Japanese · Restaurants · Tokyo

Tokyo Eats – Sakura Cafe

Back in Japan! Due to L’s work, we spend three weeks in Japan. In Tokyo, our group stayed in Ikebukuro, a lower income area known for a surplus of girlie bars. There are a few seedy streets, but other than that, Ikebukuro does the trick.  For this post, let’s listen to Plastic Love by Takeuchi Mariya.

For breakfast, L always goes to Sakura Café, which is part of our hotel – Sakura Ikebukuro. The 24 hour cafe has a large outdoor patio, a rarity in Tokyo. Last year, the cafe was quiet and filled with mostly tourists. This year, the cafe was packed with locals and tourists. In the previous year, the staff allowed our group to meet inside the cafe.

On our first morning in Tokyo, I knew our group was in trouble. A bunch of them came in and ate their store bought food inside the cafe and threw away their plastic bag and containers in the cafe’s bins. Japan is very strict regarding where you dispose your garbage. The appropriate thing would have been to keep your garbage with you and dispose of it in our hotel room or the hotel’s garbage bins.

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Other customers looked annoyed at our group, as the communal volume deafened all other conversations inside the patio. When we left, a staffer informed TJ that our group was too large to meet inside the cafe and no one was allowed to bring outside food to consume inside. We were also told that our group was too loud and implied we were being obnoxious.

L likes the breakfast at Sakura Cafe. For 350 Yen, you get all-you-can-eat white toast, Asian soup, coffee and tea. L ate here every day because he prefers a light breakfast and he could work while the group could find him if they had questions. I joined him a few times. I would get there early in the morning and drink three tiny cups of soup. I always scooped up the goodies on the bottom of the pot (bits of meat, seafood, vegetables). By the time I got my third cup, the pot of soup was mostly broth. I thought it was funny but when I told L, I could see he disapproved. I didn’t feel bad that other customers only got broth. It’s not my fault the cafe skimps on the good stuff.

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The coffee was weak and the toast reminded me of Cobb’s white bread. A flavourless margarine and three types of jam were offered for the toast. I preferred picking up oden from 7/11 and then buying a coffee at Sakura Cafe so I could sit with L.

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Most convenience stores don’t sell oden in the spring or summer season. However, the 7/11 by our hotel did. I would eat three to four pieces – usually an egg, daikon, kinchaku, wiener-maki or shirataki.  Each piece ranges from 80 to 120 Yen. The broth was light, salty and savoury, made from a combination of soy and dashi. This simple stew looks strange but it’s tasty and warms you up first thing in the morning or late at night.

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Our hotel gave us a coupon for a free glass of wine or sake with the purchase of an entree. After a long day, TJ told us she wanted to grab a bite for dinner.  I knew from past experiences that when she’s hungry, she doesn’t want to wait for a table or to take the time to look around for a good restaurant. TJ only cares about the three Cs – convenience, cheapness and copious portions. I suggested we eat at Sakura Cafe even though I knew the food was the equivalent of Calgary’s Chili’s.  The wine taste like apple juice so I requested some ice cubes to enhance the flavour.

We all ordered the cafe’s specialty – Hamburger Gratin (1, 290 Yen). Basically, it’s a hamburger in a bun, covered in a creamy, cheesy sauce and baked until it’s a hot molten ball. I ordered a side of fries (490 Yen) to mop up the sauce and scraped most of the bun under the cast iron pan on top of my plate. L made a face because of the mess I was making. I told him I’d put the discarded bun back on the pan after I was finished dipping my fries with the sauce. I needed to move the bun otherwise the bread would soak up all the sauce. He pretended he didn’t know what I was talking about. After eight years, I can read L like an open book.

Highlight – my newfound love for oden. It’s a low calorie and a guilt-free option.

Lowlight – getting reprimanded for our group’s behaviour. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

 

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