Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Japan Trip Day 3 - Daiwa sushi and Akihabara

Day 3 in Japan, and we head over to Akihabara, also known as the otaku (geek) haven. This place is full of stores that sell anime and game-related merchandise, as well as electronics and duty-free goods. But before that, we stop by the Tsukiji fish market for some deliciously fresh sushi!

Japan Trip Day 3

Tsukiji revisited

Sushi Dai
We had originally planned on going to Sushi Dai (寿司大), which is one of the best-rated and most popular sushi restaurants in the fish market. It's also the one that's most recommended on foreign travel guides and websites, which means that there are a lot of tourists. And a lot of people. The shop itself is tiny, with only a sushi counter and no tables. There was also a huge line-up; be prepared to wait a good hour or three for your meal.

We decided to head to Daiwa (大和), which is two stalls down from Sushi Dai. To be honest, I can't imagine there being too much of a difference between the two, since their fish both come directly from the market. But apparently, Daiwa is more expensive and has less selection than Sushi Dai. For example, the 'omakase' (like a set meal) at Daiwa is 3800 yen, while at Sushi Dai, it's 3600. And the one at Sushi Dai gives you a bit more stuff. So yes, Sushi Dai is more worth it, but if you don't want to wait two hours for your meal, then Daiwa is a good back-up plan.


Fresh sushi at Daiwa
Unfortunately, I didn't get that many pictures, since our sushi chef (who was a really nice guy) kept laughing at us for being n00bs, and I felt self conscious. :P Apparently, interacting with the chef is part of the sushi experience. Since we couldn't speak much Japanese and the chef couldn't speak much English, our conversation consisted mainly of very broken Japanenglish. But it was fun, and the chef was super friendly. I think he was just very amused by our cluelessness. 

Warning: Block of text ahead. I'll be detailing my entire experience.

Sushi 101

We were invited in by either one by what seemed to be a bus boy, and were seated at the bar. The restaurant is very small (no tables), so they asked us to put our bags on a table in the back. Once we were seated, our chef greeted us and gave us the menu, which, thankfully, had pictures on it. You can order individually, or you can ask for the 'omakase', or the set meal. Since we weren't familiar with the fish or how things worked, we asked for the omakase, as most of the tourists did.

Our chefs started making our sushi, and placed them on our tray as they made them. Interestingly enough, in the west, sushi generally refers to various types of fancy 'maki', or sushi rolls, whereas in Japan, going for sushi means going for nigiri. They only give us a few hosomaki, as shown on the right of the picture above. The only place I've seen the big maki that we eat here are in the bentos or at convenience stores. Also, while salmon is very popular and common in the West, raw salmon is quite rare in Japan. We didn't even get a piece of salmon nigiri. Instead, tuna seems to be their sushi staple, and their tuna is goooood.

We were given a hot towel to wipe our hands with, and a cup of tea. My first mishap happened with I twisted open the soy sauce bottle, at which point my chef went "Nooooo...!", and showed me that I didn't have to take off the cap. Silly me.

We decided to try eating sushi with our hands, since we wanted the whole authentic experience. Apparently, you use your thumb and middle finger to hold the sides of the nigiri, and use your index finger to support the top. You can also eat with your chopsticks. What's important is that when you dip the sushi into the soy sauce, dip the fish side and not the rice. Also, the chefs have already included wasabi in the nigiri, so there is no need to add more wasabi to your soy sauce. 

It's apparently respectful to eat the sushi right after the chef places it on your plate. I read on some Japanese magazine for tourists that you must eat it 'before the warmth of the chef's hand has left the sushi'. Yeeeahhhh... okay. But because we were so lost and confused, our sushi started accumulating on our tray.

We were given a piece of sea urchin. Like salmon roe, I remember sea urchin as being incredibly fishy. Instead, the sea urchin here was sweet and buttery. The texture isn't for everyone though. My friend, for example, really didn't like her sea urchin roll, especially after it exploded all over her soy sauce plate after she bit into it. After that little incident we decided to switch back to chopsticks...

There's no doubt that the fish is fresh. Again, the tuna felt like it could just melt away in your mouth. I know that that term is over-used, but in this case, it's really true. Oddly, though, the salmon roe here did taste fishy, as opposed to the one from the first day, which had no fishy taste whatsoever.

I had asked our chef if I could take a picture of him, and he told me that I could take a picture of the other two chefs, but not of him. I still managed to camera-ninja a picture of him, though. He's the one on the left, and a very funny man. For example, my mom, who was sitting in the other room, came by to give me money to pay the bill. He looked up and said 'Oh, mama is here', and when he saw her hand me the money, he said to her 'Oooh, thank you very much!'. And when my friend snuck her squid nigiri to me (because she doesn't like raw squid), he leaned over the counter and gave her a mock stern glare. Overall, it was a pretty fun experience!


Akihabara Train station
And here we are, Akihabara!

