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, 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.