Tokyo, one of the biggest cities in the world and our last major stop on our circumnavigation trip. Not really a single city, more of a collection of several large cities that have a complex system of public and private rails that all interlink in a seemingly haphazardly fashion. Expensive to travel in and expensive to stay in, Tokyo nonetheless has something for everyone; shopping, nightlife, red light district, anime and food from around the world. We met up with some friends from the US and Britain and hit the town. Unfortunately, they have better cameras than I and many of the photos taken are still with them. I will add them later to the blog once they return stateside. We visited several major shrines such as the Tokugawa family's shrine (the rulers of Japan for about 250 years), as well as the burial sight of the famous 47 Ronin. Ironically, I had just watched the new movie of this tale starring Keane Reeves on the bus ride from Nagoya.
The area of Asakusa is known for its old temples and major shopping street. Here is a shop that in the early 17th century, invented a now ubiquitious shichimi togarashi. This seven spice blend contains sesame and poppy seeds, orange peel, sansho (berries from the prickly ash tree that cause a numbing and cooling sensation), nori (seaweed), ginger, and dried orange peel. This is the stuff you see on the counter of pretty much every Japanese restaurant. Luckily, they are still in business and I purchased their medium and spicy blends. For a snack we had sweet potatoes (if you have noticed pretty much everyplace has sweet potatoes during this time of year in Japan) that are steamed then covered in honey and sesame seeds. I had left one for the others to try but Stacey ate it all.
There was also the trip to the artificial island of Odaiba with its model of a Gundam as well as a Mexican festival. This was complete with wrestlers, sombreros, serapes and tequila. I had a empenada that was close to the real thing. For this trip we stuck with local food only but by this time I was really missing Mexican food.
As for the local food we had ramen of course. The restaurant had several different styles; shoyu, miso, tonkotsu, shio and the elusive tantanmen. This dish is similar to the Taiwan ramen in Nagoya and the dandanmien from Sichuan that I mentioned in the previous post and I was excited to try it out. Unfortunately, this one didn't live up to my expectations as the pork was cubed not minced, cold and not spicy nor tingling from sansho. As for the other types, Tokyo restaurants seem to use a much fishier soup base that can be tasted over the supposedly primary flavor. They did have a tofu desert with sweet potato noodles that was creamy and sweet that was incredibly good. Similar in texture to a custard and had strawberry jam on top. In another restaurant, I had dipping ramen. This is a deconstructed ramen, with everything out of the liquid. Then you have a much more intensively flavored dipping sauce, in these case sesame, that you dip into. The noodles are served cold and is refreshing on a hot day. The serving style is based on that of soba (buckwheat) noodles.