My last Tokyo post is all about Roppongi Hills, Tokyo’s so-called city within a city of modern skyscrapers, high-end hotels, luxury shops, green spaces, world-class museums, numerous bars and night clubs and lively back streets.
My friend Rumi lived nearby so we decided to meet at the 45th floor lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo for a quick view of the city stretched out below. We started our tour outside Tokyo Midtown where we walked around the park, over the bridge and the tiny brook and by the manicured green areas dotted with park benches to the concrete bunker 21_21 Design Sight which is part of the Tokyo Midtown Design Hub.
From Midtown, we walked several blocks away to the bustling area around Roppongi Hills where the Mori Art Museum and the Eiffel-tower-lookalike Tokyo Tower are located. On the way there, we stopped for a quick takoyaki snack – Japan’s version of street food. Takoyaki are deep-fried flour balls made with octopus, tempura bits, green onion and pickled ginger, topped with bonito flakes and a squirt of Japanese mayonnaise. Traditionally eaten as an after work bite along with a highball, a shot of whiskey topped up with ice cold soda water served in a large mug like a beer, Rumi knew that it wasn’t the right time to eat the takoyaki but she and I decided we wouldn’t be able to wait till sundown. We split a highball and half a dozen takoyaki which were delicious and hit the spot for more wandering around the shopping mall nearby, passing by the Mori and admiring Maman, Louise Bourgeois’ humongous bronze spider sculpture. We stopped afterwards at the beautiful shady terrace of The French Kitchen in the Grand Hyatt for a cold drink and some sunshine before walking back and trying to find a simple place for lunch.
We finally stumbled on a small ramen place on a quiet side street. The dark entryway had a vending machine at the entrance where Rumi dropped the coins and chose two bowls of hot ramen topped with roast pork and a medium boiled egg. As soon as we sat at the counter, we surrendered our tickets from the machine to one of the ramen cooks and waited for our order. The atmosphere at the ramen place was like a club with rhythm and blues blasting inside. I noticed, again, that the restaurant was packed with Japanese men again and we were the only ladies there (just like the other evening at the yakitori place) and I asked Rumi why it was that Japanese women weren’t often seen eating in Japanese restaurants. She explained that the ladies preferred more sophisticated Western food for lunch than traditional Japanese fare.
The ramen noodle soup came with self-serve pitchers of iced tea and the usual condiments of chili oil and seaweed flakes. We dug in and started to sweat from the hot soup and it was only then that we also noticed that all the men having ramen were eating cold ramen to stay cool on such a hot day. We started to laugh because it seemed like we were in the sweltering American south listening to John Lee Hooker, getting shiny faces from the heat of our soup (instead of having barbecue), keeping our hair away from the broth and slurping away with the blues. We finished our ramen and on our way out, we laughed even harder as we realized there were paper bibs and elastic hair ties provided on top of the vending machine to hold one’s hair back from getting into the soup and cover one’s clothes from the splatter – leave it to the Japanese to think of everything. That ramen lunch was another dining culture experience shared with my foodie partner Rumi.
We walked lunch off, returning to Tokyo Midtown where we escaped the heat from the streets for a wander around the mall, looking into the Umami boutique (a shop selling umami flavored everything from crackers to sauces to nuts), Toraya (the traditional Japanese tea cake place) and for a quick espresso at Dean and Deluca and window shopping.
After that, it was a short walk through Hinokicho park to Rumi’s neighborhood in Akasaka where we put our feet up and relaxed before heading out to a Yakiniku (Japanese table barbecue) dinner nearby – again filled with Japanese businessmen. I don’t know how we managed to eat several platters of grilled beef and offal along with a large green salad tossed in a sesame dressing. We were both so full that Rumi insisted we go to the local pharmacy for a tiny bottle of an herbal concoction that Japanese drink the night of food or alcohol excess to avoid indigestion and a hangover. We downed them right then while the pharmacist looked on in amusement. It didn’t taste bad, just like a shot of herbal liqueur without the alcohol burn. It was a fun-filled, food-centric, non-stop exploring day which gave me a chance to discover a part of town on foot and enjoy the city quirks with a Tokyo native.