great deal

Food Fair 2.0 (ex a diversus terra)

Italian Restaurant in Hikarie Shibuya

Please note that all posts are officially now from Canada (ex a divers us terra= from another country…sadly we’re not in Kansas anymore). Though I still have lots to say ūüėČ

Back to the land of the rising sun (which is actually what the characters mean¬†śó•śú¨…”the origin of the sun” or “the place where the sun rises and sets”) where you can find amazing restaurants in department stores. This goes way beyond the diner-like restaurants we used to see in Zellers and is more reminiscent of a cafe you’d find in Saks; however, you can¬†usually find 1-2 floors of restaurants (example 6F and 7F¬†in Hikarie Shibuya) plus 1-2 floors of food items in the basement (example B3F and B2F in Hikarie Shibuya) in most Japanese department stores.

The restaurant offerings are varied and range in price from fairly moderate ($10 pp¬†for a set menu dinner) to really expensive ($80+ pp for dinner). There are usually up to three different Japanese restaurants specializing in¬†various types of Japanese cuisine such as sushi, tempura, noodles, tonkatsu (pork cutlets in a variety of dishes), kaiseki (haute cuisine based on seasonal offerings), barbecue or grilled items, bowls of noodles with a whole egg sitting on top (not my fave), Japanese sweets, plus various places with regional specialities (Okinawa, Kyoto, Kyushu). In terms of other types of cuisine, curries from Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are also popular in addition to basic Indian food from India. Italian food is also popular with the Japanese and most department stores have at LEAST one restaurant specializing in Italian food but you will often find restaurants with regional specialities (Milanese, Tuscan or Southern Italian), pasta, or pizza and casual fare. Chinese food is quite common and again, offers a few different types like dim-sum, noodle dishes, or very-high end Cantonese cuisine. Irish pubs abound. I’ve seen quite a few Spanish tapas bars as well.

In the basement you’ll find at least one, but often two floors selling groceries (dry goods), fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, deli items, ready-made meals (worldwide cuisine, not just Japanese food), bakeries, patisseries, wine, beer, spirits, chocolate, candies, boxed gifts of food, custom-order dinners that are made while you wait, vitamins, shakes, specialty coffee and tea…as well as smaller take-out restaurants lining the perimeter of the area selling meals that are much more reminiscent of what¬†we would see in a food fair in the mall.

Our culinary experiences were positive for the most part. We did have department store dinner in Hikarie Shibuya at Capricci¬†which was quite good. We had the set menu and our total bill which included the bread bar, an appetizer and a pasta. Including¬†a ginger ale and a prosecco and the total bill was just under $60 (no tipping). The food was good but you can find a few quirks or questionable attempts at Japanese-Italian fusion…sweet potato buns and spinach buns in the bread bar; sweet butter (caramel flavoured?); and weird fish paste on top of Karis’s pasta. Overall it was very good and a pretty decent price. That being said, I bought some Italian deli items one day for dinner¬†and they were less than fantastic (in terms of preparation, quality of ingredients and odd substations) despite costing close to $50. In my experience, it seems to be best to enjoy the cuisine of the country you are in, especially a place like Japan that offers a variety of delicious options that are usually the most affordable as the ingredients are common. Our favourite was sushi at the places with the conveyor belts (usually cheap and cheerful for people in a hurry on their lunch break or on their way home from work). The food was fresh and delicious and Karis and I could eat our fill for less than $15.

Curly hair genius in Tokyo

Hair genius Nepenji

Who would have thought that I would find the best hairdresser ever in Tokyo. Not me. Last time I was here I had a hard time even finding someone who would cut my hair…curly + gaijin is a little too much for most Japanese stylists. One of my students finally recommended a friend of hers who had worked in NY and was willing to take me on. She did a decent job but no better or worse than any other haircut I’d had in Vancouver, which for a foreigner in Japan with curly hair was a huge win!

Now in the age of the internet and blogs you can literally google pretty much anything and get at least some helpful information. Anyway, this particular salon, Nepenji, was highly recommended¬†and also had several blog posts with¬†impressive photos. Kiyoko trained in London at Vidal Sassoon¬†and at the Devacurl Academy in NY which specializes in curly hair. I immediately booked myself in as my hair is a disaster—frizzy, gray and dry as well as in need of a cut (I did it myself in May with the nail scissors).

