Sweets Paradise

Happy holidays, everyone! It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and if you live in America, you’re either fist fighting for TVs at Walmart or rolling on the floor and complaining about how full you are. I’m definitely part of the latter, and today I want to share a foodie experience in Japan that will make you want to curl up in a ball afterwards.

Welcome to Sweets Paradise….an all you can eat dessert buffet in Japan.

Sweets Paradise Japan, cake buffet

Sweets Paradise has a number of locations across Japan, from Shibuya and Harajuku in Tokyo to Hiroshima and Fukuoka down south. If you love dessert or anything sweet and girly, you should definitely check this place out.

Sweets Paradise Japan

Inside a Sweets Paradise….via Flickr.

Upon entry, customers buy a ticket from a small machine (similar to those at ramen shops) for around $15 a person. Dining at the buffet is limited from 70 to 90 minutes, but have no fear- this is more than enough time to stuff your face.

Sweets Paradise Japan

Behold the glory!

At the buffet, Sweets Paradise has a huge number of sweets, ranging from strawberry shortcake and tiramisu to traditional Japanese sweets such as mocha and green tea cake. There are also a number of seasonal items, such as pumpkin in the fall and Christmas cake in December. At the end of the buffet, many locations even have a chocolate fountain, and a multitude of cookies, fruits, and other treats to dip.

Sweets Paradise Japan

A selection of deliciousness

If you’re in the mood for something a bit colder, the buffet also has soft serve with every type of topping imaginable as well as a shaved ice machine. Need something to drink? There’s a coffee and espresso machine, a soda machine, and a dozen types of hot and cold tea to suit your fancy.

Sweets Paradise Japan

Tea and cappuccino

Too many sweets at once? Don’t worry- Sweets Paradise also serves a huge variety of pastas, curries, rice, pizza, soup, and salad. This way, you can keep enjoying dessert without being overwhelmed by all the sugar.

Sweets Paradise Japan

Pasta and garlic bread…nom nom nom.

Whenever a new dish is ready, the staff at Sweets Paradise ring a bell to let the customers know. “Chocolate cake is here!” they’ll shout. “Please come and enjoy.”

Sweets Paradise Japan

If you love dessert or are just looking to gorge yourself at a buffet, Sweets Paradise is for you. Come with an empty stomach, and try some Japanese desserts that you’ll be hard-pressed to find at an affordable price anywhere else. Check out their website, and look at some of the delicious sweets they have to offer! The menus are in Japanese, but I think the pictures speak for themselves…and definitely make me hungry.

What’s your favorite dessert? Thanks again for reading, and I hope you saved room for cake tonight!

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Alice in Wonderland Themed Cafe

As you’ve probably noticed in my past blog posts, food in Japan is as much about the experience and presentation as it is about taste. Today, I’m continuing this trend by visiting a themed restaurant in Shibuya, called Butou no Kuni no Arisu.

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Can you guess what it’s designed after? That’s right, Alice in Wonderland.

Although a bit pricier than your average fare, themed restaurants in Japan are extremely popular. You don’t go here just for dinner- you go for the lavishly decorated interiors, interesting shows, or just downright bizarre themes. When I was in Tokyo, I saw themed cafes for almost anything you could imagine. My friends visited one restaurant called The LockUp, where you’re handcuffed and spend your night eating and drinking in a prison cell. Other themes include ninjas, Gundam (a popular space anime), vampires, robots and more.

Down the rabbit hole! (or down the stairs into the restaurant)

Down the rabbit hole! (or down the stairs into the restaurant)

DSC_2461Butou no Kuni no Arisu, or Alice in Dancing Land, is a completely Alice in Wonderland themed café. Everything- from the décor to the wait staff and menus- relates some way to this popular children’s tale. We came early since we didn’t have a reservation and were lucky enough to be seated with a waitress who spoke English! She was very excited to practice speaking with us, as she was going to study in England in a few months.

