A Quick Guide to Ameyoko Market, Tokyo

I last visited Tokyo back in 2015, and the post I wrote on the Ameyoko Market is comfortably the all-time most popular post I’ve written since starting this blog! I recently visited again (January 2018), this time with husband in tow, and thought I’d re-visit it on the blog again, too 🙂

Where is it?
First up, a clearer map. It can get a little confusing around the area it’s located, so hopefully this makes it a bit easier to navigate than my last map! I’ve marked below where I took the photo above, standing at that Y-shaped intersection where the road diverges into two. Those are your two main shopping streets, with others intersecting and cutting across them.

How do you get there?
Via subway – it’ll depend where you’re coming from, and you can use this nifty map to work it out, but the closest stations are Ueno-Hirokoji on the Ginza line, and Ueno-Okachimachi (literally across the road) on the Oedo line.

 

What should I shop for?
As I said in my previous post, everything from dried fish to nail polish. But there actually are a few things that are more popular:
– Golf gear: there are more than a dozen multi-level golf shops, selling clothes, shoes, clubs, bags, and even lessons.
Athletic wear and shoes: they’re an active bunch, so probably no surprise that you can find a lot of stores selling training gear (gym shoes, clothes, etc).
– Fish: fresh fish and dried fish, they’ve got it all. If you’re looking at taking some of the packaged, dried stuff home, best check if you’re actually allowed to take it through customs before you stock up!
– Packaged snacks: there are a couple of mega-stores absolutely full of snack foods. Chips chocolate and crackers and lollies in flavours you never imagined could exist.

Do you barter?
Honestly, I didn’t bother, for a few reasons:
a) The prices are already very reasonable.
b) Language barrier.
c) The Japanese are just so damn polite and likeable that I didn’t want to rip them off!

 

When is the best time to go?
Around 12pm is a good time to go – most of the stores should be open by then, but it’s not so hectic yet that you can’t walk around comfortably. Most casual eateries are already open and the restaurants are still getting ready for the lunch rush which is good, because you’ll want to have eat there.

What should I eat?
A sashimi bowl. I managed to find the same place I ate at last time I visited, and it’s still just as cheap and just as delicious! My bowl of fresh tuna, fatty tuna and salmon on sushi rice cost about AUD$10.00, and it was the best. You can’t beat fresh fish! If raw fish isn’t your jam, they cook up gyoza and tempura, too. Next door is an Osaka-style takoyaki stand if you fancy something a bit different. And then head back for a matcha soft serve.

Normally I’d say anywhere at the market is good for eating, but there are actually some really touristy places here I’d highly recommend steering clear of. General rule of thumb is if you walk past and someone walks after you waving a menu in your face and telling you that you must try their blah blah blah, don’t bother. If the food is good, they won’t chase you down to eat there!

How do I pay for stuff?
It’s a market – cash is king. If you’ve forgotten to bring some with you, just look for the green and blue Family Mart sign (they’re on every second corner), which should have an ATM inside.

 

When I’m done shopping, what else is there to do?
Head up to the Ueno Imperial Grant Park to walk off all that sashimi – it’s a short walk away, and the grounds are gorgeous. There are several pagodas and shrines on the grounds, museums, and even a zoo. And, if you time it right, cherry blossom trees!

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Eat here: Yamato, Melbourne (Japanese)

Yamato
28 Corrs Lane, Melbourne CBD

It’s been a while since my last visit here, and I was so excited to get back again (this time with husband in tow); this is exactly the type of place I look for when I’m travelling and in search of an authentic food experience without the bells and whistles. And while that’s great, it’s important to remember to look for these places in your own backyard, too.

Yamato is located down a tiny little alleyway in a spot that is the definition of nondescript – a small, rundown-looking building with a plain, almost tacky (especially at night when it’s all lit up), sign bearing its name. Get inside and the space looks even smaller, with tables shoved in close together and the walls decked out with cute little trinkets and printed paper signs advertising the day’s specials stuck onto the walls with tape and blu-tack.

The menu is pretty broad and delicious looking, so we decided to pick and choose a few plates to share. The seaweed salad I started on was delicious (but then I’m a bit weird and really love seaweed salad!), and the tempura was so good I completely forgot to take a picture of it… But after that, there was sushi.

