Operation ‘Dinner Out’

November 18, 2006

Yes, taking my inspiration from ‘Spy Game‘ and doing my best to look something like either Robert Redford or Brad Pitt (watch out ladies!), I went out hunting for an authentic Japanese dining experience, along with my friend from Malaysia’s Bank Negara, Chin Yi Sheng.

We ended up in Shimbashi, which is not far from where we change trains when commuting to and from school. Shimbashi has quite a lot of nightlife, with small eateries situated next to very noisy pubs and other places of relaxation for harassed Japanese ‘sarary men’. Neon lights, sandwich boards and men in suits everywhere. Most of these places are situated next to the quite large JR Shimbashi station, meaning that even around midnight on a school night there is quite a lot of traffic. What am I saying – this is Tokyo, not Civic!!

Anyway, Chin and I settled on a small ‘hole in the wall’ type operation which mainly sells noodles made from buckwheat flour and called ‘soba’:

Soba shop

You can see the chef inside, doing his soba thing. You will also notice the board outside, which lists the types of meals that you can get, and also shows pictures of some of them. This is unusual for a Japanese restaurant. Often you will find displayed in a restaurant’s windows, not pictures, but 3-D plastic replicas of the food itself, leaving the customer in little doubt as to what she is buying.

Anyway, I settled on a combination meal: a bowl of soba and a plate of ‘curry rice’ (pronounced here as ‘car rare rye sue’, with the ‘r’s sometimes sounding like ‘l’s). Chin settled on a bowl of soba with some sort of vegetable and prawn thing fried in tempura. Both dishes cost around 500 yen, or $5.50 in bunyip currency.

So, having chosen our meals, we went to the ticketing machine to pay.

Soba ticket machine

Having chosen your meal, you put your money in, press the number of the meal that you want, and out comes a ticket. You then take your ticket inside to the soba man, who reads it and in no time prepares your meal. And, voila:

Soba meal

The soba is served in a light, clear soup, with sliced spring onions and crushed tempura batter sprinkled on top. The curry is mainly gravy, I think there was a solitary little chunk of beef in there. But I really enjoyed it! For a drink, there is a self-service cold-water operation near the counter where you pick up your meal.

There are many of these places in Tokyo. They are quite small, and often have a combination of a few seats and a standing area, where people place their trays on chest-high shelves and munch away.

One notable thing about eating here is seeing how quickly the Japs put away their meals. Often eating alone, they’re in, and three to five minutes later they’re gone. The whole operation – from ordering via the ticket machine, to having your food served in ten seconds, to tucking it away in a few minutes and heading off to wherever – is completely efficient. It puts McDonalds to shame – fast food, eh? I’ll show you fast food.

But I suppose it’s what you would expect of the people that brought you the Toyota Production System.

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