Our first glimpse of Alice in Dancing Land

Our first glimpse of Alice in Dancing Land

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The restaurant made us feel as if we really were in Wonderland. The entire restaurant was covered in drawings from the movie, and was enchantingly mysterious. Even our waitress was themed, wearing a cute ruffled version of Alice’s iconic dress.

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DSC_2474Alice in Dancing Land serves western fare, from pasta and risotto to meatloaf and pizza. You can also indulge in a variety of creative cocktails, each with a twist that makes you feel like you just fell down the rabbit hole. We tried delicious tea, and felt like we were next to the Mad Hatter at his tea party.

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Fruity tea and a light salad- served in a tea cup!

Fruity tea and a light salad- served in a tea cup!

Creamy shrimp and spinach pasta

Creamy shrimp and spinach pasta

DSC_2485 My favorite part of the meal, however, was the dessert. We ordered the warm brownie and ice cream- it came shaped like a heart, with a cute pasty cut out of Alice on the top. And best of all? It was doused with liquor and lit on fire!

DSC_2489DSC_2491 I wish I had a chance to try more themed restaurants in Japan, as Butou no Kuni no Arisu was such a unique and fun experience. Perhaps next time I’m in Tokyo, I’ll get adventurous and see what it’s like to eat behind bars or enjoy some cannibalistic sushi.

DSC_2492 Would you like to try a themed restaurant? What kind would you like to go to?

Shibuya

Welcome to Shibuya, home of the famous Hachiko statue, Shibuya Crossing, amazing restaurants, shopping, and some of the best nightlife in Tokyo. There’s seriously something for everyone here, whether you’re looking to shop for the latest fashions or enjoy a night of drinking and karaoke with your friends.

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Shibuya is always alive with neon lights and bustling streets, no matter what time it is. It’s a huge fashion center and particularly popular with young people, which is probably why I found it so fascinating. I like to call Shibuya the New York City of Japan, and if you ever visit there on a Friday night, you’ll see why.

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 When I first got off at Shibuya Station, one of the busiest stations in Tokyo, I was immediately greeted with the mind-boggling sight of Shibuya Crossing. You’ve probably seen it in popular films and TV shows, including Lost in Translation.

Welcome to the madness that is Shibuya Crossing!

Welcome to the madness that is Shibuya Crossing!

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Shibuya Crossing is one of the busiest crosswalks in the world. Cars stop in all directions, allowing hundreds of people to scramble across the intersection. The entire area is surrounded by large TV screens, advertisements, flashing lights, and modern architecture, adding another layer to the experience. It’s absolutely stunning at night and completely overwhelming, and yet Shibuya Crossing made me feel like I was really in Japan for the first time.

If you don’t believe me about Shibuya Crossing, check out the massive crowds in the video above!

If you manage to make it through the crossing alive, Shibuya offers a huge variety of shopping, restaurants, bars, clubs, and nightlife. There are several well-known Japanese department stores in the area, including Shibuya 109, Parco, and Loft, which offer everything from high-end clothing to bento supplies.

Even in the rain, Shibuya is always alive

Even in the rain, Shibuya is always alive

Step in any street in Shibuya, and you'll find dozens of quirky shops and amazing restaurants

Step in any street in Shibuya, and you’ll find dozens of quirky shops and amazing restaurants

And if you’re feeling hungry, don’t worry! You can find everything from ramen shops and kaiten sushi to restaurants specializing in whale meat, Alice in Wonderland cafes, and even…Krispy Kreme. I can’t even get Krispy Kreme in America anymore, but it was delicious in Japan!

Behold the wonder that is Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Behold the wonder that is Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Shibuya is also a huge center for nightlife in Tokyo. As the sun goes down, thousands of people flock to the multitude of bars, karaoke centers, clubs, and even “love hotels” that this district offers. Because the last trains in Japan stop running around 12:30 am and don’t start again until 4:30 am, many young people dance or drink straight until dawn. I certainly had plenty of days where I came home during the sunrise, and I enjoyed every second of it.

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After all, no one ever remembers the nights they got plenty of sleep.

This salaryman certainly knows how to party. I found him sleeping at 3 am on the streets of Shibuya.

