I hope you'll forgive the culinary traversing across the globe. I still haven't finished with my New Zealand stories and now I confuse matters by putting up a Tokyo story? I wish I could say that I jetted off to Tokyo briefly but not so. This visit to Sakata Udon was my last Japan story so I thought that I should "get it out" before things became irrelevant or changed.
Having lost my faith somewhat in my Lonely Planet Tokyo edition (hopeless maps getting us lost most of the time) we had originally tried to go to Sakata Udon in Ginza only to find ourselves in front of a demolished building. Granted the fact that it had been demolished at the end of last year wasn't Lonely Planet's fault as they scarcely had time to update their book but the fact was we wandered around for ages trying to find the pre-demolition spot that they had given directions to. We finally found it after a bit of research and a helpful hotel concierge who had given us a proper map.
Finding restaurants in Tokyo tends to mean that you often have to look up. Literally. A lot of the great find restaurants are housed not just on the ground floor but upper floors of a grey building. Sakata Udon is on the 3rd floor or a building and it doesn't have an English sign, just script in Japanese. It was recommended by Lonely Planet with this praise If you eat only one meal out, youd do well to eat it here.
We enter and it's all brown woods and soothing tones - we had almost expected a place like a ramen joint, a bit rough and ready but this is much nicer. We sit down and receive some refreshing chilled tea while we peruse the menu (they have an English menu although this might be abbreviated). A friend of mine recommended "Bukkake Udon" which had me almost splattering my drink in all directions when I heard the name. For those of you including my parents who don't know what Bukkake Udon might suggest, don't worry and don't google it (especially if you're my parents!). For those of you who do, it's not what you think. Bukkake is a colloquial expression that means "throw something at/in/on" so the udon is just that.
We can see the making of the udon through a window (as well as a small window when you step out of the elevator) and before long our bukkake udon arrives (we ordered one dish cold as it's a hot day) as well as a hot Tempura udon soup. I also get my husband a serve of Natt?, the Japanese version of Australian Vegemite that the Japanese love but I personally find repulsive but I want to hear what my husband thinks of it.
I can see that while he is chewing it, he desperately wants to like it (being a boy he wants to say that he likes really grotesque sounding food) but it's only one mouthfull for him and the remaining Natt? goes untouched.
Our bowls of noodles are brought out on trays with raised ribbed plastic patterns to ensure that the bowls do not slip during transportation - clever! The udon is springy and a perfect consistency, garnished simply with a huge mound of grated daikon radish and ginger and sesame seeds. I would have preferred a more varied topping with some meat but this shows off the simplicity and texture of the udon well.
The hot Tempura udon comes with a tempura shiso leaf, round of sweet potato, eggplant and prawn. The broth is very light and again the udon a lovely texture. I should have asked for the tempura on the side as by the time it got to me after my husband had had some, it was soggy. Still, I find this hot soup and udon sustaining and readying me for the hot weather outside.
Since this was our last meal in Tokyo, I thought I should offer some of my tips for eating in Tokyo based on my years living there and subsequent holidays.
NQN's tips for eating through Tokyo
If you want an easy time of it, book a hotel with a concierge. We made full use of our hotel's Concierge who booked the restaurants for us and gave us maps with clear directions. Do ask them to ring ahead to check whether a restaurant is open too even if they don't take bookings.
Addresses are next to impossible to find as the numbering system makes no sense - most places will have a website with a map on how to get there.
Look up! Seriously, a lot of excellent restaurants are housed in tall buildings.
The subway/trains are clean and efficient. There are three companies that service Tokyo (the Subway, Toei lines and JR) and they do not share ticketing systems so you cannot buy a pass that covers all three. You can get day passes for the subway (best if you're seeing things just in Tokyo) and you can also get a 1 week JR rail pass but this is best for someone that wants to explore outside of Tokyo as it can be costly (Y37800). If you're unsure of the price of the ticket you need to buy, buy the smallest amount (Y160 for subway) and when you get to your destination, use the Fare Adjustment machines (signposted in English), located near the ticket exits. They have English text button with instructions but basically put in your ticket into the Fare Adjustment Machine and if you need to add any more money to it, it will tell you and you drop the coins into the slot. Y500 coins are not accepted at the ticket machines.
Be sure to take the correct exit, a restaurant will usually give you the best exit to leave from and unlike other cities, leaving by the best exit will really save you a lot of time and confusion as some stations have an inordinate number of exits that branch out.
When catching taxis, the taxi driver will open the door for you from the inside. These can be a life saver if you can't find an address, as long as you have the address written down. Taxis are clean and efficient (and Taxi drivers wear white gloves) but avoid these when traffic is bad or you'll end up with a hefty bill.
When dining out, you may get hit with extra charges (depending on the establishment) be it for service, tax and sometimes the Amuse Bouches!
Cash is always best in Japan. Credit cards aren't always accepted. If you have an overseas bank card, you can only use machines with Cirrus signs i.e. Citibank machines. You will no doubt fall upon these with much relief when you find them. Even when I lived in Japan and had a Japanese bank account, I'd feel the compulsion to take money out of my Cirrus account just in case as they're not often easy to find. Or, best bet, withdraw your money from Narita airport to save on headaches, there are Cirrus machines there.
Do head to a Department store food hall. You will think you have died and gone to heaven. There are so many delicious cakes and savories, ready to be packed up for you to eat at home or to give as a gift.
Re. hotels, if you have a lot of luggage, find a hotel on the Airport Limousine Bus route. They will load your bags on and off the bus both ways and it certainly beats fighting your way through the crowded train system and the numerous stairs. Although it's called Limousine, it's not an actual Limousine, merely a bus that is clean and fairly comfortable.
And of course some photos from a Japanese convenience store - some of the choicest items.
Crunky ice cream-similar to Almond magnum. Love the name - I shall save that name for a particularly cranky or cantankerous person.
3rd Floor, 1-6-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku
Nearest station is Hibiya station, use Exit A4 and it is literally around the corner in the Daiyo building (I think it is Daiyo)
Vegetarian options: some
Address shown on Google map below is not accurate