Sunday, May 2, 2010
Sushi, Kaiseki, Tiny Fish and Nato: More Japanese Food Adventures
The desserts were not the only interesting and delicious foods we found in Japan. Everything was delicious (just about), fresh, colorful and beautiful. You could even find really good meals for under $10 in train stations and on the the streets. The best part is that all of the offerings were displayed with realistic food models in the windows of restaurants.
Osaka is known for its food, especially street food. This was the first place I have ever had octopus...and I LIKED IT!! Takoyaki and cold green tea was the first meal we had in Japan. It was about 10:30pm by the time we got settled in our hotel and ventured out to find street food and take in some of the sights of young, vibrant Osaka. I have to say, I was worried about eating street food, especially of the seafood nature. After seeing the street vendors in Osaka however, I realized there was nothing to worry about. Everything was served hot, fresh and clean. Takoyaki are little pancakes filled with tender octopus and a salty bbq-like sauce. They were delicious and the cold green tea was refreshing and provided a much needed caffeine boost after the long journey across the world.
After the Takoyaki we were led on an adventure to an upstairs restaurant serving raw foods that you cooked yourself. We chose from a wide array of foods on sticks that we then breaded with panko and DEEP FRIED at our tables. It was soooo good, not so healthy, but man...it tasted good after that 16 hours of travel.
Another food we ate in Osaka was Okonomiyaki, which is essentially a giant pancake cooked at the table with lotsa seafood and veggies in it. Okonomiyaki are sometimes drizzled with a mayo based sauce - The Japanese LOVE mayo. This salty, doughy, fried treat is eaten communally and scooped up with flat spatulas...my mouth is actually watering as I talk about this treat. Okonomiyaki is sometimes hard to find in the US, but they do have it in some NY restaurants and I think Korea town in Annandale, VA has some version of it. I bet they have it on the West Coast too...mmmm.
On to Kyoto... While Osaka food is pretty much on the junk food spectrum, the food in Kyoto is fresh, light and perfectly composed. In Kyoto I was introduced the Japanese art of Kaiseki. Kaiseki is the fancy food of Japan that is served in upscale restaurants and in full service Ryokan (traditional upscale hotels). We ate Kaiseki in a Ryokan. It was served in the room, in courses, as we sat on the floor. Each dish was seasonal and had each element perfectly placed. Each combination told a story about flavors and the season. It was amazing. Fresh sushi, soups, vegetables and even a seasonal river fished cooked to look like it was still swimming!!
Another interesting food phenomenon in Japan is the breakfast. It can actually be really good. Breakfast is vastly different than the fat and carb filled glory we think of as American breakfast. The Japanese morning meal is usually composed of salmon, rice, miso soup and tea. I loved this, it actually keeps you going throughout the day without that sugar high and low from eating things like donuts and bacon first thing in the morning. I posted pics of both the "Japanese version of McDonald's" breakfast and the traditional Japanese breakfast at the Ryokan.
Speaking of traditional...there were some not so appetizing components of breakfast that were a little harder on the American palate...Nato and tiny fish. Nato is a fermented bean thing, it looks like cooked down beans in cow mucus :) Rhonda ate this the first morning, and liked it, much to Erica's disbelief. This "treat" is apparently even a tough one for Japanese natives to stomach.
The tiny fish thing is probably a gourmet seasonal delicacy (it was, after all, part of the Ryokan breakfast). BUT...seeing salmon and soup for breakfast is culture shock enough, but a spoon full of crunchy tiny fishes with eyes first thing in the morning was not as much fun. I did not try either Nato or tiny fish, but did appreciate the salmon and miso soup. My favorite staple foods from the Japanese trip was soba and tempura...but that probably deserves its own post.