Since its opening almost a year ago, I’ve been wanting to try Mama Malouf after hearing plenty of good things about the place. This quaint Lebanese restaurant gets its name from the Alex Malouf’s (the owner) mother. The dishes take inspiration from Alex’s mother and the recipes have been developed from his experience growing up in a Lebanese home. You’ll find traditional, as well as more modern dishes on Mama Malouf’s menu, all of which are hearty and satisfying. In terms of atmosphere, you can expect a cozy, home-like feel at Mama Malouf with minimalist decor.
As I was planning my trip to Tokyo, I was told numerous times that it was a ridiculously expensive city. I ended up bringing about ¥35,000 in cash for food, drink, and whatever else I wanted to throw some dollar bills at (not including my hotel), and only had about ¥2,000 left after five days. I’m a fairly money-conscious individual, but do like to indulge every once in awhile. While there were certainly things I didn’t do while in Tokyo given my time constraints (the Robot Restaurant, for example), I left feeling like I did everything I had originally wanted to and was able to really enjoy my time here. So, if you’re wondering “how much money should I bring to Tokyo?”, keep reading for the breakdown of all my expenses over five days.
One of the great things about Tokyo is that you’re guaranteed a good meal at just about any restaurant or little shop you walk into. Heck, even the Family Mart and 7-Eleven offer great options if you’re on the go. While you could certainly eat up a storm in Tokyo without doing any research ahead of time, I’m pretty damn glad I did because I managed to have an incredible meal each of my five days in the city (as well as some great ones that just didn’t make my ‘top 5 places to eat in Tokyo’ list).
The Tsukiji Fish Market is on just about everyone’s must-do when traveling to Tokyo, and for good reason! Earlier in the year, it was rumored that the fish market would be shutting down and relocating to another area of Tokyo. Thankfully, for those that have yet to visit the market, that plan has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. Until it does close, head on over to the Tsukiji Fish Market to try an array of street snacks, eat some ridiculously fresh sushi, and explore the wholesale market.
Figuring out which area of Tokyo to stay in and then finding a hotel that doesn’t cost a fortune can be a logistical nightmare (especially when traveling over the popular sakura/cherry blossom season). After plenty of research on where to stay, I opted to pay a bit more for accommodation in a central area, as opposed to staying a bit out of the way to save some money. Shinjuku was on just about every travel guide and blog I read, so once I settled on that location it was time to choose a hotel. I narrowed it down based on price, distance from the metro, and facilities. The only hotel I found at the time to be within reason was the Shinjuku Washington Hotel Annex.
These are snippets of what I’ve experienced living in Hong Kong over the past years: from the funny to the weird, and everything in between. I’ll continue to update this post as I come across more strange and wonderful things around the city.
70. Where this anti-smoking ad is more likely to make you laugh than to quit smoking.
69. Where honesty is key.
68. Where you’ll find “Monkey Head” on a menu.
67. When monks wear “spicy” shoes on the MTR.
66. When people have too much money and too little sense, and decide to cover their Porsche in black velvet.
65. When restaurants need to specify that liquor is intoxicating, as opposed to it being..?
64. When these are the things I see on my commute to work in the morning.
63. When the Hong Kong Observatory issues a T8 (strong typhoon warning) without it even raining, and the whole city literally shuts down..
62. When precautions are taken very seriously around a work site..
61. Where people need to be reminded of proper hygiene practices.
60. When it’s 30°C outside and people are wearing a down jacket and Hawaiian shorts.
59. Where this outdoor display is meant to entice you to eat here.
58. Where the elderly take their exercising seriously.
57. Where the world’s most insane beauty products exist.
56. Where people are badass.
55. Where seeing this becomes normal.
54. Where clothes can be incredibly ironic.
53. Where you can purchase a “Mini Portable Toilet”.
52. Where you can find people sleeping at the bottom of stairwells.
51. Where soup exists for your hands.
50. Where department stores display Halloween and Christmas decorations side by side.
49. Where fashion is taken seriously.
48. Where products like this actually exist and famous soccer players actually promote them.
47. When you’re not sure what the marketing strategy is.
46. Where people own incredibly large cellphones.
45. Where you always get a good laugh out of locals wearing English shirts.
44. Where you can find a truckload of bamboo just lying on the street.
43. When fancy port-a-potty’s equipped with carpeted floors, a full length mirror, and a framed picture are rented for the Rugby Sevens.
42. Where drying your entire wardrobe along a public walkway is a thing.
41. When a notice regarding “throwing animal discharge from height” is posted in your apartment building.
40. Where the love of egg tarts is real.
39. Where you’re just not quite sure what to do in some situations (so you just take a photo instead)
38. Where you can wait for the bus in style.
37. Where you have announcements like this in the MTR:
“Please hold onto the handrails and not just look at your mobile phone.”
