My first night in Japan, I didn't really get a chance to eat much except onigiri (rice triangles filled with a selection of fishes and wrapped in nori; see picture at left) from the convenience stores that are everywhere. They're cheap (100 yen), delicious, and everything about them is oh-so Japanese. Not only are the ingredients classic, but they come in an ingenious packaging that one could only expect from Japan. Basically, the dry, crackling nori needs to be kept separate from the moist rice until it's time to eat. The package accomplishes that perfectly: you pull a tab that splits the package on the outside, then pull apart two corners to remove the plastic on the inside. And BAM!, you've got yourself a Japanese sandwich. The really fun part about these is that I can never tell what's going to be inside. I'm lucky if there's a picture, but there almost never is. Often, there will be funky stuff inside involving roe or some sort of stringy, over-salted, indistinguishable meat.
It wasn't until the next day that I was able to take any time to find some great food. In the morning, near my new house, I discovered a French bakery, a very common sight all around Tokyo. All of the bakeries seem to do something unique with their breads. This one had these egg-toast things. The toast was thick, fresh, and delicious; the egg on top was cooked perfectly to just-sticking-together-lava consistency; and there was a sour, lemony cream between the two that tasted familiar but whose name escapes me at the moment. The result was one of the single most delicious things I've ever eaten for breakfast... for 150 yen. The sign below it reads, "eggu tosuto"... whatever that means.
At the same bakery, I found two things that I never expected to see outside of Brazil: pão de queijo and acerola juice. Pão de queijo is a tasty little ball of soft, gooey bread, baked with plenty of cheese mixed in. Biting into one, I felt a little bit of saudade (look it up) for Brazil, but mainly noticed how little cheese was in it. Acerola is the cherry's tropical, exotic cousin (she's off-limits, Cherry): a little sour, it's packed with flavor. I had to take a picture of the acerola juice box; it's another great example of Japanese packaging. There's nothing special about how the package works, but the color and format is really pleasing to the eye. I love the simplicity.
It wasn't until later that day that I was able to sit down to a real meal: ramen. I've loved ramen since Maruchan, and didn't even know that anything except the stove-top stuff existed until relatively recently. This bowl of ramen was just beautiful. I ordered the chashumen, which featured these thin, delicate slices of very fatty pork; it's basically like Japanese bacon. I think you can see my love for this bowl of ramen in how well the picture came out - and the fact that I wasn't able to snap a picture before digging in. The way the pork slices hung over the bowl (they originally circumnavigated the whole thing) was one of the most appetizing things I've ever seen. I was provided with red chili powder to sprinkle on top, which you can see dusting the pork.
The little ramen shop couldn't hold more than ten people, and inside the tiny space was a cacophony of slurping sounds. Slurping is something I still haven't gotten the hang of: I'm always afraid I'm going to somehow inhale my noodles. I would have to go to the doctor, complaining of noodles in the lungs, and I'm sure he'd have some cheesy quip ready for me. ("You really just inhale your food, don't you Noodlebrain?") I gave it a try anyway, and after one successful slurp, was unable to reproduce it. What I didn't slurp ended up in other places, and I was forced to walk much of the day with grease spots speckling my shirt. Seeing as I only paid 700 yen for the best ramen of my life, I was still able to wear a smile along with the broth.