Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Tokyo Part 2 - Lunch Envy

Chicken teriyaki set lunch menu
Local knowledge. You can't beat it, especially in a country like Japan, where the language is pretty alien. So as much as I enjoyed exploring the culinary delights of Tokyo off my own bat, I was more than happy to be guided by locals like my colleagues, N and S. These guys took great pleasure in introducing me to some of their favourite lunch haunts.

Mixed tempura rice set
Mini bowl of udon in shoyu broth
On Monday, N hedged his bets and took me to a bit of an all-rounder that served both donburi rice bowls and udon noodles. I went for a set lunch of ten-don (rice topped with mixed tempura) that came with a mini-bowl of udon noodles in shoyu broth. The tempura was good but not great, and I cast more than a few envious glances at the sashimi-don that the others were eating. With hindsight, I should've just ordered a large bowl of udon noodle soup rather than try to have it all. A valuable lesson learnt.

Chicken teriyaki rice set
Tuesday was teriyaki day and we all went for the spicy chicken teriyaki set lunch, which included a bowl of salad and some miso soup. By the time I was finishing off my salad, a box of rice topped with spicy chicken teriyaki, egg, some pickles and dried seaweed flakes arrived. I marvelled at how well the different ingredients complemented one another, especially the dried seaweed-runny egg yolk-rice combo.

Mixed tempura - 1st batch
On Wednesday, we went to Fujigonomi (天ぷら革命 ふじ好) to try the mixed tempura set lunch. Almost as soon as we sat down, some miso soup and a bowl of rice appeared, and then the first of the tempura arrived. Rather bizarrely there was a piece of sesame prawn toast alongside the two prawns and the shrimp cake.

Mixed tempura - the rest
Being impatient, I ate one of the prawns in the 30-second gap between taking a photo and the arrival of the rest of the order, which included more prawns, aubergine and sweet potato. Fresh, crispy and not over oily, this is how tempura is meant to be. It was much better than the stuff I had eaten on Monday.

I had a very special lunch on Thursday, and it was that good, it gets its own dedicated post. Can you guess what I had?

Nigiri and maki set
On Friday, we popped down to the local sushi joint for some top class nigiri and maki. I'm no expert when it comes to sushi and my naiveté was exposed when I was mocked for using chopsticks and not my hands. This was really good sushi, and I particularly liked that the wasabi had already been added, as it ought to be, to the nigiri. I'm not the biggest fan of miso soup, but the version served here had prawn heads in it, which made it more interesting.

All of the above places are in the Kudankita district, but sadly I couldn't find any websites to link to, other than for the tempura joint, Fujigonomi. That said, these are all casual joints and I'm pretty sure most if not all Tokyo districts have eateries of a similar standard.

Now I'm back home, I'm more envious than ever of how the Japanese do lunch. In the time it takes to get a sandwich and eat it, you could have a proper meal in Tokyo. And it's pretty good value too, a chicken teriyaki set cost Yen 790, which at the time of writing, is around £6.50.

Lastly, I'd like to thank N and S for being such top blokes in and out of the office. Not only did they love their food but in S's case, he also loves my kind of music. I wasn't too surprised that he liked early Oasis, but who would have guessed that S would be such a big Stone Roses fan?


  1. God our British lunches are sad affairs aren't they? What I'd do to have a udon noodle soup every day...

  2. Yep - i am well and truly missing Japan now. They lunch well there, and even the most basic food is generally of a decent standard. This is particularly true of the bento boxes, tempura sets and sushi, which throw the UK's offerings into stark relief.

  3. Envy is the word. I had some awesome lunches, dinners and breakfasts there. Damn good.

  4. Oh yes, I am very very jealous. I want that tempura lunch set!

  5. Lizzie/Gworm - I couldn't agree more that everyday work lunches in the UK just don't compare to those in Japan. Even those eating at their desk were tucking into superior stuff, be it take away sushi or bento boxes lovingly made at home. For the really time poor, I saw a few 'Cup Noodles' on the go. The one thing that really looked rank to my eyes were in fact the sandwiches I saw!

    Mzungu - one thing I didn't really try was the breakfast, which for me was just a coffee. This was a bit of a shame but I valued the extra time in bed, and we also lunched quite early.

    Su-Lin - the tempura was fantastic. Where we ate was a tiny shop with just counter seating, which added to the theatre when the tempura was assembled before us.

  6. @Mr Noodles - did you get a chance to try out the bento they sell in the stations? They are so much fun, and while you eat them you get to think about all the poor sods miserably biting into a damp and soggy FGW burger or stale sarnie...

  7. Gworm - sadly I didn't but I'm not surprised that they're good. Not only are their railways better but so is their station dining! I've been back less than two weeks but I wanna return to Japan already!