The Japan Series — Salvation at the 7-11, Big Pig and More!

Our flight arrived in Japan around 3:30 p.m., which for us was 9:30 p.m. the previous evening. We left Los Angeles at 11 a.m., and flew 10 hours in daylight, although when we arrived in Japan it was the next day. On the flight, they served breakfast, lunch, and then breakfast again.

It was around 6:30 by the time we figured out how to take the trains into Tokyo and locate — on streets that do not have names — our Airbnb. We were hungry, although we weren’t sure if we were hungry for dinner or breakfast. I offered to go out and find some take-out while the family got settled, which suited everyone just fine.

Flynn and Willa at the Airbnb in Kanda

Tokyo, from a non-Japanese-speaking westerner’s perspective, is a bit confusing at first when it comes to food. There are many, many restaurants — our little pedestrian walking area of Kanda was chock full of them — but it is challenging to figure what many of them serve. You look into the dark restaurant, there are six seats, and bodies are hunched over plates of something. Many restaurants serve only one thing — eel, for example, which would not have gone over well with 3/5 of my family. The point being, that a jet-lagged gaijin fresh off the plane trying to find some quick, not-to-exotic takeout in a non-tourist neighborhood of Tokyo was not going to have an easy time of it.

I saw a 7-11 and darted inside. I figured at the very least, I could get a cold beer. What I found was a revelation.

One of our neighborhood 7-11s

Our neighborhood 7-11, about 100 steps from our apartment, resembled the American version in name and logo only. There were row upon row of delicious-looking bento boxes. And where at home you would have heated glass cases with hot dogs and corn dogs and hamburgers, the cases here were filled with yakitori skewers, karaage fried chicken, tempura, croquettes and other delights. There were Japanese rice crackers galore, interesting flavors of potato chips, and funny gummy candies. And the cold case was filled with an eye-popping variety of Japanese beers. I filled my arms, paid and went home.

The food was as good as it looked. We hadn’t realized how hungry we were, and only punctuated our feeding frenzy with sighs of satisfaction.

Flynn considers the options at the 7-11

We soon discovered that there were two more 7-11s in our neighborhood — located in and adjacent to the nearby Kanda Station — and that they had scrumptious breakfast offerings as well. We spent a lot of time and money at the 7-11 and its homegrown Japanese competition, the Lawson. Upon returning from our vacation, when people asked how great the food was, I had ready an honest reply: “It was even delicious at the 7-11!”

*    *    *

In the ensuing days after our arrival in Tokyo, my confidence in regard to entering restaurants grew. I led the family confidently into a smoke-filled izakaya where the waiter brought out toys for the kids. I braved a hungry lunch crowd and stormed a ramen emporium, joining some Japanese gentlemen at their table. I even ducked with Immy into a tiny sushi bar beneath the train tracks filled with salarymen and no stools (more on that in the next post).

Curry lunch in Nagasaki

A few days later in Nagasaki, we went into a tiny restaurant that looked friendly, even though we had no idea what they served. It turned out to be a curry rice restaurant. So we sat out a rainstorm eating curry rice and drinking beer with the proprietress and one elderly woman customer, all of us merrily struggling to communicate with one another.

Across the street from our apartment in Tokyo was a restaurant called “Big Pig.”

In the afternoons, I would watch the salarymen and women entering the doorway, alone or in groups, disappearing past one of those goofy signs where you stick your face through and get your photo taken. I didn’t know what kind of restaurant it was, but it sure was popular.

Willa at Big Pig

So one evening as we wandered around trying to figure out what kind of food we wanted, and which restaurant served it, I decided we should give Big Pig a try.

We followed the salarymen through the door, descended a long dark stairway, and wound up in a bright and cavernous baseball-themed restaurant. Specifically, the team of choice was the Hiroshima Carp — one of Japan’s 16 professional baseball clubs. All the servers wore Hiroshima Carp jerseys, there were photos of the players and framed jerseys on the walls, and large TVs broadcast a Carp game. There was lots of beer.

Big Pig — The view from our loft table of salarymen dining

We were cheerfully lead up a tiny staircase to our own private loft and Japanese-style (no shoes, no chairs, cushions on the tatami floor) table, and presented with menus. In keeping with the theme, the restaurant served Hiroshima-style cuisine. Which mainly meant okonomiyaki — a massive pancake-like thing comprising noodles, egg, lots of cabbage and generously drizzled mayonnaise.

It sounded a little heavy for us, having indulged earlier on a 7-11 feast of fried chicken and croquettes. So we opted for a Hiroshima-style salad and Hiroshima-style yakisoba noodles. I’m not sure if the beer and edamame we got were Hiroshima-style — they just seemed like the usual.

Yakisoba at Big Pig

Our walk home — down from the loft, across the restaurant, up the stairs and across the street — was pleasant, and I wondered if the Hiroshima Carp had won that night.

*    *    *

Hiroshima-style yakisoba
serves 4

16 oz. yakisoba noodles (available at Japanese markets)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 oz. thinly sliced pork belly (or thick bacon)
1 small white onion, thinly slices
1 cup bean sprouts
4 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. mirin cooking wine
4 scallions, chopped
Aonori finely shredded seaweed (for sprinkling)

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high. Add pork belly strips and cook, turning frequently, until beginning to crisp. Toss in bean sprouts and onion and cook until wilted and translucent.

Push vegetables and pork to the side, and add the noodles, tossing and separating with tongs. Then let noodles cook without stirring for 2-3 minutes, until they begin to crisp up. Turn off heat, add soy sauce and mirin, and toss repeatedly to incorporate ingredients. Let sit for a few minutes for flavor to develop.

Divide between four plates, top with scallions and a sprinkle of aonori, and serve with cold Japanese beer.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. andreathompson2
    Sep 08, 2017 @ 01:26:52

    I have not been able to respond to your posts lately, but I loved that last one about Japan.

    Sent from Andrea’s iPhone

    >

    Reply

  2. Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
    Sep 08, 2017 @ 01:39:33

    more, more, more!!!

    Reply

  3. Amanda
    Sep 08, 2017 @ 17:06:20

    Not sure I would enjoy visiting Japan, but the food sounds amazing. What other interesting things do you have planned for this trip? Sounds fun!

    Reply

  4. Michelle
    Sep 12, 2017 @ 14:24:17

    All hail 7-11! OMG I so want to go to Japan. Keep the stories coming!

    Reply

  5. Trackback: The Japan Series — Imogen Dreams of Sushi | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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