 There are huge posters of anime and games in Akihabara, on practically every building. A lot of buildings have an arcade on the first floor, and then stores that sell games on subsequent floors. My friend and I ventured into one, but were quickly overwhelmed by the amount of... er... mature content, and so we left fairly quickly. Maybe we went into the wrong building, but we didn't try to enter another.

 Also, Japanese people apparently reaaaally like pachinko. They're everywhere.

Maid Café
 There are also quite a few maid cafés. A maid café is basically a café where all the waitresses are dressed as maids. Obviously, the main selling point of these cafés are the maids, and not the food. In any case, you'll see a lot of girls dressed as maids handing out flyers on the streets.We wanted to try a café called 'Pinafore', which is one of the bigger and better-known maid cafés, but didn't manage to find it. Instead, we stopped by the Gundam Café for some late lunch.

Gundam Café

Gundam Café
 Yup, you read that right. It's a café influenced by the Gundam anime series (Wing, SeeD, etc.). It's a rather small café, tucked away in one of the back streets at Akihabara.

Gundam  café menu
 The menu features mainly Western style foods, such as hamburger steaks and pastas. They also have a variety of coffees, drinks and desserts. The foods all have some kind of fun Gundam reference, such as the Amuro Ray Pilot Lunch, or the Char Axnable Pilot lunch.

Haro statue
You know Haro, the little round robot thing from Gundam SeeD? Well, you can get a drink based on this little creature. 

Haro Pink Drink
 They have Haro Pink, Haro Green and Haro Blue drinks. I got the Haro Pink, which consists of a milky pomegranate drink shaped like a haro. It was pretty good, if a little sweet.

My friend got the Haro Green drink, which was some kind of a kiwi soda drink.

Gundam cakes
 We were also given some complimentary Gundam cake-like desserts. Yes. They're cakes in the shape of Gundams. How cool is that? The cakes are filled with red bean paste.

Jaburo salad
 My friend ordered the Jaburo salad, due to the lack of vegetables in our diet. Oddly enough, Japanese people don't seem to eat much vegetables. The only vegetables we've encountered at restaurants are either small salads or pickled vegetables. Anyway, the portions are disappointingly small; this bowl is about the size of a very small soup bowl. The salad itself consists of brocolli, celery, and shrimp in a creamy dressing, with paprika sprinkled on top. Though small, the salad was crisp and fresh.

Amuro Ray Pilot Lunch

Japanese people are also very into hamburger steaks, or meat loaf. I ordered the Amuro Ray Pilot Lunch, which is a hamburger steak in cream sauce with a side of garlic bread, because I wanted to see what all the hype was about. I was impressed. The hamburger steak is juicy and flavourful, with plenty of spices and seasoning in the meat. 

The Gundam shop also has a display of Gundam figures, as well as plates with the autographs of the Gundam creators. There's also a Gundam shop next to the cafe where you can buy some Gundam souvenirs.

Giant Gundam
 And while you eat, a giant Gundam watches over you.

Train ride to Kyoto

Bento supper on the train
 At the train stations, there are usually shops that sell bentos, or boxed meals. These are pre-packaged and chilled meals which you can just unpack and eat without heating. They have quite a large variety or boxed lunches, from sushi to cooked fish to tonkatsu rice.

I got a bento with a bit of everything. As you can see, the presentation of these bentos are quite appealing. They also come with wet wipes, chopsticks and a toothpick inside the box. Taste-wise, the food obviously doesn't taste as good as restaurant foods. I found the foods to be a bit dry, and a bit too sweet. But it's still a feast when compared to the crummy sandwiches we can get in our convenience stores in Canada.

 My friend got the grilled chicken box.

And my mom got the grilled eel box. Hers was probably the best out of the all three.

During the two-hour train ride, my friend and I amused ourselves by looking at the clouds. You can also enjoy the view of the Japanese country-side, which is quite different from our Canadian country sides, or even the Chinese ones. In this particular picture, my friend and I spotted a hawk and a dog (shiba inu or pomeranian). Can you see it?

This one is harder to tell, but we decided that it was a llama who shoots laser beams out of its eyes who was about to terrorize Tokyo.

 And once we had arrived at the Kyoto station, we saw this cake shop. Just look at the variety of cakes and tarts! And can you believe that these are all plastic models?

 And to finish off the day, a carton of Hokkaido milk and panda cookies! Hokkaido is known for their dairy and their potatoes, right? And you might think 'well, milk is milk'. Wrong! Hokkaido milk tastes much richer than milk in Canada. Chinese milk, I find, has a very strong dairy taste. Canadian milk, on the other hand, tastes watery and mild. Hokkaido milk manages to find a harmonious midpoint, being both fragrant, but not overpoweringly so. I also tried regular Japanese milk, but it tasted flatter than Hokkaido milk, and seemed to have a weird after-taste.

In any case, onward to day 4, where we explore Kyoto!


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