24 Hours in Tokyo

When you have the option of an 8 hour layover or 24 hours to experience an amazing city…the decision is easy, right? Well, it was an easy decision for me so I took the opportunity to spend 24 hours in Tokyo. But how does a girl make the most of this limited time?

The first thing I did was Google the “must-see” things in Tokyo. Not surprisingly, the list was extensive… museums, parks, restaurants, gardens, shrines, castles, monuments, neighborhoods…in one of the world’s busiest and trendiest cities, it was just too much. And there were plenty of top 10 lists of things to do or see in Tokyo but time was of the essence. I knew it would be a while before a made a trip back, so what did I really want to experience? Food and culture. After a fair amount of research and mapping, I determined the key areas I wanted to see, what was reasonable to get to without spending a lot of time commuting and the foods I wanted to try. Narrowing it down was harder than I expected but here is what I ended up doing during my 24 hour stint in Tokyo:

3pm: Checked into the Granbell Hotel and got settled. I chose to stay in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo as it was central to everything I wanted to see. Also, this was one of the few hotels I could find that had a ‘western-size’ room for a very reasonable price. This doesn’t mean the room was our typical size…this just meant that my bed wasn’t in the same space as my toilet and that I didn’t have to share my toilet. You’ll see further down why I was very very glad I made this decision.

4pm: Went to get fugu into my belly. Japan is probably the only country I would feel comfortable trying this deadly delicacy and walked to Tora-fugu Tei to try it. You can read more about this experience in my previous blog. This was a perfect mid-day snack as it was a light meal and paired wonderfully with some sake.

5:30pm: Caught the metro to Harajuku. First, riding the metro in any city is a great way to experience some local culture. I was amazed at how orderly and quiet everyone was on the train…in fact, throughout the entire city, it was rather astonishing how everyone methodically moved on the streets.

6-8pm: Meandered around Harajuku for a bit. The Harajuku girls were a sight for sore eyes and there were plenty of little stores to peak into, including a cute boutique I was able to get a souvenir for my lady. I could easily see myself spending a night out in this area, but I did not want to be a drunk mess so I caught the metro back to Shibuya.

cat cafe
Cat Cafe in Shibuya

8pm: Experienced a cat café. I’m more of a dog person but I heard so many stories about these cat cafés that I wanted to check it out. And it’s pretty much what it sounds like…a café where you can get some coffee or tea and coax kitties into letting you pet them. You do get some swanky slippers to walk around in and you pay by the amount of time you spend…about 350Yen ($3) later, I had had enough and missed my pup incredibly…he never makes me beg him for cuddles.

Alcatraz E.R.
Alcatraz E.R., Shibuya

8:20pm: Walked to Alcatraz E.R., one of many popular theme restaurants Tokyo is known for. But after lingering outside for a bit, I decided not to go in and admittedly, regret that decision a little bit.

9pm: I was starving, so went to Ichiran for some Tonkutsu ramen. I didn’t realize ramen was such a big thing in Tokyo and it did not disappoint. This restaurant was particularly interesting as it had little booths for each individual diner so was a great choice for going solo. As for the ramen…well, it was certainly a good bowl of noodles. But I’m more a pho gal myself.

10pm: Crossed what is rumored as the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world in the heart of Shibuya. And it was jammed packed full of people but again, I was blown away with how orderly everyone was. Not one person bumped into me and I had at least a couple feet of buffer the entire way. It was like a living oxymoron. Then I walked up to the Starbucks that has a great panoramic view of this intersection while taking in a post-dinner latte.

11:30pm-2:30am: Relaxed at the hotel and made the decision to only take a nap because I wanted to go check out the infamous auction at the Tsukiji fish market, especially since it’s most likely moving to Toyosu in the near future. I just had to experience it at the original location. I went back and forth with this decision because I really wanted to sleep…but when in Tokyo, right?

Tsukiji fish market
In waiting room at Tsukiji fish market

3am: Arrived at the Tsukiji fish market and literally was the 2nd to last person that was allowed in. So it is true…even though the auction doesn’t start until 5am, you do need to get there early. And be prepared to sit on the floor of a small room surrounded by roughly 119 other visitors. I met some fellow travelers and was told about so many other things to see in Tokyo that convinced me that I must return one day.

5:30-7:30am: Experienced the auction (which was everything I imagined it would be…smelly and cold, yelling auctioneers, bells and whistles, and crazy expensive tuna) then walked around the fish market for some sushi breakfast. Yes, Japan is certainly the home of mouth-watering sushi…but, this is where my body apparently had enough. Within an hour after eating, I had to bolt for the nearest bathroom…very similar to what I experienced in Morocco but a bit more painful as I was about to board a 12 hour flight home.

8am-Noon: Went back to the hotel and there’s no delicate way to put this; I pooped my brains out the entire time…and maybe on the flight home too. On a brighter note, I lost all my vacation weight! I’m not condoning getting food poisoning, but at least it has one nice consequence.

Noon-3pm: So this is where my 24 hours came to an end as I headed to the airport to catch my flight home. The train I had a ticket for crashed (I’m still unclear with the situation) so it was a bit stressful trying to figure out how to get to the airport when no one spoke English…but I have to say, everyone I asked for help did seem genuine in trying and I made my flight. I was exhausted, dehydrated, hungry but too scared to try to eat yet ridiculously satisfied with everything I got to experience in Tokyo. Would I do this again in another city if given the chance? Absolutely. As for Tokyo, I came and saw exactly what I wanted but in the end, Tokyo conquered me….but I shall be back.

