Japan Diary: Day 12- Shopping in Umeda and yakitori for dinner (I ate raw chicken and lived to tell the tale)

A, J and I woke up early today and had plans to go shopping in a nearby district called Shinsaibashi, where I had gone the other day. From our local station, Doubutsuen-mae, we caught a direct train to Shinsaibashi. At Shinsaibashi station, we decided to eat our first meal of the day, at a restaurant called Sameki Udon.

Storefront of Sameki Udon
Storefront of Sameki Udon

None of the staff in this restaurant spoke any English, so I spoke with them in Japanese. The service was extremely polite and warm. A and I got the same dish which consisted of cold udon with tempura and rice, while J opted for cold soba noodles.

Cold udon with dried seaweed, katsuobushi, shallots and egg whites on the right, vegetable tempura on the left and rice and pickles in the middle
Cold udon with dried seaweed, katsuobushi, shallots and egg whites on the right, vegetable tempura on the left and rice and pickles in the middle

Every aspect of this meal was delicious and perfectly cooked. The rice contained some small grains which I’m not entirely sure of the name or what it was, but it tasted good. The udon noodles were thick, chewy and slightly firm. There was a sauce on the side which the hostess told us to pour over the noodles. The sauce was dark and tasted similar to soy sauce. The tempura was cooked well and the batter was light and not oily at all. A couldn’t stop talking about how pleased she was with the meal (so was I for that matter). It cost us less than 1000 yen.

J's meal at Sameki Udon- cold soba noodles with shallots and dipping sauce, with prawn and vegetable tempura on a bed of rice
J’s meal at Sameki Udon- cold soba noodles with shallots and dipping sauce, with prawn and vegetable tempura on a bed of rice

All the aspects of J’s meal were also consistently good. The soba noodles were refreshing and were dipped into the accompanying sauce to be eaten.

Storefront of Sameki Udon
Storefront of Sameki Udon with plastic models of the food on display at the front- this was extremely common in Japan

Like the previous night, I’m ashamed to say that we made another error and got out the wrong exit of the station. We ended up on a big main road, with buildings everywhere but no shops in sight and walked for about 15 minutes in the blazing heat. It was at this point that A, J and I decided to go our separate ways. A decided to try and find the department stores in Shinsaibashi, while J and I looked around some bargain stores on the street that we were on.

After about 10 minutes of this, J and I grew tired of the bargain stores, and decided to head to Umeda, a shopping district of Osaka that we hadn’t yet been to. We walked into a restaurant and asked one of the staff where the nearest station was, and he said Umeda from the nearest station was only a short trip away.

The metro in Japan is so much cheaper and more efficient than the public transport system in Sydney. I find it so convenient that there are many metro stops located close to one another. From our share-house near Doubutsuen-mae station, it was a walkable distance to Shinsaibashi (20 minutes), which was 6 stops away. From the street where we were, it was only a short distance to the nearest station, and a short train ride to Umeda station.

Umeda station was by far the largest of all the stations we’d been to in Osaka. It was grand and impressive, with many stores and restaurants inside. We saw lots of stations like this in Japan, such as Shibuya and Shinjuku station as well, but Umeda was the nicest by far.

Inside Umeda station
Inside Umeda station

We took a guess on which exit to take after seeing a sign, and walked down a main street which led straight to a big department store. At 5 levels, with a ferris wheel at the top, it was the most impressive shopping centre I’d ever been to. J and I spent some time shopping at stores like H&M, and some Japanese brands called Eastboy and Wego. After an hour and a half we were tired out, and decided to go back to Umeda station for coffee. I saw a pastry place that I wanted to go into, so we went there and I tried my first cronut.

Glazed lemon cronut- the first cronut I ever ate, at Umeda station
Glazed lemon custard cronut- the first cronut I ever ate, at Umeda station

Since it was my first cronut, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t have high expectations, and although I liked the taste, the cronut was soft all over and felt a little bit stale.

After taking a short rest, J and I walked back to the Umeda department store and went to level 5, where the ferris wheel was situated. As it was situated on the roof top of the department store building, it was visible from the moment we had walked out of Umeda station in the morning, and J had been proclaiming her excitement about going on it.

The entrance to the ferris wheel was located in a games arcade on level 5 of the shopping centre, and there were lots of youth in this area. There was no waiting time for the ferris wheel, and it was a couple hundred yen for admission to the 20 minute ride.

