Food, Glorious Food

Kyoto has lots of restaurants.  All kinds of restaurants.  All kinds of food.  We like many places that we’ve tried, happily returning each time we visit.  The standards are high here.  The food is always well prepared, of high quality and very fresh. You won’t find overcooked fish.  The offerings are usually a seasonal celebration. Expect bamboo shoots and mushrooms as soon as they’re in season.  Contrary to popular opinion, sushi comprises only one small option of food that’s available.  Sashimi is usually served as a small appetizer.  Unless you’re at a sushi restaurant, the menus are diverse.

Many restaurant are small, so reservations are often essential.  Having a restaurant here is a labor of love, never a get rich quick scheme. That said, given the number of small restaurants, I assume the start-up process to open a restaurant is not prohibitively expensive.

My husband has stacks of business cards from the places we’ve eaten and enjoyed.  Unfortunately, most of them are written in Japanese, so they’re of little or no use. We’re always interested in discovering “new” places to eat when we come to Kyoto as well as returning to our old familiars. Our neighborhood is ripe with opportunities.

One of our dear friends here, Robert Yellin, has a particularly keen talent to find great restaurants with great chefs. His ability in seeking out fine restaurants rivals his ability to find the best Japanese ceramics to sell and display in his wonderful not-to-be-missed-if -you-like ceramics-gallery near the Philosopher’s Walk!. A highlight of our visits to Kyoto always includes our dinner with Robert.

This year, he outdid our expectations, sharing an extraordinary new restaurant in his neighborhood called  Farmoon. Continue reading “Food, Glorious Food”

Itakakimasu!

kids

I know people who visit England and after a little time spent there, return to the USA speaking with an English Accent. I haven’t acquired an English accent, nor a Japanese one, but I have deliberately acquired the Japanese version of saying Grace before meals.

It’s quick. It’s easy once you’ve said the word 50 or more times. It makes the beginning of a meal a special event! If you’re eating with Japanese friends in Japan it’s polite to join them in saying itadakimasu!  It builds community!  It will elevate your dining experience!

Itakdakimasu. Spoken before eating to acknowledge and be thankful for all that came before the food appeared on a plate in front of you. That includes farmers, organisms, fields, vendors, cooks, etc, not to mention the living plants/animals that have given their lives for this meal. It’s all-encompassing and a meaningful way to focus on what you are about to eat.  A moment of raised consciousness never hurt anyone.   Itadakimasu has no broader religious connotations.   I think it’s not a custom that will cause inner conflicts to arise.  In other words, It’s not like a Jew singing a Christmas carol.

japanese dinner

The Meaning of “Itadakimasu”
いただく (Itadaku) is a phrase that is very polite with the meaning “to take.”

In this sense, the head is bowed with the hands held, palms up, higher than the head to receive an item. It is currently used when eating because you are taking a very precious gift of another organism’s life.

The origins of this are based on Buddhism and the belief that everything has a spirit that guides it. By taking spirits from their origins and using them to replenish yourself, you are giving honor and gratitude to the organisms that originally housed those spirits.

It is very disrespectful to eat someone else’s meal without properly giving thanks to them for making such food. Even if you made the meal yourself, you are still giving respect to the lives used in its creation.  nihongoshark.com

I think saying itadakimasu is a lovely custom. I’ve overcome the awkwardness I originally felt when I first began to say it. It’s become a brief but essential part of meal time now.

Try it, and let me know what you think.

The Kyoto Hospitality Hour

“Come to our apartment for a little sake and chit chat before we go out for dinner,” is how our invitation goes.  That said, we have easily pulled together a spontaneous series of Vapnek hospitality hours that we are very happy with.  Our guests seem delighted as well.  It could only happen here.

Our more frequent visits to Kyoto have coincided with a rise of Kyoto visits from friends and friends of friends of friends who are making first visits to Kyoto for a few days.  Invariably, we’re contacted for obvious reasons by folks just wanting to say hi, curious about how we live here as well as  looking for restaurant/sightseeing/shopping guidance.

We’ve gotten into the habit of inviting visitors over.  That way, we have a friendly social hour and can determine their interests and offer suggestions.  Generally, they’re visiting for a few short days and my main advice is not to expect to see it all on one trip! If the spark is lit, I assume they’ll return for a deeper exploration of this remarkable city.  We’ve acquired a nice selection of sake cups.  Our guest are happy to pick their own, which is a fun custom here.

Within a quarter mile radius of our apartment is a store in the Nishiki Market that has a wonderful sake selection.  (my husband’s job).  Then on to a pickle emporium grabbing some cucumbers, daikon etc.

Japanese cucumber pickles

A short walk follows to Daimaru food court for a bag of assorted rice crackers that always gather a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the first timers.

Japanese rice crackers

We bring some almonds and pistachio nuts from California each time we come so that rounds out the food tableau.

Of course, I’m in charge of set up and flowers.IMG_0158

Back in Business

There is something about coming back to Japan that resets my clock. Backwards. In a good way.

Each time I arrive here I have the same feeling I’d get as a child when I’d go to NYC. On high alert,  senses stimulated, fatigue banished.

I quickly transform from a place of “been there, done that” to a place of discovery.  My brain cells get scrambled just enough so that I recover my sense of wonder, exhilaration  and inspiration.

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The Mother of all sushi bars.

A sushi bar dinner becomes an exalted dining experience under the capable hands of highly trained sushi chefs who are dedicated to letting us know where each piece of fish is from as well as which part of the fish we are eating?  Feeling full?  Let me present you with a smaller size of sea urchin.   Continue reading “Back in Business”

More and More and Even More Stuff!

I’ll admit it.  Once upon a time, I enjoyed shopping.  I mean REALLY enjoyed shopping.  I liked to look at what was out there in the market place.  It was more an aesthetic experience than a consumer one.  Truthfully, I couldn’t afford to buy much, but I very much enjoyed looking.

Today, we’re hearing about the death of retail.  Personally, I think part of the problem is that it’s collapsing under its own weight.  There’s just too many un-nutritious calories to make it sustainable or interesting.  Big/more does not =better.

In recent decades retail stores got bigger and bigger while their staff of salespeople shrunk.  Malls got bigger and bigger, all carrying the same stuff, no matter what the location.  Monotonous. Continue reading “More and More and Even More Stuff!”