Monday, December 31, 2012

Preparing for the New Year

The days following Christmas were a bit lackluster and lonely, but punctuated with exciting lunches (tempura!), shopping sprees (Kichijoji and Ginza) and sipping on delicious martinis and sparkling wine at Norwegian cafe Fuglen.

In order to prepare for the New Year, I cleaned my house (ever so slightly...) and most importantly, purchased the best companion, my 2013 planner. It has a page for each day and a soft lilac cover. I'm a bit old-fashioned like that, I like handwritten notes and can't keep track of anything jotted down electronically. I like being able to sit down at a cafe and write down some notes, and carry a stylish accessory around.

I also painted my nails in very festive, glittery tones, even though I'm not planning to go out and party much. I want to welcome 2013 in a quiet way, unlike most previous years when I felt pressured to go all out and wild.

I learned how to cook mochi (rice cakes), and I ate it for breakfast topped with a dab of butter and soy sauce, wrapped in seaweed. Delicious!!

2012 was a great year. It's the year I started to make Tokyo a home and found my stride. Looking back, it was quite challenging, but so many great things happened and I feel so happy and satisfied.

Thanks for reading this blog and keeping up with my life here, I appreciate all of the kind comments I've received and I'm humbled I have such great readers all over the world.

Happy New Year! xx

Nails courtesy of Top Shop + 2013 planner

Party digits

Mochi soaking in butter and soy sauce, Hokkaido style

Wrap it up


Saturday, December 29, 2012

I heart tempura

Tempura is one of my favourite Japanese foods (I think I say that about every Japanese food, but I seriously love almost everything), but I rarely get to eat it. Cooking it at home seems too messy and difficult (although I'm eager to learn and try!), and I rarely make my way to a tempura restaurant.

Tempura is basically just seafood or vegetables that have been dipped in batter (made of flour, eggs and water) and deep-fried. Yesterday I had some of the best tempura in Tokyo, in a little joint in the middle of Shinjuku- who knew?

The restaurant is called Tsunahachi, and it has long queues. In Japan, people lining up means it's quite famous and most likely delicious. We had the chance to be served by the restaurant master himself, and the best part is that we can watch the chefs cook in front of us. We ordered the lunch set, which came with pieces of tempura-ed shrimp, fish, and a selection of vegetables, along with a bowl of rice, pickled vegetables, and a scrumptious seafood miso soup.

I enjoyed that lunch so much, it was one of the tastiest experiences I had ever had! I got a bit teary-eyed when the chef sliced a live eel right in front of us, but apart from this 'incident' it was the most delightful meal in the world. My stomach was so full that I didn't eat until much later that night.

In other news, there are only two more days left to the year 2012.

And speaking of fish, did you know the famous Tsukiji Fish Market is closing down soon? Sad news!

Tempura master

Photo: Maaserhit Honda

Shrimp tempura

Lunch set

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas in Japan

Christmas tree display, Setagaya-ku

The title says it all.

Christmas in Japan is well, a version of that holiday with a Japanese twist. I've gotten quite accustomed to spending the holidays here, and unlike previous years when I got disappointed that things were so different, this year I fully embraced this (working) day (for other people, not me) and just completely chilled out at home on Christmas Eve in the best company I could ever ask for: red wine, animal cookies, Home Alone, and the tallest boy I could find in Tokyo.

Yet, Christmas isn't really Christmas without someone getting violently ill, so this was me (too many animal cookies? wine and painkillers?) and I spent Christmas day sleeping it off (or laying on the bathroom floor, whichever sounds more appealing). Yet, it was the best Christmas I've had in Japan, because it was such a disaster and we were able to laugh so much about it- I'll remember it forever.

I was too weak to blog so here's what the tallest boy in Tokyo wrote, on my behalf:

I didn't go to christmas party or even lined up on KFC for the late night with japanese couples this year.
I was like that main character of sex and city, Miranda, yes that was me this year! At 11pm I took painkillers before cycling, I needed to take 4 tablets at once, coz i had hideous pain in my stomach and didn't want to look pale when I meet my friend, well i am already a pale woman, coming from freaking cold country Canada, you know that right? oh well, so i felt super genki after knocking out and i put my special fur, this is gonna be my 2012 winter fashion style! oh well its ending soon but i love being on my bike, wind in my hair and I can smell the nice shampoo brand i bought! yes! I was riding my bike half way through and suddenly old lonely looking police officer asked me to stop and i was like merry christmas but he didn't seem to care for my smile. he wanted to check if my bike was stolen or something... Anyway i waited for my good friend under the bridge and bloody hell i had to wait for him for almost 20mins and all i could think of was nice warm Milo to warm up my coldness. suddenly i felt funny pain in my stomach, i tried not to think too much. Anyway we met up and went cycling together to buy some late christmas dinner at seven eleven. wow japanese seven eleven is not like canada! they have pretty interesting products and instant meals i love japan! anyway i bought nice instant curry oh i love this so yummy! and a tiny box of salad! i don't understand sometimes japanese people call this as a salad. just bunch of green leaves and mini tomato! oh well so we got home and cooked a meal together, and i felt so cold being outside and needed some nice spicy curry to warm me up! oh my god suddenly i had this panic crazy imagination me being in curry soup and wanted to get out but sticky rice pulled me back into spicy curry and felt so pain my eyes. you know as a writer sometimes you have weird imagination from nowhere, most people don't get it but thats okay with me. i love myself.

* Note: I did get arrested by police officers.