I have to say it was worth every penny and was actually much cheaper than Vancouver, about $220 (no tipping) for a two-stage cut, Kerastase treatment, colour and head and neck massage. Kiyoko wanted to cut my hair dry but it was too¬†frizzy and had been in a bun/ponytail so it wasn’t possible to see the curl pattern. She cut a bit, then did the colour, treatment and then dried it by hand with a diffuser as well as an overhead spinning dryer and then cut it again, one curl at a time.

I did know you are supposed to cut curly hair dry but it has never actually happened to me. I was given so much information on how to care for my hair that that alone would have been worth the $200. Anyway, in a nutshell, minimal shampooing with sulfate-free shampoo; conditioner (lots but make sure it is free of alcohol and silicone); don’t rinse out the conditioner; use your cupped hands to rinse a little bit;¬†turn your head upside down and gently squeeze the water out using paper towels, old t-shirts or a microfibre towel,¬†scrunching the curls as you do this. Whilst still upside down, use alcohol-free gel and smooth over the hair, again with the scrunching motion. Carefully turn right-side up and separate and arrange the curls. You can use pins to give it a bit of lift and to help the curls to dry. Apparently the key to managing curly hair and the frizzies is moisture which seems counter-intuitive but this woman is a guru and whatever I’ve been doing isn’t working so I might as well give this a go. She said it will take about three months for my hair to repair and rebalance if I follow her instructions. Fingers crossed that I may have found hair nirvana in my 40s. The most exciting thing of all is that she is opening a salon in San Francisco this fall which is a lot closer than Japan!

Camellia oil. Best. Thing. Ever.

Camellia oil from your local grocery store :-)

Camellia oil from your local grocery store ūüôā

I read about Tsubaki¬†(camellia oil) first on the Savvy Tokyo blog and decided to try it out. It’s a great emollient with Omega-6 and 9 essential fatty acids and easily penetrates the skin. It’s very light with no fragrance. You can use it on hair and skin and apparently it is the traditional Japanese beauty secret behind thick shiny hair and wrinkle free skin. It’s from Japan, hand-picked and the oil is cold-pressed.

I got some at one of the cosmetic superstores though they sell it at the grocery store too, where, incidentally I got a great sports bra for $7 today. The Tsubaki oil is about $8 and apparently lasts a long time. I used it on my hair last night and it is a bit less frizzy…which is amazing considering the humidity was at about 87% today. According to some of the reviews it takes a while to build up in your hair. Read about it here. I’ll keep y’all posted on the frizz-defying qualities. If it works I’m importing a tanker load of it!

A little slice of Milan…three minutes away

Yummy pizza watched by the fish with eyeballs on the top left :-(

Yummy pizza watched by the fish with eyeballs on the top left ūüė¶

Sooo…wasn’t feeling much like raw fish last night so we went looking for something different. Not Japanese. There’s a lot of Japanese food that is deep-fried and/or served on top of noodles with oddly, an egg on top. The eggs aren’t always totally cooked, in my experience anyway. This is a big yuk factor for me. I saw a little place just around the corner that looked good…homemade food, not deep-fried and no raw eggs. It was closed. Deep sadness.

Karis saw a place across the street and it was open so we headed over as there was a massive thunderstorm about to erupt. Which is how we ended up at Milano. Glass of prosecco for 300Y (about $3.25) plus full-on Italian style pizza baked in a brick oven for 500Y. We assumed the pizza would be¬†about the size of a side plate for that price. Nope. They were the size of what we would consider a small pizza i.e. bigger than a side plate! The only miss of the night was the bruschetta. Nicely toasted bread, garlic, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and inexplicably, small white fish with eyeballs. We both tried them…they didn’t really taste like much but the eyeballs got to us. Pizza = HUGE win. Fish with eyeballs = Won’t be doing that again!

I even managed to get my leftover pizza ‘to go’ (o mochi kaeru)!