Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Japan Food Hunt #3 – Mayonnaise For Breakfast, More Octopus Balls and The Beef Tongue Hunt

I woke up at 6am today after our long day. The ‘lat pack’ was still asleep so I decided to go on a solo mission for morning ramen. I got dressed and headed for the concierge desk to ask about places to eat. I was greeted by a very, good-looking woman. She gained more points just because she spoke English well. In the 10 minutes she took to explain directions, I don’t think I even heard a word because I was in La La Land. “Uh huh, yeah, ok, right, ok, uh, yeah. Ok thanks.” I grabbed the three maps she had scribbled on and boarded the JR train. Within 10 minutes, I was back in Osaka (we were three stops from Osaka in Osakajokoen). I walked around the same area we were in last night and spotted a cyber café. Actually it was more like a Borders. It had computers, food, drinks, music, dvd’s and books! I paid 500 yen ($4.25) for an hour, which was cheap, considering all the food and drinks were complimentary. I helped myself to a cup of ice coffee from the food robot. As I sat there checking my mail, I noticed about 7-8 people in the same aisle as me… SLEEPING. It was 7:30 am. Someone had told me that since the trains and subways shut down at 1 am, people will just stay out all night until school or work starts. I mean, these people were passed the f*ck out and still wearing suits/uniforms. Weird. Ok time to get out of here… the smell of my own cigarettes in this cyber café was giving me a headache.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t find any ramen shops open. Isn’t there some sort of Norm’s of ramen around here. I walked into this mall and found a place called Pronto, which is Spanish for ‘quickly’. Again, I was blasted with the smell of smoke from the businessmen upon walking in. In front of me was a table set out with goodies. I was instantly appetized. They were thick-sliced pieces of bread with assorted toppings. You could choose from tuna, cheese or ham and egg. I grabbed the ham & egg and cheese toasts and brought it to the cashier to have her heat it up and ordered a cup of coffee. Mmmm, this looked so good. I love anything + eggs. I took a bite and my face immediately turned sour. What I thought was nicely laid out cream on the toast was KEWPIE MAYONNAISE. At 8 am, nothing can prepare your body for a jolt of mayo. It’s a complete shock to the system. Not only was there a 1/4 “ thick layer of mayo under the ham and eggs, it was also piped along the edges of the toast for decoration. Oh god, this was horrendous. I couldn’t even finish half of it and ended up tossing it. Great, I had to head back to the hotel for the trip to Kyoto with a growling stomach half-filled with Kewpie mayonnaise.

A. Pronto Coffee Shop - Serving up fresh roasted coffee and cigarette smoke 24/7.
B. Thick-Sliced Toast - If you were to slice up a 2x4, that would equate to Japanese-sized toast.
C. Mayonnaise with a Side of Toast - See that white stuff and square piping trail, that's Kewpie Mayo. *Shudders*
D. Death & Destruction - There was a war going on in my stomach.

***Check out Tuna Toast's pics of the breakfast toast I had. She also says there's too much stuff on it! And she loves japan.

From Osaka to Kyoto, it was only a half-hour ride on the train. We were there in no time and quite surprised to see the change in the area. I saw a lot of women wearing traditional kimonos and getas (wooden sandals). The streets in Kyoto were occupied mainly by shops selling fans and rice cake-surprises, which were beautifully crafted. I think a box of 8 rice cakes costed nearly $12-15. They were selling like hot rice cakes! My hot friend back at the hotel concierge hooked us up with a few Kyoto maps and we noticed that historical attractions were dotted all over. Ok guys, we are only doing one. You see one temple, you’ve seen them all. MK and I decided to head for the closest one and ended up working up a sweat. We hiked up stairs and slopes, only to see a cemetery, a giant bell and a house that creeped the shit out of me. The Buddha statues in there were constructed much like the Mona Lisa painting. No matter which angle you stared at it, their eyes would beam back at you. *Goosebumps. On the way back down, I noticed at least 10 people sitting around the temple sketching scenery and people. If I had brought my sketch pad, I would've been parked in front of a nice bowl of ramen, and attempt to capture its beauty with my pencils. Food is beauty after all right? After an hour, we were out of there. I know I didn’t get to see much of Kyoto, but in a few short words, I was bored to shit. I came to Japan to eat and party, not fall in love over the hundreds of temples. It’s just not on my agenda. We ended up eating beef bowl again and I found a place called Dumpling King that sold 8 pieces of gyoza for only $2, the highlight of my 3-hour Kyoto excursion. Very goohr! I was so happy sitting on the train back to Osaka. We had some business to take care of there, because Oishii Eats wrote out a list of places for us to try.

