I was extremely fortunate to have a work trip to Japan this year and while it was a very busy week I did get an opportunity to sample some of the wonderful food and sights that Tokyo has to offer.
I had never been to Japan before but had heard a lot from varied sources. I have always had a fascination with Japan, from the history and clothing to the food. I went through a phase of buying vintage kimonos from Japan for the beautiful silk, but, until now I had never had an opportunity to visit. I had heard that Tokyo was a very busy city and was very expensive – even worse than London. Well, I live in London, and thought, really, how much more busy/expensive can it be?! The answer is it’s not. Perhaps London is the best leveller for world cities, I have been to a few and each one has been calmer and less expensive (I haven’t been to NY yet before you comment). Relative to London, Tokyo is actually quite cheap, this is attributed to their lengthy recession, prices haven’t increased in years.
So, on my second day there, still very jet-lagged, I was determined to go out and eat some tempura. I had a list of food to eat whilst in Japan – tempura, sushi, sashimi, okonomiyaki, gyoza, unagi (eel) and tea in a traditional Japanese teahouse. I had brought two guidebooks with me – the Lonely Planet Guidebook to Tokyo and the TimeOut Tokyo Guide. Both great but for food I’d prefer the TimeOut guide. I had planned to visit Shinjuku and spotted a Tempura restaurant in the cheap eat section, Tsunahachi.
I found it without much difficulty, it was quite close to the seven floor electronics shop I had spent the previous two hours in (camera window shopping!). It had a beautiful old wooden front and was really understated and hidden in the mesh of neon lights in Shinjuku. There was one person waiting outside the door so I waited with him. I quickly discovered that not many people speak english in Tokyo so I had to rely on my *extremely* pigeon japanese. I must stress that I didn’t expect them to speak english, why should they, it’s Japan not England! A queue quickly gathered behind me and within 15 minutes I was seated at a counter facing the open kitchen. The waiter brought me a menu, most of which was in Japanese so I chose a fish set menu and some sake.
The waiter brought me a little tray with some rice, pickles, miso soup and green tea. The miso was beautiful with tiny clams at the bottom. The rest was pretty impressive too. I saw one of the chefs about to fillet a flat fish and it looked very wet still, well, not surprising as when he stuck the knife in him I realised he was still very much alive and on my plate within 5 minutes. Harsh, I know, but the fish was beautiful to eat, really light with delicate white flesh. Next up were two tempura king prawns, also fresh from the tank, some green pepper and half an onion. All lovely, crisp and fresh but the onion was astounding, intensely sweet soft flesh contrasting beautifully with the tempura batter. I thought that this was it so finished my rice and miso, when a cake of tempura prawns arrived. It consisted of 15-20 large very fresh prawns and again, was very impressive. This was swiftly followed by some unagi (japanese eel) which was not unlike a white fish, very light, sweet and delicate. All the time I was washing this down with the sake which was beautifully dry and the perfect complement. I finished my meal with some green tea.
I requested the bill, expecting it to be a little more than I had expected given how much I had eaten. It came to a total of 2,000 yen which was incredibly good value, just under £10 sterling. The staff were very friendly and accomodating of my poor communication skills. I would recommend to anyone visiting Tokyo, it’s a very pleasurable experience.