We finish the day after Sushi Iwa with a little shopping in Ginza and then a quick visit to 21_21 Design Sight, a modern art museum designed by celebrated architect Tadao Ando. Though we had stumbled into a marvelous local izakaya called Torikizoku earlier in the week in Shinjuku where everything on the menu (including cocktails and beer) were only 280 yen ($2.66 USD) per plate, and where we also fumbled through the tablet ordering system whereby all izakaya items were strictly displayed in Japanese (thank GOD for Google Translate), we still have a hankering for one thing: vegetables.
Fresh vegetables, outside of tempura, we find are hard to locate in Tokyo with the exception of a few trendy Western-style vegetarian farm-to-table restaurants, but we settle on a vegan burger joint, Ain Soph Ripple nearby. Finding the place takes us by Piss Alley, the famous strip of unsavory bars and shops in Shinjuku, and we enter to find a menu in largely English and some Japanese. Frankly, we are a bit relieved that we don’t have to piece together how to order and we settle on vegan cheeseburgers and splurge on their fries, completely forgetting about our initial mission to find fresh vegetables. The little restaurant clearly targets ex-pats and maybe a small population of Japanese that are vegan judging by the signage and décor that’s mostly in English.
As our teeth nash into the middle of the bun, it’s a visceral reminder of home, of America, where burgers abound. The burger is on the mealy side, the patty veers into the soggy department, but it holds together enough to finish most of it. The golden fries are crisp and a solid companion to the otherwise satisfying burger.
Our last meal in Tokyo is one at the tempura restaurant Tsunahachi , and sadly it is less than stellar, overpriced and the tempura cooks visibly wear their disdain for their job on their faces.
I prefer to think back to the memory of lunch on the last day, as we venture across Shinjuku Chuo park after checking out Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and slide into a local, neighborhood ramen-ya. It’s in a hidden location, snaked away in between some apartment buildings, and the cook at Ramen Kumagami seems bemused to see two tourists take more than 10 minutes to figure out the choices on the vending machine.
Luckily, only one other person, a Japanese businessman, is inside slurping his noodles so we don’t feel too bad or embarrassed for taking so much time. We finally settle on a bowl of noodles, with extra shaved leek on top. Moments later, we are slurping thick, bouncy ramen noodles out of a bowl of thick tonkotsu broth while Dido’s “Thank You” plays overhead. It’s jarring, and a tad funny, but we enjoy our bowls immensely, mostly because it’s a serene moment, with no crowds, away from the big city hustle and bustle, an ephemeral few minutes when we feel like we are fully immersed with the bowl of warm noodle soup in between our hands in this beautiful and foreign culture that doesn’t need any translation.