Saturday, April 21, 2012

Japan food love

So I'm coming back to my very neglected blog after several months -_- told you I was a bad blogger.

So anyway Ant and I just got back from a three week trip to Japan, which was SO GREAT I can't even begin to say.  I love Japan so much and I didn't want to leave T___T  So my next few (dozen) posts will be shots from Japan.  Today I am going to start with food glorious food, because, we, um, did a lot of that.  This is a super long post, so please be forewarned. It's like I'm making up for four months' hiatus in one post.

We landed at Narita around 8am.  The plan for the day was to head to Nikko, which required us to go via Asakusa.  This was excitingly convenient for me because I had read that the world's best melonpan is sold by an old guy in Asakusa, and I LOVE MELONPAN.  By the time we got there it was 9.55am, 5 minutes before he opened, and the queue was 20 people deep -_-  And you guys, it was so worth it.  I included a shot of the bag below in case anyone wants to go to their website for directions - basically though, just get almost all the way to Sensoji and then follow your nose.

Our first meal in Nikko was a 3.30pm late lunch that became an early dinner supplemented with conbini snacks.  We ended up at a soba/udon place close to the train station.  I had sansai soba (mountain veggies = virtuous) and Ant had kakiage udon.  I don't know if it was just that we were starving, but this was AMAZING and like 350 yen each.  We kept looking at each other, all "can you believe this??" the whole meal.  Oh Japan your food is so great.

The next day we went to the world heritage sites at Nikko.  It was SO COLD.  We had just come from mid-30s weather in Perth, and now we were in Nikko with snow on the ground -_-  I had a yummy bowl of oshiruko at a little chaya out the back of Toshogu Shrine.  It warmed me up momentarily, and also reminded me of when I was on exchange over New Year in high school and didn't know how to eat mochi and nearly choked.  YEAH.

Lunch was a similarly "oh god it's so cold" choice of curry rice.

Ramen for dinner!  I had the "stamina" set.  Apparently in Japanese, "stamina" means "a metric crapton of garlic, plus some gyoza".

The next day we headed up even further into the mountains, where it snowed like crazy.  That was actually pretty awesome because I'd never seen falling snow before.  Lunch was te-uchi soba with yuba, which is one of Nikko's specialties (the yuba, not the soba, though the soba was pretty great too.)

We went to a cafe mid-afternoon to thaw, and had cafe au lait and yuba pudding.  The pudding was great!  It was like soy pannacotta.  It was very fresh, not too sweet, and served with black sugar syrup.  Ant wasn't a huge fan so I got to eat more than my half.  Win!

We had a tasting plate sort of dinner - a big plate of pork and veggie stir fry, kaki-fry and karaage, soup and rice.  I know it looks heavy but that's two people's worth, and the veggies were light and tasty.  I'd never had kaki-fry before (fried oysters) and I really enjoyed it!  I think I like oysters better cooked than raw.

Back to Tokyo the next day.  I wanted to shop at 109 so we went to Shibuya and had ramen for lunch at a place we had been to a few years ago.  OMG best ramen ever.  I can't even describe how good this stuff is, and I count myself as well-travelled in ramen-eating.  The tonkotsu soup is just sublime. The pork topping is melt-in-your-mouth tender. The noodles are so qq!  I could eat this every day and never tire of it.

Ant wanted katsu for dinner (this was a recurrent theme - katsu is one of Ant's major food groups in Japan) so we went to a little hole-in-the-wall ticket machine place.  I had mince katsu with meat sauce.  It was actually pretty tasty! I was a little dubious from the photo, but I was quite wrong.  I also learned this trip that I've done a 180-turn on hojicha and now I love it.  Ant has come around on red bean paste, too, so both of us grew as foodies this trip, or something. Also for some reason the frame on this photo is black.

Starbucks for breakfast the next day.  Both of us were hanging out for real espresso coffee, and whilst Starbucks isn't the greatest coffee in the world, it's reliably fine, and sometimes that's all you need.  Their current breakfast promo was French toast, and it was so good I had it almost every other time we went to Starbucks.

