Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Japan 2010 - A Meal To Remember

The evening air was turning chilly as we made our way back to the serviced apartment. It had been a long day of sightseeing and the children were visibly tired. We decided that the best option would be to eat in for dinner.

We made a quick stop at the noodle place around the corner, where the Husband bought bowls of hot, soupy soba to take away. I immediately decided that since everyone was happy staying in, I would venture out for sushi on my own. :) Yes, it would be the perfect opportunity to look for that traditional, tiny sushi restaurant ... the type Anthony Bourdain searched for in No Reservations Japan.

As my brood noisily slurped on their soba, I slipped on my coat and made my exit. I was going out alone ... and I was thrilled to bits!

The sky had visibly darkened by then. I looked at my watch - 6.45pm. I had to find a place fast, before the hungry, office crowd descended upon the eateries. I was, after all, in bustling Shinjuku.

I knew from our previous walkabouts in the area, that there were no sushi bars ... so I decided to look where we usually didn't go. Luck was with me. Shortly after I took a new turn, I spotted the words 寿司 (sushi) on a bright signboard. Oh yes!

My heart raced as I stood on the outside. There was nothing to give an indication of who or what was in there. What if - heaven forbid - it was actually a rowdy, male-dominated eatery?! Well then, I would just not go in.

I took a deep breath and pushed the old wooden sliding door ajar. In there stood an elderly couple - a sushi chef and his wife.

"Irasshaimase!" they chorused, looking slightly startled.

Momentarily, my mind went blank. The place was devoid of customers, and the couple looked like they were still doing last minute prepping. Oh dear, was I too early? But it was almost 7pm!

"Err ... c a n - I - e a t - n o w?" I blurted, fully aware that it was not the most elegant way of expressing myself. *face palm*

"Hai! Hai!" they beckoned for me to sit at the counter, and like an obedient child, I did.

I took a furtive glance around. The place was old, cramped and reeked of stale tobacco ... exactly the type of sushi bar I wanted to be in.

"Menu!" chirped the lady boss, as she handed me a tattered booklet. Thank god they understood and spoke a smattering of English. I turned the page and was relieved to see photos. Yes, photos! That would spare me some painful charades.

A quick browse through, and I was ready to do my usual point-and-order. The chef nodded, and got down to work.

"Sumimasen ... c a n - I - t a k e - p h o t o s?" I asked, hopeful he wouldn't mind.

"Dozo!" he replied with a smile.

And quick as lighting, I leaped out of my chair and whipped out my camera.

I watched in fascination as the chef prepared my dinner with deft fingers, caressing shapeless lumps of rice into perfect mounds.

I couldn't wait to eat!

My platter started to take shape very quickly. Oh yum yum yum. I was transfixed on the thick slabs of sashimi.

Finally ...

... finally, I could eat!

I uttered itadakimasu and ate my first piece of sushi (the one with the hotate). Utterly. Delicious.

"Oishii!" I mumbled with my mouth full, nodding my head in contentment. I just couldn't help it. It was melt-in-the-mouth delectable.

As I ate, the chef and his wife queried where I came from, why I was in Japan, and guffawed when I told them I had left my family eating takeaway soba to have this meal at their restaurant. :) In turn, I found out that their place was 60 years old.

By then, more diners had streamed in steadily, and I watched how they all bantered - cigarette in one hand, sake in the other - with the chef, like regulars. It was as authentic as it could get.

Out of the blue, the chef gestured toward me and introduced me to everyone as "yada yada yada SINGAPORE".

All eyes turned to look at the Singapore specimen. I choked on my miso soup. Then I looked up ... only to see kindly smiles and friendly nods. For the rest of the evening, all I heard was "yada yada yada SINGAPORE" and "yada yada yada MERLION". Some diners attempted to converse with me in English, and when they got stuck, the rest would join in and help figure out the right word. Most of it got lost in translation, but it was so sweet of them to involve me in their chatter. :)

Settling in nicely, I decided to order more sushi, just to stay a little longer. I surveyed the counter ...

and settled for these:

The chef said they were Kampachi, and they were amazing. They tasted very much like my all-time favourite Hamachi, but a little firmer.

Next thing I knew, glasses of Beaujolais Nouveau were brought out for all of us, on the house. How lovely! And so I ate, and drank, and completely immersed myself in the moment.

I was in Tokyo. In a 60-year old sushi joint. Eating unpretentious, good food with the locals, without a clue or care. It was perfect, and it was wonderful to be me. Undoubtedly, this would be a meal I will remember for a long, long time.

Taken from an overhead bridge, on my walk back. :)

And so concludes my JAPAN 2010 instalments. I decided not to blog about sights and places of interests because you can do a google for those. And get better quality photos too! Anyhow, I hope everyone enjoyed reading about my time in The Land of the Rising Sun.


  1. Hi! Was introduced to ur blog by my sis. Ur posts on Japan makes me feel like booking a ticket now and fly over! Great writing, keep it coming on!

  2. That sounds like a wonderful experience!

  3. I really need to get to JP! Love these posts, Ju. Some of the blog posts I have seen focuses too much on the star restaurants. Not that they are not hot, but I enjoy this even more :)

  4. I am loving all your posts from your Japan trip. Great looking sushi!

  5. Ju, I am just back from Japan but didnt enjoy as much you do since my daughter was sick during the trip, wish I can go back now...

