Rika Eats Asia (Everything I ate in Taipei and Tokyo)

(This is a blog post four years in the making. Seriously, its been in my drafts since just after I went to Asia for the first time in March 2016. As I was halfway through writing it, I ran out of storage space on WordPress. I didn’t upgrade right away, because I was on the way out the door for like three more trips right after that, and after I got going on the blog again, it seemed like it was pointless to finish this. So it sat. 

But, now I realize how much I have not put out cool stuff because I’ve always got caught up in doing it “right” or feeling like only the immediate matters, or.. whatever. So, tonight I finished it. 

Below here, unless noted, and until noted again, my younger self is talking to you from 2016. Later, I come back from the future to finish the post, and be sad about how freely we used to wander the world. Notes from current self are from July of 2020..) 

 

I don’t always fly first class to Asia for work trips, but when I do…

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… I take a selfie (because I’m prob never getting first class again) and a few simple goals. Those goals were:

  • Eat or attempt to eat everything I was offered.
  • Take a photo of everything I ate the entire trip.

Actually those were not my only goals, I also intended to do my job, and maybe see some cool stuff, but the food related goals are the relevant goals to this blog so let’s focus on those for now.

Without further exposition (also a half-truth; more exposition to follow) here’s everything I ate in Asia.

 

On the plane – Japan Air, LAX to KIX Osaka, first class.

2016-03-11 13.33.32It took me a minute to figure out what the cream substance was, and if you are supposed to eat it on the fish. I eventually concluded that I don’t think it goes on the fish, although it wasn’t totally bad on the fish. Its sweet and orange flavored.

 

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An assortment of things in classy little bowls. I thought I would like the things in the middle on the right more than I did; they were raw fish with something on them and were only ok. The wrap things in the bottom corner were ok. The sliced cucumber stuff in bottom middle was the surprise winner. Origami crane chopstick holder also a winner.

 

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This was all part of the same meal, and yes, it was pretty excessive. I had saki. I still don’t know what the fried ball thing was. Seafood?

 

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Green tea and a pudding type thing? I didn’t like it. I’m particular about sweet foods though.

 

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Later that night, during the boring part of the flight… udon noodles and Coke. Also me trying out all the words of Japanese I know on the stewardess.

 

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So this was a long flight. I ate lots of things. Ice cream, coffee, Tales From the Borderlands.

 

On the next plane – KIX to Taipei (still first class)

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In Osaka we caught a regional flight to Taipei. That flight started with soybeans. Soybeans as a snack are a confusion of memory for me – they remind me of Asian groceries in the towns I’ve lived in, but also eating soybeans experimentally as a kid, in the dirt and alfalfa and a little bit of pesticide smell of the fields.

 

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This flight did not have space pod seats, but they did feed me. I think this is actually the “western” option – I wanted to see how Japan Air interpreted that. The main was somewhat like tv dinner Salisbury steak.

(Note from current self: This did essentially ruin flying for me. I have never been able to sleep on flights, but now when I can’t sleep on international flights, I angrily remember this flight and exactly how it is on the flight for all the people who are a better caliber than me. 

Or at least I did. When we could still fly places…)

 

Taipei, Taiwan

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Hotel breakfast was a wondrous buffet of things that were of varying degrees of strange to me. I do approve of miso soup for breakfast. It was a little odd to eat miso with other, sweeter breakfast foods though. The bread was a surprise – it was slightly sweet and flaky, like lard pie crust. The green fruit was crisp and like a lightly flavored pear/apple. No one was able to translate its name to English so I don’t know what to call it.

 

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Hey Song… I liked the idea of Sasparilla, but I didn’t like it much in practice. Medicine-y; too much like chewing sassafras leaves off the tree.

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(Note from current self: I found this while checking the completeness of this post. I did not eat this. I wanted to, but when I saw it initially, I was a bit nauseous from jet lag. I didn’t get back to trying it later. Regrets. Weirdly, my kid, who wasn’t born then, loves eggs and loves soy sauce, so maybe she’d love these. ) 

 

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We tried to go to lunch at the Hello Kitty cafe, but hadn’t made a reservation – some of us had to report for event set up in the afternoon, so we couldn’t wait for a walk in spot. Instead we stopped at a fast food place to have noodles and over order on dumplings and gyoza.