We went to Akihabara to go to the giant Yodobashi Camera so Ant could pick up some gear.  Lunch was at a kaiten sushi place on the restaurant floor, and it was really good!  The chefs were excited that Ant is Italian and kept saying "ciao!" to us all the time.

Next we headed to Harajuku where Cheesie and I had planned to meet for crepes.  But that was stormocalypse day in Tokyo (their biggest storm in 60 years or something, all the above ground train lines were closed o_O) and the rain started coming down really hard just as she was leaving the house, so in the end we couldn't meet T______T  Hopefully there will be another opportunity in future!  So anyways we picked up a quick crepe from Angel Hearts (strawberry cheesecake for me, caramel cheesecake for Ant) and then scarpered back to the hotel, where we stayed all night.

Angel Hearts crepe menu
BONUS!  Photo of Angel Hearts menu.  I looked all over the web for this last month and couldn't find it, so maybe it will be of use to somebody. Click through for the full size.

Went to DisneySea the next day and forgot to take photos of what we ate -_-  I highly recommend the Reuben sandwich at the New York Deli in the American Waterfront section.  It was really good!  I also recommend the black pepper popcorn that you can buy from a couple of carts, AND that you go to the Big Band Beat show.  (That's not a food-related thing, but we went in on a whim and it was seriously fantastic.)

Went to Hakone the next day and had curry-pan for breakfast from Picot, the bakery attached to the Fujiya Hotel, where we stayed.  It was more like a curry-filled donut.  It was pretty great.

Lunch was suiton (a dumpling soup - my first time trying it) at a small shop near Miyanoshita station.  This was great!  It was full of mountain vegetables, mushrooms and chicken in a really tasty broth.  (I am aware that it doesn't look fabulous.  Dumplings never photograph well.)

We took the ropeway up to Owakudani (Hell Valley), which is a sulphurous volcanic spring.  One of the local specialties is eggs that have been hard-boiled in the sulphury water so that their shells turn black.  Apparently, each one that you eat adds seven years to your life.  They just take like regular hard-boiled eggs, though, so I couldn't bring myself to eat more than one. (Soft eggs - yay!  Hard eggs - meh.)

This is my dinner.  It will probably gross a lot of people out.  It's soba topped with grated yamaimo (mountain yam) and a raw egg.  It was slimy as all get-out, but super tasty.  For most westerners, the sliminess can take some getting used to.

Dessert was pudding from the hotel bakery.  Yum.

I also had a collagen drink.  I had these every day we were there but for some reason it took me a week to take a photo.  Oh well.

The next day we walked around Hakone some more and stopped for a break at Amazake-chaya, a tea house on the Kyukaido (the old highway that ran between Kyoto and Edo aka Tokyo.)  Aside from the gas heater, the place looks like it hasn't changed in hundreds of years, including their menu.  We ordered amazake, which is a thick, sweet rice drink; and uguisu-mochi, which is fresh mochi covered in kinako.  Both were very tasty, but Ant didn't like them so I ended up eating/drinking it all myself so as not to cause offense.  That is a LOT of rice right there, and I felt pretty queasy afterwards. Apologies for the particularly poor quality of the photo, there's not a great deal of light inside the chaya.

A few hours later and Ant was jonesing for some lunch, so we stopped in at a Chinese place in the Sengokuhara highlands that specialized in gyoza.  I ordered the "mini set" because I was still full of mochi, but as it turns out mini still means "6 gyoza, a medium sized bowl of ramen, a bowl of rice and some soup."  FAIL ME.  I pushed off some of my gyoza onto Ant but I still had to eat most of it myself.

