August 27, 2013

What I Ate in Tokyo

I just recently returned from a week-long trip to Tokyo, Japan, where I attended a conference and fit in lots of sightseeing as well!  I'm slowly getting back into a normal routine again now (the 13 hour time difference has really messed up my sleep cycles) and trying to organize all the pictures I took, so now I can finally share some of the food I ate there!  A word of warning before I start though, I'm not exactly the most adventurous eater, and there are a lot of things (meat items, specifically) that I don't eat, so when the majority of menus we encountered there were only in Japanese, I was often too scared to try anything new!  I'm sorry!  I know a lot of people will be disappointed that I didn't even venture into a sushi restaurant (though surprisingly, I don't even think I saw any) or try a lot of common Japanese foods, but I was usually just so lost on where to eat and what to order because I didn't know what anything was!

I should also clarify that I think it's completely acceptable to expect Japanese-only menus in Japan and a lot of places did offer English menus when asked, which was really nice, and it's my own fault for not learning some Japanese phrases or downloading a translator on my phone beforehand - I was very unprepared for this trip and only had time to start planning things to do there the day before I left - oops!

That being said, I absolutely loved Japan - including the sights, (especially) the people, and even the food!  Here are some of the things I ate while I was there (and I will try to be brief in my descriptions, which are below each picture):

vegetarian plane food

If I can start with the plane ride over, I just wanted to show this meal my sister and I received on Air Canada (economy) because we requested vegetarian meals.  We got spiced sweet potatoes with veggies on quinoa, a bean salad, a whole wheat bun, and a vegan cookie.  I was so impressed that a plane meal could be healthy!

Thai meal

Our first night in Tokyo, we arrived late, took forever finding our hotel because there are no street signs anywhere, and by the time we were ready to go find food, we were starving!  The first night in a new country is always a little overwhelming, and when all the signs in the area were in Japanese (and my sister is vegetarian so needs to be pretty picky), we had a hard time finding somewhere to eat.  We really wanted to get Japanese food on our first night but eventually our stomachs took over and we gave up and ate at a nearby Thai restaurant (that had English menus).  Not complaining because my meal was pretty good!

local udon noodles

I had a more authentic meal the second day, when I ordered a bowl of local udon noodles with vegetables.  Udon noodles are super thick and chewy, which I love, and it was even better to be able to try them fresh!

lavender, green tea, and vanilla ice cream

There are a lot of different ice cream flavours in Japan, and it was HOT there all the time (with the humidex it was always above 40C (104F) every day in Tokyo), so I was happy to treat myself!  Pictured above are three flavours: vanilla, peach, and lavender - yum!


Our second night we were more determined to try Japanese food, and after searching for a long time we finally walked up the stairs into a restaurant that the host tried to call us into (which is common there), but even though he had assured us outside that they have lots of vegetarian meals, once we got inside (to a very smoky, crowded room), the English menu they brought us revealed no vegetarian food so we left (I was kind of glad to leave all the smoke).  Next door there was a lovely looking Neopolitan-style pizza place so we gave in and got pizza.  And it was amazing!

veggie burger

On our third day, we actually planned ahead and sought out a vegetarian restaurant to find.  There are very few of them in Tokyo, but Hanada Rosso in Shibuya got great reviews and we were determined to find it (though trying to find a place you know the address of is still quite a task in Tokyo!!).  We finally found it and were so happy to eat in a clean and bright restaurant with friendly staff.  I ordered the veggie burger which they say is their most popular item, and it was definitely one of the yummiest veggie burgers I've had!


Most of the beer served at restaurants seemed to be lager-style.  I'm not usually a fan of lagers, but on super hot days, I was willing to drink anything!

beer garden

Nevertheless, I was very happy when we stumbled across a rooftop "beer forest" that was happening during the summer.  The patio had water misting out, peaceful music playing, and beer choices other than lager (produced by Sankt Gallen Brewery) - I was delighted to spend an hour resting up there!

(UPDATE: I have since typed 'craft beer in Tokyo' into Google and found tons of amazing bars that serve Japanese and American craft beers - some I'm pretty sure I would have walked right by too - why I never thought to search for this earlier is beyond me!  Also, please see my point at the very end of this post about the importance of planning ahead!)

hello kitty ice cream sandwich

When we visited Harajuku (an area popular with teenagers), I couldn't resist getting a Hello Kitty ice cream sandwich - so cute!

avocado cream cheese chips

There were lots of interesting snacks available in Tokyo, the above being one I thought sounded the best (though didn't try as I was trying not to eat too many unhealthy things there).  I think they need to bring avocado flavour to Canada!

reception meal

The night of the conference opening reception, I finally tried my first sushi!  Including what I believe is called inari sushi - sushi rice wrapped in tofu skin (the pouch looking thing in the picture) - surprisingly tasty!

conference lunch

I was much less fond of the conference lunches, which were like a bento box full of mystery items.  I have a hard time dealing with mushy textures and mystery meats, so I left a lot of this behind (I know, I'm terrible!)

conference lunch

Day 2's lunch was better.  I didn't eat the chicken (again I'm picky and don't eat chicken with skin on or bones in), shrimp, or the mystery mushy items in the lower left corner (except the veggies), but the salmon, seaweed, fish ball, and rice were all quite tasty!

noodles with salad

We were staying in Makuhari, which is a conference area full of food courts.  The first night I had to go find dinner, I saw the sign above (none of the restaurants in the building we went to had English translations) and thought the bowl looked delicious - usually anything with noodles, veggies, and an egg on top is a win for me.  I was a little surprised when I received my order and discovered it was a bowl of cool noodles in cold broth, with a ceasar salad on top.  A little strange but I still enjoyed most of it!


