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Making New Friends in Tokyo

A couple weekends ago, I did more volunteering. This time, I helped out with folding paper cranes on the top floor of the department store at Ogikubo Station. In Japan, there is a tradition of folding one thousand origami cranes for good luck. Later this year, for the Tokyo Olympics, and Italian volleyball team will be coming and staying right here in Suginami.

The goal of this volunteer session was to fold one thousand paper cranes (and solicit help from passers by who wished to contribute), which will later be gifted to the team.

At this event, I happened to have a brief conversation with a wonderfully friendly Japanese lady. We had spoken only for a quick moment, but she expressed interest in learning English. I had to rush off immediately to my next volunteering event, so I asked her for her contact information. I thought it might be too forward of me since we had only spoken for a moment, but I didn’t want to miss the connection. Luckily, she was more than happy to give me her Line.

Since then, we have met a couple of times — once just the two of us, and another time, she brought her friend. We will be meeting regularly from now on for English practice. I love it!

On the first meeting, we enjoyed tapioca tea and talked about many things. She kindly gifted me some apple chips and nambu-sembei (an Aomori specialty). I was extremely happy because I have been to Aomori before and loved it, and I have been gifted nambu-sembei before, which is delicious!

For our next meeting with her and her friend, we went to Kurashiki Coffee in Ogikubo. The best coffee, and great conversation!

Delicious Mapo Tofu & Ginger Pork in Tokyo

A couple weekends ago, I was exploring the Asagaya area in search of a Nepali shop that a friend had told me about. (I was in search of chapati and spices.) Along that route, I noticed an old restaurant that served teishoku (Japanese set meals) for as little as 660 yen, so I decided to pop in on the way back home.

I’ve been to a few such teishoku places while in Tokyo, and I’ve never been disappointed. It was delicious, well-flavored food. And, it was just as though it has been home cooked. (In fact, in practicality, it was home cooked because it was clear that they lived in the apartment just above the restaurant.)

I ordered the ginger pork meal, and my friend got the mapo tofu meal. Perfection.

There’s more than meets the eye. There’s actually spaghetti under that fried egg!
Generous with the side dishes! This came with the mapo tofu set.

Both meals came with a fried egg, daikon pickles, and a little bit of fried spaghetti. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they used curry spice in their spagetti! Tasted like an Indian dish.

While we were eating, their grandchildren came running through the door, soon followed by their parents. It was nice to see such a family-oriented restaurant.

Places like this may be a little inaccessible to many foreigners, as everything is written in Japanese, and one might not even realize it’s a restaurant, in the first place. In old teishoku spots such as these, they don’t give you a menu, and the dishes are all written on little yellow pieces of paper pasted around the walls (like the one on the front door in the photo above). If you can read katakana, however, it’s not too hard to work out. If you can, I highly recommend it! It’s not about the food, but the whole experience!

Japanese School Lunch: Cream Stew

Today’s school lunch was a bit unusual. I think this was the very first time that I’ve seen bread served instead of rice! The menu today was sweet potato cream stew, green salad, white bread with strawberry jam, and milk pudding for dessert.

The nice old lady who takes care of the kitchen gave me an extra pack of strawberry jam! Aw…

The stew was very sweet!

Delicious Indian Restaurant, “Reka” in Tokyo

Earlier this month, I went out to Kasai, which takes me about an hour by train because it’s in a whole different area of Tokyo. I had known about this restaurant for quite some time, ever since Yogi Puranik was elected City Councillor of Edogawa. He was the first person of Indian origin to win an election in Japan!

The restaurant, Reka, is in fact owned and run by his mother, and they have an impressive menu with loads of authentic Indian dishes, snacks and sweets that are hard to find here in Japan.

I was actually in a big hurry so I couldn’t stay long enough to have a proper meal. Instead, I ordered a stuffed paratha (500 yen) and two samosas (600 yen). I haven’t had a paratha since I was in India!

The parathas are so soft and fluffy that they melt in your mouth, and the chutney for the samosas…! I usually don’t really like the tamarind sauce that comes with samosas, but this was delicious, and clearly homemade.

One of the best things was that as soon as I gave her my order, she went back into the kitchen and you could hear her making everything fresh from scratch! There was the sound of her chopping up vegetables, rolling out the dough, and the distinct sizzle of the oil as she dropped in the samosas. What a treat!

Burrito Day in Tokyo!

I had been looking forward to this day for so long! When I was visiting a friend’s home here in Tokyo last month, I remarked on her beautiful and spacious kitchen. Since moving to Tokyo, my kitchenette is so tiny that I lost the inspiration to cook. Back home in Vancouver, though, cooking is one of my greatest hobbies.

She kindly invited me back to cook a dish in her kitchen. She is already well-versed in Western cuisine such as French and Italian. So, I tried to think of something that would be new and exciting to her and the other guests. I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind, “Burritos!”