This salaryman certainly knows how to party. I found him sleeping at 3 am on the streets of Shibuya.

If you ever visit Tokyo, make sure you visit Shibuya at least during the day. Even if you aren’t under 30 (and I saw plenty of older salarymen out at night!), it’s still an amazing experience to see the crowds and check out what the youth of Japan are up to. Head over to the Starbucks across from the station, grab a table near the window, and watch Shibuya come to life.

(Featured photo via Gaijin Camera)

Purikura

Walk into any arcade or mall- or simply down any shopping street in Japan- and you’ll probably find flocks of teenage girls huddled around photo booth machines called purikura. It’s no surprise that teen girls love taking photos of themselves, but Japan has created a market just for that.

A typical sheet of purikura photos. And yes, that's me with the long red hair!

A typical sheet of purikura photos. And yes, that’s me with the long red hair!

Purikura, shortened for “print club” in Japanese, are definitely unique. For a few hundred yen (usually around $2-$5), you can take photo booth pictures, print them out, and send them to your mobile devices. However, the main attraction of purikura is that you can edit the photos before you save them.

I abused using the cat ear sticker for this one.

I abused using the cat ear sticker for this one.

To use a purikura machine, you simply enter your money on the outside of the booth, and then move into the studio. It’s usually equipped with a green screen to stand in front of, a shelf to put your purses down on, and a huge screen to see exactly what you look like. The purikura machine will snap several photos of you before you move to a separate editing booth.

Outside of a purikura machine

Outside of a purikura machine

My favorite arcade in Shibuya had literally a dozen purikura machines. Take your pick!

My favorite arcade in Shibuya had literally a dozen purikura machines. Take your pick!

Here’s where the real magic happens. Purikura booths are equipped with special cameras and Photoshop-like functions that automatically make your skin look perfectly airbrushed and beautiful, and even increase the size of your eyes. For us foreigners, this sometimes made us look a little alien, but luckily you can adjust these functions so you don’t look like a model version of ET.

Notice our flawless, glowing skin! I could get used to this.

Notice our flawless, glowing skin! I could get used to this.

Do you want a kawaii (cute) face, or a cool face?

Do you want a kawaii (cute) face, or a cool face?

DSC_0693From there on out, the options are endless. Purikura have options for adding fake eyelashes, blush, eyeliner, and more. You can make your legs look longer, change your hair color, or even slim your face. With purikura, it’s easy to look like a model or celebrity.

You use a touch screen and a stylus to edit purikura

You use a touch screen and a stylus to edit purikura

DSC_6110Depending on the theme of the booth (from Vogue to Japanese pop singers, like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu), users also have options to add a variety of stickers, frames, and cute backgrounds. You can add time stamps, cute messages, or even draw on the pictures themselves. I loved adding cat ears and bows to all of my pictures.

Purikura advertisement. Don't you want to look like that?

Purikura advertisement. Don’t you want to look like that?

"Girls are sensitive to cute things! That's why they are so selfish!" WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN, PURIKURA?

“Girls are sensitive to cute things! That’s why they are so selfish!” WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN, PURIKURA?

Finally, once you’re done pur-fecting your purikura, you choose a layout for your pictures and print them out. Many girls cut them up and use them as stickers on their phones, but I just enjoyed keeping them as memories.

Purikura from the one date I had in Japan. If you're reading this Hikaru, you were cute. Call me.

Purikura from the one date I had in Japan. If you’re reading this Hikaru, you’re cute. Call me.

Purikura is great for girls looking to take cute photos, friends enjoying a night out, or even couples going on a date. Do you think you’d enjoy it? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Ramen in Japan

I want to begin this post by saying that those who haven’t tried authentic Japanese ramen haven’t really lived. Now, I’m not talking about those freeze-dried noodle chunks you can find for 50 cents in the grocery store (although those can be delicious), but the savory, perfectly balanced noodles served fresh with meat and vegetables. In Tokyo alone there must be hundreds of ramen shops, all with their own unique approach and styles of ramen.

My first ramen experience in Japan, served with soup, salad and fried rice as a lunch set. It was so good, I almost cried (and I wish I was kidding about that!)

