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9 posts categorized "Teresa Fong"

07/09/2014

Chinese, Japanese, AND Mexican Food with Everyone

On Father’s Day, my host family, my boyfriend, and I celebrated by hanging out together! Around 11am, we made our way to Yokohoma. I was really excited to stop by Yokohoma’s Chinatown for lunch; I have wanted to go there since I heard about it but I never found the time to travel down.

The first thing I noticed was the amount of stalls selling roasted chestnuts. The sellers were quite aggressive, as they handed the packages of chestnuts to children and waited for their parents to pay. We dodged about five stalls before we found “an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.” I put this in quotations because this store is not a buffet. After bringing us one-third of the dishes we ordered, the rest never came. Nevertheless, we were full, so we just paid and left.

Before walking to the Cup Noodles Museum, we took a picture in front of the gate of Chinatown. The gate reminds me of the gate in Boston’s Chinatown. At the museum, my host family told us that they reserved tickets for us to make the cup noodles and to make the actual noodles! I absolutely loved the interaction in this museum! In previous museums I visited, you simply walked around and read the plaque; never could the visitors actually make a masterpiece with their hands! I have yet to eat the cup noodles I made.

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As a family, we waited in line for the empty noodle cups. The line was long but moved unexpectedly fast. After receiving our noodle cups that cost 300 yen, we designed the cups. I drew the cute chicken that is the cup noodle’s mascot, Hiyoko-chan!

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After designing the cup, we picked four toppings and one soup base. There were twelve toppings, which include two different types of cheese and Hiyoko-chan naruto! Like I said, these processes are really interactive. We were able to use the machine that put the noodles into the cup! We also saw the machine that wrapped the plastic around the cup.

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When the process was done, we put it into clear air bags that showcase our design! We waited for about 10 minutes before we made our way to the noodles cooking lesson. The cooking lesson comes with an introduction to the creation of noodles, as well as a cute chicken bandana and apron. Besides the awesome cooking lesson with a kind, patient chef, I loved how we were able to leave with the cute chicken bandana!

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After cooking chicken ramen, the group went to eat dinner at a Mexican restaurant on one of the highest floor of Yokohoma Sky Garden. The view was beautiful, especially since the sun was just setting.

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With that, Father’s Day was over! We spent the entire day eating a variety of foods, which is my favorite thing to do.

Nikko (日光)

After I counted my weeks left in Japan, I decided to take a trip to Nikko the following day with my friend. My classmates all said that the mountains surrounding Nikko were beautiful, so I could not leave Japan knowing that I missed this scenery.

Since it was an impromptu trip, I was not very prepared. All I knew was a general idea of the transportation to Nikko. As I found out, I was not even quite prepared for that. When I arrived at Asakusa station, there was a departure and arrival board for trains and I really did not know which to ride. Fortunately, there was a tourist stand in which I could buy a two-day pass to Nikko that includes a free bus pass. We decided to buy the passes, and before we left for Nikko, we bought 16 onigiri for the road! They were 100 yen each so we could not forgo this incredible opportunity!

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The two-hours ride to Nikko was not as long as I expected. The further out of Tokyo I was, the more amazed I was. The amount of empty space and green grass was shocking. After seeing buildings that are at least four stories high, seeing two floor buildings was an eye opener.

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The moment we arrived in Nikko I saw this neat “H&M Outlet.” Without a doubt, that was not an H&M store, but it was pretty hilarious to see. 

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Another store made me reminisce about Fiji Island, my homeland. This store develops films from Fuji cameras from what I could tell. Fiji is quite an undeveloped country, and so there were many film developer stores on the main island! 久しぶり!

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After exploring the center of town for about 30 minutes, we took the bus to the mountain. On the bus, we met someone who was visiting Japan for about a week. We decided to explore together since he had a map and we could communicate in Japanese.

