Asia, Japan

Asia Day 55: Tokyo (Tsukiji Fish Market – Hama Rikyu Gardens)

Photo of the day: Plum blossoms in Hama Rikyu Gardens. Photo credit: Aaron.

We decided to see the Tsukiji Fish Market today. We were not up for coming here at 3am to get in for the 5am fish auction, so we just got here for 10am see the intermediate wholesalers area instead. Our point of entry was through the busy stalls of the outer market. Here, we tried some Hokkaido Uni (sea urchin) straight from the shell. I am usually not a fan of Uni but I gave this a try and it was pretty fresh and tasty.

Uni @ The Tsukiji Fish Market. Photo credit: Aaron.

We also walked by a slew of restaurants serving Chirashi don (raw seafood over rice), but we decided to get some from a small stall where everything is laid out in front of you and you can just stand off to the side to nimble on your goodies once you’ve made your choice. We chose the one with some regular and fatty tuna. It was not mind-blowing but it was special eating fresh tuna straight from the stalls of the fish market.

Fresh tuna on rice next to a tuna head. Photo credit: Aaron.

Next, we walked by a stall where they were cutting up tuna straight from the fish, which is lying on the table. They were giving out samples to try and these were so fresh. Next, we saw some really good looking fatty tuna and got 2 pieces for 600 Yen (~$7 CAD). It was worth every yen because it was the best piece of fish I’ve had all day. It was so fatty it just melted in my mouth and slid down my throat.

Super fresh tuna straight from the fish? Yes please! Photo credit: Aaron.

Tuna galore! Photo credit: Aaron.

Next, we sampled some green tea and Aaron got to try some good coffee from Yonomoto Coffee. So it turns out we got too distracted from all this good food and drinks that we completely missed the intermediate wholesalers area time, which was only open to the public from 10-11am. My disappointed quickly faded as I thought how we probably would not have enjoyed seeing fishes in styrofoam boxes as much as we enjoy having these fishes in our bellies anyway. Aaron wanted to try some of the Tamago (egg) on a stick before leaving. There were quite a few people lining up for it. The man making the Tamago was so skilled. He would measure the exact amount of egg mixture using a scale then poured it into 3 metal rectangular pans. He would repeat that layer by layer until the product is finished. It was beautiful. The Tamago itself was the perfect sweetness without tasting too artificial. And this was all for the cost of 100 Yen (~$1.20 CAD)!

Tamago on a stick. Photo credit: Aaron.

I saw that we were very close to the Hama Rikyu Gardens, so we walked over to take a look. The entrance fee was only 300 Yen (~$3.5 CAD) per person, so we paid the fee and crossed our fingers in hopes that there was some kind of life form visible at this time of the year. We saw a few other people in there, which is reassuring. At least we’re not totally crazy for going to a garden during the winter time. We immediately saw many lush green trees near the entrance. We kept walking to see a couple taking their wedding photos in a beautiful field of yellow flowers! I later find out these flowers were rape blossoms. It was so surreal to see this large patch of yellow appearing in the midst of quite a barren background. We spent quite some time there enjoying this spectacular view.

Beautiful field of rape blossoms in Hama Rikyu Gardens. Photo credit: Aaron.

We walked on, not expecting to see too much, then we came across one tree some with white/pink blossoms! We were so excited and thought these were early Sakura bloomers. We snapped a few pictures then kept walking feeling very grateful. We then came across a field of these blossom trees. We did some research and found out these were actually plum blossoms and not cherry blossoms but one can’t be too greedy!

Plum blossoms.

One of the things I’ve been interested in doing since we were in South Korea was to enjoy some tea in a traditional tea house. There was one here in the middle of this garden called Nakajima no Ochaya, so we made our way across the bridge leading to this lovely tea house. The ambience was very peaceful and I can imagine it being so nice during the spring/summer when you can enjoy the tea outside on the porch, enjoying all the blooming flowers. We took a seat on the tatami mats by the window and enjoyed the view of the pond and garden. We sipped on some matcha along with nibbling on a piece of their delicate sweets. I must say Japanese sweets are not my favourite dessert as it tasted too doughy. It began to rain but there is no use waiting out the rain here in Northeast Asia (compared to Southeast Asia) as it would go on for hours. We grabbed our umbrella and walked around some more to look at the waterfront before heading back to Shibuya.

