Tokyo for Foodies: Sake Plaza, 100-Yen Shops, Street Food, Imperial Palace

Crystal Cun

December 04 2009 - 5:52 PM

Third post in a series

Sake Plaza

The Japan Sake Brewers Association runs a small tasting room where you can try five sakes for just ¥525. The sake list includes notes on each sake's type, prefecture, sweetness and alcohol content. Be sure to pick up the English pamphlets which include a glossary of terms on sake bottle labels and a guide for how to taste sake. The location on Google Maps is accurate.

100 Yen Shops: Bento Boxes

Similar to American dollar stores, the 100 Yen shops carry a variety of goods that only cost ¥100. Perhaps due to the proximity to China, the quality of goods available for ¥100 far surpasses what you can get for $1 in the U.S. I saw a great range of neckties, cosmetics, cleaning equipment and kitchen supplies. More importantly, you can pick up lots of bento box making materials here. I nabbed a bento box, a pair of chopsticks in a holder, egg molds, onigiri molds, condiment containers, plastic flower attachments and tree-shaped dividers for less than the cost of a movie ticket. Above is my first attempt at a bento box, with sesame peanut soba noodles, cucumber, slivers of tofu, red pepper, carrot and a hard-boiled egg in the shape of a car.

Street Food: Hanazono-Jinja Shrine, Namikasen Dori

Tokyo's street food vendors tend to concentrate themselves near temples and shrines, distracting worshippers with tempting smells and the sound of sizzling meats. As you approach the Asakusa Kannon Temple on Namikasen Dori street, you are tempted by the fragrant odors of agemanyu (deep fried buns) and okonomiyaki (mixed veggie and meat pancake). Pictured above are freshly made ningoyaki (bite-size sponge cakes). These are typically filled with red bean paste and molded into intricate shapes. The one on the left is modeled after the lantern at the entrance of the Asakusa Kannon Temple.

In the evening, the area outside of Hanazono Shrine takes on a decidedly unsolemn character, with thick crowds jostling to order yakitori (chicken kebabs) and takoyaki (octopus balls) while buying amulets to offer at the shrine. You can also get less traditional chocolate-dipped bananas and baked potatoes. Men with wooden clappers move through the crowd, striking their clappers in a rhythmic fashion. The area takes on the festive air of a neighborhood block party.

Imperial Palace Rest House

I wasn't going to mention specific restaurants, but thought I'd mention this spot as a great place for a quick introduction to Japanese cuisine. It is located just south of the Babasakimon Police Box on the east side of the palace grounds. I stumbled upon the "rest house" after touring the Imperial Palace East Gardens on Sunday morning, and walked in to find a self-serve buffet of traditional Japanese foods for only ¥1,200. Needless to say, this is a steal in Tokyo. In one place, you can sample pickled vegetables and radishes, tempura, yakisoba, kare (Japanese curry), udon, and other tofu and fish items. Did I mention the food is great? This may be the first time I have ever been excited about a meal at a tourist attraction.

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