Umami: the fifth taste

Date: 27 May

Location: 4th floor, Shibuya Station, Tokyo, waiting for the Narita Express train. Would love to sit down on my backpack but fear the silent censure of the locals.

Notable sightings: cold coffee in a can that doesn’t taste horrid, the coffee sweats from too many coffees in a can, udon noodles made by me, possibly the greatest meal of my life (alas, not the aforementioned noodles).

This morning I treated myself to a strategic pre-flight buffet brunch on the 25th floor of the hotel. In an effort to stave off hunger until my 4pm flight, I proceeded to eat and drink my way through the salad bar, eggs two ways, a Danish of uncertain flavour, several glasses of ‘avocado and pineapple juice’, a nourishing bowl of yogurt and too much coffee. This was a truly fitting close out to my brief time in Tokyo: it’s been a smorgasbord for the senses, especially taste. Actually, it’s really been all about the food.

Seeing anything more than a glimmer of Tokyo in a few days is, obviously, impossible. So, lying on the daybed back at Kathmandu Guest House, I furiously googled and let my loyal friend tell me what to do in 48 hours in Tokyo. I was incredibly receptive to the No. 1 suggested activity (Roppongi pub crawl!) but, unfortunately, these don’t run on Sunday or Monday nights (oh, right, people have jobs). No. 2 was a cooking class with Buddha Bellies. After a flurry of emails were exchanged, owner Ayuko very kindly squeezed me into Monday’s udon noodle class and, after braving a whole new train network, I found myself in a tiny private library in Jimbocho with a pair of American engineers on holiday, a French lady whose husband was off learning Aikido and a couple from New York, facing down a set of alien ingredients.

Ayuko, a Shakespeare major turned cooking-class operator, took us through making udon noodles from scratch. The traditional way. Which involved stamping on the dough with our bare feet. Certainly one way to break the ice. As the dough settled we prepared chicken teriyaki, something of which I’m not a huge fan. However, that’s like saying you don’t like sushi after visiting a Melbourne Sushi Sushi chain store at 2pm after the lunch rush when only the saddest dregs remain. This chicken teriyaki (‘teri-‘ meaning glazed/mirror, and ‘-yaki‘ meaning grilled) was in a whole different class to anything Chicken Tonight has to offer and it was delicious.

Beer and sake were on offer and I think all of us beer drinkers regretted our choice the instant the sake was served: the glass sat in a little box and when Ayuko poured she allowed the liquid to overflow into the box — a beautiful little ritual that celebrates abundance.

Finally, we shredded our udon dough into thin noodles and devoured them cold with spring onions, ginger, tempura bits, dipping sauce and — for the courageous — wasabi. Definitely a summer meal I’ll try to emulate at home.

Buzzing from the discovery of my cooking mastery (and, possibly, the Asahi) I set out on a mission to strategically update my wardrobe from Nepali-backpacker-style (the central tenets of which are beaded maxi skirts, printed harem pants that don’t show the dirt, cheap silk scarves, henna, anklets, shawls) to USA-road tripper style. It was cathartic in the extreme to donate a small pile of torn maxi skirts and Ganges/jungle/sweat-stained tees and replace them with the short shorts, sandals and singlets that H&M tells me are this season’s ‘must haves’, and a new pair of coffee-coloured Chuck Taylors.

Last night I stalked Japanese food blogs for reccomended places to eat in Shibuya and then went on the scavenge for a tiny little place lauded by locals. Much to my surprise, I found it. In mild but pleasant shock, I settled in at the counter next to the open kitchen and perused the menu. At least, I tried to: it was hand caligraphed in Japanese. Half an hour later, between me, Google, a notepad and pen and the sole waiter with some English we managed to establish (a) that I eat everything (b) how much I wanted to spend and (c) that I would like a Kirin. I then watched as the chefs prepared the most visually appealing and possibly the most delicious meal of my gastronomical life to date.

Now it’s time to get back on board the space-age Narita Express and let it gracefully whisk me to the airport for a Trans-Pacific flight to a whole new culture shock.

Sayonara Japan. I shall miss you, and you shall miss my credit card.



Making udon: the foot method.

My beautiful, beautiful noodles.

Snack time. I don’t know what it was that I drank, but it worked.

Ah yes, so I it’d turn left at the…?

I’ll have…the second squiggly thing. (Dougenzaka Kanamori, Shibuya)

Soon to be dinner (Dougenzaka Kanamori, Shibuya)

Tada! (Dougenzaka Kanamori, Shibuya)

Rainy evening in Shibuya.


Beautiful Tokyo.



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