Due to jetlag, we were able to wake up quite early today without any issues. We leisurely packed up, checked out and then headed to Tsuta Japanese Soba Noodles, where one can eat the famous Michelin-Star ramen. But don’t expect a spontaneous walk-in kind of experience. First, one needs to pick up a ticket in the morning before the restaurant opens at 11am. We arrived at 10am and got tickets for 1pm, which is their earliest spot. We left a deposit of 1000 Yen per person and were told to return later this afternoon between 1-1:30pm.
We then went on our merry way to explore the city. There was not too much going on around neighbourhood of where the restaurant was, so we took the train to Ikebukuro where it was more vibrant. As a matter of fact, Aaron described it as mini-Shibuya. There was definitely more going on here. We decided to do stop by the first restaurant which offered a simple breakfast, Katsuya. I had the traditional breakfast with rice, a raw egg, natto (fermented soy bean), nori (seaweed), cabbage and soup. Aaron had the tonkatsu, which came with cabbage, rice and soup. I am not sure if I ate the meal correctly so don’t quote me on this. I added the raw egg to the rice, then the natto, then the sauce and mustard packets which came with the natto. For extra flavouring, I added some soy sauce. I mixed it all up then ate this with the pieces of nori. I think it was nice to have finally tried natto. It was certainly not as bad as people say it is. It definitely tasted better with the mustard and sauce packet. I can definitely see how the smell and slimy texture is not everyone’s cup of tea though. I did really enjoy the soup which was full of pieces of pork belly. Yum!
After breakfast, we strolled around Ikebekuro, exploring the cosmetic stores, pharmacies and department stores. I had forgotten to bring blush this trip and I was easily able to purchase some at one of the many cosmetic stores. Easy peasy! We then stopped by Coffee Valley for a coffee break. Aaron had their trio special – a coffee, espresso and macchiato made with the bean of his choice and I had a latte. They had a good amount of seating dispersed across 2 floors. Of note: there was a sign posted asking patrons to refrain from using their computers during their peak hours (9am-6pm), so I was glad I did not bring my laptop hoping to get work done here.
Michelin-Star Ramen Time!
It was nearing our time slot for lunch, so we returned back to Tsuta. We patiently waited in a line that’s already formed by some of the other patrons in our time slot. As we were given our deposit back, we were asked to select and pay for our meals using a vending machine. After about an hour or so of waiting, we were asked to enter the cozy ~8-seater restaurant. Because they have our order already, we were given our ramen almost as soon as we sat down. I had the Charsiu Wonton Ajitama Shio Soba (which I had actually accidentally selected on their vending machine as I was debating between the shio or shoyu options) and Aaron had the Charsiu Wonton Ajitama Shoyu Soba, which was their most famous item. Shio is a salt-based broth while shoyu is a soy sauce-based broth. Their was a sign on the counter which listed where they acquired their main ingredients from around the world. For example, their salt in the shio broth was from Mongolia! Since we all sat along the counter of this cozy restaurant, it gave us the chance to watch the chefs handle their ingredients ever so gently and with such precision. Tasting time! Both of the broth were very unique. The shoyu broth was definitely more flavourful with the black truffle oil. The shio broth had more seafood flavour with clam, salmon and dry fish, along with a splash of white truffle oil. In terms of toppings, I was really impressed with their ajitama (onsen egg) as well as their charsiu (thinly-sliced pork) but I was less impressed by the salmon ball in the shio soba. Of course, we cannot talk about ramen without talking about the noodles and these were definitely different. They used thin soba noodles instead of the atypical thicker ramen noodles. Overall, I think that Tsuta has something unique to offer with their special broths made with truffle oil, their thin soba noodles, the addition of wonton in their ramen and the impeccable pork slices but I could not say that it was the best ramen I’ve ever had.–
Rikugi-en: Time with Nature
After lunch, we headed over to the garden nearby, Rikugi-en, which was described as “Tokyo’s most elegant garden” by Lonely Planet. We took this opportunity to walk off some of the ramen as well as to take a break and enjoy some time in nature.
It was time for another coffee break, so we headed back towards our hotel and stopped by Toranomon Koffee before heading back to our hotel to pick up our bags. Our other travel companions are on their way from the airport, so we made our way to Tokyo Station to join them there. Disappointed that I did not have the full Shinkansen experience last trip without having had any ekiben, we headed over to the busy Ekiben-ya Matsuri (located in Tokyo Station – not super easy to find in this gigantic station) to pick up a few bento boxes to share. It was busy there and a bit hectic to figure out what was in each box, so we ended up having to pick up a few surprise boxes where there was no clear indication of what was inside the box (in English or in picture).
We met up with our travel companions and were able to exchange our previously purchased JR vouchers for JR rail passes with ease. We then made reservations to the next train to Kyoto and headed over to the platform.
On the train, our eyes all lit-up as we displayed and opened all the ekiben. We ended up with one unagi box, one sukiyaki and yakiniku beef box, a fish box, and a tare katsu/salmon/ikura box. We also had an extra chicken katsu box to share as an “appetizer” per Aaron. It was fun to eat all the food, with various proteins, veggies and rice. My favourite would probably be the beef box. In the future, I would probably try to steer away from katsu dishes as these are probably best eaten crunchy and fresh, instead of soggy and cold. I spent the rest of the 2.5-hour train ride blogging. We were all pretty tired by the time we arrived at Kyoto Station. Luckily, our Airbnb was only a 5-minute walk away.
We chose to stay at a cozy traditional home except with the benefit of having beds instead of just futons. Here, I was impressed by their very green toilets, where the water used to refill the toilet first comes through a faucet at the top so you can use it to wash your hands! So water efficient! We were all pretty exhausted and it wasn’t long before we were all settled and called it a night.