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Tokyo (Day 3)- Ainu Where The Good Food Was At

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to top the theatrics of Day 1 and Day 2 in Tokyo, but Day 3 still had its own unique charms.  For example, I started the day off with a more modest breakfast at the convenience store which consisted of some general snack cakes, and a drink that I’ve never seen before:  men’s cider.IMG_1797  It looked intense, so I decided to give it a shot.  It was delicious since it tasted like some sort of pomegranate soda.  It gave me the energy to venture forth for another long day of sightseeing which I thought would have culminated in lunch with the yakitori specialists at Toriki, but unfortunately they were only open for dinner at 5:30.  Crestfallen, I went on the search for the Pokemon Center in southern Tokyo, and  along the way decided for lunch to see what sort of wacky Japanese adapatations McDonalds integrated into their menu.  I was extremely disappointed.

Great dishonor to Amurka

Great dishonor to Amurka

I got a burger that had some type of chili sauce along with bacon cheese fries which I only got because they were part of a meal and don’t exist in American McDonalds.  I need not go into further detail with this pedestrian meal.  Thankfully, the ignominy of lunch was quickly erased with my dinner and dessert.

I had read on Wikitravel that there was a restaurant called Harukor specializing in Ainu (Eye-noo) cuisine in Tokyo which really piqued my interest.  Why you might ask?  What the hell is Ainu food?  Well, the Ainu are the indigenous people of Japan and Siberia who live all the way on the northern island of Japan called Hokkaido along with the Sakhalin Islands.  They look different from the ethnic Japanese, but due to intermarriage they no longer retain their unique appearances.  There are very few, if any, full blooded Ainu left, and they are subject to discrimination for their ethnicity.  They’re known for being astute hunters along with rocking sweet beards and cool woven clothes with distinct geometric patterns.

Dream on hipster beards

Dream on hipster beards

So I tried to follow the directions that Google Maps tried to give me, but it led me around in circles.  So I asked a tiny, ancient Japanese restaurant owner where the restaurant was.  He spoke no English, and I no Japanese.  I just said, “Harukor, Ainu, food, Hokkaido”.  He paused for a moment and proceeded to run down the street while beckoning me to join him.  After about 10 minutes of running through the street, and people wondering why this giant foreigner had an octogenarian running partner, he showed me exactly where it was.  Typical friendly Japanese hospitality.  For those who don’t want to run with old Japanese guys on the way to your dinner, go to Okubo station and out the south exit.  Make a left out the door and then a right and follow the road.  It will be on your left.IMG_1804IMG_1805  The actual restaurant space was quite tiny in comparison to the other places I ate at, but it had a lot of character with Ainu harp music playing on the speakers and various posters and items symbolizing the Ainu struggle.  IMG_1808IMG_1807The guy running it spoke very little English, but realized I didn’t speak Japanese after staring at the all Japanese menu.  He quickly busted out the English menu which I was grateful for.IMG_1806  He poured me a cup of chilled green tea which was refreshing after a long day of hustling.  I eventually went for the imoshito set and the fish soup which are both Ainu foods.  It reflected the humble culture these people have when the food came out.  The set consisted of a fried potato, pumpkin, and yomogi which according to Wikipedia is Japanese mugwort.IMG_1809  The potato one was quite good since it was creamy and even tempered like a fried potato should be.  As for the pumpkin, it was a bit surprising because it was my favorite since it had the texture of the potato with a hint of sweetness that enhanced the rich breading.  As for the yomogi, I personally liked it because it kind of had a sesame/perilla flavor to it.IMG_1810  As for the fish soup, I was less enchanted because there was barely any fish to be found.  IMG_1811It was more like a vegetable soup, but it still warmed my soul that night with steamed but not limp watercress, carrots, and celery.  It was a nice experience at a place that not many people know about and even fewer about the culture behind the food.  Then there was dessert at a separate place called Dairy Chiko.  This place is located in the Nakano Broadway B1 floor.IMG_3425  You just go north of Nakano station all the way through the covered market to Nakano Broadway, and wander in the basement until you find this booth. IMG_1813IMG_1812 I came here to take down the eight layer cone which was a steal for 4 bucks.  The guy working the machines was like an artist when he handed me my cone, but he warned me to stay by the garbage cans and hold it straight. IMG_1817 I soon set to work on the elite eight flavors:  vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, coffee, sesame, caramel, green tea, and bubble gum.  Not only was there a ton of ice cream up top, but he filled it to the bottom tip of the cone.  If I could pick a favorite, it would probably be the caramel layer (4th down from the top layer). It was completely worth it, and I highly recommend people to seek out Dairy Chiko.

