Month: February 2013

A Postcard from Tokyo

And now on to the final leg of my Japan trip, Tokyo. It makes me sad to type that. I still manage to get lost near constantly. That is part of the Japan experience though. One restaurant that I really liked and that I want to recommend is down one of many tiny winding side alleys off a street. I asked for the street name and got the reply “there isn’t any!”. So, that is one of the challenges. Kappabashi is a must visit for passionate cooks, shops full of kitchenware line the streets and excellent knife shops. There are even a few shops that sell the plastic food you see in all restaurants here detailing the menu. I have been moving around and staying in different parts to get a feel for the city. Starting with Shinjuku: buzzy, blurry, bright and intense, this was where Lost in Translation was set. It is enormous and there is so much there including Omoide Yokocho, a network of small narrow alleys groaning with yakitori bars, it is …

A Postcard from Yokohama, Japan

Yokahama? Yes, Yokahama. I didn’t know much about it either but when planning this trip I discovered that not only is it Japan’s second largest city, it is also only half an hour on the express train from Tokyo (I know, I find that crazy). It is also the home of the Cup Noodle Museum and the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. I had to go there. A few things about Yokahama: it was the first part of Japan that was opened up as a port to the rest of the world, so it has been more heavily influenced by outside cultures than other areas. It was the first to have ice cream, 150 years ago, and has a whole range of fusion food which has spread throughout Japanese food culture. It also has Japan’s largest Chinatown (surprisingly one of only three), with 600 restaurants. I started with the Cup Noodle Museum. I didn’t know what to expect but I was surprised to arrive at a building which was designed so beautifully that it could be a …

Eating Osaka: Okonomiyaki, the pain of finding it and the joy of eating it

I have mentioned my lack of a sense of direction, coupled with no knowledge of the language and being thrown into what feels like a maze, finding my first meal was difficult. I thought I should start with okonomiyaki. I knew where I wanted to go, Mizuno. I was told it was one of the best and research supported this. I bounded out of the underground full of enthusiasm, spent a few minutes under my plastic clear umbrella in the rain turning my map around and then asked for help and followed it. Lost again. I saw two girls and asked them. They were Japanese tourists and effectively, I thought ran away, but they came back two minutes later with a girl from a sock shop nearby (who still had a lot of socks in her hand) who spoke a little English. More map twirling. Then she brought me to the shop and 3 of her colleagues helped us twirl the map. One wanted to send me one way, another the other. In the end …

A Postcard from Osaka

Greetings from Osaka, folks! 15 minutes from Kyoto on the Shinkansen (bullet train), it is a world away. Kyoto is all low (ish) buildings, gorgeous old houses and narrow streets. Geishas wander, lots of people wear kimonos, and there is a feeling of an old world ever present here. There is, of course, a very modern portion, but there is a cap on how high buildings can be. A quick journey on the Shinkansen brings Osaka, bigger, bustling, higher, brighter and a lot more ostentatious. Japan’s third largest city by population, it is busy but it is gentle by western standards, everyone is very polite and super helpful. Tucked in between enormous buildings are small alleys bursting with okonomiyaki joints and noodle bars. It is charming and delicious. I spent two days and nights there, a lot of it getting lost, but I do love getting lost sometimes, unless I am hungry, then that is a nightmare and I feel violent (mainly towards myself). I mistook the loop line for an actual loop and a …

Lunch in Kyoto: Confusion & Flavour in Equal Portions at Ujicha Gion Tsujiri

Sitting in a green tea café in Kyoto, I look at the menu and think, at least there are pictures. I had visited the shop below a couple of days earlier and the queue for the café had been insanely long, so when I idled past later, and saw none, I bolted up the stairs. It is not uncommon to find that Japanese restaurants don’t have English menus, even very popular ones like this (although I was the only tourist). Why should they? This is part of the fun I think, even when there is no pictures, I communicate in whatever way I can using sign language and whatever else I can (pleading looks, clumsy pronunciations), that I would like whatever they think is good. It usually works. Ujicha Gion Tsujiri is a green tea shop in Gion. The cafe upstairs is famous for matcha ice cream and crazy looking sundaes with ice cream, bits of cake, glutinous rice balls and sauce. I really wanted to try. I was handed the menu and reviewed the …

Japan: The Anatomy of a Kyoto Breakfast

When I first came to Japan 6 years ago, I remember nervously spying the hotel buffet, wondering how on earth I could eat fish and miso soup for breakfast. Even rice at breakfast time seemed alien. Now I am thinking, maybe this should become my breakfast routine? It is so delicious, healthy and flavourful and leaves you full of chutzpah to get on with your day. My first three days in Kyoto were marked by wonderful breakfasts (among other things). The Hyatt Regency, where I stayed, has a wonderful restaurant Touzan, that serves a gorgeous local breakfast, very much Japanese, but with local flavours. I was hooked. When I first dipped that semi dried barracuda into the seasoned egg, I sighed, then smiled. It was dreamy. Japanese breakfasts, when you first have them, are overwhelming, in content and size. An enormous tray of food arrives with lots of fish, some fresh, some preserved, some tiny, a bowl of rice, pickles, tofu, tea, more fish, more pickles and lots of tea. Japanese food is fiercely seasonal …

Valentine’s Day in Japan: a totally different experience

Japan is wonderful for so many reasons. I feel totally out of my water here and at once, also, at home. It takes a few days to adjust, as it does to anywhere. I am taking my shoes off in the wrong places, and very clumsily, much to the amusement of the locals. Sitting for the tea ceremony results in a speedy dead leg and limping out, and drinking the tea with all of the particular traditions (and with the fear of offending everyone) will hopefully become easier soon. Sometimes things appear inverted. Japanese people are so polite and softly spoken, I feel so bolshy by comparison. It takes care and attention to pick up on important details at times, so, I am quieter than normal (mostly!), listening, observing and learning, and taking a much in as possible. Take Valentine’s Day, for example. On Valentine’s Day it is the woman’s responsibility to buy chocolates – and only chocolates – for the men in her life. There are two types of chocolates, giri choco and honmei …