A memorable meal on vacation doesn’t have to break the bank and it doesn’t have to be gourmet or even in a nice restaurant. It might be a simple meal in a non-descript location, yet it will stay with you long after the trip is over. For me, this meal was in the Asakusa Metro in Japan.
I might have walked by. I might have chosen another exit of the Metro and carried on into Asakusa. But that morning, upon passing this stand just outside the turnstiles, I stopped. Part vending machine, part short order cook, the counter restaurant was a combination I’d never seen before.
There were no chairs, only a counter, and the whole location was in a 10’ x 10’ area. Food photos lined the wall, correlating to the appropriate button on the ticket machine and the chef waited just behind the counter. There was no question about it – we were eating here.
My husband and I ordered two bowls as the vending machine emitted tickets which we handed to the chef behind the counter. Each bowl cost 370 yen which translated to roughly $4.
The process was brilliant and I wondered why we didn’t have this setup back in the States. The chef never has to handle money – bonus points for cleanliness – and there’s never any language confusion about what is ordered, as he has the ticket in front of him.
Within minutes, I had a bowl of steaming broth filled with thick udon noodles, greens and tempura flakes. The smell was intoxicating. I gave a thumbs-up sign to my husband, giddy with excitement, and dove in.
As soon as the mixture hit my tongue, I knew I had hit the jackpot. Flavors danced on my tongue and my stomach warmed with every bite. The udon noodles were perfectly cooked, the greens a savory treat, and my favorite, the tempura flakes, maintained just the right level of crispness.
I stood with the bowl of broth in my hands, trains just yards away, yet I was enamored. I wasn’t in an actual restaurant – I wasn’t even sitting down – yet the experience of eating the meal was exhilarating. It would be the one to which I would compare all future udon noodle broths.
My enjoyment of this meal was based purely on the delicate flavors and ingredients found in every bite. There wasn’t fancy décor, polite staff, or comfy seats to mask the experience of the food – it’s hard to be enticed when still in the Metro. This experience was all about the taste. A meal without the normal bells and whistles. Well, except for maybe the sound of the Metro…