10.30.07

Fuzhou People Everywhere! 到处都有福州人

Posted in Fujian, Immigration at 12:05 am by Benjamin Ross

It’s 1:30 on a sunny afternoon in Midtown Kansas City. After a walk around familiar environs, I stop for a bite to eat at the “Northern China Restaurant Buffet” on Main Street. While living in China for 3 years has utterly destroyed any affinity I had for American Chinese food, I still try to stop by a Chinese restaurant at least once a week, if anything, just to keep up my language skills.

After a brief conversation with the waitress in Mandarin, I return to my booth to begin my meal. Halfway though a bite of General Tso’s chicken, a familiar sound comes from the back of the restaurant. It’s definitely not Mandarin, and the excessive barrage of garbled nasal sounds don’t sound anything like Cantonese.

The waitress returns to refill my water and I decide to confirm whether or not my suspicious were accurate.

“Where are you from?” I ask her in Mandarin

“Fujian province.” she replies, assuming most people have heard of Fujian, but haven’t heard of any of its cities.

“Where in Fujian?” I reply.

“Fuzhou,” she replies, a little surprised I am continuing my interrogation.

“Where in Fuzhou?” I ask.

fuqing fujian rural china
It is small towns near Fuzhou like Fuqing (pictured here) which are the leading source of Chinese restaurant employees throughout the world.

At this point she gives me a look that I read as “There is no way this gringo could possibly have heard of the little rural town in Fujian where I grew up.”

That would be assuming this gringo didn’t happen to have lived just an hour away from that little rural town which I was guessing I knew the name of before she even told me.

“Changle.” she replied to answer my question.

No, nobody would have ever heard of Changle had it not been quite possibly the single largest source of Chinese commissary employees in the United States. And no doubt the sounds I had been hearing were those of the Fuzhou dialect.

Changle is a county-level city (县级市) just outside of Fuzhou, the provincial capital, and largest city in Fujian province. Fujian province is widely renowned for its mass quantities of migrants who move (often through questionable methods) to other countries, usually in search of amassing great fortunes by washing dishes in Chinese restaurants.

Most Fujianese immigrants come from smaller towns, like Changle, outside of the major cities. Once they go abroad, they often meet up with friends or family members from their hometowns, and establish their own small enclaves overseas. Because of these migration patterns, small towns in Fujian often have corresponding countries where their people migrate. For people in Fuqing (the town where I lived for 1.5 years before moving to Fuzhou), they gravitate towards Japan. For people from Changle the country of choice is the USA.

My return to the USA is beginning to confirm one of my suspicions I have developed over the past few years, and that is that there are quite possibly more Changle natives living in the US than there are in Changle itself. In fact during my time in Kansas City, I ate at 3 different Chinese restaurants, and at each one, my waiter was from Changle. For me this works out great, as when having my weekly Chinese language refreshment course at the local buffet, I can not only reminisce about the country I used to live in, but can tell people exactly where I lived down to the building, discuss Fuzhou area restaurants and shopping districts, and get updates on the latest trends in the city where I lived for 3 years. And hey, maybe those bits and pieces of the Fuzhou dialect I learned over there won’t go to waste afterall.


 

10.24.07

Impressions of America from Chinese Eyes

Posted in Culture Clash, Sino-US, Relations and Comparisons, Society at 11:04 pm by Benjamin Ross

This past week I had the pleasure of acting as interpreter and cultural facilitator for a delegation of Chinese businessmen visiting Kansas City. For several of them, it was their first trip to the US, and for all of them it was their first time in Kansas City. For me it was a chance to begin reciprocating the Chinese people for all of the help and assistance I received from them during my time in the Middle Kingdom. Here are some memorable quotes from this week as my Chinese associates described their impressions of Kansas City, and the US as a whole.

When asking how their flight was…
“American airport security is such a pain. We had to wait in line for half an hour, and it seemed like they searched everything. In China, it’s much easier.”

