Last week I was lucky enough to spend four days in New York on the way home from visiting relatives in Canada. What a crazy city. I am used to busy, I travel to Tokyo a bit, but this was different. Manhattan is so condensed and the buildings are so tall, it was a little claustrophobic. But, so amazing and very fun. I have never visited a city before so full of recognisable places. It is a really bizarre feeling to be a stranger, in a place you have never been, but to feel so familiar with your surrounds.
We planned our trip at very short notice, only three weeks before we left, and one of the first things Miss Mya realised is that there are three Ichiran Ramen restaurants in Manhattan. This lead me to research sake options and we happily found a few occasions, some planned, some incidental, to feed our need for Japanese. All were excellent and I am envious of the options available in New York for lovers of Japanese food, culture and sake…. oh, and art.
Ichiran Ramen is our favourite ramen restaurant in Japan. For those who followed our last trip, you will remember we ate Ichiran several times… Opened in Fukuoka in 1960, Ichiran has 65 locations all over Japan, one in Hong Kong, one in Teipei and now three in New York. The Brooklyn store has been open since 2016. We were nervous about going. Could it possibly live up to the expectation? We visited the Times Square location and we were blown away. It was precisely as it is in Japan. The single booths, the flavour of the broth, the menu and the drinks were exactly the same. The only thing that was not quite as good as it is in Japan was the charshu pork. It was slightly chewier and less fatty. It was excellent, none the less. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned some things which previously we have only seen in Japanese, so didn’t fully comprehend. You can find a link to Ichiran USA here.
Our second destination was purely by luck. We had diverted from our path to visit the New York City library, which was amazing, and then upon looking for somewhere to eat, Super Sake Boy recalled that there was a Kinokuniya bookstore located near Bryant Park. Kinokuniya is an excellent bookstore, selling many books about Japanese culture, history, cooking, manga, as well as books about New York, all other genres available in most bookstores and Japanese gifts, products, stationery, pop culture items and travel books. The store in Shinjuku is awesome (it is the original store, opened in 1927). This store was equally as impressive and tempting. If I had not collected so many heavy books in Canada, I would have gone wild. If you are looking for an excellent book, Kinokuniya have 14 stores in the US, many throughout Asia, one in Dubai and one in Sydney, Australia. You can find the link to Kinokuniya USA here.
Our third destination was very planned. In fact it was the place in New York I most wanted to go to. The Met. The Metropolitan Museum of Art at 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York has been on my wish list forever. An ex art and art history student, all the way through school and uni, I have hankered to visit this place. The five hours we had here was seriously not even a fraction of the time I could have spent, but it has whet my appetite for more, and I will return. Most certainly The Met is the most amazing museum I have ever been in and the amount of art and artefacts is mind-blowing. As we were time poor we had a priority list. Super Sake Boy had long ago informed me that the best collection of swords (katana) and samurai armour he had seen was not in Japan. Being a very big fan of all things Sengoku and Edo period samurai related, these rooms at The Met were not negotiable and I was not disappointed. You can link to the The Met website here.
Our fourth destination was also well planned out, and after 10 days in Canada without a sake shop insight, Super Sake Boy was frothing at the bit to get to this little hidden treasure. In a basement on the lower East Side is a very “Tokyo” feel bar called Sake Bar Decibel. We arrived (having dropped the girls at a Broadway show) with little time to spare and found a queue waiting to go in, on a Tuesday night. Sake Bar Decibel opened in 1993 and it has a wonderful sake list, a great vibe and a real Japan x New York look. Funky, grungy and cute, all at the same time. We were very excited to spot a Tamagawa sake brewed by the infamous Philip Harper. It ticked all our boxes… Tamagawa Red Label Yamahai Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu… and at 21% ABV it packed a decent punch. The other sake destination that we had hoped to get to in NYC, Brooklyn Kura, was just too far from Midtown to make it work, given our time constraint. However, Sake Bar Decibel had their Junmai Ginjo opened and pouring so we ordered a small one on the side. Not being au fait with Imperial measurements, we ordered a 5oz of the Brooklyn Kura, which was a very healthy serve, and a 16oz of the Tamagawa. Firstly, we were kind of led by price, and drinks are much cheaper in New York than they are in Melbourne, and secondly we had only 55 minutes to down said amount of sake, and it was high in alcohol volume… we were slightly challenged but we pulled through in the end and managed to imbue all the sake we had ordered and made it back to Broadway, in a crazy NYC taxi, just in time. Read more about Sake Bar Decibel on their website here.
Our final New York Japanese experience was totally spur of the moment, and insider information was required to know about this place. While in New York we stayed with my very beautiful friend Rachel, who has lived in New York for 24 years, but lived in Osaka before that. We were talking about good places to eat and she asked the girls if they liked onigiri. Of course we all love onigiri and we were eager to hear more. Katagiri is a Japanese supermarket and onigiri store. It is located right across the road from Grand Central Station and is the oldest Japanese supermarket in America. Opening in 1907, Katagiri seriously blew us away. It was like walking into the best kombini ever!!!! They had selections of flavours of things I had never seen, more selection than Japan. Every flavour of every product you could imagine. Rachel had said the onigiri at Katagiri is better than the onigiri in Japan. She was on the money. Made freshly, and all day, the choice was awesome. We all decided on charshu pork (big fans) and it was so delicious. The girls also indulged in some daifuku and I had a delicious yuzu soda. Katagiri also has another store and you can read about their delivery service (jealous) and onigiri and Kobe beef selection here.
Our very short, but jam-packed adventure gave me a new appreciation of many things. The noise of beeping taxis and sirens was overwhelming, and in the plane on the way home we watched Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, an excellent movie about 9/11. The realisation while I was watching the movie of what the level of noise, amid the chaos, with firetrucks and police and ambulance, all of which have very different and incredibly loud sirens, was profound. A moment in time etched into the minds forever of all that witnessed it, I can only imagine the humidity trapped between the buildings and the concrete, mixing with the falling ash and the deafening wailing of a million sirens. A tragic and defining moment in history. New York is an amazing place. There were aspects I loved, the architecture, the scale of everything and, of course Central Park. The smell, the steamy humidity coming up out of the sidewalk, the rubbish, the dirt and the ever present smell of marijuana, although initially off-putting, in hindsight, adds to the rare and bizarre charm of the place. I will definitely be back. And I am sure I can find a slice of Japan almost anywhere…..