Japan 2017

I love Japan! Hands down my favorite country to visit – the people, the culture, the history, and most importantly the FOOD… This was my third time in Japan and I find new food surprises each time.  I spent most of my time scanning Yelp and Trip Advisor or watching TV to look for new places to try. Yes… I take my food finding very serious.

Upon arrival to my Airbnb in the Ebisu district of Tokyo, I jumped on the internet to find a place to eat. It was a cold winter evening and so I had a craving for some ramen. Jet-lagged and groggy, I looked for something nearby. Luckily, Afuri Ebisu was just across the main road. Afuri has more than one location and has some restaurants oversees.

 

Afuri Ebisu

Like many small establishments in Japan, there was a vending machine to pay for the ramen. There was English on the buttons, so it was pretty easy to use. Their unique offering was a yuzu ramen, so I decided to go for it. The accompaniments were pretty standard with a piece of seaweed, half of a medium-boiled egg, some chopped green onion, bamboo shoots, and chashu (bbq pork). They used a straight ramen noodle, which is pretty common throughout Japan.

I found the yuzu quite refreshing. It gave the broth a tanginess and mixed well with the straight noodles. Overall, the broth had a good mix of saltiness and tanginess, neither overpowered the other. The egg was nicely cooked – good and sludgy, just the way I like it. In addition to the yuzu broth, I found the chashu to be a highlight of the dish. What made it special was the searing over an open flame before serving. It really elevated the chashu and gave it additional depth of flavor. The chashu mixed well with the straight noodles and tangy yuzu broth. I wished I had ordered extra slices of chashu – it was that yummy! In the end, I enjoyed the ramen a lot. I actually went the very next evening when my brother-in-law arrived and felt like ramen as well.

Quite jet-lagged and awake at 3am one morning, my brother-in-law and I made the mad dash to Sushidai in Tsukiji Market. We arrived before they opened at 5am and had to wait a few hours before being seated. This was my second time to Sushidai, so I fully expected the wait. They serve free green tea to keep you warm…

 

Sushdai

So, why is Sushidai so popular? Why do people wait hours for sushi? Is it worth the wait?

Basically, it is the best sushi I’ve ever had for the price. Is it the best sushi in the world? No, you probably have to go to Sukiyabashi Jiro just down the road in Ginza district for that. If you love sushi and want some of the best fish around for the price, then Sushidai is worth the wait. The ten piece omakase menu is a whopping $40.00. Here in the states, omakase menus easily hit $200.00 and Sukiyabashi Jiro costs $300.00. Other sushi places in Tsukiji have a similar price, but I’ve tried a few and their quality of fish isn’t as good. Sushidai is the best mix of value and quality, hence the long lines.

Now, lets get down to the fish. They serve a preset menu of nine fish and let you pick the tenth. The menu changes daily, but they seem to have some standard fish such as chu-toro (medium-fatty tuna), uni (sea urchin), horse mackerel, giant clam, and maguro (tuna). They also include miso soup, tamago (egg), and some small tuna rolls. For the last piece, you get to choose anything they have including some really unique items, such as the sperm of some fish or the liver of another fish (I’ve tried the latter, but had reservations trying the former). You can also have a second piece of something you’ve already had; chu-toro or uni are my favorites. The most unique piece of sushi I’ve ever had is the clam that they serve at Sushidai. I’m not certain what kind of clam it is, but when they serve it, the sushi chef slaps it, places it on the bar, and the clam moves (a tad strange, but trust me, it does actually taste good). All of the fish are served one at a time and the sushi chef places it right on the bar as he makes them. Everything is already flavored, so you don’t need to dip them in soy like most other sushi places. I really enjoyed this style of service and presentation. It was much more interesting to eat the sushi as it’s made and the flavor of the fish was much tastier with the sushi chefs applying the seasoning. In the end, I’ve been to Sushidai twice and have no reservations on going again the next time I find myself in Tokyo.

The night before leaving Tokyo, I visited an udon place in Ebisu. It was located in an obscure alley next to a playground near Afuri Ebisu.

 

Udonyamacho

The menu was fairly straightforward – udon with different accompanying dishes. I chose udon with tempura. The broth was tasty and light, not overwhelming like some places. The udon noodle was thin and al dente, which was different for me. I’m accustomed to the thick, round, soft noodles found in the states and many other places in Japan. I’ve seen the dry udon noodles at stores, but never tried them. After having the udon at Udonyamacho, I’ll be looking for al dente udon noodles from now on. It gave the soup an added complexity with the different texture. The tempura was good – nice and light, not too oily. For my last night in Tokyo, it was a perfect meal to end my time there.

My next destination was Niseko, Hokkaido in the north of Japan.

 

Niseko Ramen

What can I say? I love ramen…

This is by far the most unique ramen I’ve ever had. Niseko Ramen offers a potato foam from Niseko grown potatoes on their ramen. The white layer sitting over the bowl is the foam and gives the soup a rich creamy texture. I decided on the spicy ramen with potato foam. On a freezing wintery night in Niseko, this ramen hits the spot. The thickness of the tonkatsu potato foam broth combined with the think curly noodles coated my insides with a nice layer of warmth that lasted the long walk back to my hotel. Trust me when I say that I needed it. In addition to the broth, foam, and noodles, there’s also chashu, egg, and corn. Very filling. A must try if you find yourself in Niseko and the place is still around. Niseko has been changing and becoming the next big thing; hopefully it doesn’t get too commercialized and push out the small businesses.

Ok, so I focused on a lot of snowboarding while in Niseko and failed to take photos of my other fantastic meals while I was in town. There are lots of fantastic places to eat in Niseko and lots of tourists to fill them up, but I have a key tip to getting into the top restaurants. Most places open up around 5:30pm, so you can usually get in if you get there when they open up. Unfortunately, some places have become so popular that reservations are a must. You can usually book a place for the next evening.

Before leaving Japan, I felt the need for some farewell sushi at the airport. Yep, even sushi at the airport is pretty darn good. At Haneda, I had some time, so I popped into a place located before the security gates.  I forgot to document the name of the restaurant.

I spent more than I did at Sushidai, but I ordered a lot of tuna and most of it was bluefin. Double what I showed in the photo above. There was o-toro (fatty tuna), chu-toro (medium fatty), and akami (lean). It was a cornucopia of tuna!!! For a restaurant in the airport, the quality is much better than would be expected. It honestly beats most places in the states. Definitely don’t hesitate to eat sushi at the airports in Japan.

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