Sunday, November 11, 2007

Japan Part 3.


Early Morning at the Tsukiji Market.

Mystery Flavor..

Super Cute Sweets.

I cant believe that it has taken me the longest to write about the food in Japan. For me, eating is one of my favorite things, so eating in Japan was one of my favorite memories of being in Japan.

On our first evening, jet lagged and all, we were wandering through Ginza around 4:30pm looking for a place that was open for dinner. You know, early bird special? We didn’t have too much luck with that, unless we wanted café fare via Tullys or Starbucks… so, we wandered into this cute little place tucked away down some stairs behind a wooden façade. The menu was in Japanese, with no pictures, so we figured, well, they must have sushi, right? The woman was a bit surprised to see us, Americans, walking in for dinner at 4:30, but she seated us anyway. We were the first to arrive apparently. We tried to get some English out of her, as far as the menu was concerned. She didn’t know much, and for this she bowed and apologized profusely. But, she did keep repeating, “horse” as she pointed to the different options on the menu. We would ask, “sushi?” and she would say, “ah, yes, Horse.” We would say, noodles? And she, “ah, yes, with Horse.”
Oh boy. I have too many fond memories of horses…
In the end, I think that we managed to order Udon noodles without the horse, but I am still not so sure what we ended up eating that night.

From this adventure, I learned that the Japanese restaurants seem to specialize in one thing. sushi, bento, udon, okonomiyake..or horse. And, you cant just wander into any restaurant and assume that they will have sushi, or udon noodles. What they serve is many variations of bento, or many different kinds of udon noodles..or, in the case of our first outing, many kinds of dishes prepared solely with horse.

What was really great about dining out in Japan, was that many restaurants didn’t have English menus, but they did have a hefty display case out front that showcased their menu in plastic food parts. (I have to say, I was curious to visit the factory store that makes all these plastic food items..) Many times, we would have to usher the server outside and point to the dish that we wanted, or if the menu was in Japanese with only a few pictures, we would end up ordering something that was photographed, just so we had some idea of what might be ending up on our table.

Some of my most memorable meals had to be the Okonomiyake. Something that I would never have known existed, if it hadn’t been for my mom who went on an Okonomiyake cooking kick after visiting Japan last year. It starts with either a thin pancake of batter or of noodles, and then it is filled with cabbage, meat, green onions, ginger and topped with an egg. It is cooked on a flat top in front of you, smothered with plum sauce, then pushed over to your end of the grill, where you eat it right off the hot surface. In Hiroshima, we happened upon a “village” of Okonomiyake restaurants, upstairs in a small non descript building. It was basically a floor of little open bars, each with a flat top grill, around which you sit, and they cook for you. Yum.

Of course, I can’t not talk about the sushi and the Tsukiji market, because that was a highlight and a place that T had been telling me about for 2 years. It was pretty remarkable. A few mornings, we would get up really early and just wander around the perimeter, where the shops were already open. There were these small bars along the outside, where I experienced raw fish over steamed rice for breakfast, for the first time…and, I loved it. I cant think of a healthier way to start the day, really. (we went back there the next morning for sushi at 6am..)

Of course, being a dessert person, I did some sampling of the local sweets. I have to say, while the dessert pastries are beautifully packaged, they weren’t my favorite. They make a lot of paste-like fillings encased in this chewy-anise flavored dough, that I just couldn’t bring myself to love. I tried, I did. But, I was very impressed with the bakerys there. The Japanese have adopted the Euro style bakery and have added their own twist. While I didn’t love the bean paste in the rubbery dough, I did love it in a sugar dusted filled donut, and I did love the purple taro filled sweet buns, complete with a purple sugary glaze. Oh man, they can certainly bake the breakfast pastries…

And, I cannot forget the soft serve. They served it everywhere, mostly along the touristed sights. It was the perfect snack after a morning tour of a temple and a lot of walking. They mainly served Green Tea, to my delight, but I also sampled Milk flavor, and passed up a jet black flavor. I am still not sure what it was but the picture that advertised it, made it look like it was made from charcoal. Can this be?

I could go on and on, for the food was so delicious, and the vending machines were dizzying and numerous, but this entry needs to end so that my next entry can begin.
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amy said...

are you sure those were real vending machines, or people dressed like vending machines ; )

Sara said...

well, I pressed on their buttons and a cold beverage came out, so they are quite talented!

Monica said...

Awesome writing, sara...I'd say you made me ALMOST want to go back to Japan...even though my visit was quite traumatic in that I went alone and found out quickly that most people there don't speak a word of english! Suffice to say I ended up eating a LOT of McDonalds for fear of ordering something unknown!
xoxox M.