  6. ooo i love seeking out small vintage places =). you didn't post the location haha.

  7. I really enjoyed reading your post about the sushi bar. It was such a sweet story. I love your vivid details that made it feel like I was there enjoying it too. The sushi looks so good and Japan sounds so fun!

  8. You just have a way of drawing people in! I read and love all your Japan posts but this has got to be my favorite! I feel like you're talking to me, relating the interesting bits of your trip. You're funny and you write beautifully, plus your photos are jus amazing. Totally admire how you do it all!!!

  9. Wah looks like you had a great time in Japan! I'm jealous, now feel like going back to Japan again to have sushi hahaha

  10. I love this story, you wrote it so engagingly. Experiences like this are awesome!

  11. sometimes, it does wonders for the soul to eat out alone :)

  12. Oh, Ju. Your story really fascinates me. It was as if I were in Japan just by reading this story. You really are a good blogger and a photographer. Hope you enjoy yourself in Japan and keep us updated about your venture in Japan !

  13. I was pretending that it was me having a good time in Japan... ;). Brilliant
    post.. Ok have to go back dreaming of Japan...:D

  14. You are a master story teller. No one does it like you do. Brilliant post, Ju!


  15. You sound like Anthony Bourdain:) Antoinette:)

    How could they not feed you and how could they say NO to photos by you?

    No none can resist you:)

    The food looks amazing..What an artist!

    You DO write and photo so well..

  16. oh, could u pls post the address of the sushi bar?? thanks!

  17. Well written and such a nice experience. You should take the picture of the old lady too as I am curious how she looks like. ;)

  18. Hi everybody! *waves*

    Thanks for dropping by! :) I really enjoyed writing this post. It brought back loads of happy memories, still fresh in my mind. I wish I was in Japan right now. :(

  19. I love this post! You are a woman after my own heart!
    Your pics are fabulous Ju...

  20. Oh stunning pictures am just in love with all of them :)

  21. Great post and the more I look a the pics, the more I miss Japan as a whole! Thanks for sharing your trip with us!

  22. Such a lovely experience in the restaurant! Aren't you glad you left your family with their soba and ventured into this place? Ooh...I just love Tokyo Japan! I vowed I'll be back again one day. One trip is never ever enough to Japan! Yokoso Japan! Heehee...
    Btw, thanks very much for sharing the wonderful pictures you took in Japan. Wish I could be there too!

  23. Your previous blogs about Japan sound so exciting...for I will be heading to Japan with in a month or so! Anyhow, did you ever go to Nagasaki or to an onsen? If you did please blog...I would love to hear your experience!


  24. Hi Ju..what a great story! It's so exciting to go somewhere new and find local eateries like this!

  25. No video - yada yada yada Singapore? LOL

  26. Hi Ju (waive), it's a nice blog about your special encounter with real, authentic local Japapnese sushi. What a great experience meeting so many nice customers around too.

  27. Beautiful! Sushi chef has such skilled and beautiful hands too :)

  28. Absolutely perfect!! THAT is how to travel! Finding adventures around the corner. I loved reading this post, it really took me out of myself for a moment (which I sorely need). And as for that sushi - my favorite is the one with the little omelet on top ... mmm.

  29. Hi Ju,
    very nice photos!! Can i ask what camera you using? Im going to hokkaido in june with my 1 yr old girl, looking for a good camera.

    BTW i have not been to your blog for a long time, after i went back to work from my maternity leave. Oh man, din realise i miss it so much ahha. I used to visit so often, with a new child, had so little time for myself and had not bake for a long time too. :(

  30. Linda: Thank you, always, for your kind words.

    Ananda, Leemei, Jane, Alice, HL, Christine, Trix: Thank you my dear ladies. :)

    MSV: No, no onsen. But I promise next time!

    Diva: Must be all the fatty fish he has been handling thru the years!

    ClearTear: I was using a Canon 550D with a 50mm lens for these photos. Oooh, you are going to Hokkaido?! Lovely!! I haven't been there but I will make that trip. Soon. Congrats on your new baby!

  31. HI Ju,
    thanks! I wanted to get 550 but seems bit heavy to bring overseas esp with a baby. yes aiming for summer at hokkaido!

    Ur website got so much updates from the last time i visit.. heheeh.

  32. stunning, mouth watering photos. Happy 2011!

  33. Hi Ju!!!! I have been looking at your blog for hours now and i totally admire your bakes and superb skills! I totally understand how you felt in Japan. I felt the adrenaline rush and sense of peace when i was in Japan too! Really lucky that you managed to eat at a 60-year old sushi place with locals trying to talk to you and letting you immerse in their everyday life of eating sushi and sake after work. I totally envy you! Next time when i saved up enough money to go to Japan again, i am definitely going to grab hold of every opportunity to experience what you have experienced and spend a vacation to remember:)
    Thanks for sharing, your posts make me feel soooooo nostalgic! Thanks again!

    1. You are so sweet. I wish you well for every aspiration you have. Go for it!