While driving through a suburban office park…
“Nobody is on the streets. The street life here is so boring.”

Also while driving through a suburban office park…
“There are so many trees, and the sky is so clear. It is so beautiful.”

While walking in the front door of the company…
“Did you see that sign on the door which had a gun with a circle and a line through it? You would never see anything like that in China.”

At the steak house…
“These steaks are quite different from the ones we have in China. They aren’t served on a flaming skillet and there’s no egg.”

While discussing China with Americans who had never been…
“The impressions Americans get from reading about China are completely different from the impressions they would get from visiting China in person.”

At a strip center…
“All of these little shops look so unique. In China, the small shops are all the same, and none of them have colorful signs like the ones here.”

While shopping for men’s clothes…
“Man…these are expensive!”

Heard throughout the week…
“Americans are so fat. Everywhere there are fat people. Why are Americans so fat? Is it the food?”
(heard on several occasions, often with “fat” gestures made by arms)


 

10.23.07

A $5 Culinary Trip Through Tokyo (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Food and Drink, Japan, Travel Log (Asia) at 12:43 pm by Benjamin Ross

I just wanted to take a minute to apologize to all the people who follow this blog for the lack, or should I say extreme slowness, of content of late. Things have been a little hectic as I begin the next phase of my life, which will entail moving to Chicago to look for a full time job, and the blog has found itself a little further down on the priority latter. Nonetheless I hope to pick up the pace in the next few weeks. I still have a post or two about my recent (well, not so recent anymore) trip to Japan, and then it’s back to content centered primarily on China. Without further adiu, here’s the final segment of “A $5 Culinary Trip Through Tokyo” continued from part 2.

On my final day in Japan, I actually only had half a day, since my flight departed Narita Airport at 4 pm. The trip from my youth hostel to the airport required me to switch trains at Nippori (an outer district of Tokyo) on the way to Narita. One of the unfortunate limitations of my trip to Japan was that I only had enough time to explore Tokyo, and by Tokyo I mean central Tokyo. The difference between central city and Narita was apparent from the moment I stepped off the train. Unlike the high-tech underground malls of Shinjuku and Shibuya which seemingly go on forever, Nippori station reminded me of a Chicago L-train stop, with its exposed steel beams and cement floors.

The area around Nippori Station, where I spent my last few hours in Japan, lacks the hustle bustle of downtown districts like Shinjuku and Shibuya. But it makes up for them with its quiet streets and charm.

Upon walking down the stairs of the station on to the street, I was greeted by a streetscape which appeared modest and calming, compared to the bustling districts of Central Tokyo. As I meandered off the main street and through quite alleys, I came upon a residential area. The houses were cramped and close together, but the streetscape remained impeccably clean. It was calmer and more serene than anything I had previously seen in Tokyo (or all of China for that matter).

As I came to another main street, I saw the characters 中国饭店 which mean “Chinese restaurant” in both Chinese and Japanese, posted on a sign. Turning the corner, I came across two more restaurants with 中国饭店 placed in front, one of which was 兰州拉面 (Lanzhou pulled noodles) shop, like the ones spread all over China. Just past the noodle restaurant, I heard a familiar sound resonating from a voice down the street. “国际电话卡,国际电话卡” (guo2 ji4 dian4 hua4 ka3). An old Chinese woman was selling international phone cards, and using her bellowing voice as the primary marketing tactic. Apparently I had stumbled upon another one of Tokyo’s mini-Chinatowns.

The ever so ubiquitous Chinese Restaurant. You can’t go too many places in the world these days without finding one, and Tokyo is no exception.

Since it was to be my final meal in Japan, I opted out of eating at one of the many Chinese restaurants, and continued away from the station, in search of another local Japanese dive.

