TOKYO - At overseas assignments, one thing that keeps me going and the story ideas flowing is food, preferably good.
At the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup in Hanoi, there was a lovely wantan noodle stall by the West Lake where I could sit on a plastic stool and watch people play tien len, a local card game.
At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, there was shashlik and borscht but also other delightful central Asian food.
You get the drift.
So ahead of these Olympics, I was horrified to discover that journalists would be banned from eating in restaurants and that I would be in the land of sushi and sashimi but eating from pre-ordered bento sets. Grudgingly, I brought mee goreng cup noodles, instant laksa noodles and a bottle of garlic chilli.
But thank goodness for UberEats.
The media are allowed to eat only at Games venues, but the food sold in the various media centres is largely uninspiring. The freebies are limited - I survived Sunday at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza on Poifull jellybeans; those at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium are luckier as they had peanut butter or strawberry cream sandwiches and bananas.
And while the Lawson at our hotel is useful, and the range of food on offer is wide, there is only so much onigiri and yakitori, bread and ice cream one can eat from a convenience store.
I was the first in our team to try out the app, and I have to admit I went a bit crazy.
Sushi is a must. I'm no food critic but the uni (sea urchin) and salmon are so fresh, they taste like they've just been harvested from the sea. Even the cucumber and pickled ginger taste sweet.
The beef and unagi (eel) rice bowls are affordable, filling, and delicious, while the ramen soup is rich and the noodles springy.
And some of the packaging and presentation are gold-medal worthy.
Feeling adventurous, I ordered the first thing that appeared on the app while I was on the way back to the hotel on Saturday. It was a perfect handoff as Ryota arrived on his bike just as I alighted from the bus, and I was momentarily transported home when I tucked into the butter chicken and cheese naan.
Don't judge me, but I also tried the KFC here and... Singapore's is better. The wafu chicken cutlet burger and its tangy BBQ sauce do not really work for me, and the fried chicken is too oily.
Unfortunately, the UberEats menu offers me no chance of sampling more exotic Japanese delicacies like shirako, fugu and basashi. Perhaps on my next trip...
On my travels, food is a sure opportunity for me to interact with locals and one drawback of food delivery is how it eliminates much of the human interaction that one would normally have with service staff at an eatery. But to be in Japan in the midst of a pandemic is a privilege, the rules were signed to keep all of us safe from Covid and I have no complaints.
Still, one tricky situation remains. I have learnt that with Tokyo in a state of emergency, I need to be as fast and as organised as any athlete here. Many restaurants close at 8pm, and options are limited later at night when most of the Olympic events end. There have been times when I finally decided on something on the menu, only to be notified that the outlet had closed while I was browsing.
The best part? Delivery charges of about 300 yen ($3.70) are waived for a month, so any senpai with good recommendations can feel free to slide them into my DM (@stdavidlee).
After seeing the pictures of my meals on Instagram, my colleagues here are finally moved to try, so excuse me while I try to help Rohit move on from that "interesting" Caesar salad.