Cheap Eats · Comfort food · Curry · Japanese · Restaurants · Tokyo

Tokyo – Ikebukuro Cheap Eats

It’s interesting traveling with other people. You get to learn their quirks. For example, TJ does not like to hunt for a good restaurant. Sometimes, she won’t eat for 24 hours. I asked her how she can go without food for so long. TJ responded I could do it too. You just go without. When she’s finally ready to have a meal, she wants her food immediately. Her criteria in Japan: 1) fast 2) convenient 3) cheap and 4) big portions. I’ve tried to bring her snacks to quell her appetite so I can search for a better restaurant, but I was unsuccessful. I’ve found a few places that meet her criteria. For this post, let’s listen to The Hanging Treefrom the Hunger Games soundtrack.

TJ approved of Kareno Lo. I found this katsu curry shop, which was less than five minutes from our hotel. You buy your ticket from a vending machine. The descriptions are in Japanese, so make sure to bring your Google translate app with you. There’s only about 12 seats at the counter. It’s the sort of place you’d go by yourself to chow down and then get the hell out.

Once you get your ticket, hand it to a cook who will fry up your cutlet. The portions here are hearty. For about 900 Yen, you get a generous cutlet, rice and curry. The katsu at Karen Lo is superior to what you can get in Calgary. I’ve had better katsu in Kyoto, but I paid at least double that amount. The difference between Karen Lo and other higher end joints? You get a fluffier batter, different breed designations, variety of cuts, endless bowls of perfect rice, miso soup, pickles, salad, condiments and tea.

TJ tried to find Kareno Lo again without me but she couldn’t find it. I thought that was hilarious. This is a woman who can find any business, cultural site, university or village in Japan. Tj uses real maps, not Google map. She even looks up multiple maps for one location, because each version shows varying degrees of detail. I’ve got my own special powers. I’m a savant when it comes to eating out. I can remember every single restaurant I’ve even been to, everything on the menu, where the restaurant is located, and everything that was ever written about the restaurant’s food. Sadly, no one gives out awards for this rare talent. I’d give the katsu 3.5/5.

The third place I found that TJ enjoys is Ginza Kagari Echika Ikebukuro. This noodle shop is located next to my favourite sushi joint by Exit C6 at Ikebukuro Station. There’s usually not a long line-up. I’m particularly fond of the cold soba noodles with the sardine dipping sauce. The cold, grilled vegetables and meats were refreshing and the perfect accompaniment to the noodles. Bowls of soba cost 1000 Yen and up. I’d give the sardine noodles 4 out of 5.

I’ve tried the famous chicken soba soup with truffle mayo. The broth was very fragrant and rich, almost like butter.

I found Iwamotokyu at the end of our trip. Iwamotokyu is not nearly as good as the tendon chain – Tempura Tenya – but it’s open 24 hours. The soba is quite nice, far better than the rice, which was too wet. The noodles were firm, toothsome and almost nutty in flavour. The tempura itself was average. I’d skip the fish and meat and go for shrimp or veggies instead. For about the same price as a meal at the local 7/11, Iwamotokyu does the trick of filling up our bellies. Solid 3 our of 5.

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There you have it. There are loads of cheap eats in Tokyo. Not so much in Kyoto. To be continued.

Cheap Eats · Comfort food · Deli · Restaurants · Tokyo

Tokyo – Ootoya Ikebukuro

Before L and I leave for dinner, we would usually have a drink in our room. When L first came to Japan a decade and a half ago, there was only Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo. The beer scene has really taken off and craft beer in Japan is booming.

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Now when we visit an upscale grocery store, there’s a half-dozen options. Each can is between 300 to 500 Yen, depending on the brewery. I prefer Alberta’s craft beer because of its greater complexity. I find Japanese beers one-dimensional.

ipa

Ootoya was a restaurant I found on Yelp that L and I both would not bother returning. It had all the makings of a good restaurant. The interior is pleasant and clean. Service was prompt. Prices were excellent and the presentation of the food was nice. The only thing missing was taste. For this blog posting, I’m going to play some music you’d probably hear at a restaurant in Tokyo.