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We had a small map with a couple of attractions, and so we made a goal to visit all before 5:30pm, our departure time. I doubted we could visit the entire area since we arrived around 1:30pm, giving us four hours! However, my partner is extremely knowledgeable with the map. He skillfully took us from one area to another even though the area was like a maze. At 4:00pm, we had yuba donburi for dinner, which is their specialty or名物, and it was delicious and filling! I had to give half of my donburi away because it was so big.

When we left, we counted our onigiri; we had eight left. We were thinking of eating them for lunch and dinner but it seemed a shame not to eat Nikko’s specialty. Thus, these became our breakfast the next day, which was still delicious!

Everything Disney

Knowing that my time is counting down, I immediately bought my boyfriend and me tickets to Tokyo DisneySea. The fact that the ticket was discounted was the icing on the cake. I was really scared that our trip to the Place Where Dreams are Made might be on a rainy day since the rainy season started a week before; luckily, the weather channel correctly predicted that the clouds would part and turn beautiful and sunny. For those wanting to go to DisneySea, buy the tickets when the rainy season begins!

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DisneySea has eight attractions, which in turn has numerous entertainments in each of them. The first attraction we tackled was the American Waterfront. Since we were getting our “sea legs” ready, we fumbled a bit. We received our fast passes for the Tower of Terror but we went from one ride to another simply because it had a long line; we did not realize that every line would be long! We did not look at the waiting time estimate so we wasted about an hour going from one ride to another, hoping the line was shorter.

Finally, we became true “sea voyagers” at the Lost River Delta. Since we were walking around so much, we passed the time needed to receive our next fast pass. We decided to “fast pass” Raging Spirits and wait in line for about an hour and a half for Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, a ride that was about five minutes long. Nonetheless, it was an amazing ride. We followed this pattern of “fast passing” rides, and visiting surrounding rides to pass the time.

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Before we knew it, it was lunchtime! Luckily we were at the right place: the Arabian Coast. We ordered curry, rice, nan, white chocolate pudding, and a fruit pudding. After running from ride to ride and waiting for hours, this meal was absolutely filling.

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After eating, we used our fast passes and also ran to other rides. Our goal of the day was to ride every ride in the resort. I was really scared we would fail because we arrived at 11am instead of the 9am I wanted. Once the clock hit around 6pm, people started to leave the resort. The sun was setting beautifully and the night shows were beginning. As people were watching the fireworks and shows, my boyfriend and I ran to the rides. With the people gone, we waited at most 30 minutes to ride the popular rides! It was amazing. Another tip for people wanting to go to DisneySea: if you don’t have time, buy afternoon tickets to the resort because the line is much shorter! The afternoon ticket goes from 6pm to 10pm, I believe. My third tip: Disney staff does not push you out of the resort by 10pm even though that is the official closing time.

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I spent my entire day in DisneySea, and completed my goal of riding all the rides. The next time I go, I will make sure to watch the shows I missed. I especially want to watch the Little Mermaid musical in Mermaid Lagoon. I left the resort around 10:30pm, wanting to return soon.

06/11/2014

Pancakes in Japan

I consider okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) and monjayaki  (もんじゃ焼き)  the pancakes of Japan. Okonomiyaki batter is mainly made of flour and shredded cabbage. The other ingredients, such as meat, seafood, seaweed or even cheese, depend on the eater’s preferences. Monjayaki batter is similar to okonomiyaki’s batter. The difference between the two lies primarily in the way the two are cooked; monjayaki is eaten when it is partially cooked, compared to okonomiyaki’s firm, pancake-like form.

Before I started my internship, I had only one class on Wednesdays. On one of those Wednesdays, my three friends and I decided to pick a random restaurant in the tour book for Tokyo, Japan. Luck brought us to go to Sakuratei, a buffet of okonomiyaki and monjayaki, in the backstreets of Harajuku. We took a few wrong turns a couple times before finding the narrow road up to the entrance of Sakuratei. While we wondered around Harajuku, I found this amazingly inspirational graffiti.

