Sunday, March 11, 2012

Eating Our Way Through Tokyo and Kyoto

With only a few days in Tokyo and Kyoto, to take a snapshot of the food scene takes eating at half a dozen restaurants each day.

Starting early, we visited Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market to see the fresh catch of day being sold in the warren of stalls. While we were there, we ate at the dozens and dozens of food stalls that rim the outside and inside of the market. 
Our first stop at 8:00 a.m. was Ryu Sushi where we had a sashimi plate and a sushi sampler. The fish was what you would hope for, eating at a restaurant so close to the fish market, fresh, clean tasting and delicious. For me, there was a huge eye-opener: mackerel.  

The few times I have eaten mackerel at home, it tasted fishy and oily. At Ryu Sushi the mackerel sashimi was mild tasting, sweet and buttery. Mark Bittman always writes about how much he likes mackerel. Now I understand why.

In our short time at Tsukiji we ate sashimi, sushi, tamago, pork ramen and soba with shrimp tempura. 
From the Tsukiji market we had lunch at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, Hard to believe, we were still hungry.  We enjoyed a delicious multi course lunch before we visited the Meiji Shrine and had a leisurely walk in the rain around the Yoyogi, the magnificent, forested park surrounding the temple.  
For a small donation, a member of the Shrine's staff will hand write your prayer that will be transcribed on a piece of wood and hung on the wall surrounding the tree at the entrance of the temple.
Dinner was back at the Park Hyatt Tokyo but this time at the New York Grill with its fabulous view of Tokyo. The steaks were delicious. Japanese beef is outstanding.
In the morning, some of us had American style breakfasts with eggs and pastries. I had a Japanese breakfast at the Park Hyatt. There were so many dishes, I would have happily stayed longer but we had a schedule to keep so off we went to Tokyo Station to get on the bullet train to Kyoto.
Kyoto has a friendly competition with its much larger rival, Tokyo. From a visitor's point of view, it is definitely an easier way to experience Japanese culture. Smaller, less crowded  and easier to navigate--traffic in Tokyo is a mash-up of rush hour mid-town Manhattan, Seattle and the 10 freeway in West Los Angeles. Going anywhere in Tokyo takes forever.  In Kyoto, you get where you want to without hassle.

Kyoto also is a great city to use to cool out and relax. The thousands of temples in the city offer locals and visitors the chance to enjoy nature and quiet contemplation. 
We had a Shojin vegan meal at a Zen temple at the Golden Pavilion and, at Ryoanji Temple, we enjoyed the plum blossoms, a sure sign that spring has begun. 
The Zen spirit is evident at Ryoanji as you walk around the lake, you'll notice that damaged trees are not cut down. They are lovingly supported with bamboo poles and tied carefully with rope to prevent further damage.
In my next post, I'll talk more where we stayed in Kyoto--the Hyatt Regency Kyoto--the temples we visited and put up more photographs from the Lantern Festival, the elegant French-Japanese fusion restaurant Misogigawa and our sake sampling at the izakaya bar, Ichi in the entertainment district.

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