That actually turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought! Finding full-size tortillas and canned black beans in Japan is no easy task. I didn’t even try looking for guacamole, so I made my own.

Guacamole ingredients:
– avocadoes
– salt
– chili (I used Japanese shichimi.)
– shikuwasa juice (A type of Okinawan fruit. I decided to try it instead of lime juice!)
– Kewpie mayonnaise (Okay, I know this isn’t orthodox. But, I wanted to make it a bit sweeter and creamier to suit the Japanese pallet.)

When I arrived at her home at 11:00, she was brewing a pot of chai that she made using her own whole spices. Delicious!

After everyone else arrived (three teachers from the school where I work), we sat and chatted for a while as we sipped on our tea. Then, we got to work prepping our meal. They kindly offered to help me, which definitely sped up the process! I started cooking the taco meat, while they chopped up the cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and garlic.

To a small jar of store-bought salsa, I added finely diced cherry tomatoes, onion, and garlic, along with some salt, red chili and black pepper.

All in all, the burrito included ground pork seasoned with taco spice, beans, shredded cheese, guacamole, salsa, diced onions, and shredded cabbage. After rolling, I topped the burritos with more salsa and a dollop of thick sour cream.

…And they came out amazing! I had been worried that the strong spices and flavours of burritos (especially the way I make them!) would be too overwhelming or unpleasant to the Japanese pallet, but they assured me that they loved it!

They also kindly brought an assortment of cheeses, cold-cut meats, and drinks. That was some good cheese 🙂

The host also prepared a cauliflower salad, and even rushed out at some point that afternoon to pick up her order of tarte tatin cakes from a local patisserie. They were the last two slices, so she also picked up an assortment of tarts and cheesecakes. All delicious.

Oh! And there was cherry beer. So good!

Nepali-Indian Restaurant “Shiva” in Tokyo

I have discovered a fantastic Nepali-Indian restaurant in Asagaya, Tokyo. Almost all of the restaurants in Japan that serve Indian cuisine are actually run by Nepalis, and often, even if you ask for the spicy/hot option, it comes to you mild and sweet. The rice is usually Japanese or American rice, and sometimes they even use Japanese curry roux.

So, I was delighted to find that this was not at all the case with Shiva. They make their own curries by scratch, with plenty of spices, and when you ask for hot, it really is very hot! (Actually, be careful! If you’re not good with chili, be sure to order the mild option.)

I got the butter chicken lunch set for 660 yen (about $6.50) and my friend got the Nepali lunch set for just 610 yen (about $6.00)!

The lunch sets also come with free refills of naan or rice. And the Indian lunches also come with an additional side salad and any drink of your choice. I always go with the mango lassi. Oh, and the rice is actually real Indian long grain rice, too! I definitely recommend Shiva if you’re craving some spicy food and you’re in the Asagaya area of Tokyo!

Warm and Homey Dinner in Tokyo

Last night, I went shopping at my usual supermarket. On the way back home, I noticed a little homely restaurant that I had never even noticed before. I peered in, envious of the couple dining there, thinking that it was way out of my budget. However, after reading over the chalkboard menu outside, I was delighted to find that the prices were extremely low considering the location.

I decided on the old-fashioned Showa style Neapolitan spaghetti, while my friend got the gyoza teishoku.

This was the first time that I ever tried Neapolitan spaghetti in Japan. It has been a very popular dish here since the Show era, but I never had the opportunity to try it. It is very sweet and oily, but the vegetables are well fried so they are still fresh and crispy!

After we had finished our meals, the owner even brought us free tea and sweets, both of which were delicious!

These homemade treats were so delicious that we decided to get their strawberry daifuku only for 150 yen!

Today’s School Lunch in Tokyo

It’s influenza season here in Tokyo, which means there are a lot of students staying at home sick. This also means that a lot of school meals get left behind. Whenever there are leftovers, the teachers bring them on trays to the kitchen area of our office. Usually, there’s a couple of side salads, maybe a soup, and bowls of white rice. A few times a week, an entree makes it in as well.

But, today! The trays just didn’t stop coming. There were heaps and heaps of meals — so much so that they didn’t even fit on the kitchen counter anymore. One meal actually ended up having to be placed on the desk beside me.

The entree was potatoes, veggies and chicken. (The potatoes were the best part!) There was a bean side salad, bowls of rice, and a coffee jelly for dessert. All really nice! …Except the salad 😛

Bento Lunch for Test Day

Today, the student had exams, so there were no classes. This also means that the cafeteria was closed, and school meals were not prepared. So, all the teachers were delivered bento boxes in the office room.

After lunch, you could hear teachers wandering through the office, remarking on what a “super high calorie bento” it was!