We did a lot more walking, but come dinnertime I was still mostly full and just wanting an onigiri or something.  Ant wanted something a bit more substantial but we figured we could find a cafe or something that could suit both of us.  However, as it turns out, the only place open in Miyanoshita was a Korean place.  That seemed fine to me, because they had some legitimately small dishes displayed in the window, so we went in.  And once we were seated, we found out that for dinner they only serve a full course, and all you get to choose it what type of meat it is, and this is what I got.


And you know what?  It was so freaking delicious that I ate it all -_-  (I paid for it though, I was awake most of the night with a stomach ache.)

Skipped breakfast the next day and was sort of hungry by lunchtime.  We were on the shinkansen bound for Kyoto at that point so I had an ekiben.  Don't even know what it was exactly - pork, but not sure what cut.  It was mercifully small and really yummy.

I had a sakura and green tea flavoured soft cream mid-afternoon up near Kiyomizu-dera which somehow filled me right up again, so when Ant said he wanted tempura for dinner I obliged him but ordered the mini-set.  Will I never learn??  Because a mini-set looks like this:

Chawan-mushi, a bowl of ten-don with only one less piece of tempura than the large set, a whole bowl of udon AND THEN ICECREAM TO FINISH.  Ant had the icecream and I couldn't even touch the udon.  I think I offended them, they seemed surprised when they came to clear the table :(

Next day we went to Nara and Ant wanted katsu AGAIN (I wanted MOS burger after skipping breakfast but stupid google maps led us to McDonald's instead -_- Did I type マクドナルド? No I typed モスバーガー stupid stupid.)  Anyway this katsu place was right next to McD's and seemed super popular so we went in, and it was really good, so eh.  Plus my serve was happily quite small, which seemed to bring my meal body clock back into line thank goodness.

Strawberry parfait!  That is all.

Then apparently we had ramen again?  I don't remember this at all but it's next on my photoroll so I guess it's true.  It looks like it was good...!  Can't believe I don't remember a single thing about this.

But I DO remember that we had MOS burger for lunch the next day and I was so hungry I didn't take a photo at all -_- For the record, Thousand Island burger and onion rings FTW.

Nooooooooo wait I do remember the ramen!!  It was at Kyoto station on floor 10.  We queued up for a while and it was pretty great.  The more memorable thing about it, though, was that the guy sitting next to me a) had the most amazing ramen slurp I've ever heard, and b) ordered three additional noodle bundles o_O  And lemme tell you, they were not small bundles.  Anyway.  Moving on.

The evening after MOS burger we ate at Kyoto station again.  I had wagyu and it was AHMAHZING.  They brought it out to me raw with a personal grill, and I gave it a quick sear on each side and called it a day.  I've never had beef so amazing and I probably won't ever buy beef again and it's ruined everything else for me.  The sashimi, pickles and sides (not pictured) were great too, but let's face it - this dish was really all about the beef.

Picked up a packet of collagen gummies at Hiroshima station.

And some Calorie Mate, maple flavour.  Calorie Mate has been around forever but I'd never tried it, so I bought this.  One bite in and I'll never try it again -_-  It's so dry!  The flavour was fine though.

Hiroshima okonomiyaki!  Yes, there is okonomiyaki under all that.  Hiroshima style is layered, as opposed to Osaka style, which is mixed.  The layers here are, from bottom to top, okonomiyaki batter, cabbage, yakisoba, cheese, fried egg, toppings.  This was huge and I only made it about halfway through.

Our next meal was really special - a proper kaiseki meal at Kurayado Iroha, the ryokan we were staying at on Miyajima.

First course - fried tofu with miso sauce.  Very light and flavourful.

Tastes of the sea!  The star of the show was definitely the anago (conger eel) sushi in the middle, but the garlicky conch "pie" on the left was a close second.  The fried ama-ebi at the bottom were tasty too.

A fresh and light soup with bracken fern, bamboo shoot, and a steamed fishball made from a river fish whose name I didn't catch :(  Real fresh bamboo shoot is unbelievable.  The canned stuff isn't even the same species as far as I am concerned.

