Poor Amit, he didn’t really know what he was getting himself in for when he suggested he take us to some of his favorite restaurants while we were staying with him in Tokyo. He was shocked when we told him that we couldn’t tolerate any fish or seafood. It’s not that we are allergic to fish and seafood, it’s just that the taste and smell is so off-putting that we can’t bear to eat it or even be near it when it is raw. People have tried to tell us that fresh fish isn’t offensive, but they don’t have the strong aversion that we have. Amit said he could understand somewhat because he doesn’t eat red meat although he will eat chicken. This meant that we were very limited in our choices in Japan, especially if you try to order dishes that have no pork, no beef, no fresh water fish and nothing from the sea. Audrey, bless her heart has no food qualms and was willing to go along with whatever we ordered.
Our first night we looked for a Mexican restaurant that Amit liked, but found it had gone out of business. He took us to his second choice nearby, a burger joint that originated in Hawaii and was famous in Tokyo for having the best burgers. The portions were huge and the burgers delicious. Amit ordered a chicken burger and we enjoyed great beef for the first time in months. Amit told us that the foods he misses the most in Japan are cheeses and fresh fruits and vegetables because they are very expensive. He said he takes advantage of all the functions he has to attend as part of his job as Trade Commissioner, to fill up on veggies and fruits. The rest of the time, he is satisfied to eat Japanese food because he does enjoy the fish and seafood dishes.
We went to several different restaurants with Amit over the course of our two weeks in Japan and although we weren’t able to try all the specialties of the house, we did enjoy sampling some very different dishes. What we really appreciated was the unusual décor of some of the eateries and the attentive service of the waiters. Towards the end of our stay, Amit took us to the Ginza district to see the amazing neon lights on the streets and then to a favorite, relatively affordable restaurant called En. Instead of checking our coats at the door, we were required to check our shoes. There were small wooden lockers near the front entrance where we placed our shoes and pocketed the key. Then we passed through a traditional sliding door and crossed the raised wooden floor to our table.
There were several different areas to sit at En, directly on the floor on low cushions, or on the floor cushions at tables that had a cut-out area for your feet so that it felt like you were eating Japanese-style or at regular tables. Unfortunately we had to pick the regular tables as none of us felt we could sit on the floor for any length of time. Amit could probably have managed, but we have ‘old bones’ to think of. We were greeted with a deep bow from the waitress and then small bowls of complimentary tofu appetizer were placed on the table for us to enjoy. There was a lacy garnish on the top of the tofu and when I tasted it, it first tasted like shaved smoked bacon. However, I noticed that Amit was eating it and knew it couldn’t be bacon because he doesn’t eat pork. Suddenly, the strong flavour of fish came through and it was then that Amit told me it was smoked tuna. As usual, Anil waited for me to taste-test the food so he was warned off before he took a bite. I felt bad to leave the remainder in the bowl, but it was impossible for me to enjoy finishing it off.
Amit ordered carefully and we enjoyed the rest of the meal. Portion sizes in Japan are very small and I actually appreciated the fact that they were. It allows you to eat slowly and try several different dishes and not come away completely stuffed. The prices on the menu seem steep but when you consider that there are no additional taxes added and that there is no tipping in Japan, the prices were reasonable considering we are in, what is considered, the most expensive city in the world.
One thing that Amit told us about is the fact that most restaurants provide very affordable set lunches serving dishes that can cost as much as ten times the same price in the evenings. We discovered a great little French bistro just near Amit’s townhouse that included unlimited drinks (juices, coffee, tea and white or red wine) along with the soup, garlic bread, salad and pasta dishes. We went a couple of times; too bad we didn’t find it until after Audrey left to return to Denver. I know she would have enjoyed eating there. I’m not sure what the restaurant would have thought of our onslaught on the red wine though.
There is plenty of street food available in the neighbourhood where we stayed and most of the small restaurants had the plastic models of the food they serve on display. I often stopped to look at the displays, but could not always tell if there was sea food in the dishes or not. Big plastic shrimp on top of bowls of soup were a dead giveaway, but we didn’t want to risk ordering something ‘fishy’. I can’t really believe that we spent two weeks in Japan and didn’t have even one dish of soba or udon noodles – a real disgrace.