36. When businesses run out of the back of a van.
35. Where you can get some exercise on the side of the road.
34. Where the food safety and hygiene guidelines are questionable.
33. Where people will queue for hours on end.
32. When a water pipe bursts, construction workers are more concerned with taking a picture of the flooding street than fixing it.
31. Where advertisements sure know how to catch your attention.
30. Where DIY projects consist of sticking oven mitts to the handle bars of motorcycles.
29. Where you can buy wine by the plastic glass in the grocery store.
28. Where this is considered entertainment at a nightclub.
27. Where your choice of local grocery store is based solely upon how much its name makes you laugh.
26. Where public stretching in short shorts and no shirt is serious business.
25. When candy wrappers warn consumers that “children and elderly people should not eat absolutely.”
24. Where you can’t walk more than two blocks without seeing one of these “litter cum recyclables” bins.
23. Where you can find horse figurines, among other oddities, randomly stuck into large rocks.
22. When these are a few words of wisdom imparted on you by a local restaurant owner:
“Don’t go back to Canada. So many animal. So few people. Don’t waste your life.”
*Mr. Wong from Mr. Wong’s, Mong Kok
21. When eating pig skin is considered a delicacy.
20. When your concept of what dessert is completely flipped around.
19. When signs like this are posted outside of the washrooms at a bar.
18. Where people are really serious about Hello Kitty.
17. Where this is on display at an amusement park.
16. When this becomes a regular sight on a night out.
15. Where adults dressing the same is a thing.
14. When the smog is so thick you can no longer see half of the tallest building in your area.
13. Where embarrassment does not exist.
12. When the weather is more indecisive than I am.
11. When owning an oven is the epitome of wealth and the envy of all your friends.
10. When you can take the escalator up to the gym.
Bonus: having a McDonald’s right underneath.
9. When you can find preserved whole baby crabs in a snack bag.
8. When Groupon sells stuff like this.
7. When you climb up a mountain and have this as your view (just ignore the smog).
6. When the only way to get hot water in your flat is by turning this on.
5. Where people either fear or are obsessed with dogs.
4. When families and couples coordinate their outfits so they all match.
3. When it is 20° out and people are wearing winter jackets and boots.
2. When you’re on the MTR and see a man plucking out his facial hair with tweezers.
1. When you’re at the gym and
a) Men are wearing shorter shorts than women
b) People are wearing their work clothes
c) One in five people are talking on their cellphone
If you want to visit temples in Japan, most people will direct you to Kyoto where you’ll find plenty. However, if you’re only staying in Tokyo, you’d be missing out if you didn’t make the trip to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. Although a very popular tourist spot, I loved walking around the Sensoji Temple and the surrounding Asakusa area. You’ll see plenty of locals partaking in various Buddhist practices, try a range of snacks at one of the numerous shops, and grab a souvenir or two before you leave.
I was told to get to the Tsukiji Fish Market early (like, 5:00 am early), so that we could queue up for one of the sushi bars for breakfast. The two restaurants that were recommended to me were Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi. After doing a bit more research and reading nightmare reviews of people queuing for up to four hours for an overly priced, mediocre omakase sushi breakfast, there was no way I was going to get caught in that tourist trap. Instead, I stumbled upon a fantastic alternative, Sushi Katsura (すしかつら), just a few blocks away from the Tsukiji Fish Market. You can expect an incredibly good-valued omakase lunch at Sushi Katsura with zero queues and no 4:00 am wake-up call.
If you ask for suggestions on where to go for a fun night out in Tokyo, it’s likely that many people will tell you to head to Golden Gai in Shinjuku. This well-known area of Tokyo is famous for its nightlife. You’ll find 6 parallel alleyways with tiny bars crammed everywhere (there’s said to be over 200 bars). Many tourists come here for a bit of bar hopping (if you manage to find a seat), though there are a handful of bars that cater to a “Japanese-speaking only” crowd. While I can’t say I loved Golden Gai, I thought it was a unique experience that is worth checking out.
The Shinjuku district of Tokyo is a bustling, hectic, and very modern part of the city, however, there are a few spots only steps away from the busy main streets that offer visitors a glimpse into the old Tokyo. One such place is Memory Lane (translated from Omoide Yokocho, but also known as “Piss Alley”). Here you’ll find an assortment of tiny shops that serve up yakitori, soba noodles, and (of course) plenty of drinks. Aside from just being really cool to walk through thanks to its narrow alleyways, cramped bars with people laughing, eating, and drinking, and Japanese decor strung throughout, this is where I found the best bowl of soba noodles.