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The Cape of Great Food

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be bringing you a bit of the Rainbow Nation, a.k.a. South Africa,in the form of the restaurant  Braai Republic.  Here’s how to get there:  Come out of exit 4 of Itaewon Stn. (line 6), walk straight and turn left at the alley just before the McDonald’s. Go through the intersection, past the Juliette clothing store, and Braai Republic is on your left on the second floor.IMG_0543

When we first arrived on a Saturday evening around 6:30 pm, we were greeted with a wall of people in the establishment.  Little did we know that Saturday evenings was the worst time to come and eat.  So instead of my entire group of friends coming to eat with me, it just ended up being my one friend, Aaron, and I sharing a table with another American couple since it was so crowded.

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

I personally enjoyed this aspect of the restaurant because it encouraged more socialization over the meal.  A welcomed change from most restaurants where diners are more engrossed in Instagramming their food and ignoring the person they’re sitting with.  I definitely had my cell phone away as I was soaking in the South African inspired decor like the zebra skins on the wall, a rugby match on the tv, and the extremely enthusiastic South African owner who was called everyone, “Bru” while making sure they were having a good time.

Is it black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

Is it black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

I felt like I was in Blood Diamond with Danny Archer.  Leo references aside, I scanned the menu and decided to get the Hunter’s Gold cider (5,000 Won) along with the oxtail potjiekos (11,000 Won) (pronounced “poy-kos”).  A lot of the other options were meat centered like lamb chops and meat pies and for good reason.  The name of the restaurant, “Braai Republic” references the South African tradition of grilling meat.  The word “Braai” in Afrikaans means “grill”.  However, there still are some veggie options like various types of mashed potatoes, cole slaw, and pap which is like polenta.  I didn’t know what to expect from the meal, so I was quite intrigued when my plate came out.

On it was a pile of plain mashed potatoes, orange and white cole slaw, and a small black pot which I naturally concluded was my potjiekos (in Afrikaans, it means “small pot food”).IMG_0548  When I opened it up, I was face to face with a whole lot of meat. IMG_0549 A potjikos is a remnant from the Afrikaaner frontier culture where they would stew different vegetables, cuts of meat, and bones together in a pot at the end of each day after exploring the South African wilderness.  I could definitely taste the rustic origins when I finally tucked into it as I was greeted with extremely tender pieces of ox tail mixed in with bone shards.  Take your time when eating this dish because you might swallow a bone if you’re not careful.  I also stumbled upon the occasional potato lurking below the savory broth like some sort of delicious starchy manatee.  If you’re a traditional meat and potatoes kind of person, this restaurant would be your Valhalla (a viking heaven but with funnier accents and more barbecue).  Even though I was going to town on my pot of ox, I tried a bit of my table mate’s lamb pie.  I would get that in a heartbeat next time I came to Braai Republic.  Then I tried my sides.  The mashed potatoes were severely disappointing.  True, the texture was just short of creamy, but they were extremely bland.  I can’t stress this enough even when I put salt and pepper on it.  The cole slaw was also quite pedestrian, but then again, I’m not the biggest proponent of cole slaw.  Thankfully, the potjiekos was quite filling and made up for the side order of mediocrity.  The Hunter’s cider was alright as a beverage to the meal, but it was a bit too sweet for my liking.  However, I wasn’t prepared for the greatness for dessert.IMG_0547

My friend Aaron had been raving for the longest time about their cheesecake, so I was naturally obliged to try it.  With my pie-in-the-sky expectations, this cake didn’t disappoint.IMG_0550  It was topped with caramel that was sweet yet slowly developed a more intense flavor with an almost coffee-esque flourish with every bite.  Then there was the actual cake which was light and fluffy.  It wasn’t dense like traditional cheesecake but rather had a whipped consistency that didn’t leave me feeling stuffed at the end of the meal.  The crust was a bit more straight forward forming a solid crumb base for the amazing flavor dance party going on above it.

In the end, if you love meat dishes or are just looking to try some of the best cheesecake around, I highly recommend Braai Republic.

Happy trails, Voortrekkers!

Happy trails, Voortrekkers!

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