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December 2017

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Just in case you need more evidence that Toyko is a special city, a store in Akihabara called Super Potato can be exhibit #7632.

Super Potato in Tokyo, Japan

Super Potato is an awe-inspiring, multi-level shrine to classic video games.  It’s amazing.

Super Potato in Tokyo, Japan

The first two levels?  Game after game after game for every game system you can think of (and some that you probably can’t), not to mention the systems themselves.

Super Potato in Tokyo, Japan

And then there’s the toys, figurines, clothing, and any manner of game-related ephemera.

Super Potato in Tokyo, Japan

As if that wasn’t enough, on the third floor there’s an old school arcade, with games like Street Fighter 2, 1941, and Metal Slug.  It’s nuts.

Super Potato in Tokyo, Japan

I think I need to start learning Japanese, because I’m pretty sure I have to live in Japan now.  I need to be somewhere a place like this can exist, and I just can’t imagine Super Potato being able to thrive in any other city in the world.

It was a sad, sad day when the Beard Papa in the Pacific Mall (which was the only Beard Papa in Canada outside of Vancouver) shut down.

Tragically, I discovered this by actually going to the Pacific Mall to pick up some Beard Papa, only to find that the spot where it used to be was completely ripped apart (I think they were turning it another Chinese restaurant).  There was nothing left but a hollowed-out husk filled with unused equipment and shattered dreams.  It was heartbreaking.

Well, Japan is the home of Beard Papa, and it is just as glorious as I remembered.

Beard Papa in Tokyo, Japan

No — more glorious.

They sell cream puffs, only the best cream puffs you’ve ever had.  They fill them to order, which is absolutely ingenious because it keeps the pastry delightfully crisp.  It’s filled with a rich, creamy custard which contrasts perfectly with the crispy, buttery pastry.  It’s so damn good.

Beard Papa in Tokyo, Japan

Who wants to invest in a Beard Papa franchise with me?

There’s a whole store in Tokyo dedicated to Star Wars stuff, and it’s pretty much the best.

Star Wars Store in Tokyo, Japan

I think it’s just temporary, sadly — a promotion for the newest Star Wars film,  The Last Jedi.

Star Wars Store in Tokyo, Japan

All the more reason to buy everything.  Immediately.

Star Wars Store in Tokyo, Japan

All this stuff?  I want it.

Star Wars Store in Tokyo, Japan

Yeah, that too.

Star Wars Store in Tokyo, Japan

There’s a restaurant in Tokyo called Nakajima — it’s in the bottom floor of a very nondescript building (if you were just walking by, you wouldn’t even know it’s a restaurant).

Nakajima in Tokyo, Japan

And yet it has one Michelin star, and draws some pretty serious crowds thanks to its delightfully cheap sardine-based lunch special.  I showed up at around 11:40, which is just ten minutes after they opened, and there was already a line out the door.  It took about half an hour to get in.

Nakajima in Tokyo, Japan

They have a few things on the menu — all sardine-related, including fried sardines, baked sardines, and some kind of eggy dish involving sardines.  My tongue was still pretty badly burned from the ramen the night before, so I went with the sardine sashimi.

Nakajima in Tokyo, Japan

It’s not the most photogenic dish I’ve ever had, but it was great.  It was about as far from the oily, fishy little guys that you get from the can as you can possibly get.  The flavour was surprisingly clean, without even a hint of a fishy funk, and with a nice toastiness from the sesame seeds that are mixed in.  A little bit of grated ginger on the side gives it a kick.

The best part?  It only cost 800 yen, or just over nine bucks Canadian, which is a ridiculous deal for food of this calibre.

You know what one of the (many) great things about Tokyo is?  It seems to be one of the few places left on the planet where arcades are still a big deal.  Having spent an untold number of hours and quarters in various arcades as a kid, this is something I can get behind.

Sega Arcade in Tokyo, Japan

There are a surprising amount of arcades throughout the city — I visited the Sega arcade in Shinjuku, and yeah, I dropped a few 100 yen coins (which is about a buck Canadian).

Sega Arcade in Tokyo, Japan

They have a pretty extensive selection of games.  I played a Transformers game, a Mario Kart game (which was the highlight), and a Star Wars game where you actually open a door and step inside a cockpit where a giant wraparound screen fills your entire field of view.

Sega Arcade in Tokyo, Japan

There’s a special kind of energy you get from being in an arcade surrounded by so many games; it’s magical.  I’m glad that they still exist somewhere.

Sega Arcade in Tokyo, Japan

I had a hell of a time getting from Narita airport to my Airbnb in Tokyo.  I’m not sure exactly where I went wrong — I had the stops for each of my transfers written down, and it all seemed straightforward enough.  But somehow it went horribly awry, and I found myself staring at the almost comically complex criss-crossing lines of the Tokyo metro, wondering where I even was, or where I needed to go.

I’m still not entirely sure that I understand what’s what, but I think there’s actually more than one company that runs trains in the Tokyo metro, which means not all maps will have all the lines, and that it’s possible to buy a ticket for the right destination but the wrong line.  It’s ridiculously confusing.

Ramen in Tokyo, Japan

But I did eventually get to my Airbnb, where I discovered that there’s a ramen shop just steps away — so of course I went and got a bowl of ramen, and it was like all of my worries evaporated into the ether.