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Upon entering Sakuratei, we were immediately impressed by the diversity of art in this Japanese pancake restaurant. There were no walls untouched and no corners uncovered; either a framed drawing or painted mural decorated the entire store. Even the staircase upstairs was decorated along with the walls. This hipster store definitely carried the vibe of Harajuku.

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As this was my first time eating okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) and monjayaki  (もんじゃ焼き), I had to read the instructions carefully before starting. Luckily, my friend already knew how to make it and showed us. We first took the bowl of ingredients given to us and mixed it until the batter was a glop of flour and cabbage and the extra ingredient we added. The picture below has kimchi has the extra ingredient. It was good!

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After mixing it well, we pour out the glop onto the large hot plate. We had to make the glops as round as possible (the waitress came by and helped us with our horrible first batch), letting it fry for about 4-5 minutes per side. After it’s firm, the okonomiyaki is edible. I liked mine a little crispier, so I let it lie a few more seconds.

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As for monjayaki, we had to mix the batter as well, but the batter was much more “liquidity.” According to my friend, eating monjayaki with cheese is the best way to eat it since the gooey cheese and the half-cooked batter match well together. First, you mix and cook the cabbage and a little bit of batter on the hot plate. Then you make a hole with the cooked cabbage and batter. The rest of the batter goes into the hole to cook for about 15 seconds before you mix the batter inside with the wall of cabbage. You cook the final mix for about a minute before you can finally eat it! These take a lot of time and effort to make to be honest, but they’re yummy.

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After eating for about an hour and a half, we also realized that we were soaked in the fried odors for an hour and a half. Sakuratei, however, thought of their customers and provided Febreze!

This meal brought that Wednesday to a wonderful end.

Everlasting Love

On June 7, 2014, I participated in another program coordinated by CIEE. The staff planned an outing for students and host families (for students who have host families) to watch a kabuki play in the National Theater (国立劇場) in Tokyo. Kabuki is a traditional Japanese drama that is known for its elaborate makeup, as well as the only male actors who play both male and female roles.

In my opinion, the National Theater (国立劇場) was splendid with its lighting, grand staircases and magnificent statue of a kabuki player; however, according to my host parents, usual kabuki theatres are much larger and stunning than the National Theatre. I was shocked to hear that. I wonder how much larger a regular kabuki theatre is… especially since the National Theatre had two or three buildings connected to each other!

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The play performed that day was“ぢいさんばあさん” or simply, “Grandpa, Grandma,” written byMori Ogai (森鴎外). According to the play’s introduction, Mori Ogai wrote this famous play on 15 pages. Thus, the play had only a few, but powerful, scenes about a loving couple who was unfortunately separated for 37 years due to a terrible mistake. Even as they were reunited late in their age, their love for each other lasted.

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Initially I was expecting that this play would be completely engulfed in sadness, but surprisingly, the play was comedic with touches of despair. There were scenes that made me tear up slightly, but the tears never dropped. I did see my friend’s host mother wipe her tears away, though. I recommend this play to anyone who wants to a see kabuki play at least once!

This particular play was designed for students and first-time kabuki watchers. Before the play began, an actor came to introduce how the theatre worked, who was behind the makeup and costumes (all males), and what the music means. I learned that the stage was built on a rotary system, allowing for multiple, extremely elaborate stages to liven the words of the play for the audience. Moreover, the males did their own makeup themselves, and practiced for years in the art of kabuki. They even gave us a two-minute lesson on how to stand and act like a woman. The traditional instrument players also introduced themselves and showed the audience when their instruments are played and for what reason. My favorite part, however, is the stagehands. They were black uniforms, making them look exactly like a ninja! It was extremely amusing to see the ninjas dart in and out of stage.

Another amusing factor was the theatre’s curtain. The curtain had elaborately embroidered picture of a stream framed by two dark trees. Even though the trees are dark, the flowers budding from their branches are bright white and red. Moreover, by the tree’s trunk are several other flowers growing in a variety of locations near the stream. What popped the most was the corner. There was a “Toyota” embroidered with bright gold threads. There are even advertisements in kabuki theatres!

