Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
that this adorable shop is right down the road from our apartment. The
owner is pretty awesome - he went to HBS, worked at Goldman, Bank of
Japan and he left his post as President of Rakuten Travel (Japan's
biggest online retailer) to open this little shop with his own money.
Kind of my dream...
Friday, September 18, 2009
We Americans get such a bad rap. I kind of think it's unfair, but it's the way of the world. French people are snooty, Italians are sexy, English food is bad and Americans are loud, fat and obnoxious. Most American tourists that choose to come to Japan on vacation are adventurous folks that are seasoned travelers. They try and learn a few survival phrases before they come and try their best to abide to the local etiquette. I will be the first to tell you that in Japan, it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to not offend someone - whether you're foreign or not. That's just the way it is. You can't please everyone, but if you try your best, most people won't hate you.
The other day my roommate and I were eating at our favorite burger place in Tokyo, Authentic Burger. It's a cute burger shack in Akasaka that plays ska music. We were minding our own business when in walks an American family of three - dad, mom and super embarassed teenage sun wearing a SF Giants Shir-zey. I have never been more offended/shocked at a stranger's behavior ever in my life. (Hyperbole!! Watch out!) They made no effort to speak Japanese and just were very very rude and condescending.
Dad : "YES, WE'D LIKE 3 HAMBURGERS AND 3 DIET COKES"
Japanese Waitress: "Ahhhh...saaaa...sumimasen...ahh...no diet soda."
Mom: "WHAT?! WHAT DO YOU MEAN NO DIET SODA?! RON, JUST GET ME AN ICED TEA."
Dad: "OK, COULD WE HAVE ICED TEA. THANK YOU. EXCUSE ME, HOW DO YOU SAY HAMBURGER IN JAPANESE?"
Japanese Waitress: "Hambaga. We just say Hambaga"
Dad: "OH, WELL THAT'S EASY TO REMEMBER. COULD WE GET SOME SWEET AND LOW?"
Japanese Waitress: ???
Anyhow...roommate and I couldn't stand to sit and witness this so we left and made a point to say "Gochisosaama" very loud to the chef and waitress.
If you ever do come to Japan, be sure to write this down:
ittadekimasu - if you eat with Japanese people, it's best to say this before you eat your food. It's like a blessing.
gochisosaama - Say this to the staff and chef when you pay and leave the restaurant, thanking them for your meal.
How to order:
WHAT YOU WANT TO ORDER + onegaishimasu
WHAT YOU WANT TO ORDER + o kudasai
Point to what you want on the menu and say "Kore o kudasai."
*if you don't know how to pronounce what you want to order, just try to say it anyway and point to it on the menu. They may not know what you're saying, but pointing goes a long way.
How to say thank you:
arigatoo gozaimasu (thank you)
Akasaka Mitsuke Station (Marunouchi, Ginza)
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Zoka Coffee Roaster
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009
To make things easier on myself, I've decided to become a complete slave to marketing and advertising. Back home, I drowned out all the lame messages on the subway and on TV, but here I'm all ears. It's worked out pretty well thus far. I got an iPhone because of that schnazzy SMAP Softbank commercial, I drink BOSS Coffee because Tommy Lee Jones is on the can and generally stick to Suntory drink products because well, "For relaxing time, make it a Suntory time." One of my favorite finds thus far is a chocolate snack called Chip Chop. They're slightly salty like potato chips, but chocolate flavored. If you watch the current commercial below, you'll understand why I had to have them.
Monday, September 14, 2009
I've been meaning to try out Lotteria for quite some time now. Now I know I wasn't missing anything. I tweeted today, that Lotteria is Korea's version of McDonald's. It is not. I would never dis Donald McDonald like that. Lotteria is more like...hmm...ok there's no comparable American counterpart because Americans know how to burger. In my opinion, Carl's Jr makes the WORST burger in America, but I'd eat those for a year over Lotteria. I can't stress to you how thin my patty of meat was. Barely visible because it was hidden behind an inch of lettuce and mayo. Blech. Fries were ok but not good enough to save this meal. Lotteria's parent company is Lotte which is a huge Korean conglomerate. They make pretty ok gum. They should stick to gum.
What the hell just happened to me?! How did I get there and back? Do I love this place or hate it? These are a few questions I asked myself after visiting Namco Namjatown in Ikebukuro this weekend. Let me start off by saying that Ikebukuro is a cool place. It is a district in Northern Tokyo and is a major hub to the Eastern Prefectures. It's crazy, crowded and packed with cheap shopping, Hello Kitty, multi-level Arcades and food. One of the main attractions is a mall called Sunshine City. I don't think it would be possible to visit every single store in this place but I didn't come for the shopping. I came to eat.
This is where Namco Namjatown comes into play. This is a...theme park maybe? Fun house? I'm still not exactly sure what the purpose of this crazy place is but I do know that it is home to Ice Cream City and Gyoza Stadium.
