Monday, March 29, 2010

March 23, 2010: Tokyo I

As I've hinted in some recent posts, both Michael's and my jobs have been quite demanding in the past month or so. It's a good thing that we had a long, and long overdue, holiday to look forward to! Within days of our commitments winding up we packed our bags and set off for Tokyo, where Michael's brother Matt has been living for the past three years. (Long-time readers might remember Michael previously dropping in on Matt in July 2008.) We arrived early in the morning, grubby and zombified but determined to see some sights and spend as much of the day as possible awake.

Matt flexed his hosting skills, sorting out subway passes and confidently leading us through the maze that is Tokyo's rail system. I could do little more than follow dumbly, struggling to take in the high density, high energy and utterly foreign city around me. Our first destination was Shinjuku for lunch at The Loving Hut.

This tiny second-floor vegetarian restaurant is part of the Supreme Master fold (see also: La Panella back in Melbourne). Our limited ability to communicate with the two staff barely mattered, as the time of day dictated that we'd be eating their set lunch (500円 ~ AU$5.90), speedily and elegantly presented in a cardboard bento box.

It was just perfect! There was faux-chicken, spicy tofu, gingery pickled cabbage, curry-spiced daikon, bean shoots, plenty of rice, and in the lower-right corner, an intriguing sponge-like substance that soaked up its marinade like nothing else - it could be another faux-meat, but we wonder if it was actually a fungus of some sort. This meal was delicious, it was extraordinarily cheap, and most importantly at that time, it didn't require us to labour over menus, communication or decision-making. An added bonus was that the Loving Hut stocks copies of the Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide (1600円 ~ AU$19.00). Michael has been clutching this as keenly as the subway map and Lonely Planet guide ever since.

With our first foray into vegetarian eating in Japan such a success we were well energised for some more walking, making our way to Yoyogi Park in Shibuya.

Though we thought it would take a lot to outdo our fine meal at the Loving Hut, the demands of travel and our tranquil surrounds soon defeated us and we napped on the grass.

This park is also home to the Meiji Shrine.

The crowds increased as we made our way east from the Shrine to Harajuku.

It's full of crazy-sparkly-fun-shopping. I wasn't tempted to part with any of my cash, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and the stroll.

Matt led us further east to the Design Festa Gallery and then to the A to Z Cafe. Too late for lunch and too early for dinner, the cafe was scattered with only a few quiet patrons. Though A to Z serves meals, we focused on the cakes and hot drinks. With English subtitles across the menu and photographs of their regular desserts, the only challenge was agreeing on which plates to order.

Michael was fascinated by the 'homemade sweet bracken jelly with soybean flour' (500円 ~ AU$5.90) and when Matt observed that it looked like mochi, I got pretty keen too. Before our departure our friend Lisa impressed upon me the importance of eating mochi, and having seen it mentioned on many of my favourite blogs, I was eagerly keeping my eye out for it. Served with a sugary syrup, these were nice but not typical - more silky and jelly-ish and less starchy and doughy than most.

We also shared this delightfully light and sweet 'rolled cake with brown sugar taste' (550円 ~ AU$6.50). It's served with a side of red beans, a delicacy I haven't yet acquired a taste for. (Actually, I think it's more the texture than the taste I need to make peace with.)

With no pressure to vacate our table, we spent some time lounging at A to Z, flicking through our restaurant guide and planning where to go for dinner. When we emerged, darkness had fallen and Shinjuku was even more dazzling.

For dinner, Michael and Matt had settled on Nagi Shokudo, a cosy vegan restaurant within walking distance.

photo by Matt
They offer a range of share-friendly plates for dinner ranging in price from 350-850円 (~AU$4-10). English subtitles across the menu again helped a lot in our ordering.

Everything we ate was lovely, with the fried eggplant and pumpkin soaked in sweet teriyaki soup (pictured above) being the absolute stand-out.

The fried lotus roots and carrot soaked in sweet sour sauce were also quite an experience. Though I've occasionally eaten lotus root before, it's never been with this texture - less fibrous or starchy, and even a little waxy. It was surprising, and surprisingly good.

Warmth and good food had Michael and I rather drowsy and we very contently headed back through the drizzle to Matt's flat for sweet, sweet rest.


  1. lovely photos and that bento box sounds wonderful food to welcome you to tokyo - I always need some decent food after plane food and think a veg restaurant sounds exactly what you need

  2. Fabulous! Thanks for sharing this with us. Lovely to start my morning with a little trip to Japan...

    I ate something very similar to that spongy stuff in Shanghai six years ago, and I've been wondering ever since what it was. It was served in a soup and they told me it was tofu, but who knows?!


  3. Thanks, Johanna. Yes, definitely an improvement on the in-flight food, though I did get an Indian veg breakfast on our way over that was excellent!

    Hi Saskia! Thanks for the tip on that mystery substance, it could well be soy-based. Either way it is optimally designed for soaking up sauce. :-)

  4. I went to Japan in 2005 & your photos are bringing back so many awesome memories..thanks!I highly recommend that you find some vego kitsune udon, if you haven't already. It's to die for.

    Love your blog btw.

    - Gia :)

  5. The photo of the bento box alone convinced me it's time to visit Japan again!

    Hope the rest of the trip was great.


  6. Welcome, Gia! Glad you're enjoying these posts. :-)

    Hi Gem! The set meals have been amazing - I'm not sure that Melbourne's ones will match up for me ever again.