We rode in one of these small carriages for the ferris wheel
We rode in one of these small carriages

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Inside the carriage
Inside the carriage

I still hadn’t gotten over my fear of heights even after the monkey park incident, so I spent most of the time in the ferris wheel carriage sitting very still so as not to tilt the carriage.

 

View from the ferris wheel
View from the ferris wheel

From the ferris wheel, we got a lovely view of Umeda and the surrounding suburbs. The ferris wheel turned at an alarmingly slow pace. Every time J moved our carriage would shake and I would hold onto the railings for dear life, hoping that we wouldn’t plummet to our immediate deaths. After 20 minutes were up, J and I came down and decided to eat dinner in the area.

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I had my heart set on eating raw chicken during this trip, and we had the good luck to spot a yakitori restaurant inside Umeda station earlier that day so we came back there. A Japanese friend had informed me that the only place I would be able to find raw chicken in Japan would be at a yakitori restaurant.

The restaurant was small, with only bar style seating available. There was a man sitting at the bar who spoke a little English, but aside from this no one else did. He helped us a little with translating to the staff and chef in the restaurant, and made small talk with us. He told me that they didn’t have torisashi (raw chicken) at the restaurant, but that they had tori tataki, which was raw in the middle.

Menu at Yakitori House
Menu at Yakitori House

The restaurant, known as Yakitori House, had a menu which had individual yakitori skewers on offer, as well as set menus. J and I opted for the B Course at 1,700 yen, along with the tori tataki which only I would be eating. The elderly woman working in the restaurant was really sweet and tried to communicate with us despite not being able to speak a word of English. She brought us a few complimentary dishes.

The first of our complimentary dishes- chicken served cool in soy sauce, garnished with shallots and mentaiko
The first of our complimentary dishes

The first complimentary dish consisted of chicken served cool in soy sauce, garnished with sliced shallots and a small heaping of mentaiko.

The chef at Yakitori House
The chef at Yakitori House
Our second complimentary dish
Our second complimentary dish

The second complimentary dish consisted of raw carrot, cucumber and radish with a dollop of an unknown food on the side. In texture it sort of resembled natto- a fermented soy bean dish, but in taste, it was quite similar to the Korean ssamjang, which, coincidentally, is another fermented soy product. The elderly woman instructed us to eat the raw vegetables by dipping them into the reddish condiment. The condiment’s texture was thick and salty and added a kick to the raw items which were cool. After our starters, the main attraction of tori tataki was served.

Tori Tataki
Tori Tataki- 750 yen

Tori Tataki consisted of chicken that was partially raw, the outsides were seared. I had wanted to eat entirely raw chicken but settled for this. It was accompanied with a light, acidic sauce and garnished with a heap of shallots. The sauce was a nice addition to the cool chicken. The texture of the chicken didn’t really taste different to sashimi. Overall, I was surprised by how similar it tasted to sashimi and would definitely eat it again. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t get sick after eating this. J only looked on in horror as I ate it, and refused to touch it.

The cutest old lady that worked at Yakitori House
The cutest old lady that worked at Yakitori House
Yakitori skewers being grilled
Yakitori skewers being grilled

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The first yakitori skewer that was served
The first yakitori skewer that was served- ‘Seseri’ chicken neck

‘Yakitori’ means grilled chicken in Japanese, although there were other kinds of non-chicken skewers served at the restaurant. All of the skewers we ate that night were chicken or chicken parts though.

The first skewer ‘seseri’ consisted of meat from the neck. Being grilled over charcoal, the meat had a deliciously smoky flavour but had some chewy parts of fat which I didn’t like.

Sasami (front) and momo (back)-

Sasami (front) and momo (back)-

Sasami consisted of chicken breast meat flavoured with dabs of wasabi. The meat was soft and didn’t have any chewy parts unlike the first yakitori skewer.

Tsukune- chicken meatball
Tsukune- chicken meatball

This yakitori skewer was one of my favourites. Known as tsukune, it was a minced chicken meatball flavoured with tare, which is a sweet sauce with a similar flavour to teriyaki sauce.