 

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I think these were truffle dumplings? I remember they were amazing.

 

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The pot stickers were also awesome.

 

2016-03-13 14.26.53Year of the Monkey is a good year for cute Coke cans.

 

Pizza, Taipei style, at event set up. The one with the blade-of-grass-like things on it was my favorite. I think they were some sort of onion.

 

 

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Hotel breakfast again. French toast, boiled sausage, hash browns, and a steamed bun that surprised me by having sweet filling.

 

Press event lunch. Both were good, both were pretty much what I expected.

 

Press event snacks – honeydew and fruit cream puff tacos.

 

Epic mealtime, Taipei, episode 1…

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The first course of a long Chinese style meal with the local PR team. The locals ordered courses family style which we all tried.

 

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Jelly fish. This defies description. I envisioned it as squishy; we were warned it would be crunchy. It was a texture not quite like what I think of as crunchy, it was hard and bouncy and yet snapped apart when bitten. The only thing I can think of that is similar is if you bit into a quarter machine bouncy ball. The flavor was good, but the texture was so different from anything I was used to that it was hard to eat.

 

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Tried this, even though it has shrimp in it, because it smelled good. It tasted good also, and I wanted to eat more, but after just a little I could feel the shrimp allergy sitting on my chest so I didn’t.

 

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Various things about to get in my belly. That’s a chicken thing, and the dark things are mushrooms.

 

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Delicious fizzy apple soda drink (with steamed rice photobombing). This drink was really good, it was something like a mix between apple juice and soda and Crispin. (Its non-alcoholic.) Wish it was stocked in the work drink fridge.

 

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Boiled crab was good, strongly seasoned, but not too spicy. It requires an eating technique that is not familiar to kids from the land-locked Midwest.

 

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Pork belly dumpling thing – the steamed bread is flat under it. This was very good, and a relative of Asian food adaptations that I’ve had before in the states, but a bit different. The bread was very like steamed dumpling bread but of course flat, so you eat it with a similar form to taco consumption. Pork belly was a flavor very like Asian seasoned pork that you get here, but it was a really fatty cut of meat – kind of like the fatty pork belly at Korean barbecue, but in that situation I usually cook most of the fat off.

(Update from current self – I’ve had this, almost exactly like this, at several places in the US now. Before this I had had a version of it, but clearly made to American tastes – the bread a different texture, the meat cooked a little drier and less fatty. Not sure if hipster restaurants changed or if I just hadn’t noticed it before.)

 

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Steamed bun deliciousness. Basically, I can confirm that you are pretty much safe with steamed buns. If someone offers you a steamed bun, say yes. (I hope a “steamed bun” isn’t also a slang term for a weird sex thing that no one wants to explain to me.)

 

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Delicious foamy kiwi drink. Spoilers: it tastes just like a drink made out of kiwis. This was served in a pitcher. You are supposed to not take the pitcher to fill your own drink; you fill your neighbor’s drink and let them fill yours. I kept mucking this up.

 

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A sort of vegetable soup that must be fairly common, as we had this at two different restaurants.  I’m not sure exactly what the vegetable is – its somewhat like a cucumber or zucchini (it may even be one or the other, hard to tell because its cooked in an unfamiliar way). I liked this soup, but I couldn’t get past thinking that the vegetables shouldn’t have been cooked so soft. They were cooked to the point of being fall-apart-soft, and my sensibilities kept expecting them to be firmer. Clearly they were supposed to be soft, though, because both places served it that way. This was a general theme for food in Taipei for me – a lot of it was good, but required some getting past my expectations for what it was going to be like.

 

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Mushroom soup – this tastes mostly like you’d expect a mushroom soup to taste. The tiny little clumps of mushrooms are a bit unlike mushrooms I usually eat though.

 

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Sweet rice desert thing. This is not my thing. I’ve always had trouble with rice as a sweet food. Its just an incongruous combination to me.