After walking a ring around the area surrounding Nippori Station, I settled on a small restaurant which from the outside resembled those in which I had eaten in downtown Tokyo. The inside of the restaurant consisted of two rows of booths with a kitchen behind them. Next to the kitchen was an open-air refrigerator which housed various a la carte items. Not knowing whether I was supposed to sit and order, or select directly from the a la carte items, I sat at one of the tables and waited for a cue from the waitress. Looking around the restaurant, I could feel an entirely different vibe than those of central Tokyo. There were no flamboyantly dressed teenagers, or businessmen in suits looking as if they hadn’t slept in weeks. Instead, the mood of the clientele was a calmness I had yet to experience in Tokyo. Middle aged men and women, casually dressed, sat in the booths, eating their noodles and sushi at a slow pace while they chatted the afternoon away. When my waitress came back, it also became apparent that foreigners were much less common in these parts of Tokyo. Handing me the menu, she gave me the “Oh no, this guy doesn’t speak my language!” look that I had yet to see in Japan.

Granted, the servers at other Tokyo restaurants I had patronized didn’t speak much English either, but they clearly had a great deal of experience in serving gringos, and knew exactly how to take an order using a combination of pictures and hand signals. I motioned over to the a la carte area, pointing to myself, and then pointing to the food in a lame attempt to communicate the sentence “Why don’t I just pick it out myself?” The waitress replied with a nervous gesture, which I interpreted as “No, I don’t think so.” After several more failed attempts at non-verbal communication, I decided on another method…that is to test how well Chinese characters work in ordering food in Japanese restaurants.

The Japanese language itself is has little, if any, relation to Chinese, however the writing system borrows many of its ideograms from Chinese writing. The Chinese characters used in Mainland China today are the simplified set, which are modified from the traditional set used pre-1956 and still in use in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and most overseas Chinese communities. Japanese Kanji characters, as they are called, were taken from the traditional set of Chinese characters, but many still bare close resemblance to the simplified ones they were replaced by. Their meanings remain the same as the Chinese characters they were borrowed from, but the pronunciation is different. This is why many Japanese signs (like the one for Chinese restaurant) can be written the same in Chinese as they are in Japanese.

I wrote down the character 粉, which means “rice noodles” into my notebook and showed it to the waitress. With a look of amusement, the she took my pen and scribbled a sentence of Japanese into my notebook. As I mentioned before, many of the Japanese characters are borrowed from Chinese. However, a great deal of Japanese is also written using the Hiragana and Katakana writing systems, which bear no resemblance to Chinese whatsoever. Most of what the waitress had written had been either Hiragana and Katakana as it was completely incomprehensible to me.

“Kanji” I told the waitress, hoping that a) my pronunciation was accurate enough she would understand what I was saying and b) that the sentence “I only read kanji” could be extrapolated from my one-word statement.

“Oh, oh, kanji,” she replied, indicating she at least understood what word I was saying.

She yelled a few words to the cook in back, who then held up some rice noodles, as if to confirm that that was what I wanted to order. I nodded my head, and everybody smiled. We had made it this far. The waitress then asked me several more questions, and after 30 seconds of gestures, I finally realized she was asking “What do you want with your rice noodles?” Giving my trusty, old Chinese characters another chance to save the day, I wrote the character 肉 (meat, or pork) in my notebook. Another shot of excitement came to my servers face. We were making headway.

My final meal in Japan consisted of rice noodles, fried dumplings, and kimchi. The first person to identify the white and pink stuff in my noodles wins a prize.

After putting the order in for my pork rice noodles, the waitress lead me over to the a la carte area, where I selected some fried dumplings and Korean kimchi. The waitress promptly whisked away my dumplings, and heated them up in a nearby microwave, not exactly my idea of gourmet, but at least I was being served. When the rice noodles arrived, the pork had been crumbled into little, stringy bites, and sprinkled on top of my noodles along with fresh scallions and a slice of an unidentified piece white matter with a pink coating (see picture). If anybody knows what this is, please let us know.

The noodles were impeccable, having a texture with just the right degree of chewiness, and served in a bland soup with just enough flavor to compliment the noodles and pork bits. Even the white and pink nugget of unidentifiable food matter hit the spot. Teamed with the spicy kimchi and the surprisingly zesty microwave fried dumplings, my final meal in Tokyo left me as culinarily satisfied as I had been throughout the entire trip.

