Woke up at 6AM. The original plan was to wake up and do a day trip to Endoshima, Yokohama & Kawasaki area to visit the Endoshima sea candle, beach, Ramen museum, Japan’s largest Chinatown, the Cup Noodle Museum and Kawasaki Warehouse (giant arcade that is designed to look like the Forbidden City of Kowloon) however the prior day exceeded the groups energy threshold (we walked 29KM). Instead we decided to turn the day into a shopping – stay in Tokyo kind of day.
It was indeed a rainy day but luckily majority of the day was light rain. Now with John and Glenn with us, we all woke up rather early all starving. We walked over to Sushi Zanmai (Japan, 〒104-0045 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Tsukiji, 4 Chome−4−11−9) and ate our breakfast around 8AM (meal was more like lunch or dinner options) very early. I got the deluxe chirashi-don (1480y) and it was amazing and fresh. An assortment of 13 freshly selected types of seafood that covered a bed of rice.
After breakfast, our group split up with different intentions of what to do for the day. Stores don’t open until roughly 11AM so we wandered around. We passed by one temple where people were setting up their own booths for what looked like a flea market. I ended up browsing through one tent where this elderly couple had trays of old Japanese wooden toys where the heads bobbled. I restrained myself and only bought 3 for 1500y. We continued walking and made our way to Don Quijote where we spent a large amount of time purchasing items. Don Quijote is what you would say the Wal-mart of Japan would be because it has anything and everything you need whether its electronics, makeup, candy, food to laundry detergent. If you spend over a certain amount, you can present your passport (2nd floor cashier) and receive tax-free savings HOWEVER, if your purchase contained consumables (food) they will seal your purchase and you are not allowed to consume any of it or open the packaging until you have left Japan or potentially face a consumption fee at the customs.
We continued on after our rather large purchase (ok large for me). Stopped by a 100y store, BICQLO (5-7 floors of Uniqlo and Bic Camera), Comme Ca, Muji and a smaller more local Daiso. Cassie met up with us in Shinjuku for lunch and we went to a restaurant in a basement – Sutameshi DonDon – Tama Merchant building B1, B2, 3-34-14 Shinjuku Ku, Shinjuku – opened 24HR – Shinjuku where you order by a machine (luckily there was english and photos). I ordered the Sutameshi with cheese (780y) and you get an egg on the side to mix in. I had a runaway egg as I cracked it directly onto the my bowl where a bed of melted cheese acted as a ramp to throw it out of the bowl. Apparently, I did it all wrong. They give you a separate little bowl to crack the egg in and then stir it before you try to combine it with your meal. After lunch, we continued walking in the spritz rain to Awake which serves dango – delicious mochi desserts.
With the amount of shopping we did, our baggage was getting heavy so we returned back to you share loft and unpacked and repacked it into our luggages while we waited for our remaining 2 friends to join us. At this point of day, John and Glenn were enroute to Nara/Osaka and Cassie was exploring on her own and meeting up with Atene in Roppongi. We ended up waiting back at the share loft for Karen and Chi’s arrival. Their flight got delayed by an hour and we ended up napping a little too long waiting their arrival.
First thing on the list for the night – Chidori-ga-fuchi park – The park was illuminated to showcase the cherry blossoms but of course that brought out the crowds. It was a big walk around the park where it led to a dead end which you would then need to walk back from. It was a lovely view but I still wish I was able to see it during a nice sunny day.
Since Karen and Chi just landed, they really wanted to see Piss Alley and Golden Gai. We kept getting turned around at Shinjuku Station and went in a circle a few times before re-orienting ourselves in the correct direction to where we were the first day in Tokyo. We ended up eating at Tori-en Izakaya (Japan, 〒160-0023 Tokyo, 新宿区Nishishinjuku, 1 Chome−２−４) in Piss Alley where we sat on the second floor and ate a bit of everything.
We got back to the share loft and all of us started to repack our bags as we needed to create a overnight bag and go store our luggages at train stations since we were planning on staying overnight at the onsen.
Flew out of Toronto with Mike, Manwai & Cassie while Glenn was on another flight (Cassie was with ANA and the rest of us with United). This trip had started off badly for Glenn as his flight leaving for Chicago never left Toronto as there was an unmarked luggage that got aboard the plane from San Paulo.
We arrived in Chicago and Cassie caught her flight about 30-45 minutes before us. The main flight was about 12 hours and we got upgraded to economy plus. We originally booked with ANA but they are partnered with United so not as great as I wish it would be. No outlets but at least a screen to watch limited shows and movies.
