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)”

Heart Warming and Belly Filling

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The hilly village of Ohara, in the northern precincts of Kyoto, is idyllic.  It’s one of the places that I must return to each time I come to Kyoto.  Its simple country farmhouses make a ring around a central area of fertile farmland growing rice and vegetables. At one time, this rural farm area grew most of the fruits and vegetables for the city of Kyoto.   Glimmering streams snake through the landscape.  Ancient temples watch over the proceedings of the ever changing lives of the mortals living below them.

ohara

Several years ago, after arriving in Kyoto in early winter, I foolishly suggested we visit Ohara and take a walk.  A light rain was falling in Kyoto, but common sense should have told me it was not a great day for a walk in the country.

When we arrived in Ohara, it was snowing ,very cold and damp. A day my mother would have  described as “raw.” The walk quickly became an endurance test.  A friend we were with kindly suggested we stop at a nearby farmhouse that had a small sign in Japanese, indicating they served food.  What a refuge.  At the time, we were the only customers.

The large old farmhouse was owned by a young couple who had inherited the house from the wife’s parents.  She had an adorable infant strapped to her waist as she served us course after delicious course of food prepared by her husband in the adjacent kitchen.  The food is beautifully served on a wonderful assortment of antique and new ceramics.  We watched the snowfall as we happily sat behind large glass windows,consuming the heart warming food prepared for us.

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Steamed local mountain veggies and tofu, from the top and clockwise, daikon, tofu, carrots in sesame sause, spinach and burdock root with gingko nuts.

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On Sunday, we decided to search again for the farmhouse, neither of us certain  just where it was.  I managed to locate it, but when we walked in, the owner told us they were all booked.  I made my plea and they kindly sat us at a counter table in the kitchen.  We determined it had been about nine years since we’d first come.  They now have three daughters and share the work of serving lunch most days to about 20 lucky people.  The husband told us, when he wasn’t cooking, he was farming, on their small plot of land, directly across the small road.

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I was happy for them, although it was obvious to see how hard they both worked, she doing triple  duty as server and busgirl and dishwasher, her husband cooking for 20 people at a time, while growing the food in his spare time.  He grows organic rice too. Her parents look after their three daughters.

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The name of the restaurant is wappado.  Open only between noon and 3pm on certain days.

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Prepare to have your heart warmed and your belly filled.img_8359

 

 

Some Go High, but I go Low

I’ve been steering away from being that foreigner who compulsively photographs every piece of food that goes in her mouth while vacationing in Japan.  I traveled that road for a number of years and finally now feel no need to document it.Eating beautifully presented food has become more of a daily event, not something unexpected.  For example, I don’t photograph my morning bowl of oatmeal each time I have breakfast. It’s also pretty boring looking at the food other people have eaten, even if it is garnished with a maple leaf.  No one has shouted at me,, “More food photos, please!”

In order for you to see what I was into, I’m posting some Japanese food photos from previous visits.  These look pretty amazing to me at the moment, although it’s probably because I haven’t eaten dinner as yet.img_6402 img_6462 img_6782 img_6858 img_7223

The simple truth is, I eat more humbly while I’m on my own.  My husband loves to go out for more elaborate meals, which of course, I enjoy. But to eat in these places, one must first plan ahead and make a reservation. Plus, these aren’t the kinds of places I’d want to eat in by myself. Left to my own devices, I find more than enough tasty options, that I can just take advantage of as the spirit moves me, or shall I say when the hunger pangs strike.  There are dozens and dozens of choices.

My recent last -minute- eat -alone stand-by is a fast food chain, named Ootoya, specializing in a contemporary hybrid of teishoku (set meal) cuisine.

ootoya

First of all, a fast food restaurant, that plays a soundtrack of Miles Davis’ Autumn Leaves and June Christy’s Lilac Wine, has to have something going on.  Secondly, consider a restaurant  whose workers function like a smiling,well-oiled relay team from the moment you are greeted, seated, order and served.  Last, but not at all least, they deliver a very tasty meal in just a short time. Just like Goldilocks, you can choose a small, medium or large bowl of rice, white or whole grain.   Food and small, whole grain rice bowl consumed, I walk out smiling as well.

All for under $15.  NO TIP NEEDED.

P.S.  It might happen that you’ll see a few food photos in future posts, now that my husband is here with me and has taken over the reins of making food decisions. But only if I absolutely can’t resist.

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Dining Alone and Never Lonely

I paused at the entrance of the restaurant.  It looked inviting, but all the menu listings displayed outside the front door were written in Japanese.  Rather than turn away as I would have done a few years ago, I slid open their door and asked them if they have an English menu.  All heads turned at the sound of a foreign language. They obviously didn’t cater to tourists.  I’ve discovered that sometimes Japanese restaurants have an English menu as well, if you inquire.  This was the case tonight.

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The Japanese seem perplexed when I go out to eat at night  and hold up one index finger only and mumble “hitori” (one person) because I’m never sure I’ve got the correct word.  It seems to be unusual to dine alone here.  I haven’t figured out if it’s more unusual for women than for men, but my hunch is, that’s so. I was quickly offered a seat at the long dark wooden bar and given an English menu, which probably offers less than 10% of what’s available. However,  I never have trouble selecting something that always turns out to be just fine and usually delicious.

