expertly prepared a divine cup at the table almost without any sludgy sediment, normally more present with an uneven grind. In terms of quality vs. price, Maple was a bargain: a 500g bag (1.1 lbs) of award winning beans cost about 1800 yen. The Brazilian roast, which tasted of a smoky roasted almond and dark chocolate, was only 1500 yen per 500g. Score.
After that we went ramen hunting in Kiba for one of the world’s best bowls at a place called Menya Kissou. Menya Kissou is the quintessential mom and pop ramen joint. It is well known and widely established as being Tokyo’s #1 ramen place and currently sits at #2 on ramendb.com’s 2009 ratings. The line was clearly indicative of that.
From there, we visited the less popular Union Commerce district/store where kitchenware is king. The official Union Commerce store is actually a knife store that sells the most amazing collection of fine Japanese and even some high end Western knives. I myself decided to go in on a beautiful Damascus slicer that was every bit as sharp as it was beautiful. The clerk told me it was actually on sale, so I got a pretty sweet ass deal. I got exactly what I came for.
Later in the day, my friends and I split ways; they went for Temple viewing and shopping and I went back on my ramen hunt for what was currently known as the #1 ramen shop in the world. Sadly, this ridiculous shop sits near the Matsudo station in Chiba, 30-45 mins outside of Tokyo. For those that follow me on twitter, I suffered a body blow Wednesday morning when I ventured to Matsudo and found out that the ramen shop, known as Tomita, was closed on Wednesdays. I felt such an yearning to finish my trip properly that I had to go back on this Thursday. To my surprise, there was no line on a late Thursday afternoon, thus proving that even the best of the best sometimes cannot withstand the confines of a shitty location. If they were in central Tokyo, they might be 30 deep at this time. Such is restaurant life.
**UPDATED since I got home:
The night finished with some good sushi, a 10+ dollar glass of some sort of daiginjo sake (cost more than my food meal) and Tokyo karaoke – simply because you can’t go to Japan and not do karaoke. It would be against almost everything I stand for. Great trip, great last day and great times. A more official Hot Food Porn Japan photo album to follow with all the food and travel pics including my all too ridiculous ramen journey. And, I have random video of street food coming!