Monday, April 3, 2017

Must-do Activities in Tokyo (Part 2)


Our Part 2 of Must-Do Activities is more of a list of Must-Eats!

Just joining us now? Read our Must-do Activities in Tokyo (Part 1) here for our first 15 must-do activities!

16. Start a trend


Shibuya109 features 10 floors of boutique clothing stores and restaurants. New trends for both men's and women's fashion start here. Don't be surprised if you see that sales people here are aggressive due to high competition within the entire complex. This leads to a high turnover so new products can take the spotlight. If you're looking to shop, prices are similar to a high end luxury clothing stores!

17. Drink your favourite photo.


Turn your favourite childhood cartoon into fluffy latte art at Reissue near Harajuku station. All you have to do is order the special latte art and you have the option for it to be done in 2D or 3D. Just note that not all images can be done in 3D! Warning - these lattes are not cheap - they're around $15 for a single latte. Check out some of their work here

18. Enjoy the view for FREE



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Kenzo Tange's towering building is worth visiting purely to have a good look at the cool structure, but it's also home to a pair of free observation decks that have become a popular stop. When we were here, we were able to see an amazing night time view of Tokyo. On a clear day, you can see Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree and even Mount Fuji.

19. Have kakigori - aka. Japanese shaved ice!


Kakigori is Japanese-style shaved ice that can be found in areas all around Japan. Simply look for the ice symbol (see below) which is typically found outside of restaurants to signal that they offer it. The difference with kakigori and regular shaved is the ice is shaved into tiny icicles - almost like shards of ice (as opposed to square pieces of ice in western culture shaved ice). Top that with matcha syrup and red bean for the ultimate frozen treat.

Image Credit: JTBUSA Blog
If you're looking for shaved ice mountains with full authentic Japanese flavours, head to Gion Tokuya. You'll know if you've reached the right place if you see the fashion boutique United Arrows. Apparently, the story is that the chairman of United Arrows visited Gion Tokuya in Kyoto and loved it SO much they asked the owners to open an outlet in Tokyo - obviously beside the United Arrows headquarters. Here you'll find fluffy shaved ice mountain with thick, earthly and just sweet enough matcha green tea syrup, mochi, azuki beans, and gold flakes. One order is enough for two (although we were convinced we needed more).



20. Have the fluffiest pancake EVER at Cafe Gram.


You've never had a pancake as fluffy as the one at Cafe Gram before. These super-fluffy, airy, melt-in-your-mouth pancakes are made with ricotta, buttermilk and meringue and are SO fluffy that they jiggle from even the slightest movements. Only 20 servings are available during three time slots throughout the day – at 11am, 3pm and 6pm every day. People lineup before opening (at around 10AM) to reserve a pancake and we definitely suggest you do the same!


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21. Go to a bakery... that only has one item on the menu



Level up your apple pie experience at Ringo located in Ikebukuro. They specialize in one thing and one thing only - pumping out miniature handheld apple pies to serve hungry customers lining up around the block. Each pie is freshly baked, lightly glazed and packs a delicious crunch that breaks open into a soft apple filling with milky custard cream. It sounds simple but Japan is known for using the highest quality ingredients and you'll be able to taste the difference in this pastry! Don't worry, the line goes by much faster than it looks - we only had to wait about 20 minutes in line and trust us, it's well worth it!

22. Eat in ramen booths



Yup, we've mentioned this before in an older post but we can't stress enough how awesome this is. These "flavour concentration booths" are said to enhance the sensory experience of ramen-eating by promoting a low-interaction dining.

Our go-to spot in Japan for ramen booths is the 24-hour chain restaurant Ichiran. You pay by the vending machines first and grab a ticket (we recommend adding seaweed, corn, and egg for a combination of delicious textures). Then enter inside, find a booth and hand your tickets to the chef. From there, you'll get a sheet of paper to customize the ramen to exactly how you like it.  If you prefer a richer broth or softer noodles or want spicy? All doable!