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All in all, this experience made me want to see another kabuki play before my month and a half is over in Japan!

Under the Sea

On May 31st, I finally was able to visit the one and only Tsukiji Fish Market in Ginza! The day was bright and beautiful, but the heat was intolerable; this is quite the contrast to the weather nowadays, as the rainy season started on June 6, 2014. I must admit that I underestimated Japan’s rainy weather. The rain was so strong that there was rain splashing in my rain boots.

Back to my outing to the Tsukiji Fish Market.

My friends and I decided not to attend the tuna auction since we had to be there around 5:30am. With the train starting at 5:00am, it was quite improbable that we would make it on time. It was especially hard since I live about an hour away from Ginza. We decided on eating lunch only.

The market place located in Tsukiji Station is quite conspicuous, but I almost missed it due to my excitement to eat fresh fish. There is a large billboard that announces the entry to the market place; even more noticeable, however, is the large tuna (まぐろ) that seems to fly out of an advertisement.

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I was pleasantly surprised at the order of the market. Of course, the market was crowded with people, stalls, and fish products, but there was a meticulous order and even cleanliness that rarely appears in usual markets. The stalls offer fresh, bright red tuna and even dried squid, a delicious snack that you could buy in a bulk.

Five minutes into our exploration, we came across two tuna dealers demonstrating how to cut tuna. While skillfully cutting the large fish, he showed us the layers of otoro(おおとろ), chutoro (ちゅうとろ)and akami (あかみ), which are the different grades of tuna. Otoro is the most expensive and is known for literally melting in your mouth. I have yet to experience the melting sensation.

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After the quick show, we ate at Sushizanmai, a two-floor sushi restaurant. The sushi restaurant offers sushi pieces, as well as donbuli. I decided to order the sashimi donbuli that I thought was not going to fill my stomach; therefore, I also ordered three more sushi pieces. I was completely wrong! Half way into my donbuli, I could not eat another grain of rice. I drank about three cups of hot green tea to digest. Needless to say, the sashimi donguli and sushi were incredibly delicious. The total was ¥2,509 for this taste of the sea. Yum…

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After lunch, we walked around the market again with the intent to explore the stalls. The first time we walked around was to primarily find food.  As we walked around slowly, glancing at the products and sights, two vendors exclaimed how our friend, who is Japanese, could speak English very well, as well as how we could speak Japanese just as well. They even offered cups of tea while praising us. I was deeply embarrassed and delighted at their compliments. After thanking them for their kindness, we walked along.

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After consulting with the information clerks, we found the actual tuna auction area. There were tons of empty, white boxes being moved with heavy machinery. They were probably leftovers from the auction. We also walked by a bucket of fish guts that did not emit any odor. With the auction already finished, the area was not as exciting as I expected.

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We ended our fishing trip on land by visiting Jonathon’s, a Japanese chain restaurant that is similar to Denny’s and Friendly’s. We sat there eating ice cream and drinking a variety of tea; we ordered a drink set so we could drink tea and latté, including green tea latté, unlimitedly! We unknowingly enjoyed ourselves and cooled off for approximately four hours in Jonathon’s. The day was, without a doubt, delicious and exciting.

05/13/2014

Tofu Here, Tofu There, Tofu Everywhere

The day after my birthday on May 5th, or the Japanese national holiday Children’s Day, my host parents invited their previous student from America, my host sister from Thailand, and me to a traditional Japanese tofu restaurant. This is without a doubt the best eating experiences I had so far in Japan. 

What’s interesting about this restaurant is that its old-looking exterior is actually a façade; apparently, the restaurant is quite modern in terms of its age. Regardless, the architecture is absolutely stunning. The restaurant is built around a garden that has its own tiny Inari shrine that requires you to walk up an uneven staircase made of rock slates. It was quite terrifying to walk down.

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Besides the shrine, there was also a water wheel and a bridge with a waterfall in the background. I loved the sound of the waterfall so much that I recorded it; it was refreshing to hear nothing but water after living in the crowds of Tokyo for a while. I was shocked to see an absence of koi in the small pond. But the shock dropped as the beauty of the flowers and trees growing around me distracted me, as cheesy as this sounds. 