Price: 1020 yen (aprox $9) Final Verdict: 9

Conclusions:

To obtain a deep level of intelligent insight about the cuisine and food culture of a particular country usually takes staying there for at least a few months, and dining in both different regions, and with different social classes of the populace. Before I make any far-fetched conclusions about Japanese food, I need to reaffirm that I was only in Japan for 3 days. And during those 3 days, I did not leave Tokyo proper, nor did I eat in any restaurants which cost more than $10 a meal. Additionally, I ate all of my meals in restaurants, and did not have the chance to try any home cooked food. Disclaimer out of the way, here are my final conclusions about Japanese food.

1) Like the country itself, Japanese food is highly efficient. The food I consumed was all small, portable, and required very little cooking time.

2) Generally speaking the food was highly nutritious, especially for restaurant food. Most of what I consumed consisted of rice, fish and seafood, and vegetables, either served raw (the healthiest way to eat food) or cooked without much oil.

3) Tokyoers like to be dispensed their food at bars, and by bar I mean the place you go to drink, I mean a physical bar inside a restaurant.

4) The Japanese food served outside of Japan is much less modified than Chinese food served outside of China.

5) Thanks to the plastic food models in windows, and the small morsels of restaurant English from Tokyo waiters and waitresses, you can eat in downtown Tokyo quite easily without knowing any Japanese. Outside of the downtown (and presumably in smaller cities) it is a little bit more taxing, but certainly can be done. If you can read and write Chinese characters, they may come in handy a bit too, but if you really want to be sure what you’re ordering, you’d be best to bring a phrase book.

6) After 3 days in Tokyo, I have nothing but good things to say about the food of Japan…well, maybe except for that hoagie sandwich overflowing with mayonnaise I had at 7-11. The food is tasty, healthy, and surprisingly affordable…even if you are only spending $5 a meal.


 

10.06.07

A $5 Culinary Trip Through Tokyo (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Food and Drink, Fujian, Japan, Travel Log (Asia) at 5:34 am by Benjamin Ross

continued from A $5 Culinary Trip Through Tokyo (Part 1 of 3)

With a sour taste still in my mouth from the previous day’s 7-Eleven hoagie, I played it safe for my second breakfast in Japan…this of course meant another sushi bar. I found yet another cheap conveyor belt sushi joint in Shibuya (a hip shopping district in downtown Tokyo) and parked myself at the bar.

Tokyo sushi bar
The sushi place I at my second day in Tokyo was almost an exact clone of the one I ate at on my first day…not that I’m complaining.

The setup was nearly identical to the conveyor belt sushi place where I had dined two days before, and the sushi and sashimi looked and tasted identical to those at the other place. At the end of my meal I could not decipher anything about the second sushi joint which was different from the first. Even the prices had been virtually identical. It led me to wonder if sushi preparation is more about standards and uniformity than uniqueness and creativity. Maybe somebody who has spent more than 3 days in Japan can fill in here.

Cost of meal: 700 yen (approx $6 USD) Final Verdict: 7…just like the other sushi place.

In addition to all of the tempting Japanese food Tokyo had to offer, it is impossible to walk too far in Tokyo without taking in the sights and smells of good ol’ hamburgers and fries. Whereas in most parts of Mainland China American fast food is still relatively exotic, American grease has seemingly been more so integrated into the Japanese culinary psyche. In Tokyo, small dive restaurants advertise for hamburgers, french fries, and steaks, often being served in the same storefronts as traditional Japanese cuisine, and rarely more expensive than Japanese alternatives. Japan also has several of its own homegrown American fast food restaurants, the most prominent I noticed was called Lotteria. For lunch on my second day in Tokyo, I gave it a shot.