We finally arrived at Narita Airport (half hour early) to 20C degree weather. Humid. We went up to the 4th floor towards the restaurants to meet Cassie who arrived earlier. We proceeded to the lower level to the JR pass lineup to activate our pass. It was an hour wait but still very hot. We ended up making new friends from New Jersey – Jennifer & Francis.
Once we activated our pass, we reserved our seats for the train to head to our Airbnb nearby Kawadacho Station in Shinjuku. 110 minutes into town from Narita. We arrived to find John, drop off our things and head to Shinjuku-Nishikichi to make our reservation time for Robot Restaurant. We opted for the show no meal but each ticket comes with 1 free drink ticket. We stopped by BIC Camera and got Cassie a Sim card – 21 days 5GB – $32CAD-ish. Walked over to Robot Restaurant with our reservation and then got another voucher and grabbed food at a nearby little restaurant before finally getting our actual ticket and heading inside. There is a holding area – lounge with a few performances and where we can redeem our drink tickets – oolong tea and alcohol mix – who would’ve known. I saw photos of the washrooms before we went which are ridiculously decorated but single stalls and the line was way too long to use/view them. The show takes place in the basement and I mean basement (it must be massive behind those curtains though to house all those robots). We went down 3 more levels and then got seated in our reserved seats. Sensory overload and I’m still not even sure if it was amazing or not. I mean, It was definitely bright, loud and shiny with high energy for sure with tons of dancing and “fighting”.
We left and grabbed some good old KFC then walked Golden Gai and Piss Alley. Golden Gai is a series of 3-5 streets that are riddled with small establishments that serve drinks and some bar food. The bars can hold 4-8 people at most. We didn’t participate but got to see the nightlife on a Friday night. We walked over to Piss Alley which was more open but we got there a little late in the night that the izakayas were closing. We started to head back to realize that the trains stop around 1230-1AM and had to find an alternate route back to our Airbnb. We ended up taking 2 taxis as they wouldn’t take 5 in one. I didn’t sleep until 230AM but I did get my SIM card to finally work.
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
I had the opportunity to live in Vancouver for a month in 2014 with my friend Yolande. I spent a lot of time getting to know extended family, meeting new people from all walks of life and just enjoying the West Coast lifestyle with my “Toronto Crew that now reside in Vancity”. Instead of detailing the day-to-day of my time out west, this post will showcase what I ate and what I wanted to eat during my time in Vancouver.
EAT SUSHI! I cannot get over how cheap it is to dine on sushi here – a maki roll is around $3-4 but back home its like $8-14. Even with the cheaper price, the quality is superb in Vancouver- absolutely fresh.
The original Guu is located on Thurlow and it is the not only the original Guu but also the first Izakaya in Vancouver. As you enter, you will receive a very warm and loud welcome and same as you leave. Izakaya is similar to tapas and are all rather small sharing dishes to go along with drinks. The menu is quite diverse with food that is grilled or fried but they also have Udon noodle soups to beef sashimi to salads. The Original Guu is a small cozy establishment but you will be satisfied with all the flavours and atmosphere. There are multiple locations in Vancouver and also in Toronto.
Hubbub is the place to go if you want a fresh sandwich served on a toasty baguette. All you need to is to choose your protein and each sandwich comes with a base of pickled jalapenos, creamy garlic sauce, romaine lettuce, cilantro, and crunchy caramelized onions. I chose the pulled pork and it was absolutely delicious and with a sweet heat kicking.
Japadog offers gourmet hot dogs that are served Japanese-style. The location on Robson St is the only sit-down location. If you can’t make it to the actual sit down joint, you can find a few carts located around town such as the corner of Smithe & Burrard, Burrard & Pender. There is also a Japadog truck so keep an eye out. The Japadog truck and the restaurant location are the only ones that have the full extensive menus and offer their shaken fries. On one particular visit, We had the croquette (Fried mashed potato) dog and their Shichimi & Garlic tossed fries.
If you are hankering for a good burrito go no further than Steamrollers. The burritos here are fresh, tasty and made quickly. As their namesake tells you – they don’t deep fry or use grease but rather cook with steam. A traditional burrito starts around $7.25CAD and also have vegetarian options. You can also get gluten free options.
Breka Bakery smells heavenly with in-house baking of fresh breads. Not only does this bakery serve up some scrumptious breads, it also offers pastries to suit anyone’s tastes. Muffins, pretzels, cookies, donuts, pies and so much more. I ended up leaving this establishment with a cheesecake brownie which was large enough for 2 people. There is also a large selection for drink and meal options.