It’s cheaper to eat at this pleasant canteen than a combo meal at McDonalds in Calgary. Most dishes were around 1000 Yen. We picked a chicken dish and breaded pork in curry with an egg. Both entrees came with rice and vegetable side dishes.

chicken

See how good this chicken looks? Well, there wasn’t much flavour. On the plus side, no flavour usually means it’s not drenched in sugary or buttery sauces. The portions are generous, more geared to Westerners. We were both too full after eating our meal.

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L ordered breaded pork cutlet in curry. The batter was soggy and all the vegetables were overcooked. It’s pretty rare we try a restaurant in Japan and wouldn’t return. The only other place is a noodle house right by west side of Ikebukuro station exit – Tachi Kui Soba Kimidzuka. L hates this place. Whenever we walk by, which is at least twice a day, I make a joke about eating here.

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This stand room only shop sells udon and soba for cheap. Despite its prime location, it’s only busy around lunch time. Most of the customers are business men in a rush to get in and out.

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In 2017, I wanted to try it. We saw another person order zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles). I know we are supposed to order by number but the zaru soba wasn’t on the menu. L said excuse me in Japanese and pointed to what a customer was eating. The man in charge in the kitchen shouted at L to order by number. I said “Zaru soba” and then showed two fingers. I wanted to add tempura at the last moment and that infuriated the man even more. He slammed the food down on the counter and gave L a dirty look. He didn’t gave L his change back either. There’s no tipping in Japan, so this was a big affront.

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L said it’s a huge insult for a local to not give you your change back. It wasn’t busy inside either. It takes a lot to get L mad, but oh boy, when he does get riled up, watch out. I told L that it was clear that the man wasn’t living the high life and to let it go.

noodles again

How was the food? I’ve had better instant noodles in Japan. Having said that, some of the instant noodles in Japan are better than the ramen I’ve had in restaurants in Calgary. L didn’t eat his food. I thought it was a bit tasteless, the service and the soba. If anyone tells you that you can’t get a bad meal in Japan, just send them to Tachi Kui Soba Kimidzuka and tell them to special order something ;-).

Bars/Lounges · Beer · Japanese · Restaurants · Tokyo

Tokyo Eats- Towa

On a humid afternoon, L and I went to Taitō to buy a yukata for our nephew – Jack the Lad. Taitō is best known for its zoo, parks, museums and bustling street shopping. After we picked out a new kimono, we sought refuge from the heat and crowds.

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I searched Yelp for a nearby bar and found Towa. Towa specializes in craft beer and soba noodles. Located on the second floor, the restaurant is tucked under Ueno train station. At 2:00 p.m., the restaurant was packed. In Japanese, L politely requested two seats. As there were no empty tables, the bartender told us we would have to wait up to half an hour. We nodded and said we would be happy wait. In less than ten minutes, we received a spot at the bar.

I could hear the train rumble overhead. The ceiling shook slightly from the vibration. For this post, let’s listen to The Passenger by Iggy Pop.

The restaurant was filled with locals, though tourists have gotten wind of this place. At 2:30 p.m., we saw a couple come in with a baby. They made no attempt to speak any Japanese and they insisted on a specific table in the back. I could tell that the employee didn’t really want to seat them. He told them it would be half an hour for a table and he couldn’t guarantee the table they wanted. The couple sighed and left without the courtesy of a bow and a sumimasen. I guess they couldn’t find another restaurant because they returned. The server ignored them for ten minutes and then coldly seated them in the back, which was by this time completely empty.

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There were two pages of Japanese craft beer. I picked #262 Mahoroba Wheat Kai –  Ushitora Brewery (1150 Yen) and L picked Struggle IPA – Isekadoya Brewery. My beer was clean and refreshing. L’s beer had a refined hoppy note to it.

Soba

We saw locals dining on cold soba noodles along with sides of tempura and sashimi. After our beer, we indulged too. I picked soba with grated radish (670 Yen). The soba was chilled and chewy. As instructed, I poured the cold soba sauce over the crisp vegetables and wet mound of white radish. Then I dipped my noodles into the sauce before slurping away.

Mountain radish

Service was lovely after we attempted to order in Japanese. My advice for foreigners? Not learning a few basic Japanese phrases (which is rude), being demanding, and expecting locals to speak English doesn’t get you very far. You can expect to be denied service through various excuses, such as you need reservations or they are all booked up. L and I would happily return to Towa again. The food was well-priced and refreshing on a hot day.