Then, when you think you can't wait any longer, a pair of hands peeks through the bamboo net and in comes a bowl of fresh-cooked noodles nestled in a thick, rich broth, the perfect amount of spice, and if you ordered, a few slices of pork and a perfectly soft-cooked egg. Perfect for any time of day!
PS - don't forget to grab some of the packs of ramen noodles with soup to bring home. It obviously doesn't taste as good as the fresh bowl of noodles you get in the restaurant but it is 


Don't worry you can collapse (or put up!) the borders if you're eating with others!


23. Get your cheese fix


Prepare yourself for ooey-gooey cheese tarts from Pablo. 

At PABLO, a cake shop that originated from Osaka, they bake their cheesecakes for their customers to their liking. You can choose between either rare or medium. For those who like that melt in your mouth sensation we recommend rare (which we've had and devoured in the same night), and for those who like a fluffier texture, medium is the way to go! PABLO also has mini cheese tart which come in regular, strawberry, chocolate, and matcha which we recommend trying at least one of each (although matcha and regular were the top hits for us!). They have multiple locations around Tokyo and you'll be able to smell it before you see it.

24. Evade taxes (legally)

Okay - so totally not a must-do activity but definitely a travel tip. If you're going to learn ANY tip from this guide - this is the one. In a majority of stores (ie. Uniqlo, GU, Loft, etc) you'll see signs for tax free shopping. Tax free shopping is available for all foreigners for any purchases over 5000 yen at a given store or mall on one calendar day.  Warning that you MUST have your passport ready when shopping tax free so we recommend bringing your passport along with you. Note that at many shops and malls, it is necessary to first pay the full price (including the tax) at the cashier and then obtain a refund at a customer service desk. To find out if the store is tax or duty free, simply look for the logo (left). You likely won't miss it though - there are signs everywhere!

Once you've paid for your products, they will be wrapped up with clear plastic and with coloured tape to secure it. Your receipts will Do NOT take off the coloured tape until you're out of Japan. This is to prove that you bought the products for yourself and not for people who live in Japan. There will be times when border control checks the receipts to make sure it matches with the products in your suitcase.

When you're shopping, one mannerism that we've learned is that when paying, put your money onto the provided tray. Your change may be returned in the same way.

25. Dunk some noodles in the best. Tsukemen. EVER.

Image Credit: @camilletruong


Tsukemen is a staple ramen dish in Japanese cuisine and consists of noodles eaten after being dipped in a separate bowl of rich condensed broth. Our absolute favourite place in Tokyo to try this is Fuunji Ramen (pronounced Fu-Oon-Jee). Get there for an early dinner (or late lunch?) because there is almost always lineups. We waited up to 1.5 hours when we went!

As you enter, there's a vending machine where you order from - order the tsukemen or the ramen, both come with bamboo shoots, slices of pork, and a soft-boiled egg. As you move up in line, they will take your ticket and ask what size noodles you want (small, medium, large). All are the same price but depends on how much you can eat. Soon you'll get a plate of cold noodles along with piping hot condensed broth filled with cha shu. After you finish your noodles, there is a jug of broth you can use to dilute the remaining broth in your bowl for drinking. Don't make the same mistake we did, we thought it was tea and poured it into our cups, oops!

What makes Fuunji so great (and yes, we dare to say it's even better than Rokurinsha) is that they use a fish-based broth that's then layered with flavours of rich chicken broth as opposed to the typical tonkotsu base. It's topped with grinded smoky dried bonito dashi powder. The pork belly in the soup is beautifully fatty, tender, salty, and slightly sweet pieces. Delicious!

26. Have an inexpensive Michelin Star meal at Tokyo's FIRST ever Michelin-star ramen joint

By inexpensive we mean 1500 yen (~$15CAD) for a bowl of soba. What's the catch? You have to get there before 8:00AM to ensure you get a spot at the counter of this 9-person restaurant.

Before we talk about how to get a highly coveted spot, let's entice you with these noodles. The broth is made from a blend of three specially fermented soy sauces so they are much richer than typical soy sauces. These soy sauces are then mixed with a flavourful broth made with clams, chicken, vegetables and various other ingredients. The soba noodles are made with a special flour in house and are much firmer and smoother than regular soba noodles.  To top off the bowl are menma (fermented bamboo shoots), and a slice of chashu pork and a black truffle sauce.