Thank you for this. xo

I hope you all had a merry Christmas!! 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

It was Christmas Eve babe...

As Shane MacGowan sang, it's Christmas Eve, and this may be my Fairytale of Tokyo. (And if you are not familiar with this gorgeous Christmas anthem, you've been missing out....).

Tokyo may not have snow, my mom's chocolate square treats or the smell of real pine Christmas trees, but I'm in high spirits and I'm thankful to be here now, in a place that became my home. I'm happily integrating my own traditions to this twist Japan puts on Christmas, and hopefully spend a festive time. I think that's what Christmas is all about- wherever you may be in the world, just being in good company and with plenty of love, food and drinks. This time of the year is when I miss my family the most, but I know I'll visit home soon.

In other news I've been reverting to my holiday schedule, which means staying up all night writing and "researching" things online, and days spent cycling and "researching" at the shops around Shinjuku and Ginza. I really love both those areas lately, I'm growing tired of Shibuya, so I like discovering different neighborhoods. My favourite shops in Ginza are Dover Street Market (which is stocked with Comme des Garçons and has a Rose Bakery on the top floor!), and Printemps (a Parisian department store which has familiar brands). Ginza is very posh and upmarket, but it's getting trendier lately and I like trying to blend in with the fur-clad ladies. Ha!

Things that are Christmassy:

Starbucks treats... gingerbread... doughnuts.... mmmmm

The best taiyaki in Tokyo! My favourite flavour is custard-chestnut.
I easily get excited and impatient around that stall.

Santa-clad puppies in Daikanyama.
They were cold so I pet them.

Frosty the snowman in all its outdoorsy glory

Mickey Mouse Christmas tree

This gorgeous CdG plaid pattern

This view... and the memories.

A wintery Nishi-Shinjuku, one of my favourite areas

AND a Christmas Eve feast + gold nails (we don't do KFC...)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shinjuku Golden Gai + Okonomiyaki

On Friday night, my friends and I headed out to Shinjuku for some alley exploring and late-night fare. Golden Gai is an infamous network of intertwining narrow alleys, which host several hole-in-the-wall (literally!) bars and clubs. Most of those bars can probably only sit six people or so, and the alleys are wide enough for one person to squeeze through. The buildings are all so tiny and ramshackle, the streets dimly lit and the whole area has a grungy feel, much like the activity going on around there.

Golden Gai was known for its prostitution before 1958 (the year it became "illegal"), and luckily most of those small bars survived time and fires and are now a popular drinking destination. Some say the Golden Gai bars are off-limits to tourists and non-Japanese speakers- which is not necessarily true, as some of those locales are offering an English menu to accommodate foreign customers. Yet, many of the bars only welcome regular customers, so it's maybe best to go with Japanese friends.

If you're in Shinjuku, I highly recommend walking through those tiny alleys late at night, as it feels like you're not in Shinjuku anymore for a few minutes, but in a completely different, scruffy old world- that is, before exiting to the neon lights again.

After walking through what seemed like a time warp, we were ravenous so we headed out to a nearby okonomiyaki restaurant, a dish that always pleases all taste buds, and that's fun to make. Most restaurants let you take care of the cooking, by giving you a bowl of the mixed batter and toppings. We picked shrimp, mochi (rice cakes) and cheese, and slathered them with okonomiyaki sauce and a bit of mayonnaise (not too much...) after it was cooked. I love okonomiyaki! Osaka is very famous for this dish, and I wish I could eat it more often in Tokyo.

Shinjuku Golden Gai 

Golden Gai- I adore those little alleys

Pre-cooked okonomiyaki: pancake-like batter mixed with cabbage and toppings

Photo Sharing - Video Sharing - Photo Printing

Cooking okonomiyaki... flipping it requires some mad skills.

Final result... sprinkle some seaweed and sauce it all up, Osaka-style.

Okonomiyaki makes me serious.

Golden Gai photos:  Almir de Freitas on Flickr

Friday, December 14, 2012

Shimo Takaido Cycling Adventure

My newly acquired bicycle (nicknamed Donki-chan!) is providing me with a lot more freedom to explore my surroundings, and a great alternative to those crowded, smelly trains (for some reason, the Marunouchi line trains tend to have dubious smells, that vary from moth balls to vinegar).

Even though the weather is crisp (read: cold!), cycling is always an option in the winter, after putting on thick gloves and a scarf. Last night, I tried a new route and cycled all the way to Shimo-Takaido, a quaint little area a few stops from my old stomping grounds of Shimokitazawa.

Shimo-Takaido is like a small village- it boasts a shopping street full of traditional shops and restaurants. It feels very old Tokyo, and daytime is probably filled with obaasan (grandmothers) shopping for daily vegetables. Yet, it's also a very trendy area of Tokyo, as it's often featured on Japanese television for its "famous" food stalls and sweet shops, where young Tokyoites queue up at the weekends.

After warming up with some Christmas-themed beverages, I followed the Tokyo pro to this lesser-known area of the city, where I was introduced to rows of small shops and narrow streets, full of treasures I have yet to hunt out: a grilled meat stall, a take-out Indian place, a sushi place, and small bars offering import beers. As for last night, we stuck to Vietnamese fare, where I had the best vegetarian pho I've ever had, filled to the brim with greens.

The cycle home was a bit cold, but the workout warmed me up. I highly recommend visiting Shimo Takaido!

Shimo Takaido station

The shopping street in Shimo Takaido

Bicycle Romance