Ramen in Tokyo, Japan

Ordering couldn’t have been easier — there’s a machine by the door, and you just pick what you want, insert your money, and you get a ticket that you hand to the guy behind the counter.  You sit at the bar, and a few minutes later, you’re handed a steaming bowl of noodlely, soupy goodness.

Ramen in Tokyo, Japan

It was amazing.  The noodles were chewy and perfect, and the broth had an amazing richness and a downright impressive depth of flavour.  It was so good that I temporarily forgot how hot it was and wound up burning my tongue pretty badly.  Totally worth it.

Plus, though I’ve never quite understood the point of the nori sheets in ramen (other than as a decoration), these ones were heartier and more flavourful than what they serve at home, and actually complemented the ramen quite well.

I was at the Gukje Market in Busan, a huge street market that sells, among many other things, a variety of street food.  Nothing was particularly catching my eye until I saw a restaurant on the outskirts of the market serving up some seriously delicious-looking fried chicken.  Korean fried chicken (or, confusingly, KFC for short.  I was on a food forum once, and someone was asking where the best KFC could be found in Toronto, and I was thinking “uh… at… KFC…?” until I realized he was talking about Korean fried chicken) is kind of a big deal.  So I figured I’d check it out.

By the time I realized that this place only served enormous plates of fried chicken meant to be shared among multiple people, I was already sitting at a table and felt like I was committed, so I just went for it and got the original/spicy combo plate.  I ordered a beer, too, because if you’re going to eat a sharing plate of fried chicken by yourself, you may as well be drinking a beer.

Gukje Market in Busan, South Korea

And yeah, as I suspected, it was a ridiculous amount of fried chicken for one person.  I did my best — I ate most of the spicy chicken, and made a small dent in the original.  The rest I brought back to the hotel to eat later.

Sadly, though, it wasn’t the fried chicken perfection I was hoping for.  It was fine — it particular, the sauce on the spicy chicken was sweet, spicy, garlicky, and delicious — but it was all white meat with a few wings thrown in, and it was overcooked and dry.

Gukje Market in Busan, South Korea

It’s also cut in that typically Asian style of chopping up chicken into small, ostensibly bite-sized pieces of meat that aren’t actually bite-sized, because if you try to eat them in one bite there’s a very good chance you’re going to end up crunching down on some configuration of bones and/or cartilage.  But it’s almost impossible to tell what’s what when it’s battered and fried like this, so you just have to take tentative little bites until you figure out what’s going on inside of each piece, and then try to navigate around tiny little bone shards and cartilage fragments.

Sorry, everyone in Asia, but the way you cut up chicken is absurd.  Either give me deboned bite-sized chunks, or give me full pieces that I know what to do with.  There is no third option.

Commemorating the many soldiers from throughout the world who gave their lives during the Korean War, the UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan is actually the only United Nations cemetery in the world.

The UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea

It’s an eerie place to wander around (the fact that I only saw about three or four other people while I was there added to this feeling).   I’ve been to other graveyards, but there was something about this one that was particularly grim, and oddly moving.  There are over 2300 graves here, mostly for young men who were barely old enough to buy a drink.

The UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea

On my way to the cemetery, an old man in a park stopped me and asked me where I was from.  When I told him Canada, he thanked me for Canada’s contributions to the war, and it’s like, jeez, don’t thank me.  If I had been alive in the ’50s, there’s no way I would have fought in that war.  There was no draft for that one in Canada, but if there were, I can pretty much guarantee you I would have dodged it.  No thanks.

The UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea

But Canada is one of the bigger presences in this cemetery, with hundreds of graves and even a statue to commemorate its soldiers.

And there was someone else at the cemetery who, I’m sure, would have joined me in my hypothetical draft-dodging.  This guy:

The UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea

Me and cats — lookin’ out for number one.

A bowl of cold noodles that are so chewy you have to cut through them with scissors before you can eat them probably doesn’t sound all that compelling to you.  You’re just going to have to trust me: they’re super delicious.

What about dumplings?  Yeah, everyone likes dumplings.

Well, you can get both — and that’s about it — at Choryang Milmyeon, a popular restaurant in Busan.

Choryang Milmyeon in Busan, South Korea

It’s traditional-style seating here, which means you’ll have to take off your shoes and sit cross-legged at a low table.

Ordering was accomplished via the usual arrangement of pointing and nodding; easy enough since they only serve noodles and dumplings, and I got both.

Choryang Milmyeon in Busan, South Korea

As soon as the dumplings came I knew that I had over-ordered.  An order comes with six tennis-ball-sized dumplings that were filled with pork (I think), and that were seriously delicious (I’m much more confident about that).

Then came the noodles.  This is a Korean dish called jjolmyeon that’s made with a special type of noodle that’s about a hundred times chewier than the norm.

It comes looking like this:

Choryang Milmyeon in Busan, South Korea

Then you take the scissors to them and mix them up, and they wind up like this:

Choryang Milmyeon in Busan, South Korea

It’s so good.  The intense chewiness of the noodles is fun to eat, and the flavour of the spicy, slightly sweet sauce is only amplified by the temperature.

It was all really, really good, though sharing the dumplings is advised; I finished everything and I was profoundly, uncomfortably full.  Totally worth it, though.