A. 'Lat Pack' In Kyoto - Notice the change in rural architecture.
B. A Brown River - Even this river looked cleaner than Venice Beach.
C. Rice Cake City - Seriously, we saw a good 25-30 shops on this one street.
D. A Temple - Lord knows the name of this Temple. Seriously he does.
E. Skewered Bamboo Shoots - These were huge. The cook would first boil the bamboo shoots in a brown sauce and then transfer it over to the grill for the final touch. I didn't try this. I should've, but I was so set on getting back to Osaka.
F. Fresh Togorashi Pepper - These ranged from $5-10 for a 1 lb. bag. Back home, it's $3 for a 4 oz. container.
G. Candied Strawberry Skewer - Not sure how it tasted. My friend had a cold sore that day.
H. Haunted House - If only you could see the bored expression on my face. I felt a few cold drafts going by my arms inside the house - there was absolutely no wind outside in the hot, dry air! Yikes.

We were staying near the North end of Osaka, called the Kita district. All the good stuff was in the Namba district (South) near the Dotomburi Bridge. Anthony Bourdain tried out the Pizza Ball restaurant in this area as well, which was on Oishii Eats’s list of things-to-eat. As soon as we got to the Namba area, we got excited. We had to walk down this long street called Shopping Street (Shinsaibashi Suji) in order to get to the food district. I’d say it was a mile long, but I could be wrong. This area was totally happening, almost like one big circus/festival. I’d imagine the electricity bill to be as high as Vegas’s here in Osaka. The Namba area was by far the most crowded area we stepped into. The majority of the shops were serving up Japan’s favorite treat, you guessed it, the Takoyaki octopus balls. By now, I had eaten nearly 16 of them, but I had to at least give it a shot.

A. Japanese Vegas - We were hungry and blocking the packed road.
B. Dotonburi River - Thought it was so neat that this river ran through this popping part of town. I wonder how many drunk Japanese people go for a skinny dip in there.
C. Shinsaibashi Suji - Shopping street. Full of people, ugly clothing stores and people wearing ugly clothes they got from the ugly clothing stores.
D. Giant Ferris Wheel - No time for this, food was more important. Plus there were five of us guys. Not good for the ferris wheel.
E. Red Dragon Ramen - One of Namba's most popular ramen shops. I checked out the broth and didn't have the broth color of Tonkotsu ramen I was looking for.
F. Takoyaki Shop - This was by far the most popular Takoyaki joint. Almost 35-40 people waiting!
G. Kuiadore Clown - The Clown shown in Anthony Bourdain's Osaka episode of 'No Reservations'. This Kuiadore building was actually an amusement park for FOOD. $13 would get you in to this Ton of Fun.
H. Fugu Restaurant - 'Fugu' means blowfish. We should've tried this.

We were all hungry, and the four other guys joined me in my food hunt. The girls were shopping down on Shopping Street. We were stopped in our tracks by the wonderful smell and sound of things being grilled at this particular Okonomiyaki shop. With a line of more than 15 people, the four guys running this shop were definitely doing something right. Three guys were taking care of the Japanese pancake/pizza and another guy working the Yakisoba (Japanese-style fried noodles). Oh yeah. I sent my friends to go get takoyaki at another joint while I stood in the pizza line. It was so fun watching them cook everything. After about 30 minutes, we got our food and devoured it. This was just foreplay for the dinner we’d been looking forward to: All-You-Can-Eat Japanese Charcoal BBQ – Yakiniku.

A. Pizza Boys - This guy was laying out all the bacon.
B. Pizza Party!!! - Bacon, cabbage and noodles. Who knew love could be so simple?
C. Pizza Party!!! - These guys were like Tom Cruise in 'Cocktail'. All they needed were pink bowties, speedos and bad techno music and they would've made a fat tip. There were a good 20 people standing around spectating.
D. Tako Taco - 'Tako' means octopus in Japanese. This was Japan's tribute to our beloved food, tacos. Made with two crispy rice crackers, two takoyaki balls and some takoyaki sauce - this was the easiest snack to make.
E. Mayonnaise Topping - As soon as he pulled out that 64 oz. bottle of mayonnaise, I got queasy. To make matters worse, I noticed that there were not one, but FIVE spouts.
F. A-Choo!!! - Excuse me, yes look at the amount of snot, I mean, mayo Pizza Boy was using. It looked like Winter snow on the pizza.
G. Ohhhhh-Yeah - Our final product, after waiting nearly 20 minutes. Topped with mayonnaise, negi (green onions), tamago (fried egg) and katsuoboshi (bonito flakes), this kicked our asses. I knew we shouldn't have eaten this much.
H. Yakisoba - Some of the best yakisoba I've ever tasted and I've only had it twice in my life, if that means anything to you.

I pulled out a printed email from Oishii Eats. She recommended that we try finding this one particular place that served all-you-can-eat beef tongue for $30! If you’ve been to Gyu-Kaku in LA, you’ll know $30 doesn’t get you much – so I hear.

