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!

Eat here: Genji Soba, Osaka

Genji Soba
4-5-8, Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan
http://genjisoba.co.jp

An unfortunate incident involving a too-milky matcha latte had me feeling a little unwell on our last night in Osaka, so dinner had to be something plain and simple. The husband quite enjoyed his first soba experience, and wanted to go for more, so a quick Google hunt led him to Genji Soba, only a few streets away from our Airbnb.

Tucked away down a quiet alley with no big A-frame, no blinking neon lights and no real signage, this little 18-seat restaurant is one of those places you’d never know was there unless someone has told you to check it out. And I’m telling you, check it out!

We were quickly greeted and seated, and given menus with English translations. They’re known for soba, so that’s what we went with! I was looking at the soba with daikon, but the little lady running the show warned me that it was “very strong.” I asked if by that she meant spicy, and with English words failing her, she busted into the kitchen and back out again with a little dish containing a pinch of daikon and a spoon, so that I could try it myself. Turns out we were both right; “strong” equaled spicy!

I ended up going with the plain soba, made from a mix of 80% buckwheat and 20% flour. I was instructed to either dip my chopsticks into the pinch of salt before reaching for the noodles in order to balance out their natural sweetness, or add some onion and wasabi to the dipping sauce, or, combine the lot should I so wish. That dipping sauce was pure umami magic, and my long, thin noodles were delicious!

Husband ordered the 100% buckwheat soba, which were thicker and chunkier than mine, with a richer, nuttier flavour. They were nice and chewy, just as they should be; cooked just to the right point.

Following dinner, this sweet little lady was back again, with a red, square tea pot and two fresh tea cups in hand. She proceeded to pour some of our remaining dipping sauce into each new cup, and topped them up with the contents of the tea pot – the water in which our noodles were cooked. As she added the cloudy, hot water to the dipping sauce, she explained that was the correct way to finish your meal of soba, by drinking the cooking water with some sauce, like a soup. She was spot on; I drained two cups.

After our umpteenth tea refill, we finally made to leave. Our bill was promptly brought over by the young man (around AUD$20.00 for two noodles and husband’s 500ml beer), and the lady of the house followed hot on his heels with two notebooks; would we be so kind as to leave a few nice words in their guest book? Most definitely! And could they also take our picture for their photo book? Absolutely! And with that, we were walked to the door with a flurry of bows and thanks, a small gift of an origami Geisha, and an insistence of helping me put my coat on, despite her being a foot shorter than me.

This is what it’s all about. Yes, the food was outstanding, as demonstrated by the stream of locals filing in and out while we were there. But it’s the people that make it an experience you won’t forget, and Japanese hospitality is absolutely on another level.

Oh, and if you want to find this place when you visit Osaka, this is what you’re looking for:

Eat here: Yamato, Melbourne

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 here: Dominique Ansel Bakery, Tokyo

Dominique Ansel Bakery
5-7-14 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo
http://dominiqueanseljapan.com/en

A while ago I wrote about my January 2015 visit to Dominique Ansel in New York City; last month saw me visit another of their stores, this time on the other side of the world in Tokyo, Japan. You can read a little more about my New York experience here, but the Reader’s Digest version is that I was met with sass and attitude, sans cronut. Unimpressed, to say the least.

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Like my New York visit, I arrived at the Tokyo store around the same time, 9am-ish in the morning, not long after opening time. Also like New York, I was met with a wall of the most beautiful and colourful looking cakes and cookies and macarons. But, in complete contrast, the lady who served me this time around couldn’t get me my cronut quickly enough, or present it to me with a proud enough smile on her face! What a gem!

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Given that it was breakfast time, I’d already walked Takeshita Street, and had a pretty massive day ahead involving a LOT more walking, I decided to grab a beautiful green matcha cookie, too. I started on that, and it was perfection – a wafer like base filled with something closer to a dense cake than a cookie, the matcha flavour was every bit as incredible as you’d expect here.

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Then, finally, my much anticipated cronut. Which I’d been waiting 10 months for.
Every.
Bit.
Worth.
The.
Wait.

Wow. So, it was a sweet potato number spiked with whiskey and creme fraiche, with nutmeg spiced maple sugar. Rich and creamy with perfectly golden pastry. This is the cronut dreams are made of. This makes walking in the rain worthwhile. This is everything. When you visit, check out their Instagram for flavour of the month!

All in all, way better experience than the New York store, the offerings had a really disting Japanese flavour to them, the cafe itself was beautiful and light and fun, and the non-stop, smiling flow of traffic through the door was testament to how popular they are over there! Great move, Mr Ansel! Now let’s look at making the move to Melbourne!

