Trip to Japan in July, 2009
From July 3rd to July 15th, I was in Japan. I spent my time mostly in Tokyo but spent a few days in Kyoto and its surroundings.
I went to Tsukiji fish market, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind. The market handles more than 400 different types of seafood from tiny sardines to 300 kg tuna, and from cheap seaweed to the most expensive caviar. They have so many outdoor stores and nice small restaurants outside of the market. I ate Uni (sea urchin), Ikura and Negitoro (tuna belly and green onion) with Sushi Rice Bowl and the taste was fabulous. Also, in Tsukiji, I tasted large purple Pione grapes that were excellent taste and only available in Japan. It is one of the popular grape varieties in Japan, that is almost unknown in the West. Ideal candidate for sorbets, pione grape is used in all sorts of jellies, cakes, wine and myriad of other pretty confections, and even in curry.
On July 8th, I ate supper alone in a restaurant. I had so many things that I wanted to eat, but couldn’t eat them all because time was short. So, I ended up with having supper twice. First, I went to a curry house, then, went to a traditional “soba and udon” restaurant.
Curry is the domain of Japanese cuisine which allows each chef or restaurant owner be creative and innovative. I had a very creative meal named “Fukyo (Recession) Curry. The idea is that the owner is trying to provide delicious and reasonable meal that is affordable during the time of recession.
The “Recession Curry” is different from both Japanese traditional curry and curries in foreign origin (Indian, Chinese, Thai, etc). Unlike traditional Japanese curry, it doesn’t use flour. In this sense, it’s similar to Indian. However, it tastes like it was way more ingredients than the Indian counterpart.
After eating curry, I went to a soba and udon restaurant and ate “Ankake Udon” noodle with fish cakes and starchy soup. It also has a bonito and kelp soup base. It’s one of extremely traditional recipes lasting over 200 years. Whenever I eat this kind of food, I almost always get a bit nostalgic and childhood memory from the remote past comes out.
I also went to Kyoto and a small town called Kobuchizawa. In Kyoto, I ate Kyoto style Bento and Tsukemen or dipping style ramen noodle in Kyoto Station. The bento contains lotus root, bamboo shoot, baked egg, small portion of salmon, pickled vegetables called tsukemono and a little other kind of vegetables. It was nearly vegetarian dish except a small fish and egg portions. Tsukemono or pickled veggies in Kyoto is a little sweeter than the one in Tokyo. Kyoto also has a long tradition of cooking various kinds of vegetables with light-coloured soy sauce and the whole bento was very tasty.
I ate Tuskemen or dipping style ramen few hours after bento. At the top of Kyoto station building, there is a whole district of ramen restaurants. Tsukemen is a ramen in which the noodle and soup (dipping sauce) are served separately. The restaurant I went had both hot and cold version of Tsukemen. I decided on the hot one.
I visited Kinkakuji or a famous Golden Pavilion Temple well known to the West. It was extremely crowded with tourists from everywhere around the world, but I enjoyed the sightseeing. On my way to Kobuchizawa from Kyoto, I bought 2 bento boxes. One is for lunch and the other one is for supper. When I arrived at a ryokan or traditional Japanese style inn with tatami mats in Kobuchizawa, it passed the supper time, so that I needed to bring something to eat. The bento I had for lunch was Unagi (eel) Bento with okowa rice, which is twice sticker and more filling than ordinary short grain rice. (It gave me extra energy in a hot and humid weather). Then, I ate Nagoya Cochin Chicken Bento for supper. Cochin is a gourmet chicken that Nagoya district proudly produces and extremely tasty.
After spending a night in a Ryokan, my brother and his wife picked me up in the morning, and we went to a cabin that my family owns. It was a nice quiet country side of Japan that most people outside of Japan haven’t visited or even heard of. We did some cleaning the inside and outside of the cabin. Then, we went to a soba restaurant in a mountain and three of us enjoyed a huge plate of country style soba noodle.