Photo of the day: Okonomiyaki bowl (before cooking) @ Sakura Tei.
We decided to take it easy on our last full day in Tokyo and as a matter of fact, of our entire trip. It is crazy how time flies and it is unbelievable that we have traveled for 61 days now. Aaron and I both had friends in Japan, so we will be spending some time with them separately tonight. It is also the first evening, that we will be apart since the beginning of this trip! That’s pretty amazing and we are very grateful to have had this opportunity to spend so much time together.
Aaron’s been wanting some good Japanese curry since we’ve arrived, so for brunch today we went to CoCo Ichibanya. It was similar set up to the curry place we went to at the Shinagawa Train Station the other day. We ordered as soon as we arrived then once we got our seats, our curry was soon ready. I choose the stewed chicken curry with some spinach as an add-on. Here, you can also choose the rice amount, as well as the spice level. Aaron had the Tonkatsu curry with “level 3 spice”. I tried some and it was spicy. My regular spice was still a little spicy. I guess I have this misconception that Japanese curry should be more sweet rather than spicy. I realize that curry is not my favourite type of food, but Aaron quite enjoyed his meal. P.S. I later watched a Simon and Martina episode on CoCo Ichibanya and realized we did it all wrong. I was trying to be all healthy but then there are so many more tasty add-ons (e.g. cheese, roasted garlic, soft-poached egg, fried chicken!!), which can definitely enhance your experience. We missed out!
Next, we stopped by Excelsior Coffee to catch up on some blogging/emails. We’ve been seeing it everywhere and it kind of feels like a Japanese Starbucks. The seating on the top floor was quite nice overlooking a typical Japanese intersection. I quite enjoyed it especially since today was such a nice sunny day to be enjoying some tea and catching up on blogging by the large windows. Note though that there is no wifi here, so we had to rely on our portable wifi. The royal milk tea here was better than the one Aaron had in Thailand, but we wonder if that was because we were so used to the super sweetened Thai iced milk tea at that point, so this less flavourful tea seemed less appealing.
There was a Muji across the street, so we made a trip there to pick up some essential oils for our diffuser as well as some stationeries. It was quite a large location with many floors, including one with cafe/restaurant. It really was like a Japanese version of Ikea! Just like with Daiso, I really enjoyed looking at the little travel sized items and organizers available here. I wish we had one in Ottawa! It was interesting to see that the tax-free counter here will seal your purchases, as to prevent consumption of it prior to leaving the country.
After dropping of some stuff at home, we went our separate ways to meet up with our friends. I still had a couple of hours prior to our meeting time and the Type A personality in me wanted to visit one more tourist attraction. I got off the train at the Kita-Sando station and walked into Yoyogi park towards Meiji Shrine. This popular shrine is open from dawn to dusk, which was soon approaching, so I walked quickly, especially as I saw most people were leaving and no one was going towards the shrine. It was a nice walk around the park, away from the busy Tokyo streets. I can even smell the trees and felt very much like I was in a forest. It wasn’t long before I reached the shrine. It was quite similar to the other shrines I’ve been to with the large arches at the entrance ways. Unfortunately, it was under renovation, so I wasn’t able to appreciate the full beauty of the place. There were again fountains at the front, a stall to buy charms, a place to get fortune telling scrolls and places to pay your respects. There were even instructions on what to do. First, place a coin in the offering box. Then bow twice. Clap your hands twice. Then bow again. One thing that was special about this shrine was that there was an area to write your wishes/prayers on a piece of paper. A offering should be placed along with your wish/prayer into an envelope and this was all placed into a wooden box. This will later be set in front of the alter in a ceremony. There were also Ema votive tablets for 500 Yen, for visitors to write their prayers on, which will also be offered in a ceremony.
