Under the Yamanote line

Ameyoko became famous as a post-war black market after WWII during the occupation. Seventy five years later, it has morphed into a place where locals and tourists go for bargains during the day, and food at night. As we walked from Ueno park to the metro station we saw a lively road leading off under the Yamanote line overpass. Across the world colourful districts under railway or road bridges can become exciting places, so we went down this rabbit hole.

Already, in the early afternoon, the atmosphere had begun to turn boisterous. Some of the shops were still open. I could see shops selling DVDs and CDs (old technologies do not seem to die in Japan) and sex toys. The famous sweet shops which give the locality its name were beginning to shut down (no quarter given for Children’s Day, which was two days away) and it was definitely too late for the fresh food stores. We’d missed our chance to haggle about prices using our translation app, and we’d had lunch too late to sit down at one of the food stalls.

It was a good time to walk around and take photos. At three in the afternoon, the light was still too bright to yield atmospheric and moody photos. So after being busy with my phone, I had to spend some time with the editor to bring you these photos of Ameya Yokocho in the witching hour. If the day had not tired us out, we would have made our way here earlier to look at some of the shops. That’s a bit of Japan left for the future.

Food street, not for tourists

I love walking through the food streets of China. There is always something interesting to see and taste. That’s why I was looking forward to the food street near the Confucius Temple of Nanjing. But I was in for a rude shock. It seems that they took payment only through your phone app: Alipay or WeChat. As far as I can tell, these are connected to your Chinese salary accounts, and therefore closed to tourists. The Chinese are great business-people and hate to lose customers, but either the crowds or the language barrier prevented the shopkeepers from telling me how to pay.

Disappointing in one way, of course. But the sight of a food street always perks me up. So I had great fun walking around, examining things, looking at people, and taking photos. You can see the results in the gallery above. As always, click on any image to get to a slide show.

Just outside the street was a booth with a robot waiting for someone to pay for an ice cream. There was a crowd pressed up against the glass of the booth clicking away as avidly as me. Eventually one lady decided that she wanted a frozen yogurt and paid for it, so that I could take the video I’d wanted to take.

I wasn’t left hungry, of course. I walked into a lane full of sit-down restaurants and one of them had both the Duck’s blood and vermicelli soup and the pot stickers which are some of the specialties of the Nanjing style of food. For those of you who are sitting on the edge of your bar stool, no the liquid in the soup is not blood. The duck’s blood is used to make blood sausages pieces of which you can see floating in the soup in the photo above. Having had blood sausages half way across the world, I found this rather less than exciting.

Dinnertime in the old market

When we got out of the Temple of the City God in Shanghai, it was about 5 in the evening. This is about the time that a typical person in China would be thinking of dinner. It was our first evening in China, and our bodies were still two hours behind. We decided to go with the body clock and treat this as tea time. Our plane would leave at 11 at night, giving us a clear six hours more to finish our dinner.

We walked through the spectacular food market (gallery above, click to enter) peering at the food on display in various stalls. I always think that it must be extremely tiring to man these little stalls of food. It must take a wonderful person to keep one’s smile while serving hundreds in an evening. I did catch the tiredness on the faces of people behind the counters, but I was distracted by the variety of food on display. Many things were familiar, but the plates of desserts threw me. I saw something like a custard tart, a Portuguese Pasteis de Nata. I had one later in the trip; it was comparable to the ones I’d eaten in Belem and Sintra. The Family and I chose something that we had no referents for, the green and pink blocks which you see when you click on the photos of the desserts. They were wonderful; very mildly sweet like all desserts in China, made of rice and beans. We had to choose one out of all the things on display, and we did not regret our choice.