Eat here: Suzume no Oyado, Tokyo

Suzume no Oyado
Maruyamacho 9-3, Shibuya
Open from 5pm

 

We’ve all been there; an idea lodges itself within you, just a little side thought to start off with, and before you know it, that idea has taken on a life of its own and holds you hostage until you find a way to bring it to life, come hell or high water.

This category of ideas combined with my insurmountable stubbornness has been responsible for some of my bigger achievements in life, like self-publishing a cookbook, saving $10,000 in a year to use on travel while never missing a mortgage repayment, earning my taekwondo black belt, and having a new house built/getting engaged/getting married in the space of 12 months. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows though; that same volatile mix has also been the source of tears, heart break and a lot frustration on numerous occasions.

Anyway, it happened again while I was away; I had to find some good okonomiyaki in Tokyo.

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Unbeknownst to me, okonomiyaki isn’t really a Tokyo thing; it’s a lot more popular in Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima. But I love the stuff, and Tokyo is a lot closer to Kyoto than Melbourne is, so I resolved to find a place that specialised in it. Easier said than done. After much Googling, one place kept popping up – Suzume no Oyado. And, unlike a lot of other places, it wasn’t far away from my Shinjuku hotel – located in Shibuya. My Googling said it opened at 11am, and I was already planning on revisiting Shibuya the next morning, so I added the address into my nifty little Tripomatic app and went to sleep, dreaming of Japanese pancakes…

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The next day, after a good morning out, I eventually made my way in the direction of the promised land at around 12pm. For someone with no sense of direction at home, I navigated my way there like a pro, though some dicey looking back alleys and past a string of night/strip clubs. I made it to the front door, according to the blue dot, but couldn’t see anything that even remotely resembled an eatery. I was stuck between a high gate and a small, rundown apartment block. I walked to the end of the street and showed the address I had on my phone to a guy watering his garden – yup, back the way you came from, it’s right there!

On the next pass, I noticed a small, neatly typed sign in kanji (Japanese letting) with only a few numbers wedged in between – 17:00 (more kanji) 23:00. I garnered that meant Google had led me slightly astray and hoped that it would re-open at 5pm. I left disappointed by not deterred.

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After a day of solo travel, my travel buddy and I decided to catch up for dinner. “I think I found an okonomiyaki place… we have to go through some dodgy-looking alleys and strip clubs to get there, but I reckon I can find it again. Keen?” My friends are idiots, and have blind faith in me when I say I know somewhere to eat, regardless of how dicey an area it may be in – off we went!

If the are looked a bit off during the day, it was text-book “what are you doing here?!” by night. And yet, the idea of getting okonomiyaki had me by the throat and wasn’t letting go. We pushed on, me leading like I knew what I was doing, my friend following only slightly apprehensively. Much to our relief, I actually found the place again without a problem, and this time, the gate had been slid open, lights on and red flag out. Thank goodness.

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Through the giant red curtain we went, ending up in what looked like someone’s (immaculately beautiful) front yard on the other side. We made our way up the path and through the front door, into the most vibrant, red foyer. A lady rushed to meet us before we crossed the threshold; despite not sharing a common language with which to communicate, she very clearly indicated that we were to go no further until our shoes had been removed and placed into one of the lockers provided.

Once that formality was observed, we were led up a staircase into a beautiful dining room, laid out with tatami mats and floor cushions. My travel buddy, quite a tall guy by their standards, promptly smacked his head on a low roof beam, starting the evening with a light concussion. Bloody foreigners…

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After lowering ourselves onto the floor and trying to fold our long legs under ourselves in a manner that would make a caravan of camels look graceful, our patient waitress handed over our menus. In Japanese. English? Her shaking head and pointing back to the menus we already held indicated not.

With no idea what the menus said, we waited a few minutes, then pressed the little bell on our table for service. The only part of the menu in English was the wine list, so I pointed to a glass of the house white; my friend used the one word he knew in Japanese, birru. And two okonomiyaki please, pork and prawn. We thought she understood, but it was anyone’s guess what we were going to get. She fired up the grill which took up most off the table and left us again.

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A few minutes later we had a bowl each of prawns, and another bowl with everything else, including the batter and egg. Having watched the girls sitting nearby, we mixed of all up, threw it on the grill, and cooked up dinner!

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While my favourite accompaniment, mayo, was missing, we had plenty of others to choose from – a rich BBQ sauce, bonito flakes (my other favourite), chili oil.., the works. And once they were cooked up and dressed, they were some of the best okonomiyaki we’d ever had!

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After committing the embarrassing faux pas of putting our shoes back on outside of the designated area and apologising profusely on our way out, we agreed it was easily one of the best dining experiences either of us has had – the fun of DIY, the danger of essentially using a hot grill as your dinner table, the deliciousness of the food and the process of actually finding the place makes for one hell of a night!