A spacious spot with welcoming vibes brings you to Greenhorn Café. Coffee, tea and espresso as well as breakfast and lunch are available. On weekends, the brunch selection is opened to include baked eggs and eggs benedict. I met a good friend here and grabbed a crimson berry (house blend) tea and a croissant.
The always-busy Twisted Fork Bistro serves up brunch the right way. Be sure to make a reservation because this place is always packed for the brunch run. It is a rather cozy spot but very comfy. I got the Gruyere baked eggs with sourdough toast, bacon, tomato, rosti and baked beans. Very flavourful and rich. Not sure why but we had decided to workout after this meal. Perfect meal on a cold day.
Sejuiced, is a vegetarian / vegan joint located in Kitsilano. It is the west coast version of Toronto’s Fresh – http://freshrestaurants.ca/ . There is an array of items on their menu such as soups, yogi bowls (bowl with rice or quinoa), sandwiches, wraps, quesadillas, salads and even veggie burgers. They also have an extensive shakes and juices menu. For my visit, I had the mega protein salad with tofu ($12CAD).
This café is very quaint with French-inspired pastries. I went the sweet tooth root and had to get myself a peanut butter cookie sandwich and a croissant that almost rivals Thomas Haas’ double backed croissant. They also get very inventive with their pastries here.
A small yet cozy place with a patio to boot. The double baked almond croissants are amazing and go fast. It is a must stop if in the area. If a croissant isn’t up to your flavour, they offer a wide selection of chocolates, macarons, sandwiches, cakes and so much more. It is very difficult to choose just one item but don’t worry, you can purchase to take away with you for later. There is even a chance you might actually see Thomas Haas working while you visit.
49th Parallel is a coffee shop that locally roasts their own beans and serves pastries as well as Lucky’s Doughnuts. It is a great place to people watch through their glass walls and also get work done. I grabbed a salted caramel & a Mango /Passionfruit Bismarck donut from Lucky’s Donut. They were both delicious!
For fresh in-house handmade noodles, Shaolin Noodle House has a small selection but make that selection really well. You have the option to get the noodles dry or in soup and also different options for the type of noodles you want. Dragging noodles are hand-pulled and very long. Pushing is noodles that are flattened with a rolling pin then cut. Round is similar to pasta and udon shaped. And Cutting are pieces that are literally cut off from a ball of dough directly into the soup while it is cooking. I had the seafood and vegetables cutting noodle in soup and we shared lamb skewers and steamed dumplings – all so tasty and good.
Close-by to Shaolin Noodle is Peaceful Restaurant. Peaceful Restaurant was featured on Guy Fierti’s Diners, Drive-ins & Dives but even without that, this place deserves to be known – they do Chinese food well. They have hand pulled noodles but also amazing selection of dumplings. We got the Peaceful House Noodles, Spicy & Tangy Dumplings and Green onion beef (tender beef rapidly stir-fried with green onions & ginger). The green onion beef rolls were hands down the best thing ever and the noodles tasted so fresh.
Suika is a Japanese Izakaya – very animated decor with a sake bottle chandelier. Suika serves up creative and intricate mixes to provide a strong menu to make you come back for more. We (3 of us) shared the Tuna Avocado, Beef short rib, the Chicken Kara-age & the Kakuni Bibimbap – stewed pork belly, sweet dried shrimp & scallions on rice served in a hot stone bowl.
I absolutely love sushi and Vancouver seems to be the place for quality sushi for decent prices. A popular place for Sushi is California Sushi. I got the Energy Roll (unagi, asparagus etc) and it was of generous portions for being only $4CAD which is half the price than Toronto standards.
For family style chinese food – Congee Noodle is the place to go. Its more spacious than some other restaurants in the area. Between four people, we ordered the Giant fish congee, Gai lan (chinese broccoli), Dough fritter with rice roll around it, Scallop rice roll, Seafood chow mein, and half a chicken.
Located by the docks, this little shack serves up some fresh fish & chips options. We had cod fish and chips and the portions were large and a steal for it’s price. The island has little shops similar to Stevenson and a market place like Toronto’s St Lawrence Market
There are tons of local eats in Granville Island as well as great local coffee choices. Closed on Mondays.
You cannot leave Chinatown without visiting New Town Bakery. It feels like home when you are in there. An assortment of pastries & steamed buns are the main draw. The BBQ pork buns are to die for. It gets busy so grab a number once you enter. Cash Only.