From Fugu to Guinea Pig – 5 Strange Delights to Try While Traveling!

From Fugu to Guinea Pig – 5 Strange Delights to Try While Traveling!

I travel to eat.

Being able to experience new cultures, learn about local lifestyles and seeing jaw dropping natural and man-made wonders amongst all the other benefits from traveling are great bonuses but at the end of the day, all I want to do is devour any new cuisine or cocktail a city has to offer. As a consequence, I run (roughly 4-5 miles a day) my ass off in between trips to counteract the glorious calories I’ve ingested during my travels and it’s worth every drop of sweat. I’m often asked, “what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten?” And well, this is my response to that very question.

First, you should know that I grew up in an Asian household and although we live in the U.S., we stuck to the Asian mentality that anything is edible. So while my elementary classmates ate their Captain Crunch cereal and PB&J sandwiches at school, I had rice and tripe with fish sauce packed in my Transformers’ lunch box.

Our family dinners always had rice paired with anything from a good ol’ American ribeye to blood sausage with bitter melon…and celebrating holidays continue to make me laugh when I look at our Thanksgiving day spread of broccoli casserole (thanks Paula Deen!) and turkey next to eggrolls and fried chicken feet.

So it’s hard to say what the craziest thing is that I’ve ever eaten because what is crazy to you may be a normal Wednesday lunch for me.

Instead, here are some of my most interesting eats:

1. Balut

Balut in Hanoi, Vietnam
Balut in Hanoi, Vietnam

This is an Asian delicacy and was often a treat my parents would make for me. As a child, I would gobble up these pre-hatched embryos, slurp the egg juice and wash it down with a nice cold yoohoo. I loved these suckers. But as I grew up and I started to realize exactly what were in these eggs…I mean, the poor little baby duck has feathers and eyes!…I became grossed out and could not stomach them anymore. Then I visited Hanoi, Vietnam where these are available at numerous street vendors so I attempted to revive my childhood delight and I ordered one. That’s as far as I got. One look at the poor little creature and I couldn’t do it so this is one cuisine I will have to consider history that I will not repeat again.

2. Fugu

Who can say no to tasting something that could kill you? Fugu, the Japanese word for pufferfish, is a prized dish commonly offered in Japan and requires expert preparation. In fact, I personally would never try this anywhere else but in Japan because Fugu poisoning is 1200 times stronger than cyanide and in Japan there are super strict regulations to ensure the safety of consumers. It’s not worth the risk to try this dish anywhere else but from the heartland. The risk of human error didn’t dissuade me and as soon as I cleared customs at the Tokyo airport, I went straight to Torafugu Tei in Shibuya, Tokyo to get this pufferfish into my belly.

The classic preparation is sashimi style. Dip these deadly slivers of fugu into some soy sauce and it tastes

Fugu in Tokyo, Japan
Fugu in Tokyo, Japan

like nothing more than a thin chewy piece of latex dipped in soy sauce. I also tried the chargrilled version and poached version but it basically has a semi-tasteless flesh that makes you forget what all the fuss is about…but also makes you thankful to live another bite.

3. Guinea Pig

Guinea Pig in Quito, Ecuador
Guinea Pig in Quito, Ecuador

In many countries, guinea pig is eaten like Americans eat chicken.  Growing up in the states, where guinea pigs were often pets…it was hard for me to stomach the idea of trying this when it was offered to me at a roadside restaurant in Quito, Ecuador. But I realized that I suffer from the mindset of “not wanting to see how the hamburger is made” and that this is just like any other protein source that we eat on a daily basis. And boy was it delicious. Imagine the juiciest pork you’ve ever eaten with that fried chicken skin snap and you’ve got it.

4. Geoduck

Geoduck in Seattle, Washington

My inner teenage self just loves this one. Google any photo of geoduck and you’ll quickly see why. Commonly found on the Pacific coasts, I had my first taste in Seattle, Washington at Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar. It’s an edible saltwater clam and I had this sashimi style. It was recommended to have this in a clam chowder, but unfortunately I have not been able to try it but I can see why that would be tasty. And it’s pronounced like “gooey duck” which is a fun name all on its own.

5. Gastronomy Cuisine

Molecular gastronomy is a subdiscipline of food science that seeks to investigate the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur in cooking. Its program includes three axes, as cooking was recognized to have three components, which are social, artistic and technical. Thanks Wikipedia!

One of the best restaurants where I’ve been able to experience this cuisine is Central Restaurant in Lima, Peru. I’m a sucker for any food that I can’t wrap my head around…food science is crazy wicked!

yurimaguas aramica
yurimaguas aramica
bahuaja nut
bahuaja nut
yep, these are potatoes
yep, these are potatoes

And I can’t end a post about food without at least one obligatory photo of a cocktail…because a tasty cocktail is the best way to wash down any meal.

"Into the Blue" cocktail at Lava in Reykjavik, Iceland
“Into the Blue” cocktail at Lava in Reykjavik, Iceland

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