Let's get down to it: I mean, food is roughly 50% of the reason why I was so excited about this trip, right? Taisho12 knew that if I did nothing else, my #1 mission in Tokyo was to eat a genuine, slurp-loud-as-you-can bowl of tonkotsu ramen. So he and Aki took us up to Ikebukuro, an area known for its numerous ramen shops. I am putting this on record here on Yoo Rang?: this has officially made the list of mieko14's Life-Altering Meals. Not only was the food itself transcendent, but it was as much about the experience as it was the actual taste and texture. Let me attempt to set the scene:
We arrive and wait in line outside in the cold for 30 minutes. Inside we can see the patrons happily slurping away at a u-shaped bar. Much commotion is coming from behind the bar as 5 ramen artists drain and serve noodles, ladle broth, toss toppings and rhythmically call out orders. We realize that the line extends into the restaurants, and the fortunate few allowed to wait inside have it worse because they stand behind seated patrons and are forced to patiently absorb the delicious sights, smells, and sounds. Some space opens up, and we scurry inside, only to be confronted by the Ramen Ticket Vending Machine (an incredible convenience IF you read Japanese...for the rest of us, it's incredibly intimidating). One of the guys behind the counter is kind enough to hand us an English menu -- perhaps it was the gaping mouths, blank stares and frantic pointing that gave us away? -- we make our selections, hand him our tickets, and within another few minutes are seated at the counter awaiting our bowls. And the result? Rich, milky broth with enough pork bone marrow for a silky texture; perfectly cooked, chewy noodles (obviously handmade because of their slightly uneven shape); menma with just enough crunch, slightly spicy because its simmering broth undoubtedly had a few dashes of togarashi; moist, delicate chashu, rolled so the fat is encased within the meat to hold in the juices. Absolutely perfect - thanks, Lil Bro.
Per another recommendation from Taisho12, we tracked down a CoCo Curry Ichibanya in Shibuya, one of a chain of restaurants known for its insanely hot curry. While we Myers/Nakamuras by birth are not known for our spice tolerance, the Yoos are fire-eaters and marketman was ready for the challenge. In addition to selecting your main course (tonkatsu, chicken katsu, fried shrimp), you can pick your spice level from 1-10, though you are not allowed to eat 6 and above without first finishing an entire plate of 5. Mom, Dad and I went for 2 (living on the edge), and after much consideration, marketman asked for a 3. Halfway through the meal, he was mopping his head with a napkin. By the end he had a mild case of the hiccups. Who knew those Japanese could make spicy??
Our last memorable eating experience -- also thanks to Aki and T -- came the next night at a sushi boat bar in who-knows-where. Like the places here in the States, you pay by the plate. Unlike the places in the States, the fish was as fresh as fresh can be, the helpings were immense, and it was super cheap!! Our grand total by the end of the meal was 50 plates for 6 people, to the tune of $80 total. Who says you can't eat cheaply in Tokyo? Leave it to two students to figure that one out!