Pizzeria Farina makes the dough fresh every morning and when they run out, they are done for the day. The freshest of ingredients. We were lucky enough to get the last 3 pizza doughs. We got the Funghi, The Speciale and the Finocchiona – they were all amazing but the funghi stole the show for me. The pizza’s range from $10-17CAD in price. They also make their own oregano and chili infused olive oils which you could also purchase.
Phnom Penh is probably one of the most talked about musts for places to eat in Chinatown. It is hard to get a spot in this restaurant so make reservations. Serving up Vietnamese – Cambodian dishes, this institution is always busy and the food always worth the wait. I ate with a group of 8. We got individual items but shared a plate of fried chicken wings to share and the spice that put in it were so good that it made up for the fact there wasn’t actually too much meat on the bones. I got the beef stew with egg noodles, a dry egg noodle dish with organ meat like liver and other meats and a rice dish with meat, a over easy egg and cabbage.
Wildebeest is a meat centric offering in Gastown prepared and served family-style. They also source ingredients from local sources to create a fun and intricate menu. It is also a secret spot for brunch.
Save on Meats – http://saveonmeats.ca/diner/ – 43 West Hastings St
This building was built in 1891 and you can’t miss the neon pig sign on Hastings. This place is serving up the classic diner foods and all day breakfast. Sheppard pie, Salisbury steak and burgers make this place what it is.
Revolver Coffee is all about the simplicity and quality of their coffee and the experience around it. There is very intricate selection of coffees and also methods of brewing. The décor is an add plus.
In the heart of Gastown, this establishment is a slightly pricier restaurant with a good selection of alcohol but also delicately put together menu. I went with a group of 6 and we came with an appetite. We ordered pretty much 75% of the menu to share. Everything was delicious.
Our Appetizers to share:
-Brusselsprouts and bacon
-Mac & Cheese
-Albacore Tuna with Artichoke
-Butter Lettuce & Citrus
-Beet and endive salad
-Oysters with mignonette sauce
-French Onion Soup with Gruyere & Croutons
-Grilled Cheese with Spicy Tomato & Fennel Soup
-Roasted Bone Marrow with Sea Salt, Pickled Radish, Parsley, Grilled Bread
-Smoked Salmon with Potato Salad, Dill, Crispy Capers, Beet & Endive Salad with Apple, Walnuts, Blue Cheese Dressing as starters.
The main course meals we ordered:
-3 Cornish Game Hen with Grilled Romaine (romaine that is dressed in Caesar dressing then bbq/charred – need to try this out at home!)
The main chef at Red Wagon uses french inspiration in his cooking which turned this place from a hole in the wall into a cozy diner for good eats. Guy Fieri left his seal of approvable from Diners, Drive-ins & Dives. This place has line-ups out the door but luckily it wasn’t too busy and we only had to wait 15-20 minutes. I had the Pulled Pork Pancakes (3 buttermilk pancakes layered with pulled pork with Jack Daniels -spiked maple syrup) and let me tell you it was so filling and so unbelievably good. Usually I crave pancakes because of the smell but the taste is usually not as satisfying and only a few bites in I no longer desire to eat it but I cleaned my plate (took some time because it was so filling). The chef also opened up le wagon rouge, which is their bistro restaurant.
If you are craving matcha then Basho Cafe is the spot for you. Basho is a family run Japanese café that will feel like home. You can choose to indulge with a matcha latte or the wide array of pastries that feature matcha.The pastries are baked daily and the menu changes daily. They also serve up a special set menu that includes a small cup of soup, veggies as well as mini sweets in addition to your main.
Merchants is owned by Doug Stephen and one of the chefs was my cousin’s friend. They use locally sourced, organic ingredients. We started off with drinks – an old fashioned and myself a Gin Digger (did you know a digger is what a Caesar’s real name and it originated in Calgary). We decided to order we would order our own 4 course meals $40 (sharing as well). For our snacks, we both grabbed baked oysters with truffle cream. Before we got our 1sts, they brought out a special plate for us for an event they had prepped and had extras to spare. It was parsley served 20 different ways with a little help with panna cotta. My favourite item was the parsley chip; so tasty yet so delicate. For the first dish, we grabbed the beef tartare served on crostini with Sriracha and pickled shallots and Gnocchi with black garlic (this is expensive so not used in many places) & pickled garlic. We both got the Ling Cod with kimchi, smoked egg yolk and swiss chard. Finished off with chocolate ganache with cumin, caramel & pistachio as well as a Blood orange tart with browned butter and marshmallows. The food was phenomenal and the service was great.
