Japan is joyous to visit. Tokyo was always a 2 hour layover for us to and fro flights to Manila. This trip, we stayed longer than a layover and took a few days vacation. Tokyo was terrific! Why had we never done this before, we asked ourselves?
The castella cake is a Japanese sponge cake, of Portuguese origin. Our family enjoyed its light, yet creamy texture. The castella cake is cut in tiny squares, mildly sweetened by honey, wholesome and takes care of the sweet cravings without the guilt.
But let me tell you about Tokyo,Japan. You can do Japan in 4 days like we did. Stay at a business hotel like Hotel Monterrey Ginza, right in the cosmopolitan Ginza district, the counterpart of our Manhattan area. The hotel was walking distance to subway transport systems, shopping districts, major stores and restaurants. This was a terrific hotel recommendation by my best friend, Veng, a frequent business traveler to Japan.
Japan is a beautiful, clean country, with a marvelous culture, the most polite, well-disciplined people in the world. Did I mention how clean the country is? Yes, Tokyo is one of the cleanest cosmopolitan cities in the world!
Food was marvelous everywhere we went. Whether it was a budget meal, street food, a medium-priced lunch or a fancy dinner, the Japanese expertly and artistically crafted and packaged food like it was a masterpiece. Everything was a culinary work of art. Every bite was outstanding!
If you don’t speak any Nippongo, the Japanese language, fear not. Japanese folk are so polite and aim to please. They try to be helpful. When we asked for directions, we were always greeted with a courteous bow, a polite smile and given all the help needed.
I followed the advice of my good friend Nonna Nanagas, of the blog A Pork In the Road. She’s the President & CEO of one of the world’s top ad agencies and regular business traveler to Japan. She shared these:
- Go to Akihabara – for the newest, latest in electronic gadgets, toys, anime and manga only found in Japan. Definitely a geek’s haven.
- Ginza St. – this was where all the high end shopping was. Major department stores are all here. Uniqlo alone, had 8 immense floors of the most hip fashions. Go down to the basement of these big department stores, like “Matsuzakaya” where the food stalls are. There are lots of free tastings, especially the early part of day. Drool over the artsy food styling and beautiful packaging.
- Tsukiji Market – a must for foodies! The inner market is closed to visitors till 9:30 AM, but later you can go in and wander through a food paradise. This is the best place to have a sushi breakfast at affordable prices. Lots of kitchen gadgets and finds, too!
- Shinjuku is a busy, commercial part of Tokyo where all the big department stores are like Takashimaya, Isetann, Tokyu Hands. The subway station is the biggest and busiest.
- Shibuya is the youth center of Tokyo. Lots of energy, especially at night.
- Mt. Fuji is a day trip in itself. Find out about bus tours via your hotel concierge. The bus takes you up to the 5th station (or mid level) and you can see the clouds below you. Heavenly!
- Asakusa is another day trip for a taste of old Tokyo. The street called Nakamise dori leads to the main temple and is lined with stalls selling crafts and snacks.
Our grown sons who traveled with us, took off on their own for day trips to visit other cities like Shibuya, Ebisu,Harajuku, the fashion capital of the world, and Roppongi, a wealthy enclave of the best shops, restaurants. They spent an average of $4.00 or approximately 300 Japanese Yen per person for subway trips per day. Subway was clean, quick, efficient and easy to figure out. And guess what, nobody pushed or shoved. The Japanese politely line up and wait their turn. Yes, even during rush hour or a torrential downpour.
Yes, Tokyo we were smitten. We’ll definitely be back. We loved the splendid sights, the city by day or night, the clean city and the beauty of your people. Best of all, the food was outstanding. We’ll be back. Tokyo, take our word for it!
*Travel tip: Fall fares offer the best off season rates. United Airlines flew us on a 13 hour nonstop flight from Newark to Narita airport. Narita airport is 2 hours away from Tokyo by car, in moderate afternoon traffic. Be mindful of this distance if you have appointments to catch and heavy luggage to haul around.
Meanwhile, try baking this delightful Japanese sponge cake. You’ll be amazed at how light yet magnificent it can be!
Castella Japanese Sponge Cake
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup hot milk
- 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
- 5 egg whites
- 1/4 cup for the egg whites granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon for topping cake honey
- 1/4 cup for adding to hot milk honey
- Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Line the bottom of an 8 X 12 inch baking pan with parchment paper.
- Combine the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl, that is placed atop another bowl filled with hot water. Using a hand held mixer, beat the egg yolks until very thick, about 5 minutes.
- Combine the hot milk and 1/4 cup honey in another bowl. Lower the speed of the mixer and slowly add the milk and honey to the egg yolk mixture.
- Sift the flour over the egg yolk mixture and fold in thoroughly.
- Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl on medium speed until the bubbles are fine and the whisk forms a pattern. Add the sugar gradually and continue to beat until thick and glossy.
- Fold about one third of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining egg whites gently but thoroughly.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. The center of the cake should spring back when lightly touched. Remove the cake from the oven and let stand for a few minutes.
- Brush the top of the cake with a tablespoon of honey thinned with a teaspoon of warm water.
- While still warm, remove the cake carefully from the pan and put it inside a large plastic bag until it cools. The trapped heat in the bag will cause a little condensation to form which will keep the cake moist.
- Slice the cake into even 2-inch squares or rectangles to serve. Serve the Castella slices unadorned, as is the tradition, with a cup of tea.
- Disclosure: I was not paid to mention any brands or retail stores in this blog post. The currency rate for transportation fares cited in this post were based on foreign exchange rates the week we were in Tokyo, Japan (Sept. 19, 2012). Check the foreign exchange markets at the time you make a trip for correct rates.
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