Monday, August 1, 2011

Chinese in Paris, in Japan?

Woke up early this morning and made a walk to the corner store for some iced coffee. Yoko had left us some giant peaches for breakfast, so I sliced those up with some banana and we also had what I'm calling gourmet poptarts, the Maple and Salted Vanilla flavors (they are really a Japanese brand called Balance Up).
After breakfast we headed over to the Imperial Palace which was interesting mainly for it's impecably manicured grounds, and then over to Harajuku, which is the street where all the audaciously dressed, incredibly hip youth swarm in Tokyo to buy crap like wristbands and glasses without lenses, 3 inch high neon pink pumps and eat crepes filled with cheesecake and ice cream and syrup. We had lunch at Tokyo station in the food court area known as Ramen Street for its plethora of Ramen restaurants, all of which had lines of hungry, but patient people outside. You place and pay for your order at a vending machine and then take your ticket and get in line. A hostess takes your ticket stub, and when a table opens up she seats you and your food arrives within seconds; very efficient. And this is not your typical add water, let sit and eat Ramen; mine was a bowl of fresh Ramen noodles (with visible bits of wheat bran in the noodle dough) in a rich, somehow butter pork broth, topped with greens, scallions, bamboo shoots, pork and a soft-boiled egg, and it was delicious. We need more Ramen like this back home.
Next we went and did some souvenir shopping
before returning hometo Yoko's where I went for a walk and got briefly lost before heading out for dinner.
My parents wanted to take Yoko's family out for dinner to thank them for all the wonderful hospitality we've been shown, and had the idea that it would be an experience to have Chinese food in Japan. The restaurant was located in an area called Yebisu, which is famous for being home to a brewery of our favorite beer here in Japan, a flavorful brew of the same name, one of which I indulged in before being introduced to the Chinese version of Sake; a rice wine as well, but brown in color and perhaps a bit sweeter than its Japanese cousin.
Honestly, I didn't find the food to be all that different from its American counterparts (albeit of higher quality than your average takeout), but the restaurant itself was a trip.
Apparently it is themed as dining in a Chinese restaurant in Paris, albeit being in Tokyo, Japan, and so has a dining room clad in Toulouse-Lautrec paintings and a menu of Chinese food, written in Japanese kanji. Needless to say, we needed help with ordering...
Given the structure and spread of the meal, it was hard to document everything, but we started with some pickles and a series of various dumplings like steamed shrimp and crab wontons and deep-fried taro filled with fish and onion. Next came out some larger plates like fried fish in oyster sauce, shrimp and mushrooms in a light brown sauce and then chicken with vegetables.
After that people were still hungry so we ordered a plate of fried noodles with shrimp, squid and pork and next two plates of pork fried rice that came topped with slices of roast pork, which Dad especially liked.
For dessert they served us what was translated as "Almond Jelly" and was like a hunk of lightly sweet, faintly almond-flavored jello, with the consistency of pudding, in a puddle of syrup...
All in all, I conclude that there is not much difference between Japanese Chinese food and American Chinese food, but to eat Chinese food in Japan while feeling like you're in Paris and surrounded by good friends and family is truly something special.

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