[blog]* Day 11, Part 1 - Tsukishima district and Tokyo's speciality foodie dish: monjayaki. Plus, a sneak peek at Tsukiji Fish Market "behind the scenes"
Business as usual in Tokyo today - with one exception. This evening, I was going to Hokkaido.
Is that a coat rack?
From the beginning, one of the main elements of my trip was to have been an overnight trip from Tokyo to Sapporo by train, on the JR Hokutosei line. I had a ticket for the 7pm train that evening - but what to do before then?
Partly due to the events of last week (hospital, etc.) I still had a number of things I wanted to track down in Tokyo. However, there was something in particular that I really wanted to try. Tokyo is known for having good food from all over the country, but I think there is only one type of food that Tokyo, specifically, is known for.
For that, however, I would have to do just a teeny bit of travelling, to an otherwise not-too-significant district of Tokyo called Tsukishima (a stop down from the famous Tsukiji Market)
So many people!
(At Yurakocho, change from the JR system to the Tokyo Metro Yurakocho line at Yurakucho Station.)
I was going to come back later but never managed to, so I'll just mention it now: apparently Yurakocho is pretty famous for having a long string of yakitori shops under the adjacent motor bridge, immensely popular with so-called "salarymen" (middle-class corporate workers) coming home from work.
It's a pretty intriguing area, on the one end with soaring office blocks and the classy 0101 building dominating the landscape, but at the same time, an almost messy collection of small-time, slightly scruffy shops and restaurants operating underneath the bridges and in connecting walkways. Do drop by if you're in the area.
The landmark 0101 building
Just a little Mondrian-esque
He sounded REALLY excited about that drink he's selling
I can't remember where I saw this but isn't it SUPER CUTE?
Apart from the monjayaki for which it is predominantly known (within Japan) nowadays, it actually also has another unusual feature: it is an artificial island dating from as far back as the Meiji Period. It was designated as the main site for the Tokyo World Expo in 1940 but that, of course, would never come to occur due to intervening events. Nowadays it is a quiet, pleasant residential area with a distinctly old air.
I don't mean prehistoric old, by any means; it's more as if Tsukishima had taken a liking to the year 1990 and just decided to stay there. No glaring neon signs, no loud honking and blaring. It was nice.
But in any case, monjayaki. A friend of mine had directed me to go to Monja Mugi, a small, cosy restaurant a few blocks down from the station.
Look for this sign
The first thing you notice on stepping inside is that distinctive, vaguely barbecue-like smell of hot plate cooking. I already knew then it was going to be wonderful.
Monja Mugi is a bit of a home-style affair, with seating for about 15 and posters splattered haphazardly across pretty much every available surface area barring seats and tables.
So... what exactly is monjayaki? Just in case you haven't read our article on it already, here's a quick explanation: cabbage and batter are mixed together with "toppings" and cooked on a hot plate, producing what is probably best described as a savoury, flat and very ugly pancake. There's actually a lot of really interesting history behind it too (more on that here!) but I'll leave that aside for now.
Anyway - as in okonomiyaki restaurants, each table has an iron plate set into the table for cooking the monjayaki.
The menu is EXTENSIVE. Not only do they serve both okonomiyaki and monjayaki, but they come in a mind-blowing twenty and forty-four variations respectively, ranging from "Italian" to "miso ramen" to "kimchi". I'd been recommended the "mentaiko (cod roe) mochi cheese" monjayaki (¥1,450 / £11 / $17) and duly thus ordered.
After a few minutes one of the grumpy-looking ladies comes around bearing a bowl, looking a little sceptical.
"You don't know how to do this, do you?"
"Not a clue," I said with a grin.
Let's be honest, it looks like someone threw up on the hot plate. But you know what? It was really, really good. It was beautifully crisp on the underside (tasting a little like the sticky parts of rice on a pan) while the top remained full of hot, gooey cheesy goodness with bits of warm, chewy mochi in between. Mentaiko chunks added a final bit of spicy zing. It was gorgeous.
See what I mean by ugly?
I think it's a crying shame that millions of tourists - even foodies - will come and go through Tokyo every year without even thinking to try this at least just once. I love sushi and ramen just as much as anyone, but monjayaki is so quirky, with a history that traces back right here one hundred years, and it (pretty much) can't be had anywhere else in the world. That, I think, must make it really quite special indeed.
To be honest, I really wanted to just stay here all day, slowly taking in all the old toy shops and dry goods stores and maybe sneaking in another monjayaki... or two. But with Tsukiji Market just a stop away I felt duty-bound to at least stop by.
Tsukiji Market station
Established during the Edo period by the ruling shogun at the time to provide food for Edo Castle, Tsukiji Fish Market is the biggest wholesale fish market in the world, and the super-hot #1 destination known and loved by sushi fans everywhere.
Since everyone already knows, though, it became one of the places I cut from review to make up for the lost time of the past week. it. Believe me, it's not like I wanted to pass up on an excuse for sushi, either... but as it was, you, my dear reader, and I both will just have to be satisfied with a quick photo shoot.
(food and travel has a nice little bit on it if you want to look it up, by the way)
So, on that note:
Not many people realise that the actual "Tsukiji Market" is split into blocks. Most people only ever visit the "customers' market", with the little sushi restaurants and fish stalls - but the vast, sprawling majority of it is for the traders, with a section (which no one ever mentions) for fruit and vegetables, one (of course) for seafood, and also one for the processing and admin, which is where I was right now.
This was all taken in the afternoon, when trading was already done for the day, which is why everyone looks so relaxed. The atmosphere was actually pretty nice...
This little alleyway services sushi restaurants on either side (i.e. the back door of restaurants would lead here)
Although fairly late in the (trading) day, one of the larger roads was still pretty busy, and I headed over.
And finally, some food:
Roast saba sushi
Well, if I'm not going to take the normal food-review route anyway, I may as well do something different! I hope you enjoyed the little sneak peek of Tsukiji Market "under the hood".
I'm going to cut it off here as the post is getting a little long (seems like this will become a habit) but coming up: Day 11 (Part 2) - Azabu, Roppongi and yes, the long-awaited trip up north. Stay tuned!
Been to Tsukishima or Tsukiji Market? What did you think? What kind of sushi (or monja) would you want to try most? Send in an e-mail or comment below!