(Trivium "Down From The Sky" live at Loud Park)
Toe Kyo Whoa Oh. Shee.
I am a planner. I probably will get on your nerves if you're ever on a trip with me. I applaud my band mates and my wife for being such good sports when being down for my timings of things. We had the Loud Park show at night… but I planned out with Paolo the night before that we really ought to get into town for a badass Japanese breakfast before heading to the show. It was my goal after all to get as much food into my body in Japan as possible before flying back to the US of A.
We took the trek back into roughly what was the area of the first Izakaya spot we hit for first dinner the night previous, and began the wander.
It's tricky… I can't exactly say that a wander into just any food spot even in culinary capitols will yield amazing food - you have to develop this extra sense to notice if a restaurant or food spot will have just what you need. Most things in Japan are not in English; most things in Japan are pretty inexplicable by definition to describe exactly what you're getting in to… If you can handle the latter, and you have a sharp sense of what will deliver good food - you will survive on the road as a food-freak.
I say some of the tips that come instantly to mind would be:
- If the restaurant has other features listed other than food… things like: "Great Function/Meeting Rooms," "Live Bands - Nightly!" "24 Games on 24 TVs," or it's multiple storied, or has a massive menu with 50-200 different items - those are some things to stay away from. Although I feel TVs playing sports in a New American spot are a soul-crush… in middle America, they are to be expected. In Britain though - if you think you found a delightful pub adorning the "noun and noun" title and you see a little "Wetherspoons" logo - it's a chain, go somewhere else.
- If the spot is totally empty when other spots around it are busy - probably a bad spot.
- Packed with tourists? Stay the fuck out. Novelty restaurant? "Oldest," "First," "Charmingest" - shitty-est.
- Chain or familiar smiling cartoon-mascot-restaurant from the States whilst in another country? You're lame if you go there when you're somewhere awesome. Live a little, break out of the norm.
We wandered into a tiny alley - pretty Harry Potter-esque in it's shifting widths and heights, old stone walkway… the smell of grilling meat and hot soups wafting out in delicious clouds of euphoria. There were these Japanese women calling you in to come to their spot (that's a hard thing to refuse with me… they all remind me of my Mom - it usually makes me feel bad if I don't stop in and gorge); there were little temporary warehouse-storage container-sized pop up shops that would open up serving just one dish.
We saw what we needed. It resided at a tiny corner in the claustrophobic alley-way, two Japanese men dressed in white, running this completely packed little stall. The floors of their work-space were soaked in searing-hot liquid, the chefs wearing rubber flood-boots; one chef working the tempura station, one working the udon station. The tempura cakes were ultra-delicate cakes of mashed together, battered vegetables; the udon was hand made and boiled - giving off a beautiful noodle wave of smell.
Business men sat at the stools that surrounded the corner food spot - quickly, efficiently, noisily sucking down their noodles. Keep it mind, it is polite and traditional to suck noodles in with a "sluuuurrrrppp". It's actually pretty fun once you get the hang of it. Patrons sucked that super heated udon down quick… me and Paolo and Corey ordered what everyone else was getting - and man were we in for a treat.
The udon here is semi-similar to ramen, only thicker and non-coiling. It came in a ridiculously (temperature hot) hot broth that had a minor sweetness to it - reminiscent of normal udon broth. The veggie tempura cake had all the good stuff packed inside; then they'd crack a fresh egg with into the side of your soup. Japan loves it's raw eggs dropped into things by the way. I gotta say - this little spot was one of the best things I have ever eaten in Japan.
Since it was a hot summer day in Japan, and the soup was so darn hot - I removed my over shirt, revealing my tattoos… the chefs all said something in Japanese, wide-eyed, and kind of staggered back. I apologized in Japanese and smiled - they were alright after that. Tattoos are still pretty taboo in Japan - which is unfortunate, because it initially began as a revered art form… then when the Yakuza adorned themselves in it - it got the bad-rap. Japan is one of the only places in the world that I really try to respect all their customs and peculiarities - but man was that soup hot…
Another Matcha Frapp from Starbucks was guzzled down… then we headed to hotel and to the festival site.
Loud Park had roughly 10-15,000 of Japan's finest heavy music fans. Our show was ballistic… our signing had people rushing through fences and barricades… it was a damn fine night. We were able to catch up with many of our metal-band friends from around the globe, a ton of our Japanese friends (like the fine folks from the legendary Rock Rock Bar Osaka and Chopstick Tattoo Osaka) - we had some beers and headed back for a bite before the after party.
Rock Rock bar is an institution in the music world of Japan. If you tour Japan - you know about the spot. It's the size of maybe a 1 bedroom apartment, it's in Osaka - the people there treat musicians like family. Yoko and Seiji are some great friends of ours from there… Yasuo is a good buddy from Chopstick Tattoo (very close proximity to Rock Rock). We have had way too many late nights there, sometimes popping into the greasy-spoon Chinese diner across the street for 5 dollar, twenty dumpling plates and fried rice and cheap beer.
Sadly… Osaka wasn't close enough that night - thankfully - our partners in binge-drinking all commandeered a local Rock bar and we all were planning on filtering in once the fest wrapped up.
A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned that "yes, there is bad food in good places." My band was starving… as was I - but I wanted to do a bit more research before going just anywhere. My band mates' impatience gave us one of the worst meals I've had in Japan.
It was a random sushi spot (I find sushi hard to find in Japan) and man did it suck. Service sucked, prices sucked, food sucked. We wasted a lot of time and money and valuable stomach-real-estate on that spot. By that point, we were back with band and Koji and Tommie - when we left unsatisfied, Koji and I were determined… "Fuck it. We're full of shit food - let's get something good anyway." Best decision of the night.
Some of the group went to the after party, and the true Japanese people went for ramen at what looked like an amazing spot. There is no ramen spot in the States like Japan. I've done all the "best" ramen places at some of our "best" cities. Pales in comparison. This place was again, testament to the fact that Japan is the best food spot in the universe.
Humble, tiny, quick ramen-joint. You pick your order out of a vending machine once you walk through the automatic-sliding door… a couple bucks gets you a ticket - you pass it to the cooks and you are delivered your meal. Miso ramen is always the way to go when talking Ramen or Miso Ramen. Miso ramen has all that thick, viscous, salty, fermenty miso paste you'd have in miso soup… but it's your broth. The miso ramen here came with bean sprouts, scallions, an egg, pork, and a very few other bits - mother fuckin' fantastic. You just can't beat ramen in Japan… the gyoza? Ha! Amazing. Miso ya hachiroshoten - suki desu.
Gyoza, ramen, fried rice - there are a few of the keys to making my heart pump hot-blood into my erect-stomach.
Our souls were replenished from the failure-sushi, and our stomachs had a nice landing pad for the booze-skulling that soon followed. Did I say I love Japan yet?
(to be continued…)