Jolene goes to Little Tokyo
Part of my 2018 "resolutions" included exploring more locally, and this little day trip was definitely with that in mind. I wanted to reconnect with my friend Stefani, who I don't get to see often. After perusing Instagram for destination inspiration, I stumbled across a place called Little Fluffy Head Cafe, which turned into the idea of a day trip to Little Tokyo. Los Angeles is often known for certain areas frequented by celebrities or made popular by social media. However, I find that Little Tokyo is still flying quite under the radar, although it's a wonderfully authentic dive into Japanese culture.
We began our day with an early lunch at Shin-Sen-Gumi, a name I heard often in high school, but I'd never been. When it came up on Google as a nearby location, we decided to give it a try.
PRO TIP: PARKING CAN BE ROUGH, BUT WE PARKED AT THE JAPANESE VILLAGE PLAZA, AND WE ONLY PAID $10 FOR HALF A DAY. WE WERE WALKING DISTANCE FROM PLENTY OF RESTAURANTS AND SHOPPING.
The wait was about 15 minutes and we were given some fun seating at the bar, so we were able to watch the craftiness of the chefs behind the scenes. While there are several delectable items on the menu, Stef and I chose to build our own ramen. The order form was straightforward - choose your broth, noodle, and additional toppings. I went for the "crunchy" set (poached egg, crispy pig ears, crispy onions) in addition to the chashu already provided. We watched as the chef poured steaming broth into each bowl, adding a scoop of freshly made noodles, and preparing all of the toppings. His movements were swift and graceful, like a culinary dance resulting in a fresh, steaming bowl of ramen.
After stuffing our faces, we did a bit of walking, exploring, and shopping. Stef and I are new to bullet journaling, so we stopped by Kinokuniya at Weller Court Shopping Center to pine over the impressive collections of pens, markers, stationary, and notebooks. As we walked on, we stumbled onto one of my favorite Japanese novelties - purikura! Feeling nostalgic and brought back to my quirky college days (I went to school in a primarily Asian community), we jumped into one of the purikura booths to snap some fun sticker pictures.
Although the price is steep ($11), the experience is fun! You enter into a large booth with amazing lighting and a green screen. A very ~kawaii voice guides you through your settings process, choosing larger than life eye enhancements, light softening, and brightness controls. A rapid-fire photo session ensues, accompanied by a campy Japanese soundtrack. Once you're done taking photos, you are directed to the editing portion, where your pictures are exhibited on a touch screen and you are given tools to decorate them. We each received our photo copies and were completely enamored by our little kawaii memory!
PRO TIP: SAVE SOME CASH TO DO A PURKIKURA BOOTH!
Upon our exiting Weller Court, we made our way to the infamous light tunnel, an Instagrammer's dream. The tunnel is, well, just a walkway/corridor that connects the sidewalk to the shopping center, but it has become a spectacle with some simple color-changing lights. We snapped more than a few photos before we headed to dessert.
PRO TIP: TAKE PHOTOS IN THE LIGHT TUNNEL LATER IN THE DAY. WHEN THE SUN IS LOWER IN THE SKY, THE TUNNEL IS DARK ENOUGH SO THE LIGHTS ARE EMPHASIZED.
Bae was calling our name - from its chic black and white interior to its unique black activated charcoal soft serve, we knew we had to visit. We ordered two "mixed feelings" on red cones, which were specially available for Valentine's Day. Mixed feelings is a black and white soft serve, pineapple activated charcoal and vanilla.
The verdict? Bae's flavors more than match their aesthetic. The soft serve was smooth and incredibly flavorful. That being said, the 'heartbreak' flavor (black soft serve) is unexpectedly strong, and I don't think I would've enjoyed it as much on its own. The vanilla provided the perfect balance to the brightness of the pineapple.
Our day was coming to a close. Ironically, we didn't make it to Little Fluffy Head Cafe, mostly because we were stuffed and traffic was unbelievable. We snapped more fun photos and I picked up one of my all time favorite Japanese treats, mochi. No, not ice cream. Mochi is a Japanese rice cake often paired with red bean and other flavors. I knew I had to grab some fresh mochi from Fugetsu-do, a humble confectionary across the street from the Japanese Village Plaza. I got an 8-piece box to take home!
It was a solid day full of good food, catching up, belly laughs and fun photos. If you are in the LA-area, don't forget about Little Tokyo! There really is something for everyone.
Until next time,