My first ramen experience in Japan, served with soup, salad and fried rice as a lunch set. It was so good, I almost cried (and I wish I was kidding about that!)

These noodles aren’t just a popular dish. Ramen is a countrywide delicacy, an art form, and a huge cultural phenomenon.

Second favorite ramen from Japan. This shop was located in Shibuya, and I ate there after class all the time.

My favorite ramen from Japan. This shop was located in Shibuya, and I ate there after class all the time.

I ate ramen at least once a week while I was in Japan, and I never got tired of it. It’s sometimes called gakusei ryori (student cuisine) due to its cheap and filling nature, but even foodies of Japan go to great lengths to grab the perfect bowl. On my way to school, I often passed a popular ramen shop called Ramen Jiro that had lines wrapping around the block at 8 am…. and the restaurant didn’t even open until 11!

Ramen Jiro has a cult-like following in Japan. It's known for its insane portion sizes, fatty broth, and heaping toppings of pork belly, garlic, and vegetables. I never got to try it, but I did go to school right near its original location in Mita!

Ramen Jiro has a cult-like following in Japan. It’s known for its insane portion sizes, fatty broth, and heaping toppings of pork belly, garlic, and vegetables. I never got to try it, but I did go to school right near its original location in Mita!

Different areas of Japan are known for different styles of ramen, each with unique broths and toppings. Sapporo style ramen, for instance, has a rich broth and is topped with corn and butter, while Tokyo style ramen has a soy and dashi (fish and seaweed stock) based broth with bamboo shoots and green onion.

Traditional Tokyo style ramen with shoyu (soy) broth

Ramen with shoyu (soy) broth

Tomato ramen from a specialty ramen shop. The tomato-based broth was filled with angel-hair like ramen noodles, bok choy, and a giant heap of parmesan cheese.

Tomato ramen from a specialty ramen shop. The tomato-based broth was filled with angel-hair like ramen noodles, bok choy, and a giant heap of parmesan cheese.

Typically, there are 4 types of broth, including shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (miso paste), and tonkotsu (pork bone).  Depending on the style of the dish and type of broth, ramen can be topped with a countless number of different ingredients. Some of the most popular include nori (seaweed), bamboo shoots, scallion, leeks, garlic, bean sprouts, egg, and fish cake.

Tonkotsu ramen from Osaka. Notice the cloudy, rich broth. This was by far my favorite type of ramen.

Tonkotsu ramen from Osaka. Notice the cloudy, rich broth. This was by far my favorite type of ramen.

Ramen from a Chinese restaurant

Ramen is originally a Chinese dish, so it’s easy to find in Chinese restaurants across Japan!

Yasai (vegetable) ramen

Yasai (vegetable) ramen

Ramen shops are typically very small, and only have seats at a counter or a few small tables and booths along the wall. Because of this, the shops fill up quickly and customers only stay long enough to eat their ramen before they go. To expedite the process even more, customers often pay for their food before they enter the restaurant using what looks like a vending machine. The guests enter their money, choose the type of ramen they want, and receive a small ticket that they hand to the chef.

Here's how I paid at my favorite ramen shop! You simply insert your money, choose the type of ramen, and get a ticket!

Here’s how I paid at my favorite ramen shop! You simply insert your money, choose the type of ramen, and get a ticket!

A counter at a traditional ramen shop

A counter at a traditional ramen shop

Ramen is great on cold days, when you’re sick, or you’re just looking for a great meal. It’s definitely the dish that I miss the most from Japan, as it’s hard (but not impossible!) to find authentic ramen in the United States. My favorites so far have been Pikaichi in Boston and Terakawa in Philadelphia.

My last ramen in Japan, at Narita airport. This was a sad day.

My last ramen in Japan, at Narita airport. This was a sad day.

Ramen from Terakawa in Philadelphia, courtesy of my Instagram account

Ramen from Terakawa in Philadelphia, courtesy of my Instagram account.

What about you? Where do you get your ramen fix? And more importantly…did I make you hungry yet?