 

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When they tell you that you will be going for shaved ice after dinner, you THINK you’ve had shaved ice before.. this shaved ice is a totally different food. Its like the cotton candy of shaved ice, super light and fluffy. The flavors are very pure fruit flavors – it tastes like strawberry instead of tasting like strawberry flavor. Some of the ices are also served with a scoop of sorbet type stuff in the same flavor.

 

Another Taipei workday…

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Hotel breakfast – less experimental this time, because I was rushed. Noodles, bacon, bread with a pesto type thing on it. Cappuccino and juice.

 

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Dessert cake from the press event. I’m pretty sure they called this Mont Blanc, but when I google Mont Blanc, some of the images look pretty different from it. It was a little mountain thing, before I smashed it. Inside it had a layer of chocolate, white cream, and the yellow, bouncy pudding substance.

 

Coffee break in the hotel club lounge. I misused the cappuccino machine, and so the attendant made me sit down and made the coffee for me (I couldn’t read the instructions, ok?) I drank coffee, looked at Taipei in the rain, and ate chips and snack mix that was good but had a fish flavor.

Taipei Epic Mealtime, episode 2:

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Another extensive dinner with the Asian pr crew. Again they ordered for us and everything was family style. This is duck, clams, and those tiny little sprout looking things are whole fish. I could have mistaken them for plants, even while eating them.

 

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I do not remember what that crunchy fried ball thing was. It was pretty good though.

 

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That vegetable soup, round two.

 

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I think this was geoduck? Which is not like a duck.

 

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For whatever reason I’m having trouble remembering eating this…

 

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More Chinese crab. This was good again, and the rice was a good combination with it. At this point I was really starting to slow down on the eating.

 

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A chicken and mushroom soup. Surprisingly, very much like I’d imagine. Good though.

 

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Fruit for desert. This is a practice I would support more of my local restaurants adopting.

 

Taipei to Tokyo..

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So I woke up too late for breakfast. I may or may not have been out at the night market until it shut down the night before.. The airport cafes were running too slow, so I experienced the vending machine. Chips tasted like chicken ramen flavor, Wincafe was much like coffee..

 

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Plane food. That’s a salad with a piece of salmon sashimi, cold soba noodles, rice and vegetables with pork.

Put on Lady Baby, its time for Tokyo…

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Japanese 7 Eleven is.. the supplier of just about everything you need. (Not pictured: the nail polish I bought to fix that…) I has seen one of these little sushi triangle sandwich things in a YouTube video and always wanted to try one. It was as imagined, which is to say awesome. (Current self notes: Onigiri. They are called onigiri. I learned this on my second trip to Japan later, and I also learned how to get them out of the package without butchering.)

 

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The first night in Tokyo, we went to dinner with the local team. Somewhere near Tower Records Shibuya, we walked up on a platform, along a plankway below the railroad tracks, and ducked in through a tiny door. We took off our shoes and ate things…

(Note from current self: I didn’t write detailed descriptions in the original draft, so its hard for me to give a full report from memory. I remember that I was so, so tired, and there was so much food, and it was good. The local Asian PR guy had told me that westerners do better with the food in Japan that Taiwan, and he was right. Nearly everything in this meal tasted like I expected it to upon looking at it. Textures weren’t as baffling to me. I still wasn’t always sure exactly what I was eating though.

I also tried to find the name of this restaurant and could not. It also may have only felt like it was near Tower Records, I don’t know. I saw the same menus in photos of a place on google maps, but it did not look like this place, and wasn’t where I thought we were. I know I’m right about the walkway by the train and the tiny door though, I have photos to prove that. ) 

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Sake in a big bamboo…

 

 

 

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Starbucks (pretty much like Starbucks everywhere) and delicious strawberry soda. I can’t even think about that soda right now because I know I can’t get any more of it. 😦

 

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Wrap sandwich and baby green tea for lunch at press event.

 

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Coffee that one of the people from the local office made for me and brought me on a cute little tray.

 

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Delicious and kawaii Harajuku crepes. They are pretty terrible unless you like things like fruit and whipped cream.