Sashimi!  There's tai (bream) at the front, a chewy white fish layered with seaweed on the left, and cuttlefish-wrapped uni at the back.  This uni was great - it tasted sweet and clean.

At this point the waitresses lit our individual nabe burners that were sitting on the table, and gave us these charred broad beans to nibble on while we waited for them to heat up. (Erm, just nibbled on the beans, not the pods.)

And here's the nabe!  It was eel, leek and amazing.

Surprisingly we weren't fully yet, which was good because there was still more coming.  These were hiroshima beef cabbage rolls, and they were just as good as the wagyu I had the night before if not better.  So yeah definitely can't have beef in Australia anymore.  As with all the courses, the presentation was exquisite, and the dish it was served on was beautiful.

Tai served with lily bulb in a sweet-ish sauce.  I think the sauce was just the stewing liquid from the lily but I'm not sure.  Tai was a theme to the night's dishes as it was in season.

Here's some more tai - this time in the form of tai-meshi (mixed rice), served with pickles and miso soup to signify the end of the meal.  The rice was perfectly seasoned and just slightly crispy in places, and it was probably my favourite part of the whole meal.  I had a second bowl of it *^^*  (And I hoped they would served it for breakfast the next day too.)

A light dessert to finish - strawberry yoghurt pudding and a slice of melon.  This might look simple but it was utterly perfect.  I actually teared up a little bit at this point from how amazing everything had been.  Yeah.

Breakfast the next day was also at the ryokan.  It didn't include tai-meshi as I had hoped but it was was great all the same:

Tamago and clam miso soup

Salmon, carrot and orange juice, MENTAIKO, stewed potato and pickles.

Mentaiko closeup <3 This mentaiko was damn spicy!  Had to eat lots of rice with it.  I <3 mentaiko.  This ended up being the only time I ate it all trip T_T

We had hoped to see Hiroshima that day but it was absolutely pouring with rain, so we just got on the bullet train to Osaka instead.  More ekiben!

Anago-meshi, another local specialty.  I've said this a lot but it was sooooo good. I almost wished that I had bought two.

Went to Tako Tako King that night for takoyaki.  Super good!  I understand why they have a reputation for World's Best Takoyaki.

Grabbed some lunch from a couple of yatai at Osaka castle park - okonomiyaki and torikawa gyoza.  Torikawa gyoza, if you don't know (I didn't) is seasoned chicken mince wrapped in chicken skin then fried o_O so of course it was damn good.  This was the only hanami we did and it was so, so beautiful.  My heart was very full that day.

We also got this from another yatai - strawberries coated in a thin layer of hard sugar syrup.  The crispness of the toffee contrasted with the softness of the super sweet delicious strawberries was out of this world.  Japan has also ruined Australian strawberries for me - these were like nothing I've ever bought here.

More katsu!  Like I said, Ant ate an awful lot of katsu (usually in the form of katsu-don).  I was the only girl in this place and I felt super conspicuous.  Good food though.

Honey toast!  One of my food goals for this trip was to eat honey toast and I succeeded on the last evening.  Ant had French toast with berries though and frankly it was a better choice.  Look:

Yeah.  Yum.

Last dinner - okonomiyaki again!  This place is a sentimental favourite for us as it's the first place Ant had okonomiyaki (and the first place I liked it at - I'd only tried it once before and it was so salty I almost never had it again).  Mine has mochi in it.  That's right.

And that was it!  Coffee at Starbucks the next morning and then home again, with an extra 3kg of me thanks to all the eating -_-  So right now it's all green tea and rice crackers here, but that's OK because it was SO worth it.

Thanks if you made it all the way to the end!  If this has made you keen for a Japan food trip of your own, I can't encourage you strongly enough to DO IT. You will have an amazing time and not regret it at all. There were many fewer foreign tourists there this trip than the last few times I have been, which is really sad. So if you have the urge, PLEASE GO.

Next post - sakura probably!  (Or shopping, haha.)