Inside the tofu restaurant was a magnificent samurai figure, called武者人形 or musha ningyo. This amazing warrior hero is a popular display on Children’s Day, representing the wish for boys’ health and prosperity. The dolls representing girls’ growth and happiness are called 雛人形 or hina dolls on Hinamatsuri (雛祭り) that is celebrated on March 3. Children’s Day, however, celebrates the healthy and bright future of both girls and boys.

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Besides the doll, the restaurant lobby also had two large barrels of soybeans for customers (more like kids) to play with. My host siblings and I couldn’t help but grab handfuls of them and swishing them around.

 

After about 10 minutes of exploring, we were led to our room. The waitress directed us into an elevator, which took about four seconds to go to the second floor. She startled everyone, but the host parents, when the door opened and she was waiting for us on the second floor! My host dad jokingly explained that staff in this restaurant is ninjas. (I think he’s right since the staircase was on the other side of the building! How….???)

Now, time to talk about the food… it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious! Or as a Japanese comedian said on tele, “うまい〜〜” As a tofu lover, the different textures and styles of tofu were just so good if I had to state it simply. Besides taste, the colors and placement of the food make me wish that every plate of food I eat is also a form of art. There were six courses, starting with a square piece of tofu in soy sauce with green onions on top. 

The second consisted of fried tofu that had different condiments, including soy sauce, fish flakes, spicy bean sauce, and onions.

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The third included three small servings of vegetables and seafood. 

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The fourth was a bowl of a potato with one piece of the most succulent meat I have ever eaten.

The fifth was a juxtaposition of cold and hot tofu that was being boiled in soybean milk, my favorite

The six was miso soup and sakura shrimp rice in a wooded bowl. 

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For dessert, we had a small bowl of cold, sweet anko with two drops of mochi.

This entire eating experience took about three hours. I really wish I could eat for three hours for all my meals in Japan. 

Meat, Eel, Sashimi!

My 21st birthday was very special; not because I’m finally an adult, but because this is the only year that I did not have an exam on my birthday! Not May 5th, the day of my AP exams, not May 5th the day of my finals, but May 5th, the day I was born (and also Children’s Day, the Japanese national holiday)!

As a celebration of my birthday, my host family and I trekked our way to the MEAT FAIR taking place in Tokyo's Komazawa Olympic Park. Yes, meat fair. As a meat lover, I have to admit that this might be the best fair ever.

Also, the park hosted some events in the 1964 Summer Olympics! One of my life goals is to attend an Olympic event, so it made me really excited to be there〜 I can’t wait for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo!

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The family left around 9:10am for this 11:00am event. We arrived around 10:00am, but the line was already super long. To make it worse, the gray sky was becoming darker and darker until finally, the first raindrops plummeted down on the crowd. What I learned about the Japanese population is that they are always prepared for rain. Even though I did not notice anyone carrying an umbrella, once the rain started, everyone pulled one out of thin air! My host mother was even carrying two umbrellas for the four adults, and two rain coats of my little three and five years old siblings. Simply amazing preparation.

The line kept moving, so I did not notice that it took about 2 hours to buy our tickets to the meat festival. While walking away from the ticket booth to the line to get into the festival, I saw the first persons in line to run towards the meat booth. It was a fascinating sight to see. Seeing that, I thought we were close to finally having meat in our stomach. I was wrong. The line to get into the fair circled down the walking bridge and around the park. My host sister and I were shocked to see so many patient folks.

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Thankfully, this line moved quite quickly too. While waiting, we looked through the Meat Fair pamphlet and chose to eat two kinds of meat. I immediately picked 馬肉 or horsemeat since this is something I never tasted before. As I found out later, it is also something I will never have again. The taste is very unique… I had trouble eating it alone after a while. I had to eat it with honey-glazed chicken to drown out the horsemeat flavor. But again, it’s an experience! I can say that I had horsemeat.