Like most of the fast food restaurants I saw in Tokyo, the Lotteria I went to also had 3 stories. The first storey opened up to the street and consisted of the kitchen and ordering area, and the second and third floors were both tight, cramped-in dining rooms. Inside the dining rooms were Tokyoers of all ages and demographics, reading the newspaper, sending text messages, and taking slow, gradual bites out of their fast food. As I approached the ordering area, my eyes were immediately drawn to Lotteria’s current specialty item, the tandori chicken burger, which I ordered along with a hamburger on the side.

lotteria tandori chicken burger></td>
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<td><font size=Japanese fast food at its finest. My personal recommendation goes to the Tandori Chicken Burger (top left)

Wrapped in soft pita bread, and topped with lettuce, onion, and tandori sauce, the tandori chicken burger provided a surprisingly zesty fusion of Indian cuisine and American fast food. It easily ranks up there with the Wendy’s Spicy Chicken and the Taco Bell 7-Layer burrito as one of the more innovative fast food creations I have sampled. The fries and the hamburger, however, were sub-par, comparable to those of the homegrown burger joints which have popped up all over China in recent years. I would liken it to an hour-old McDonald’s hamburger coupled with semi-stale KFC french fries. Not exactly a fast food all star lineup.

Cost: 520 yen (approx $4.50 USD) for the Tandori Chicken value meal, and 100 yen (approx 90 cents) for the hamburger; Final Verdict: 5, If I were to rate the meal separately, the tandori chicken would get an 8 and the burger and fries a 2.

For dinner on my second, and last evening in Tokyo, I met up with my old friend Andrew Houston, who has lived in Tokyo for over 5 years. Leaving the choice of dining establishments in his hands, he suggested a meal of yakitori.

meat on a stick
Yakitori, or “grilled bird,” or in this case, grilled pork liver

Andrew took me to a small dive restaurant where we sat at the bar and he proceeded to order. Literally, “yakitori” means “grilled bird,” and I think they chose this name because it would have been too troublesome to use a more accurate name which would have been “anything possibly edible to humans…on a stick.” Our meal consisted of beef, pork, chicken, liver, and fish balls, all strung together on long, wooden toothpicks, and smothered in a thick sauce.

Japanese Yakitori
More yakitori, now with beef, shrimp, and fish balls

As we consumed our yakitori and drank Asahi beers, Andrew struck up a conversation in Japanese with one of the waitresses. After an apparent communication mishap, Andrew turned to me and said, “That waitress has a strong accent when she speaks Japanese. I think she might be Chinese.”

When the waitress came back to the table, I asked her, in Chinese, “Are you Chinese?”

The waitress let out the token “woooaahhhh” (It’s probably not everyday she runs into a Chinese speaking white guy in Tokyo), and replied, “We are all Chinese,” pointing to the two other waitresses.

Overhearing our conversation, the other waitresses came over to say hello to the pair of bilingual gringos.

“Where in China are you from?” I asked the first waitress.

I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised when she quickly responded “Fuzhou,” as my former Chinese residence is well-known for its large amount of its people going abroad, but I never expected the first Chinese person I met after leaving China would be from Fuzhou as well. When I told her, in the Fuzhou dialect, “I used to live in Fuzhou” (one of the few sentences I can say properly), her jaw nearly hit the ground. After several minutes of reminiscing about Fuzhou shopping districts and fish ball restaurants, the waitress mentioned to me that there was an area, just down the street, where all of the shop owners are from Fuzhou. Unfortunately it was nearly 11 o’clock and all of the stores had closed for the next evening.

Andrew and I finished our Yakitori and 2 rounds of Asahi beer, and after bouncing English, Japanese, and Chinese around the room for an hour, we paid our tab and called it a night.

Cost: 2100 yen (aprox $18 USD, total for 2); Final Verdict: another 7

It was refreshing to find Tokyo residents with whom I could communicate, and reinforced the fact that you typically don’t have to look very hard to find Chinese people, especially ones from Fuzhou, in most parts of the world.