The salmon and tuna sushi combo was super fresh; melt-in-your-mouth fresh. And the salmon avocado rolls we followed them up with were even better, mostly because of the healthy dousing in Kewpie mayo 😉 my favourite!

Husband also asked if they had cold soba noodles with dipping sauce on the menu; he’s heard me talk about how much I loved eating it when I was on Tokyo, and was keen to try it before we head over together in January – thankfully, he was not disappointed. While the noodles weren’t quite as chewy or the broth quite as punch as the stuff I had in Tokyo, it was still fantastic. It’s amazing how delicious a simple dish like cold noodles can be when you’re do it right 🙂

While it did get a little annoying having to repeatedly ask for water (they fill your glass for you rather than just leaving a bottle on the table), the staff are very efficient and polite, and a good part of the reason I suspect they’re always so busy! They don’t have room for many, so I suggest getting in early for dinner before the crowds hit, and relaxing into a nice long evening of Japanese deliciousness… and maybe a little plum wine!

And Melbourne people – if you have any other suggestions for sweet little places like this one, please share them around! I’d love to discover a few more eateries like this 🙂

 

Yamato Japanese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Eat & shop here: Ameyoko Market, Tokyo, Japan

Ameyoko Market and shopping street
Wedged in between JR Okachimachi Station or JR Ueno Station (see below)

*** EDIT: Since writing this post I’ve visited again and written up a guide to the market – click on through to keep reading! ***

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I re-visited Chicago’s Christkindl Christmas Market last week; this week I’m crossing the globe and heading back to Tokyo for a very different kind of market…

The Ameyoko Market is essentially a mammoth maze of streets that are home to 500-odd stalls, selling everything from dried fish to nail polish. It was originally opened as a black market post-war, but it’s visited by what seemed like everyone in the city now.

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Crazy busy with an absolutely electric atmosphere, it was a really fun place to explore. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, despite the fact that most of the streets were full of shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrian traffic. Heaps of delicious food stops on the way through, with a lot of the younger vendors having a bit of fun trying to convince obvious foreigners to stop and enjoy a meal with them in their limited English. As I keep saying, food is the great connector of people all over the world 🙂

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I got lucky and stumbled on a sushi house that had a massive line out the front, which to me screams “GREAT FOOD!”

I joined the line, pointed to the picture that had the bowl of what I guessed was a whole lot of tuna on it, and followed the waitress to a bench seat in a crammed, steamy little “kitchen”…

10 minutes or so later, this bowl of heaven was ceremoniously plonked in front of me. The most incredible, fresh, soft tuna I’ve ever had. Fatty tuna, minced tuna, belly tuna, it was all there, and it was all so melt-in-your-mouth soft you barely had to chew it. All laid on top of a generous serving of rice, it was the perfect lunch to fuel up for the rest of the afternoon exploring. Don’t be scared of the long lines at these markets – long lines = good food!

 

Winding my way around the market, I came across another line an hour later – taiyaki! Custard filled, fish shaped waffles. Yes please!

Again, I joined the line, pointed to the picture, and got my steaming hot custard sea creature. Easy to see what all the fuss is about – these things are unreal! Creamy smooth vanilla custard inside a golden crisp waffle, perfect hand held market food.

 

As for shopping, everything did have marked prices, so bartering didn’t seem to be encouraged or accepted at all. That said, the prices were all pretty reasonable; I certainly had no need to barter for anything I was looking at.

It was pretty easy to get to and find, only a short train ride away from my accommodation in Shinjuku, and well and truly worth a visit!

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Sometimes you DO get to choose your family… Eat here: Ichi Ni Nana, Melbourne (Japanese)

Ichi Ni Nana
127 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
http://ichininana.com.au/

“Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile & who love you no matter what.”

Last weekend I posted this quote on Instagram after a particularly fantastic night out. As I wrote a few days ago, I wasn’t real keen on “celebrating” my birthday this year, but I was convinced that dinner with my best friends wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. I texted the four girls I consider to be my best friends, and three were available. I decided on Ichi Ni Nana, because I love Japanese food, I hadn’t been there yet, and it was in an area easy enough for everyone to get to after work. So last Friday night, I had dinner with my husband and the three girls – my family.