For a group dinner during the conference, we went back into Tokyo (Shibuya) for a real dinner instead of food court meals.  I was so happy to get fresh vegetables in an amazing salad!


My main course was risotto with koutake mushrooms, which are apparently a rare wild Japanese mushroom.  This was probably my favourite thing I ate on the whole trip!


And since I still wasn't quite full, I ordered dessert - a mango and mascarpone mousse with sorbet and tropical fruit - so good!!

mango ice

We went to a professional baseball game one night because baseball's a big deal in Japan (and the fans are crazy - I loved it!) so my dinner that night consisted of potatoes and mango shaved ice.  Not the most nutritious meal but I loved the mango dessert!  I also loved that you can get things like sushi and noodles at a baseball game :)

lock up shibuya
One of the many things I loved about Tokyo was its themed restaurants - you can find a themed restaurant for almost anything - Alcatraz, ninjas, vampires, opera, princesses, etc - and as soon as you walk in the door (or step off the elevator), you're transported into a different place where the decor, servers, food, and drinks all match the theme. 

The first one we went to was called Lock Up, where you walk through a mini haunted house, are greeted by a prison guard who handcuffs one guest and leads you all to your cell, where you can eat and drink items that are haunted house/prison/mad scientist-themed.  A little creepy but so fun!

alice in wonderland restaurant

The second one we went to was a lot happier - Alice in Wonderland!  I loved everything about it, including the cards and teacups on the ceiling, the storybook pages lining the hallway, and the Alice and mad hatter dressed servers!

alice in wonderland restaurant

Even the menus (which were full of Alice-themed items) were so interactive and fun!

bread at alice in wonderland

The appetizer they brought out for the table was designed after the "Eat Me" cake Alice eats that makes her grow.  A fun touch! (and that bowl of what we thought was butter was actually some sort of melted cheese - mmmm)

appetizer at alice in wonderland

I ordered the appetizer above, which was some sort of jam served with tortilla crackers designed like playing cards - I loved it!

main course at alice in wonderland

And for my main course I ordered spaghetti that was designed after the cheshire cat - awesome!  I definitely recommend going here if you're ever in Tokyo!

airport meal on way home

Another one of my favourite Japanese meals was actually in an airport restaurant on the way home.  I had a bowl of noodles (I gave the shrimp away to one of my fellow diners) with a sesame-soy tasting sauce I poured over them, along with a bowl of rice topped with a sort of tuna tartare (and other goodies).  It was probably one of my more authentic meals I ate there and I loved it!

plastic food display

One of the things I liked about restaurants in Japan (and other countries have this as well) is that many of them have plastic food displays outside the restaurant representing the menu items they have available.  Makes it a little easier to choose a restaurant when you can't read the menu!


I also loved how many different smoothies and cold drinks were available in coffee shops there. I tried to get as many matcha drinks as I could!

panda treat

The cutest thing I ate there was definitely this panda dessert filled with what I believe was bean paste.  It was way too sweet for me so I couldn't eat it all, but I loved how adorable it was!

kit kat

One of the souvenirs I brought back to try was this green tea kit kat bar.  The green tea flavour was much milder than anything else I tried there, but I liked this a lot better than regular chocolate (which I'm not a fan of)!
handmade bowls and plates
The only other souvenir I brought back for myself was the bowl pictured in the top right corner above - I think it's so pretty!  I bought it from a little stall near the Tsukiji fish market that was selling lots of gorgeous (and I assume handmade) bowls, plates, and glasses, all for great prices too.  I picked up some souvenirs for my family and I wish I could have bought SO many more items there but I was worried about them breaking on the way back.  They were all so beautiful though!

I should end this now and thank those of you who are still reading!  Overall I loved Tokyo, even though I wasn't too adventurous with the food - and would love to go back again one day!  And if you still feel like reading more, you can check out my sister's post on what she ate during our trip!

Oh and if you're ever planning on going to Tokyo, can I offer one piece of advice?  Plan, plan, plan beforehand!  You can't just walk down the street there and expect to see everything there is to see (plus you will probably get lost - streets are confusing there).  There are so many buried treasures and adventures in Tokyo that can only be found if you've done your research ahead of time (and usually by Googling specific things you're looking for - i.e. not just 'things to do in Tokyo' but 'cat cafes in Shinjuku' or 'themed restaurants in Shibuya', etc.) and figured out exactly how to find the place you want to go to (usually it will be on some top floor of a building that you would never know of otherwise).  I'm kicking myself for all the things I've read about to do or eat in Tokyo that I didn't look up until I got home (e.g. Time Out Tokyo has tons of articles and lists of things to do in Tokyo that I really wish I knew about beforehand)!  I'm still happy with what I saw and extremely lucky to have even had the chance to go, but if I ever went again I would definitely be more prepared!

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