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After horsemeat, I had a plate of Egyptian food that surprisingly and disappointingly lacked meat. So I had バナナ生クリームクレープ or a banana cream crepe! It literally took over 30 minutes to buy this crepe; I counted with my Japanese friend who arrived a bit early. He told me that Japanese people are quite patient and willing to wait; I don’t doubt it after waiting in these long lines.

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After picking dandelions and making flowers out of them for the kids, the host family packed up to go. The family and my friend said their goodbyes, him parting to go to Shibuya while we went back home. Before going home though, my host family asked what I wanted for dinner. Since I normally don’t celebrate my birthday, I said ramen, prompting laughter from my host parents. Finally I said, “魚?(Fish?)” and my host mother helped out by asking, “鰻はどう?“ I immediately smiled like this ヾ(@°▽°@)ノbecause who would deny eel for dinner?!

Dinner was better than I thought. Dinner included eel and sashimi! I even was able to eat my favorite roll cake filled with milk-flavored cream! 

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Needless to say, best birthday so far!



Cinco de Mayo on May 3rd

On the first day of my Golden Week vacation, my friend and I visited the Cinco de Mayo festival in Japan, which was surprisingly and hilariously on May 3rd. Before finding the Cinco de Mayo festival though, we found a Ping-Pong event that had a HUGE Pikachu bounce house. I’m not quite sure how Pikachu and Ping-Pong relate, but it sure was an attention grabber.

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Since the official website stated that the festival took place in Yoyogi Park (and nothing more specific that than), we walked into the heart of it; we walked in circles and almost gave up when we realized that we had to cross the walking bridge, which we passed many times! Finally getting to hear the crowds and smelling the delicious Mexican food when you’re on an empty stomach makes you want to jump for joy.

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Basically, a quick glance of the festival told me that there are numerous booths selling tacos, sausages, and alcohol. As I said earlier, we were extremely hungry… at least I was. We walked around, trying to find authentic meals prepared by Mexican cooks; my favorite stall was called Drug-on TACOS. The English in Japan is sometimes very entertaining.

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We finally settled on getting steak tacos, but we belatedly found that Japanese cooks prepared these. To make matters worse, the sauce from the steak tacos spilled on my shirt and shorts. Also, the steak was tough, and honestly, more fat than steak. But it was an experience! The stall selling the steak taco had salsa and pickled daikon as condiments! My friend did not try the daikon, but I went straight for it. In my opinion, the pickled daikon pairs really well with the salsa and taco. I would have added a picture of the food, but I gulped the (tiny) taco in about 1.5 minutes… Instead, here is a picture of the booth.

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After eating, we checked out the other booths again and found loads of interesting things now that our stomachs stopped interrupting our concentration. We found booths selling accessories, clothes, bags, and snacks from Mexico. We even found a booth selling Edo Style Paella, which I wished I had instead of the steak tacos…

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One of the best parts of the trip, though, is the Doritos booth. As long as people completed a survey (in Japanese) asking about their Doritos consumption, people received a large bag of Doritos, either taco or cheese flavor. In celebration of Cinco de Mayo, we both picked the taco flavor.

Seeing as there was nowhere to sit, we left to find a place in the central of Yoyogi Park. We completely forgot that Yoyogi Park lacks the benches that line the walkway in New York’s Central Park. Here in Japan, if one plans to relax at a park, a mat is essential. I was lucky to spot a large enough rock under a tree to sit and eat our Doritos. As we found 10 minutes into it, we should have shared one bag; we barely finished it, especially after just eating lunch.

We spent a long time sitting on that rock, talking, people watching, and avoiding the sun. My friend sunburns easily, and she realized that her pale skin on her shoulders has turned into a brilliant octopus shade—a sort of warm red shade. As a Pacific Islander, I thought that I do not burn… I was wrong. I found my shoulders also baring a light salmon color. Thankfully, the wind carried a cool breeze under our hiding spot—the perfect ending to our exciting day.