This place is a cozy spot on Commercial Dr with live music courtesy of La Santisima – traditional Mexican songs – every Sunday. Their selection of mezcal spans the wall with an open concept kitchen and bar so you can see what they are doing and making. La Mezcaleria is such a cute little place. We took a sit up at the bar in front of the chefs working away at making all the dishes.
We had the Campechano Flight (a flight of both the red snapper and tuna ceviche’s, guacamole and pico de gallo served with chips), We also grabbed Tostadas de Pato (Fraser Valley duck confit, guava, fruit mole sauce (manchamanteles), chayote squash and radish), Tinga de pollo (free range chicken with chorizo in a chipotle tomato sauce, topped with Mexican cheese and sour cream) & Al Pastor (pork marinated in achiote chilli and pineapple) tacos and ended off with flan for dessert. I also ordered take-away for a friend. I ordered Tinga de Pollo and De Cachet (braised beef cheeks) tacos. Great vibe, great people and great food.
The moment I met Mr Yano, I knew it was a good choice to stay at this hostel. He is about 60 years old and runs J-Hoppers – Osaka. He is quite the character and his laugh is mesmerizing.
He has a few english phrases he likes to say:
-Very cheap, get drunk.
-Oh my gawd!
-Oh it’s a happy time
J-Hopper offers local city walks or adventures with Mr Yano and other staff each day of the week. The event in particular for that day was a citywalk and dressing in a traditional kimono led by Mr Yano. There was a group of 13 and we took the train to Temma station (120¥) where Tenjinbashisuji – the longest street of stores is hold. It takes about an hour to just walk through but beware of people riding their bikes along pedestrians. We had people from Washington, Australia, Holland, Korea and people teaching in Korea with us on this walkabout. Mr Yano stopped by a few places that have cheap drinks as well as the brick wall that still is standing after 100 years. The little shops are family owned and showed us a store with a mother and her daughter selling sweets and other confections in which they live above the store.
Mr Yano took us to Osaka Museum of Housing and Living (600¥) where they have a replica of the 1830’s samurai house / village that we are able to walk through and also try on kimonos. There are staff members who get you dressed in traditional kimonos and give you accessories like a purse and you trade in your footwear for wooden sandals. You get tucked in real tight then they take a rope-like cloth and strap it around you like a corset before taking another long red cloth and end it off with a bow. After you are fully dressed, you are allowed to wander the perimeters the replica village (for about 30 minutes) to get a feel for what life was like back then. To add to the realism, you are also walking in wooden sandals so your steps are small and slower. It was a great experience and the kimonos were beautiful.
When we returned into our regular clothing, Mr Yano took us for conveyor belt sushi 130¥ a plate (very cheap). It was so good! Each plate that comes around are categorized by a colour which let you know how much each plate costs. When you sit down, you can grab a tea cup and then to your left, there are 2 little bottles with matcha green tea powder and another tea powder. You need to open the bottle of tea powder and shake twice into your cup and add water from the tap in front of you. We separated from the group after lunch and walked the rest of Tenjinbashisuji before coming upon a temple called Osaka Tenmangu. It is the most famous of all the many tenjin shrines located throughout Japan. There is a fountain at the front of every temple that we watched the locals use. It is proper etiquette to use the water fountain to purify oneself before entering. First you start by filling the cup/ladle with water, pour some on your left hand then your right before pouring a little bit in your left hand taking a sip and spit it out.
After the temple we returned to Umeda & Osaka station to shop at Daimaru Umeda where on the 10th to 12th floor held Tokyu Hands which sells pretty much everything. Jack of all trades type of store with some products only the Japanese can think of. Also on the 13th floor was Uniqlo and a visit wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Pokemon Center. We continued onto Hankyu Street to find my favourite store – Don Quixote which sells cheap and comical things as well as an assortment of Japanese candies and snacks. To say the least, I left with a bag full of candies to last me a lifetime. Every Wednesday at J-Hoppers, Mr Yano runs a walking day tour and offers to take whomeever for a Izakaya dinner at night. Every Friday is international drinking night. We just made it back in time to join the group for dinner. It was a group of 6 guys and Mr Yano. Max was originally from Rochester, New York but works for a bank in China for the past 5 years. Chris is from Scotland who will continue onward to Cairns, Australia after Japan. Felix and Philip are from Quebec – one is a Sound Technician and the other is a Social Worker and finally Dominic and David from the UK who are lawyers but working for a bank. It was a great night with good company and good food. We had sukiyaki, pork cutlet, dumplings and of course beer and sake! Sake can be served multiples ways – served cold or served hot. Ended the night off stargazing on our hostels rooftop.