CK and I arrived in Tokyo just in time for lunch. We managed to get to our Airbnb apartment relatively easily, but when it came time to navigate our way to Tonkatsu Maisen for lunch, the struggle was real.
We'd picked Maisen because it is said to have the best tonkatsu in Tokyo and there is a branch in Shibuya, which is where our apartment was. Even better, the Maisen is located inside a department store connected to the Shibuya station. It should have been a cinch to find. Our apartment was at one end of the station, the department store at the other. How hard could it be?
Extremely hard, apparently.
First lesson in Tokyo: them train stations ain't no joke. We fooled ourselves into thinking that if we could handle public transportation in Kyoto and Osaka, we could do the same in Tokyo. WRONG.
Just trying to get from one side of Shibuya station to the other took lots of backtracking and lots of luck. The exit for our apartment wasn't connected to other exits, meaning we would have to tag into the station to reach other exits. Trying to walk around the station was made complicated by the construction that seemed to be everywhere.
Through trial and error, we eventually found our way (almost entirely by accident) to the correct exit that led to the department store we were looking for. By the time we got upstairs to Maisen, we were more than freakin' ready for some tonkatsu:
The menu came in Chinese, Korean, Thai, and English. We ordered the Kurobuta loin cutlet rice bowl set (1600 yen or $16):
The fried pork cutlet was simmered in egg and soy sauce and rested on a bed of rice. The set included miso soup, silken tofu, and some pickled veggies.
We also ordered the Kurobuta fillet pork cutlet set (3100 yen or $31):
It came with a mountain of shredded cabbage, a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso soup, and some pickled veggies.
Expensive, right? 31 bucks for a tonkatsu set? We certainly thought so. We couldn't understand what all the fuss was about until we bit into the cutlet:
Cue hallelujah chorus. I've never had pork melt in my mouth like that. That breading! Almost airy in its crispness. That pork! So tender and juicy.
Both sets also came with a scoop of super refreshing yuzu ice cream:
Back in Taiwan, when my uncle brought me family to a tonkatsu restaurant, my father fell in love with their sauce bottles. When he saw that they were made in Japan, he (not so) jokingly told me to look for the bottles on my trip and to bring him back a dozen. I had no intention of actually doing so, until I sat down at Maisen and found THE EXACT SAME BOTTLE (just a size smaller) on the table.
I asked our server where I could buy the bottle. Or I tried to. Confusion ensued. The server tried to explain to me that the sauce wasn't for sale. Then I told him, "No, no, no! The bottle!" while tapping on the container. The incredulous look on his face when he realized what I was asking? Priceless.
He laughed. We laughed. And I expected that to be it. Instead, he went above and beyond my wildest expectations. That sweet, sweet man went over to talk to his coworker. A few minutes later, his coworker picked up the phone and started reading off the bottle in his hand.
CK and I watched in shock as our server came back to our table with the brand and make of the bottle as well as the name of the store where we might be able to find it written on a coaster:
Whaaaaaaa?! Nobody does service like the Japanese.
Would I pay $31 for tonkatsu again? Probably not. My palate isn't sophisticated enough to appreciate the quality of the pork or whatever. What I can appreciate, however, is the service. My experience at Maisen is definitely one for the books.
In case you're curious, CK and I did end up checking out not just one, but two Tokyu Hands stores. Tokyu Hands is like Daiso, but with more expensive and higher quality products. It's like a freakin' wonderland in there. You can find everything from kitchen products to office supplies, from stationery to camping gear.
Everything except for the bottle I was looking for. I found bottles from the same brand, but not the exact model. I ended up buying one from a different brand with a different top.
I actually felt bad for my dad until I returned home to discover that you can order the damn bottle ON AMAZON.