Roomie and I first stopped by Gyoza Stadium for dinner/glorified snack. If you didn't know already, gyoza are Japanese dumplings. They're usually boiled then pan fried on one side. The fillings usually involve pork and chives - gyoza are another Chinese food Japanese people have basically stolen and called their own (Ehem..Ramen...) We ordered Gyoza from 4 different booths and were scared to find out that one of the kinds we ordered contained cheese. What we didn't realize is that the these were gyoza masters. Each booth featured a large picture of a serious looking Japanese dude crossing his arms. Picture Iron Chef and their Iron Chef Masters. The cheese gyoza were not bad at all...in fact, I kind of wish they were more common.
Next stop...ICE CREAM CITY!!! It's been a dream of mine to live in a place were every store is an ice cream store and I had my homecoming this weekend. In Ice Cream City, everyone smiles and is very nice. In Ice Cream City, you can have any flavor of ice cream, soft cream, shaved ice and gelato you fancy! In Ice Cream City, you are happy. I got a Strawberry Magic Ice with red beans, mochi and condensed milk. In Ice Cream City, you don't shave ice and then pour gross syrup on top...NO! In Ice Cream City, they puree Strawberries and freeze it THEN shave it. Genius. Roomie got a Banana Soft Cream in a crepe. I think he liked it.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
lunch. Today's menu included a wheat bread puff, veggie soup, steamed
yams, a plum and by far the oddest thing I've had in Japan, white fish
and Camembert cheese wrapped in bacon. All this is washed down with a
carton of whole milk which I haven't had since I was 7 and decided to
tell my mom I was lactose intolerant. I was really missing out bc I'm
sucking down my milk like a champ!
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Tokyo Apartment Cafe
Right outside the Meijijingumae station
Meijijingumae Station (Fukutoshin, Chiyoda)
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The roomie's birthday was a few weekends ago and to celebrate, I dusted off my beautiful Blue Betty mixer and baked him a cake. I'm quite the baker, if I may say so myself. I enjoy it more than I enjoy cooking. I'm not very free form and I like to stick to recipes as they were written. What can I say, I'm not a rule breaker.
Settling into Japan, the last thing I thought would cause me great stress was baking cake. There were a many obstacles along the way. Let me explain:
1. I don't read a lot of Kanji. The Japanese language uses 3 alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are like the letters of the alphabet and they're pretty easy to pick up once you become familiar enough. Kanji on the other hand is a beast. Kanji are Chinese characters adapted to the Japanese language. Each character can have several meanings depending on the situation. Learning Kanji is straight memorization and recognition. You need to know around 2,000 Kanji and all their meanings in order to read the newspaper. It's such a complicated system that even the not-for-long Prime Minister, Taro Aso, jumbled meanings in public speeches a la George Bush. Anyhow, because I know about 7 Kanji total, it made grocery shopping incredibly difficult. Is this flour or cornstarch? Sugar or laundry detergent? Where do I find Baking Soda? What is Vanilla Oil and is it the same as Vanilla Extract? Headache!
2. While my kitchen is super fancy and high tech, sometimes you just don't need technology to intervene. In America, the oven usually resides under the stove. In Japan, this is a shoebox sized fish fryer. Not big or hot enough to bake a cake. Instead, we have a dual microwave/convection oven the size of a standard microwave. It's basically an Easy Bake Oven for grown ups. This thing is cool in theory, but when you don't know how it works, it is the scariest thing in the world. There are so many buttons and none of them have any meaning to me. (See point 1) At one point, I think I microwaved my batter for about 7 minutes. Double headache!
3. Conversions and measurements. Math - ack! Thank goodness for the Internet. Because the ovens here are tiny, the cake pans are also very tiny, so I had to decrease the amount of batter I was making. Not that big of a deal. There are tons of great recipe conversion sites out there that do all the work for you. What is not so fun is taking standard cookbook measurements and converting them into weight. I could not find measuring cups to save my life here. Instead, I bought a kitchen scale and had to weigh all the ingredients. As you know with baking, perfect measurements are vital to a successful treat so this was kind of stressful. Butter is not pre-measured in convenient quarter cup sticks here, so things got a little messy at this point. Fret not, I'm feeling better about the scale debacle after reading this post on Gizmodo.
After all was said and done, the cake came out pretty amazing. I made a Martha Stewart Devil's Food Cake with Sprinkles' Cream Cheese Frosting. The sour cream in the cake batter keeps the cake super moist. The one good thing about baking in Japan is that the easiest thing to find are super cute cake decorations. They're pretty cheap and readily available at the grocery store or drugstores. Presentation and packaging are SO IMPORTANT in Japan, almost to a ridiculous degree. After all the Kanji, measuring and oven hullabaloo - I ended up with a happy birthday boy and a very cute cake.