The park wasn’t that large, since I soon reached the busy streets of Harajuku/Omotesando again. I went into a multi-level cosmetic shop for the first time in Japan and it was quite impressive. Unlike Korea, where I would see multiple copies of individual brands, I see larger stores with multiple brands. This is nice because you can pick up everything at once. Skin care is also a huge deal here and they conveniently labelled their top selling products as no. 1, so it was not difficult to find the most popular products. Again, they seal your purchases here if you want to claim the tax-free benefit. I would have to say it makes it more annoying to pack because you cannot stuff little things here and there. It becomes an odd shaped ziplock you’ll have to deal with.
I met up with my friend shortly after at Omotesando station and I must say it was the perfect weather to be walking around. If I were in Seoul’s cold winter climate, I would have probably just taken the train instead. It is always nice to catch up with friends after years of not seeing them. We chatted about her experience in Japan so far and how she managed to be fluent Japanese after 1.5 years of study. I was very envious that she was able to learn a new language and become fluent it in. I find it very difficult to be able to learn at new language and I would love to have been able to speak more Vietnamese/Thai/Korean/Japanese during this trip. She also helped me understand certain cultural practices of the Japanese people, including my concerns about the no soap situation in the public washrooms. I was also reminded that Japan is quite large and there are still so many prefectures that I have yet to see.
For dinner, we went to Sakura Tei, a restaurant specializing in Okonomiyaki. I have never had this before and was excited to try. At every table, was a large flat plate for cooking. We ordered 1 order of the Okonomiyaki, which originated in Osaka, then we also had the Monjayaki, which was Tokyo’s take on the Okonomiyaki. We also had the Sakura salad to start. It was not bad with bonito flakes adding a lot of flavour. I noticed that there was something quite gooey in the salad and was told it was Tororo, the pureed yam that we had the other day with our Gyukatsu meal. It was not my favourite thing. My friend encouraged me to try doing the cooking so I did. First, oil was poured onto the hot flat plate, then ingredients of the Okonomiyaki are mixed well. This was all poured onto the plate and spread out like a large pancake. The meat (in our case, bacon) would be laid on top. After the bottom was well-done, the whole pancake will be flipped over. It was tricky to not have the whole thing fall apart. Then an egg was cracked beside the pancake and the pancake was moved on top of the egg. Top it off with some sweet sauce, mayo and bonito flakes and then it is good to eat! We cut it up into slices and dug in. It was quite tasty and reminded me of Takoyaki, I guess because it had the same toppings. Next, I had to cook the Monjayaki, which was a little more complicated. I had to first scoop out the solids of the bowl leaving the liquid mixture intact. Then I had to stir-fry these contents for a bit. Next, I would move these contents to create a large donut. The liquid mixture was then poured in the center. The goal was for the liquid not to spill over the donut fence. The solid component is slowly moved into the centre of the donut until another pancake is formed; however this pancake will soon spread and look like a large spreading rectangle. To eat, there were little spatulas that we used to “play” with the cooked bits on the edges until it stuck to the spatula and then you would eat it. The concept was quite interesting. It was definitely not meant to be a quick bite as you slowly work through the large gooey pancake. I liked the novelty of this dish but I preferred the texture of the Okonomiyaki. For dessert, we had the dessert Monjayaki with banana, ice-cream, “corn flakes” and chocolate syrup. The regular price is 550 Yen (~$6.50 CAD) but there was an option to play rock paper scissors and if you win, you get it for free, whereas if you lose, it’s 700 yen (~$8.25 CAD). I am usually not a fan of gambling because I don’t trust my luck but where else will I get to play rock paper scissors with a server in hopes of getting a free dessert? And I won! It was awesome! She asked if we wanted to cook or if we wanted her to cook, so I said I wanted to watch her cook. She first scrapped the flat plate clean, then placed everything on top. She smashed everything up and the cooking method was pretty similar that what I did for the first Monjayaki, except she did it with such ease. The consistently was like oatmeal and it tasted really delicious – like banana and chocolate milkshake with cornflake bits.
So that was how I spent my last evening in Tokyo. I ended the night putting on a facial mask and packing up for the last time on this trip.