“Family isn’t always blood.” No, it isn’t. My family is rocky at the best of times, which has necessitated the finding of other “family” over the years. I’ve had friends come and go, as we all do, but I think it’s been particularly devastating to me when “friends” have cut ties with me because of how important they’ve always been to me. During the times my blood family weren’t there for me and couldn’t/didn’t have my back, my friendship family did. These girls are that family to me.

One I’ve known since year 7, and we have truly been there for each other through the most horrendous times of our lives. Where a lot of people might shirk that friendship in later years through embarrassment of what the other knows, it’s only made us closer. We’ve seen each others’ rock bottom and we’re still here for and because of each other.

Another two of those ladies I’ve been friends with for a good 6 or 7 years, although it feels like a lot longer. We worked together and became life long friends. One of them has been not only my best friend, but sister, mother, soul mate, counselor, shoulder to cry on, drinking buddy, partner in crime, and MC at my wedding. She’s one of those remarkable souls that I know I’ll be infinitely connected to and who’s mere presence will assure me that everything will be ok.

The other is the rare type of friend that you don’t have to be constantly seeing or texting or calling to know she’s there. She respects the need for isolation during the shitty times, and is ready to pick right back up where you left off when you’re ready to face the world again, no questions asked.

And the fourth horseman is one I worked with a few years ago in the travel industry; we initially bonded over a mutual love of travel, burgers, donuts and a shared hatred of stupid people, and now it feels like we’ve been friends for a million years. We share an intolerance for fructose and lactose, a lot of personality traits, and the understanding that sometimes all each other needs is a shoulder to cry on and then a cake to share. She’s one of the few people I can turn off my filter and just be 100% myself around.

And then, finally, my husband. We’ve been through a lot together, which elevates him to best friend status, and not just husband. Us girls don’t talk fake tans and new shoes around him (or ever, to be honest), and we’re not a lovey-dovey annoying couple around them (or, once again, ever). These are the people I wanted to be with to enjoy good food and a good night, and so (with one missing), I did 🙂

So now that you’ve “met” my “family,” let me introduce you to some amazing food…
Ichi Ni Nana (Japanese for numbers one two seven) opened only a few weeks ago in the cavernous space that was Old Colonial Inn. Paul Adamo and Vince Sofo (the guys behind The Espy, among other ventures) have spent the last few years prettying up the old space and transforming it into a multi level bar and eatery. And it’s gorgeous inside – with hand-made wooden detailing, dim lighting and beautiful lanterns, it’s the Fitzroy take on a classic izakaya. The menu is enormous, and made to share, so here’s a look at some of the food we got stuck into…

Drinks first – I went with the Jasmine Sake-Tea-Ni ($17.00) – sake, jasmine, tea, fresh grapefruit and a little sugar syrup. Perfect.

Sashimi salad ($20.00) – a beautiful little plate of salmon, tuna, white fish, crab and fish roe, served with wasabi that’ll knock your socks off, soy and herbs. Fresh, clean, flawless.

Pork bao ($14.00) – fried rice bun with BBQ pork – I’ve never had bao in fried buns before, but this is something that needs to be happening more often. Being fried meant they kept their shape and didn’t fall into a mushy heap with the sauces, but they were still soft and pillowy inside. And that pork…

Wagyu sliders ($14.00) – juicy, tender wagyu beef and wasabi slaw in a really eye-catching black bun, with the most delicious pickle I’ve ever eaten on the side. Really great addition to the table, and they were pretty popular all round.

Salmon teriyaki mayo hako sushi ($20.00) – seared salmon block pressed sushi seasoned with Japanese mayo and teriyaki (best combination of sauces ever, FYI) and topped with roe and spring onion. I loved this – the salmon was buttery soft, there was just enough sauce, and the roe on top was the perfect salty addition.

 

Other items ordered and enjoyed included:
– fried eggplant with sweet miso sauce
– scallop 5 ways
– vegetable gyoza

 

And then, dessert. Two of the girls ordered the chocolate mousse ($12.00) – star anise-infused chocolate mousse with yuzu cream, chocolate soil and charcoal waffle. I tried it, I liked it, that yuzu cream was delicious!

Also ordered were a few serves of the chocolate harumaki ($12.00) – chocolate filled spring rolls with vanilla ice cream, salted caramel, toasted almonds and a little mascarpone cheese. These were a big hit – crispy golden pastry filled with warm chocolate and a pile of ice cream to dip them in – what’s not to love?!