 

 

Current self is writing from here on… 

I barely remember this meal, food-wise. I think we may have been in Akihabara? I think we had set plate meals, and were recording the answers to some last minute interview questions with our art director on my phone so that we could get the job done but still get our time to wander out there. After this, I know we were in arcades.

 

Let me tell you a story about eating ramen, the next day.

But first let me wonder if I really did not eat anything between these two? I know I stayed out all night, so maybe I didn’t wake up in time for breakfast. I know the ramen was lunch, partially through a day of PR event. The local PR team brought us here. I think its Ichiran Shibuya.

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You feed the money to the machine.

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You get the little tickets. (You have no idea what you are doing.)

For that price you get…

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Your own little private bubble world for a little while.

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You can fold the dividers out to be alone, or put them away to be more social. You get your own water faucet. The food comes into your little stall through a window to the kitchen.

This feels a lot different now, looking at this from the future, in the time of the Covid-19…

And you also get that ramen. Hopefully you told the machine the right thing.

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After the end of the event that day, the last event day, we went out to Ninja Akasaka “The Ninja Restaurant”. I think the local team had chosen this with a little bit of a chuckle at what they thought Americans would be envisioning/expecting.. and its funny because I think I was so, so clueless as to anything there. Thinking back on it now I am really struck by how great the local teams were to us and how much they planned cool things for us to do. I don’t know if I properly appreciated it or thanked them at the time; I don’t know if there really was a way to be thankful enough for the part they played in what it was like to be there.

2016-03-18 20.04.09

When ninjas cook you dinner, they start with throwing stars. And I was starving. They were cracker-like.

This was another meal that went on and on, as the story of the ninja unfurled. A lot of the food was stealthy black colors. I think at least some of it is usually not?

I really wish I had written this part at the time, because I’ve lost details now. I think that thing in my hand was some sort of icy jelly thing?

The red thing. Some sort of fluffy jelly desert thing that was like a cloud but bouncy.

 

 

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The dragons are not to eat.

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At the end of the dinner they put you through a tunnel that dumps you out on the street where a ninja implores you to come again.

The next morning I got up early to walk out and see a shrine, and so I had gas station breakfast. A little later we went out to meet up with another game dev team for real breakfast. This was a team that had made some of the games that were my first intense experiences with games, sitting down to breakfast with them was surreal in the way that makes you want to laugh just at the idea that you got to do this. I remember I moved chairs to put the two art directors next to each other. Because I’m intuitive and also a team player. 😉

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It was a set menu. Lots of sashimi things.

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This dessert thing was like.. sugar fluff bounce jelly. With a sauce. Very sweet.

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I remember the experience as being fascinating, I remember asking so many questions about everything. Their game, work in Japan, life and food and everything. I remember the meal mostly as being fluffy. Seriously in my mind I remember the sensation of eating things like bouncy clouds and kind of say to myself, “you know, that time we ate fluffy breakfast…”

After that we wandered in the way that I call “being on the ride”. Into arcades and malls. Pokemon Center and the Ghibli store. They showed us everything around the neighborhood. I truly think there was no way I was grateful enough.

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At some point I drank this drink, because someone picked it for me when I told them I had sworn to try everything I was offered. It matched my nails. I don’t remember it being too odd.

That night was my last night, and the others who were staying longer were going to go eat at Denny’s, and I actually kind of lost my shit and threw a bit of a fit. (Which I like to think I never do..) I worked at Denny’s for like three years, and I didn’t know when I was ever going to be in Tokyo again, so I was not about that life. So I split from the group. The most patient among the group followed me and we wound up in this little dinner, so late at night eating ramen and gyoza. Those gyoza were awesome. Worth it.

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Food on trays in airport lounges…

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Its hard to go back to flying like a regular person, but when I do.. I eat this microwave dinner thing to pass the time.

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As we were eating, I looked over at my friend, who had struggled a little with the different food and all the chopsticks on the trip. She was just quietly eating, with a fork lying there on her tray, using chopsticks without thinking about it.

 

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