Oishii Eats: “Start at the crab, turn right and go towards the Red Dragon. At the Red Dragon, walk towards the creepy Kuiadore Osaka clown. From there, turn into the shopping street where there’s a bunch of Pachinko parlors and ugly clothing stores. Go down the alley and it should be to your right.”

Very cool. This food hunt had become a Treasure hunt. We were dying just thinking of the chewy, fatty taste of the thinly-sliced beef tongue. Back at Musha’s in Torrance, $8 would only buy you 6 small pieces, leaving you wanting more. But all-you-can-eat? This was taking it to another level. The problem with the Treasure hunt was that every street had Pachinko parlors and ugly clothing stores. Pretty soon, we find ourselves tired and frustrated from searching for this mysterious restaurant. We were about to give up and eat whatever. No guys, one more time. I know Oishii Eats hasn’t been to Japan in a few years, but I’m sure you know what you’re talking about when you’ve lived here. How would we ever forget where Monterey Park was? I carefully looked at the email and went back to the starting point. After a few minutes, we were able to find this place that had all-you-can-eat yakiniku for $25. We didn’t think it was the same place, but that was ok. It was time to eat. For $10 we added all-you-can-drink alcohol to our tab. $35 for all-you-can-eat and drink is a blessing from the Food Gods. Thank you Gluttonous ones. I think we went for 12-14 rounds of beef tongue. The waitress was totally annoyed by us because we drank and ate like barbarians. Similar to the time my Mongolian clan and I conquered Manna Korean BBQ in K-Town.

A. Conan Going to Work - Mmmm.
B. Korean Style BBQ - Yakiniku was influenced by Koreans, so of course there will be Korean food.
C. Beef Tongue - Thinly sliced with a nice chewy texture. My stomach just growled.
D. Beef Tongue - Looks like bacon.
E. Korean Style BBQ - The waitress kept bringing us this so that we'd stop eating the Beef Tongue.
F. Yoshinoya Beef Tongue Bowl - Not available in the U.S. anytime soon.
G. Hide & Seek - Because we couldn't finish the Korean bbq the waitress kept bringing us, we had to find a way to discard it.
H. Now You See It. Now you don't. - Salads aren't meant to be eaten. I think of them as culinary camouflage.

Thanks for reading. I am full and content.


BoLA said...

Hahaha. Man, your posts are hella long! ;) muhah! I love thick Japanese toast but hate kewpie mayo. Can't wait for Manna...I have this never-ending craving for Kalbi. hahah!

Yuzu said...

As if I don't already have a lot to read at work, I gotta come on here and read your long blog entries. ;P

Kewpie Mayo is fascinating and disgusting at the same time, although I haven't even tried the stuff. The bottle is cute, though! I don't get the connection between Kewpie Dolls and mayonnaise. Mayonnaise, in general, is just sick. I can't believe how much mayo was on the foods pictured in this post.

Hehe, "salads aren't meant to be eaten." ^__^

Passionate Eater said...

I see that you are one of those people who doesn't like mayonnaise. I grew up in a place where mayo was treated as a necessary food group. Never tried Kewpie stuff though. Does it taste like Best Foods (Hellman's) or Miracle Whip?

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Bola, I know! 428 photos and i can only pick these. Japanese toasts rock. yes manna!

Yuzu/PE, kewpie mayo definitely tastes good in MODERATE amounts. japanese mayo is typically more sour than american mayonnaise. i do love mayonnaise though. i am perfectly fine with Best Foods!

Thanks for enduring this thesis paper.

Jeni said...

Hey Dylan...another hilarious Nihon post! You guys found the yakiniku joint. Yatta (you did it)!!!

Umm...my Mystic Tan Kewpie doll has something to say to you though.

Mystic Tan Kewpie doll: Dylan, what is your issue with Kewpie Mayo? Freegin Hater!

rick james said...


man, i wish i could have seen the face on the waitress face when the barbarians went to town on the yakiniku... nothing more hilarious than watching Japanese react to weird Gaijin behavior... i think that happened to me like... everyday in japan.. AWESOME D

lets grab some GAJA when you start having okonomi withdrawals..

elmomonster said...

Man...it's almost too much. I'm hungry beyond belief. Most have okonomiyaki.

Tokyoastrogirl said...

How dare you talk smack about my beloved Kewpie-chan!? Although I agree that American mayo is absolutely vile, Japanes mayo makes everything taste better! I also love Shinsaibashi and spent a lot of time there during business trips to Osaka. That yakisoba looks oishii yo.

Daily Gluttony said...

Dylan, great recap of your Japan trip. I'm hella hungry now. And next time, we're going wit' you!

P.S. I happen to like Kewpie mayo, but also in moderation.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

DG, i think my next trip this year will be to Hong Kong, Taiwan and then Vancouver. More good eats to come.

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