The final dessert was the one I wanted most – a scoop of green tea & biscuit ice cream ($10.00) probably the best ice cream I’ve ever had outside of Messina, which is a big call for a place that doesn’t specialise in ice cream! Smooth, creamy, amazing green tea flavour – hands down the best thing to finish on! I’d go back just for that and some sushi in summer!  

One of my favourite new arrivals to Melbourne’s summer dining scene – while it isn’t super cheap (but what is in Melbourne?!), the quality and variety make it well worth a visit, particularly for a special occasion 🙂
Ichi Ni Nana Izakaya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Eat here: Gypsy & Pig, Melbourne (Japanese/pork)

Gypsy & Pig
Shop 3, 391 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne CBD
http://gypsyandpig.com.au/

Monday again – how quickly it comes around! This weekend was a bit more exciting than usual though, because it was a long weekend (good work, Melbourne, giving us the day off in preparation for the footy), which happened to fall on our five year wedding anniversary, which we therefore took advantage of with a night away (which gave me a chance to put together another get away mini-guide 🙂 ). But we were back in town on Friday night and decided that instead of token gifts (we’ve been together for 11 years now, we’ve run out of crap to buy each other), we’d go out for a good dinner instead. Because why would you want another necklace when you can have all of the pork?!

I actually can’t for the life of me remember how I came across Gypsy & Pig (some random Zomato or Google search?!), but I’m stoked I did – tucked both obviously and totally inconspicuously on the corner of Little Lonsdale and Hardware Sts in the middle of the city, it’s signage basically consists of a glowing pig out the front. Because that’s what they’re all about; pig. Kurobuta, to be more specific, which is a particularly prized type of pork to the Japanese (coming from the ancient Black Berkshire breed), and considered to be the best pork in the world.

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Chef Kenji Higuchi is a one-man machine, running his business and kitchen with the most captivating silent precision; it’s only a little place, seating around 24 people if I had to guess, and Chef Kenji feeds everyone pretty much single handedly. We were seated with the best view in the house, in my opinion, facing the very open kitchen and enjoying the whole show.

The menu is incredible – very Japanese, very pork-centric, and each item sounding more delicious than the next, making it really hard to only pick out a few things. We decided to maximise tasting opportunities and ordered a few dishes to share…

Seared salmon nigiri sushi ($4.00 per piece)
Smoky, fresh, incredible. The perfect way to kick off the night!

Potato croquettes with Kurobuta mince ($18.00)
Landing in front of us literally fresh out and piping hot, they were delicious – smooth and almost creamy centre, perfectly crisp coating.

Deepfried crumbed Scotch Egg ($8.50)
This is their signature entree, and it wasn’t hard to see why – thick, golden coating with a flawlessly soft inside.

Deepfried crumbed Kurobuta hamburg with melted cheddar cheese ($21.00)
We were expecting an actual hamburger, but got this instead; it’s all the good bits of a burger without the lettuce, tomato and bread! Extraordinarily soft and crumbly mince tucked inside yet another perfectly crisp and golden shell, with just the right amount of melty cheese in the centre. Wow.

Crispy Kurobuta belly and vegetables ($19.00)
Actually the best pork belly I’ve ever eaten to date. No words can describe the perfection of this dish; the meat was literally melt-in-your-mouth soft and tender, the fat flawlessly rendered away… I mean, there’s just nothing I can say that can do this justice. Just go an eat this. Just eat it.

 

The service was faultlessly attentive, the food was just incredible, every little detail was impeccably attended to. Yes, it’s a pricey night out, but when you’ve eaten your way through this menu in this beautiful, intimate little space, I can guarantee you won’t regret the cost. It was such a great night out, and I genuinely already can’t wait to return!