Matcha and sweets @ Nakajima no Ochaya.
The view from inside the tea house.

For lunch, Aaron found a ramen place near our accommodation called Usagi. Aaron had the deluxe Shoyu Ramen with eggs and Char Siu and I had the regular Tsukemen with seasoned eggs. The broth of the ramen was very different than the burnt miso we had the other day. It was lighter and more simple in taste but still good. Aaron felt his noodles were more like Chinese noodles and liked the noodles of my Tsukemen more. The thing I love about Tsukemen is the intensity of the dipping sauce. If ramen broth is not rich enough for you, then Tsukemen is for you! This was a lot less thick than the sauce I’ve had in Vancouver but I actually enjoyed it more. My favourite part of the meal, though, was the perfectly seasoned eggs. I am so glad I paid the extra dollar for it.

Shoyu Ramen with Char Siu and egg @ Usagi.
Tsukemen with seasoned egg @ Usagi.

Aaron had some work to do back home and we also had to run a load of laundry. I don’t understand how Japan is such a technologically advanced country but their washing machine is so difficult to operate. It’s basically manual requiring us to choose the water level. Or perhaps it was just the place we are staying? Anyone else have the same experience with washing machines in Japan?

For a change of work environment, we moved to FabCafe for some coffee, tea and wifi connection with superb speed. The space was very modern and they even had a 3D printer for your 3D-printing needs! It was still raining, so I watched as many businessmen and women rushed about outside with their umbrellas opened across the busy intersection.

We were getting hungry and it has fortunately, finally stopped raining. We tried to find a Shabu Shabu place Aaron found on Foursquare, unfortunately we found out when we got there that they have closed down. Aaron found another place called Hanasakaji-San, which apparently had a halal menu. One will not run out of good food options in Shibuya. We found out their halal menu was essentially Wagyu beef Shabu Shabu. We ended up just getting the regular beef Shabu Shabu. It came with the dipping sauce, some small side dishes and some vegetables. We had to order rice on the side. Aaron asked for recommendations for Sake and the server found one for us based on our preferences. I quite enjoyed this sweet Sake but Aaron would’ve preferred it to be a bit more dry. I also wanted to tried their Hanasaki beer, which turned out to be the sweetest beer I’ve ever tasted. It was more like a radler. Our server was very attentive throughout the meal, not only teaching us the techniques of Shabu Shabu but also coming back to give me new chopsticks and hand towels, as I was super clumsy tonight dropping and spilling things all over the place. Back to the meal. So first you wait for the broth to boil, then you add the vegetables, then you wave the incredibly thin slices of beef a few times in the broth, then you put everything in the dipping sauce and then you eat it! It was perfect because the room temperature dipping sauce helped to cool down the food so you don’t burn your mouth. Plus, it made the food super tasty! I had my reservations about Shabu Shabu because I heard it was more bland compared to Sukiyaki but this was actually very flavourful. We ended up ordering another serving of beef and vegetables since we enjoyed it so much. It was also here that I realized the Japanese really enjoy dipping their food. From sushi to tempura to soba to Tsukemen to Shabu Shabu, it seems that there is a specific dipping sauce for everything! It just adds so much more to the taste of the food and it always pairs so well! At the end of dinner we acknowledged that our server’s English was very good and turns out he is not Japanese but Indonesian! Interesting!

Shabu Shabu @ Hanasakaji-San.

After dinner, we stopped by a 7-11 to print off some documents for our train ride tomorrow. Apparently you can upload documents to 7-11 and then retrieve them from the printers at the store. The menu on the printer was in Japanese but we were able to figure it out with some guessing and some Google Translate. I must say that Google Translate’s camera function is super helpful for a language like Japanese that doesn’t use the roman alphabet. I wish that this was available for Thai as well. Aside from figuring out which buttons to press, this was actually a really convenient way to print documents when you’re on the go! Following our printing adventure, we headed home to do some light packing for our short weekend trip to Kyoto tomorrow.

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