 

10.02.07

A $5 Culinary Trip Through Tokyo (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Food and Drink, Japan, Travel Log (Asia) at 1:46 pm by Benjamin Ross

This past August, on my way from China back to the US, I spent 3 days in Tokyo. Japan has a long and colorful culinary history, and with just under 72 hours to work with, I wanted to consume as much of it as possible. Seeing as it would be impossible to sample every facet of Tokyo cuisine in 3 days, and that I was traveling in Japan on a Chinese budget, I focused my scope on Japanese food to that of small dive restaurants, most of which cost only around the equivalent of 5 or 6 US dollars per meal.

Before I had arrived in Japan, I was a little concerned as to how I would order food once I got there. Whenever I travel abroad, I generally try to avoid restaurants with English menus, because they are usually the places which are most adapted to foreigners and thus not as authentic as the small holes in the wall where locals dine. When I went to Mongolia last year I brought along a phrasebook which proved invaluable. Want to eat mutton? Look up “mutton” in the phrasebook, point to the Mongolian letters, and show them to the waitress. Want to eat potatoes? Look up “potatoes” in the phrasebook, point to the Mongolian letters, and show them to the waitress. This method worked like a charm, and allowed me to eat in restaurants where I otherwise would have had no way to order.

For my three days in Japan, I did not have the luxury of a phrasebook. A good portion of the Japanese language is made up of kanji characters, a large percentage of which are the same as traditional Chinese. I only speak a few words of Japanese, but have on several previous occasions glanced at Japanese magazines, and noticed I was able to understand quite a few words. So I was curious as to how far Chinese reading would get me in reading Japanese menus.

Japanese food models
Ordering food in Tokyo is made easy, with life-sized food models, on display in the windows of most restaurants.

I didn’t get to test this out much at first, however, because virtually every restaurant in downtown Tokyo has realistic-looking models of each dish on the menu placed in a window in front of the restaurant. In order to pick a restaurant, you can walk down the street, and without even going inside, glance over all the dishes offered. Once you find a place where the food looks good, you walk in, and signal to the waitress to come outside, and then point to what you want to eat. No menu required.

Most of the small restaurants in Tokyo are set up as bars, with the cooks in the middle, and for my first meal in Tokyo I found a small sushi bar in Shinjuku (Tokyo’s busiest central district).

sushi bar
A Tokyo sushi bar employs the conveyor belt system to dispense sushi and sashimi to hungy patrons.

Tokyo sushi bars further simplify the ordering process by employing what I refer to as the “sushi conveyor belt.” As you sit around the bar, pieces of sushi and sashimi revolve around a conveyor belt which makes its way around the bar. Each item is placed on a different colored plate. Each plate has a price in yen. As the food revolves, you take what you want. At the end of your meal, the waitress counts up the price of your plates and gives you the bill. It is by far the most efficient way of ordering food I have ever encountered..

As for the food itself, the sushi and sashimi I ate my first night was surprisingly not too different from any other sushi I had eaten in Fuzhou or the US…which still means delicious The only variant being the degree of freshness which was definitely fresher than Kansas City, but about the same as Fuzhou.

Tokyo sushi
My first authentic Japanese meal

Granted, I am not a connoisseur of Japanese food, (and I did not go to any expensive places) but I did find that at least in regards to sushi and sashimi, the Japanese cuisine found in other parts of the world is not nearly as altered as is the case for Chinese food. Plates were priced from 110 (approx. $1 USD) yen to 440 yen (approx. $4 USD), with the cheaper plates consisting of sushi rolls, containing permutations of veggies, imitation crab, and tuna, and the more expensive ones containing mostly sashimi with shrimp, eel, and raw fish. Soy sauce, wasabi, and tea came on the side.

Price of meal: 720 yen (approx $6.50 USD) Final Verdict: 7

I began my second day in Tokyo with a stop at 7-11 on the way to the Yakasuni Shrine. There is much to be learned about a particular culture based on what products are available at its convenience stores and kiosks, and 7-11 is no exception. Racks of pre-prepared sushi and curry meals in neat little treys were stacked up inside the refrigerators, and divided container by the register contained greasy treats on sticks which resembled street food.

