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”

OH, Japan!

Oh, Japan! Never could I have imagined the impact that a short trip to accompany my husband on a business trip to Japan in the 1980’s would have on my life. The impact was profound and has continued to influence my life in ways small and large.

Suddenly I was presented with a very different way to see and be in the world. It was as if I’d fallen down the rabbit hole into a fascinating new world that I had no idea existed. I found an ancient culture that revered its traditions as it continued to innovate creatively. I found people who appeared always to be generous and polite. I found an attention to detail that captivated me. I found a culture that revered nature (most of the time). I found stark contrasts between old and new, the sacred and the profane. Juxtapositions exist everywhere.  It was stimulating and inspirational. It got my attention. In a week’s time, I quickly became obsessed with all things Japanese. It was clearly a case of love at first sight. In the ensuing years, I’ve come back to Japan many times. I now live part time in Kyoto.  It’s become my Source.

My obsession can puzzle those who’ve never been to Japan. I do my best to explain it with the following examples. Continue reading “OH, Japan!”

I’m here to Celebrate Spring

Is this what getting old is going to be about?  I had an all day/almost all night coughing jag yesterday that wore me and my poor husband out.  You’re going to have to do something about that, he told me grumpily.  No dah, I replied with irritation.

I stopped taking a prescribed cortisone inhaler today which I decided was triggering the coughing fits, so today I am coughing less.  But before I became too frisky, the pain from my hip bursitis turned back on this afternoon as I was starting out for a walk in my Kyoto neighborhood.  Needless to say, my stroll was curtailed.

Time to get out the advil before my walk and stop talking about my complaints.  What smarty pants said to me “You can’t afford a negative thought”?  I had a few too many these the last two days. I’m here to celebrate spring and beauty in the city that has made an art out of it!

This afternoon we rolled smoothly into Kyoto on the bullet train after spending two nights in Tokyo.  I am always struck by the contrast between the new capital and the ancient one of Kyoto. There’s the obvious difference of size, but more than that, it’s about scale.  Tokyo is reaching for the sky these days, covered with new high rises being built just about everywhere you look. In Kyoto, (almost) the entire environment seems integrated and grounded.

Earthquake concerns are somhow overcome by state of the art engineering.   The huge buildings are impersonal, mostly office space, sometimes housing hotels as well, but with no distinctiveness that I could identify or admire.  Tokyo can be slick, cutting edge and fun, but after a few days I am generally relieved to pull out of it and head south to Kyoto.  The big city doesn’t feed my spirit except for it’s preoccupation with good design.  Flash is fun and youthful but grows easily tiresome.

Ginza scene
A beautiful but likely useless article for travel.

I know Kyoto  quite well now, so there’s no element of surprise when I arrive here as there used to be.  Rather, it’s a sense of comfort I feel upon entering. The small pots of seasonal flowers placed carefully at the doorways remind me that time is taken to appreciate nature here.  Once again, I am sure that scale plays a large role.  The city is mostly built of two story buildings with a few buildings, like errant toddlers, escaping those boundaries, but not very many and not by dozens of stories.

There’s  a strong sense of place here with temples and shrines appearing around every corner. Their significance plays a constant role in the events of the city.  They are power centers, no doubt, reminding me immediately that I’m no longer in the USA.  Japanese are said not to be religious but when you enter a shrine it’s easy to see that the ancient gods are respected and play a role in their contemporary life.

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The Japanese  people have a strong sense of purpose.  There’s not a lot of lolling about or screwing around. They all seem devoted to their jobs and determined to do the best they can in them. They walk quickly.  They listen intently when you speak to them. They are considerate and kind.  They do seem to embody a kinder, gentler strain of humanity, at least in this time and place!  It’s a welcome change from the nastiness rampant on the home front.

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As always, our dear Japanese friend has prepared seasonal welcome flowers to greet us when we open the door of our apartment. It’s these moments that mean the most to me and speak stronger than any words.

 

The Foodie’s Heaven

Almost from the moment we set foot in Kyoto, my foodie husband is scouting for new restaurants in our neighborhood that have opened in our absence.  As hyped as I am to be sure to see the most intriguing gardens, sublime temples, cool museums and Japanese design shops, he’s on the edge of his seat to reconnect with the wonders and satisfaction of eating Japanese cuisine. He’s always on alert for the next culinary attraction. It could be a new sake bar, french bakery, izakaya, ramen, soba, steak place or hamburger spot. As long as it looks promising, my husband is eager to try it.  We have our food work cut out for us, and I’ve learned not to resist.  I simply try them all and go along for the great ride he pulls together and congratulate him on his finds.

If the place looks complicated, he likes to see if they have an English menu available. Given one, he’ll then bemoan the fact that not all of the items available in the restaurant are represented on the English menu. I remind him that there’s no way he could eat all the items even if they were listed, but he always want to see what he might be missing.  I’m always eager to follow along with his trailblazing food-related energy.  By myself, I’d never put in the effort he does.

Restaurants in Japan tend to be smaller than Americans are used to.  Reservations are a must, so the chef knows how much food to buy each day.  Once you understand their system, you respect it.  If you rely on a last minute casual walk up, you’re going to be out of luck for most serious restaurants in Japan.  And it’s remarkable how many restaurants are SERIOUS!  By serious, I mean chefs and underlings studying and honing their specific skills for years, always delivering to the best of their ability, constantly striving for perfection.

Tourists tend to strive to score a rez at a Michelin starred venue, but there’s really no need if it’s just a fine restaurant you want and not another notch in your belt. Continue reading “The Foodie’s Heaven”

A Half Day in the Life (cont’d)

Matcha pancakes, anyone?

If you ever need an excuse for overindulgence, just bring along some children for whom the word excess holds no meaning.

So, the day began yesterday with our family gathering for breakfast at a small restaurant we’d discovered a few years ago.  It’s an Hawaiian import, specializing in taking a humble pancake and pushing it over the top.  It’s called Eggs n Things.  I guess the “things” might be for the extravagant plates of pancakes they serve up, for which there are almost no words, although as a rational adult, I can quickly think of a few, obscene being one of them. This would never enter the mind of a child whose dopamine levels are dangerously high, but continue to escalate.

Spreading the whipped cream.

Just for your info, not one for personal sacrifice, I had a stack of strawberry pancakes, the only one of the adults not to order eggs.  I only ate about 2/3 of the whipped cream.

Our goal for the day was to travel to Fushimi Inari shrine, about 20 minutes away by train. Continue reading “A Half Day in the Life (cont’d)”