I was sitting face to face with a number of impressively glistening sake bottles on the ledge of the counter immediately in front of me and quickly decided that a drink was just what I needed, the problem was which one?  I asked the waiter which one he recommended, but he had no idea what I’d asked.  I tried another tack, this time adding basic sign language, “Which one do you(pointing at him) like?” (pointing at the bottles) then dramatically lifting my eyebrows at the end of the question in expectation?  Bingo. he smiled broadly and quickly poured me a glass of delicious sake that cascaded over the glass into the saucer.

On to dinner.  Another young waiter, unable to contain his curiosity, soon came by to ask me in halting English, where I was from.  That answered, he then returned after a few minutes, asking, “touring?” Well, not exactly, but to go into details was far too complicated and I just decided to smile and say hai!(yes).  That satisfied him for a few more minutes  until he felt the need to comment on how well  I used hashi (chopsticks).  “Oh, how did you learn to use chopsticks so well?” he wanted to know.  “I have been to Japan many times,” I told him, thinking this would probably be the end of the conversation.  He looked very surprised, but then, left me alone.  My guess was his English was just slightly better than my Japanese and it had played out.

Without fail, I am always complimented on my skill with a pair of chopsticks.  I have this feeling that maybe there’s a hidden camera in each restaurant that focuses exclusively on foreigners, as the servers assess their skills.

Almost universally, if you utter only one word in Japanese to a stranger while here, you will be immediately complimented enthusiastically on your language proficiency.  I used to say truthful things like no-no I really know very little. That is still true, however, this time I’ve started responding, ‘I think so too.”  It really doesn’t matter what you say, so why not amuse yourself?

I had a fine dinner and left satisfied, not before thrilling my interlocutor by asking for his photograph.

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sushi fest

When my husband looks for restaurants for us to try while in Japan, he leaves no stone unturned.  So why was I so surprised by the reservations he managed to secure at three unbelievable sushi restaurants in Kanazawa?

Some back story.  Sushi is best consumed and celebrated when you’re near the large bodies of water the fish have been taken from.  Get away from the coasts of Japan and there’s not a lot of sushi. At least that you’d want to write home about. Kanazawa is on the Sea of Japan and is known for its fine sushi restaurants.  Just how fine we learned in three consecutive nights of an over-the-top sushi-fest.

The resemblance to anything we’ve known before begins and stops with the word sushi. It doesn’t really prepare you for the experience that awaits you in Kanazawa. It’s like suddenly jumping from elementary school to a PhD degree, or going from rhinestones to diamonds, or from a crappy but useable car to the perfection of a new Mercedes, from a neighborhood church to the Vatican, or from a small town theatre to Broadway.

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 At the third and final night of sushi-fest, we find The Sushi Master is a slight man, dressed all in white.  He spends  two hours feeding seven of us seated at his broad, light wood, impeccable counter. No fish is displayed here.  There are no stains on the wooden counter. He tells us that he spends two hours each night scrubbing down the counter. No music plays in the background.  The atmosphere is serene, with no distractions. It’s about fish.  This is prime time, baby.IMG_6680

The only items on display are the gleaming knives, sharp as samurai swords! The freshness of the fish is indisputable.  The chef travels each day to the Noto Penninsula to buy his fish, 65 miles each way.  The standards here are as high as they get.  We know immediately we’re in the hands of an expert whose hands have the grace and fluidity of an Indonesian temple dancer.  We learn he’s been a sushi chef for 26 years.  Respect.

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 Leave any squeamishness at the door. Choose a fine Kanazawa sake and let the evening begin.

These are the notes I took so that I could remember some of our many courses, since no pictures were allowed, although we did get a few before the edict was spoken. We received specific eating instructions from the chef before each course, such as which sauce to use, when to salt, or when not to add anything.

Three Japanese women sat next to us at the counter.  As each course was presented, they collectively made a distinctly Japanese sound of appreciation, which to an American ear sounds like eeeeuuuhhhh, starting low,tone rises just a bit by the end of the sound.  I think you have to be native born to carry that sound off with any authenticity.  I’d never attempt it.

Fugu gonad.  Yes, gonad. What size was the fish, I wonder?

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Steamed abalone. 6 hours of steaming. 

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Boiled abalone . 2 days worth of boiling.

Steamed oyster in broth in elegant black laquer bowl.

Sea cucumber egg sack.  Yes, egg sack. 

Whelk in beautiful shell.

Salt grilled fish, with salt from the Noto Penninsula.

Needle fish, sliced thin as a needle.

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Giant Shrimp, head cooked, body eaten raw.

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Sea cucumber egg. Very salty. Traditional.

Grated fresh wasabi, with each course, when appropriate.

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Sea urchin.  Never used to eat, now enjoy.

After all this fish we have consumed, I must admit to feeling a bit on the glutted side.  Well, maybe more than a bit.

 It’s been a privilege to sit at the counters of these masters, although I do think I’ve been spoiled for life.