 

Gypsy & Pig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Eat here: Nippori, New York, (Japanese)

Nippori
245 W 51st St, New York
http://www.nipporiny.com/

So, I’m currently curled up on the couch, coughing violently, with what I suspect is a  slight fever, and feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. But (light at the end of the tunnel) I’m also off to Japan in 43 days… this is rolling around SO quickly!!! This whole low FODMAP thing is a bit shit when I feel like a burger or a donut, but one of the other foods I frequently crave (and can actually eat at the moment) is Japanese! Yay! Every now and then I get crazy cravings for Japanese food. But good Japanese food, not like Japanese-by-numbers crap. I had one of those cravings in New York earlier this year, and did a bit of research online (AKA I Googled for 10 minutes before getting bored and hungry and settling on the first one I saw) and we ended up going to Nippori for dinner before seeing WICKED – conveniently located across the road,  by the way!

Nippori is a gorgeous little place, small but beautifully set out, with the very high standard of customer service you would typically associate with such a nice Japanese restaurant.  After being invited into the warmth from the New York winter cold and greeted like old friends who hadn’t visited in months, we were immediately seated and handed our menus. Everything looked to be pretty good, and the food envy started almost straight away, watching meal after meal being brought out of the kitchen and placed on surrounding tables. We decided to order a few plates, in the interest of being able to try as much as possible; we ended up with:

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Top left: one of the specials of the day, a perfectly braised pork belly with onion, bean sprouts, and the most magnificent sauce. Perfect choice!

Top right: pan-fried pork gyoza, one of my favourites. Nippori did gyoza particularly well, great flavour without that unsavoury aftertaste you can sometimes get with dumplings.

Bottom left: assorted sushi platter. The fish was fresh and buttery, fell apart as you ate it, and the rice was really well seasoned. One of the better sushi platters I’ve had.

Bottom right: oyako don – this chicken, onion and egg on rice dish is a favourite of mine to order at home at Shiki Japanese, and despite being a little different and a lot more expensive AUD$9.50 vs USD$13.00), it certainly didn’t disappoint. The spring onions gave it a great taste, and the sauces they used were perfect with the chicken and egg. Loved it!

It wasn’t the cheapest place to eat, but then again, nothing really is in New York (particularly in the theatre district!). It was more than worth it though; good Japanese food is always something I’ll happily justify spending a little more on, and it’s a place I’d definitely recommend if you’re craving some good Japanese food in New York, too. And while we’re talking Japanese food, any exceptional recommendations for Tokyo??!

 

Nippori on Urbanspoon

Eat here: Shiki, Melbourne (Japanese) V.2

Shiki
75 Grimshaw St, Greensborough, Melbourne

So, I realised last night that I’m off to Japan in like 18 weeks…. !!!! That’s sneaking up awfully quickly! I’m really excited to go for a few reasons (the parks and temples, the sumo and shopping), but I think the amazing food there is going to be top of the list. We’ve got a lot of Asian eateries in Melbourne, but a lot of them are hipster/fancy/fusion type places – don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff too! But I also really like the simple, more traditional stuff.

I’ve written about Shiki before, last year actually. And I’m giving it a quick re-cap today after yet another recent visit because there aren’t that many genuinely good, simple, affordable Japanese places out in the suburbs in Melbourne, so people need to know about the few that do exist, just in case you’re craving this weekend!

Last time around, we shared a sushi boat and a few mains with the family; this time it was just husband and I, and we decided to get a few small dishes to share so we could have a bit of everything. Here’s what we went with:

1. Moriawase – mixed sushi, sashimi and nori roll platter – the fish is always fresh and melt-in-your-mouth soft.

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2. Yakitori – chicken skewers grilled in teriyaki sauce – the best and richest teriyaki sauce I’ve ever had!

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3. Okonomiyaki – seafood and vegetable pancake with bonito flakes, BBQ sauce and mayonnaise – I really like the okonomiyaki here, heaps of shrimp in there, and it is a really big serving!

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4. Gyoza – pork and cabbage dumplings – always a favourite, consistently well done, perfectly golden every time.

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5. Harumaki – vegetarian spring rolls – the pork ones are great, but the vegetarian version is actually really delicious, too. Also, that mayo for dipping… best!

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Shiki isn’t for everyone – it is out in the suburbs so it’s not super convenient for everyone to get to, it’s not fancy/hipster/elaborately plated dining, and the service can be a little slow when they get super busy. But I’ve been eating here for around 6 years now, and every time the food is consistently fresh, delicious and just like the time before. That’s why when ever I have a craving for good Japanese, I don’t bother looking for a new place to try out – I just keep going back to Shiki!

 

Shiki on Urbanspoon