My original reason for stopping in at 7-11 was to look for the cartons of fresh chocolate milk which I drink compulsively every time I pass a 7-11 when I am in Hong Kong. Fresh milk, and especially fresh chocolate milk are not easy to come by in China. Unfortunately, there was no fresh chocolate milk at the Tokyo 7-11. I told the attendant, who spoke a bit of English, that I was looking for milk, and every time I pointed to a brown-colored carton, she told me “no, coffee.” By the time I had finished sifting through all of the drinks, I had counted nearly 20 different cold coffee drinks, but still no chocolate milk.

Japanese 7-11 snacks
Tokyo 7-11 snacks.

Since I was also getting hungry, I decided to take a venture into the realm of Japanese 7-11 food. After careful consideration, I selected what appeared to be a pre-prepared mini-hoagie sandwich…probably not the most authentically Japanese food available, but why not give Japanese Western fusion food a try? The sandwich came wrapped in cellophane and contained sliced meat and a white creamy substance between the bun (I tried as hard as possible not to make that sound sexual, honest). It didn’t take long to identify the creamy substance as when it finally hit my mouth I wasn’t sure if I was eating a sandwich or chugging a bottle of Hellmann’s mayonnaise.

Price: 120 yen (approx $1) Final Verdict: 2

After my hour of being bombarded by Japanese War Propaganda at the Yakasuni Shrine, I made my way to Harajuku, a trendy area where Japanese teenagers hang out and showcase their latest fashions, many of which resemble Halloween costumes more than everyday clothing. I stopped in an underground shop near the main drag of Harajuku to have my lunch. As I walked down the narrow stairs, I entered a room where 3 or 4 locals, all sitting at different tables, were smoking cigarettes and watching a baseball game on TV. Unfortunately, there were no food models, so the waiter handed me a menu, which was only about 1/3 kanji. Other than a dish which appeared to be 麻婆豆腐 (ma2 po2 dou4 fu, spicy Sichuan tofu) I couldn’t make out any of names of the dishes. So much for my Chinese reading helping me to read Japanese menus! Seeing I was having trouble with the menu, the waiter then brought me a stack of about 20 notebook-paper sized laminated cards, with pictures of each dish on them. I pointed to a noodle soup, and the waiter nodded his head and said “oohh…miso.”

miso soup
The most multifarious miso soup I have ever experienced.

Previously, the only miso soup I had consumed had consisted of little more than broth and tofu, however, this miso soup was the full magilla, consisting of noodles, sliced bamboo shoots and carrots, seaweed, corn, and a couple slices of pork. The noodles where chewy and filling and coupled with the variety of toppings, made for different tastes with every bite.

Price: 500 yen (approx $4.50) Final Verdict: 6

After a day of exploring Harajuku and Shibuya, I made it over to the Tokyo Dome to see the Yomiuri Giants take on the Chunichi Dragons. As would be expected for a baseball game, there were the usual hot dogs and hamburgers in the concession stands. There also were sushi plates and rice bowls with various toppings. I opted for the curry pork rice bowl.

curry beef rice bowl
Take me out to the ballgame. Take me out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and…….a curry pork rice bowl, only at the Tokyo Dome.

The bowl or rice was sectioned off into two “regions” with one being chopped up meat covered in curry sauce, the other covered with shredded meat and onions. White rice was on the bottom. Now, there is something inherently strange about sitting through a baseball game while eating concessions with chopsticks, but I am certainly not complaining. In the words of Homer Simpson “mmm…super pork curry rice bowl.”

Price: 540 yen (approx $5) Final Verdict: 8

Twenty four hours and several thousand calories into my Japan trip, I retired to my youth hostel, with blisters on my feet from all the walking, and a full belly of Japanese food.

continued in A $5 Culinary Trip Through Tokyo (Part 2 of 3)

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