Exterior
So how's it work? Tsuta has a first-come first serve ticketing system where you give a refundable ¥1,000 deposit. Everyone in the party must be present to get a ticket. The coloured tickets represent a seating time when you'll be able to return to the restaurant to eat with tickets typically allocated for 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm or 4pm. Please note that when it comes time for you to go back to the restaurant for your allotted time, you still have queue up with other people in the same time slot so we recommend you go at least 30 minutes before your allocated time.

Basically, what you save on cost for a Michelin restaurant, you spend in time. It's a long process but it's well worth it. We promise.

Update: After we last returned to Tokyo in 2016, there's been a new Michelin-star ramen joint - Nakiryu which is fortunately in the same area as Tsuta!

27. Marvel at Japanese Fast Food



CoCo Curry

Aside from indulging in copious amounts of sushi and ramen, Japanese curry was on the top of the list of foods to eat. CoCo Curry would be our go-to for quick, reliable, and tasty Japanese curry dishes. If this is your first time, the classic pork cutlet curry with cheese is a must.

Sanuki Udon Hanamaru

Sanuki Udon Hanamaru is super affordable and filled with many options. The best part is that they're available near any JR station so you'll never be too far from one!  Pick your broth, toppings, and sides and you're good to go - and all under $5 CAD. If they had this in Toronto, we would eat it everyday!

28. Odaiba

The Rainbow Bridge
Fun fact Odaiba is actually a man-made island! We definitely recommend checking this place out, it's only one transfer station away from the JR line. You'll find some neat shops and restaurants inside Diver City. Right outside, you'll step into the iconic life-size Gundam. Take some time to explore Odaiba as you'll get some pretty sweet views of the Rainbow Bridge.

After a long day of exploring, you can hit up Oedo-Onsen Monogatari. You can take the subway in Odaiba and get off at the Telecom Center. You can read more about our experience in part 1.

29. Try some strange (but awesome) Japanese drinks

For a hangover-free morning, order the Oolong Hi - a cocktail made with oolong tea and a shot of shochu. Shochu is a Japanese distilled alcohol usually made from barley, buckwheat, sweet potato, or rice. Due to the lack of sugar in this drink, it'll keep you hydrated and headache free and your body will thank you the next day.


Melon Soda (Image Credit: Indulgy)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Calpis Sour (or any sour for that matter) which is a mix of This Calpis sour retains the yoghurt flavour of Calpis with a little alcoholic zing! What's dangerous about this drink is that you taste virtually NO alcohol - just the yummy yogurty Calpis. Trust us when we say you will get drunk FAST on these bad boys.

Melon soda is one of the most common non-alcoholic drinks you'll find on any menu. It's got a colour that will remind you of toxic sludge and tastes so artificial but it's weirdly addicting. Despite its name of "melon soda" it actually tastes more like cream soda than anything! We weren't a huge fan of this drink but recommend it just for the sake of trying!

30. Late Night Munchies

Image credit: @stefgie

Kani Miso


Fresh Shrimp

If you're ever having late night munchies, then check out Isomaru Suisan. This Japanese BBQ seafood restaurant has multiple locations around Tokyo and all of them are open 24Hr! The interior is filled with colorful designs and giant flags that were flown from fishing boats in Japan. Service is no nonsense and very fast. This is not gourmet dining, but for the price, it offers a great value. If you're not a smoker, make sure you ask for non-smoking area

We highly recommend the Kani Miso which is crab meat (specifically the roe inside the large shell) and miso paste served inside the crab shell. Fresh scallops, sake clams, and grilled shrimp are also always must-gets for us. For the fresh scallops, wait for the 'pop' to signal it's done and don't forget to cut off the poop sack (you'll be able to tell - it's black or brown just like... poop) before digging in.

Note: Each location has a slightly different menu depending on the seafood they bring in!


Look for this sign - you can't miss it! (Image credit: Japan Times)
Image credit: @stefgie

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