Tuesday night, feeling the weight of the time difference from our Monday evening arrival, we decided to meander through our quiet Tokyo neighborhood, Setagaya, for a cozy, local restaurant.
I am called by these small spaces, rich wood throughout, white cloth with Japanese lettering hanging from the doors, red paper lights moving softly in the hot, humid breeze. We found just that and entered. I had ramen on the brain. The menus came, completely in Japanese lettering. We are…um…in Japan, after all.
The question was how to order? 1st approach, does anyone speak English? No. 2nd approach, saying “ramen”…the chef shook his head and we believe looked slightly offended. 3rd approach, quickly translating “bring us the chefs recommendations” on my iPhone using Jibbigo. Alas, no wifi.
I was getting dubious looks from my family, who I led into this pickle, and the server and chef stood there, looking at me, awaiting an order. Then I remembered a few plate pictures at the entry way, motioned to the server to follow me and desperately pointed to four items. At one, the chef, who had joined us on the sidewalk, put his hand on his chest and said something that sounded much to me like “liver.” I made a new pick.
When I returned to the table, Kyle asked “what did you order?” I reported proudly that I’d ordered fish, dumplings, tofu, and a vegetable cake. When the dishes came, I discovered I was 1 for 4.
We received the fish, yes, but we also feasted on panko encrusted chicken, an omelette, and a patty of, how should I put it, innards. We devoured three of the dishes and nibbled and poked at the fourth.
The atmosphere was wonderful, the server and chef so gracious. The kids impressed me with their willingness to eat unidentifiable foods. This to me frames up exactly why I wanted to travel…to allow our family unit to truly soak in cultural experiences and manage through them, however clumsily.