This is one dish where I had actually no idea what I was eating
This is one dish where I had actually no idea what I was eating
Reba- chicken liver
Reba- chicken liver

I was excited when I saw this yakitori skewer as I initially thought it was beef (my favourite meat). However, upon tasting it, I knew immediately that it was not. It had a very strong, dark flavour and thick texture which alerted me to the fact that it was in fact, cooked chicken liver. I had the misfortune to eat chicken liver once before and vowed never to eat it again. Neither J or I finished this yakitori skewer.

Another case where I had no idea what I was eating
The outside of this skewer was wrapped in pork belly, although I don’t know what the little balls were
Negima- chicken thigh with onions
Negima- chicken thigh with onions

Negima was another of my favourite skewers. Flavoured with tare sauce as well, the meat was succulent while the onions provided a contrast in texture. After this last yakitori skewer, our course was finished and we paid the bill and left. The course was 1,700 yen for 8 skewers and we left feeling satisfied. J and I caught the subway home, which only took about 10 minutes and waited for S to come back from her day at the beach.

That night was a Monday and we had ordained it for casual drinks at a bar somewhere nearby. When S got back, rather late at 11pm we went out to Dotonbori but had to walk there as Doubutsuen-mae station was about to close. Although it was a Monday, we were rather surprised to see that the majority of bars and restaurants were closed despite only being 12am. The streets were also almost empty, which was highly unusual. This was when S remembered that it was National Beach Holiday. We had no prior knowledge of this at all, and lamented planning our night out for drinks when everything was closing early. We didn’t find any suitable bars open, so we decided to have a meal. Feeling like ramen, we saw a picture of noodles outside one restaurant that was still open, so we chose to go in that one.

However, once we came in and looked at the menu, we saw that the restaurant specialised in tsukemen, a variant of ramen noodles that separates the sauce and the noodles. With tsukemen, the noodles are served cool, or lukewarm, while the sauce is served warm.

 

Simple menu at the tsukemen restaurant
Simple menu at the tsukemen restaurant

The restaurant’s menu was fairly basic, as in they only had two kinds of soup- spicy and non-spicy, which came with your choice in serving size of noodles. There were also sides such as gyoza on offer. I ordered the 300g non-spicy tsukemen for 730 yen, while S ordered 300g with spicy soup for 780 yen, and J ordered 400g with spicy soup for 780 yen also.

Spicy beansprouts
Spicy beansprouts

S also ordered a side of gyoza. I’ve never been partial to dumplings, but these gyoza were by far the best I’d ever eaten in my life. The gyoza weren’t overly crispy. The exterior was silky and the minced meat inside was soft.

The best gyoza I ate in my life
The best gyoza I ate in my life
Drinking Japanese beer while waiting for our food
Drinking Japanese beer while waiting for our food

We didn’t have to wait long before our noodles were brought out. It was the first time any of us had eaten tsukemen and none of us were disappointed. In fact, this was one of the culinary highlights of our trip. The noodles were the perfect texture- soft and thick, but still retained firmness with a silky sheen. They were cooked just the right amount.

Tsukemen with non-spicy soup
Tsukemen with non-spicy soup

Likewise, the soup was also perfect. It had a thick consistency, somewhat like a gravy, and was bursting with flavour. The meat was tender and fatty. J, S and I agreed in unison that these were hands down the best noodles we had ever eaten in our lives and couldn’t stop proclaiming how good they were. They were so good that I finished mine and also ate half of J’s even though I was already full. After eating, we finished up and paid the bill as it seemed like the restaurant staff were glaring at us and waiting for us to leave so they could close. It was about 1am at this point, and although we didn’t want to go home yet, we were forced to because there wasn’t anything open due to it being a public holiday.

We walked home feeling stuffed and satisfied after our excellent meal, discussing what was on the agenda for the next day.

3 Comments

  1. I may be going to Japan at the end of this year too *fingers crossed*. The thing I love most about Japan is that you can walk into any restaurant and the food will always be decent? I understand that this is such a blanket assumption but it was definitely true for me in my last three visits to this wonderful country

    1. Meatballhead

      It’s one of the things I love most about Japan too! Another great thing is that the majority of the food there is so cheap! My friends and I were so happy about this as we all love Japanese food, and the quality was infinitely better than the Japanese food in Australia. I’ll be going back in February and July 2015 and can’t wait!

      1. That’s so exciting, I’m really happy for you. Yes the quality is way better, I hope you make your way to Tsukiji markets if you haven’t already been. A bit weird to have sushi for breakfast but it’s just so good!

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