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A Postcard from Tokyo

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Shinjuku, Tokyo

And now on to the final leg of my Japan trip, Tokyo. It makes me sad to type that.

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Tokyo

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!”.

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Sushi sweets in a sweet shop in Asakusa, Tokyo

So, that is one of the challenges.

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Kitchenware in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Tiny branding irons in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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HAI!

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Bright kettls, in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Plastic food shop in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Plastic beer is a lot more expensive than an actual beer, in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Plastic yakatori, in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Plastic meals and levitating forks, inKappabashi, Tokyo

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.

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Things you might need for your restaurant, in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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Cutters in Kappbashi, Tokyo

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Knife engraving, inKappabashi, Tokyo

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Gorgeous Japanese knives in Kappabashi, Tokyo

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 also known as “Piss Alley”.

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Yakitori in Shinjuku, Tokyo

Tucked in the middle of Omoide Yokocho is a noodle bar on a corner that serves soba and udon. Everytime I pass it, it is packed. One lunchtime, I joined the queue with the salary men and ordered tempura udon, which I immediately regretted when I noticed everyone around me had soba. Nonetheless, it was very good, with a big cake of shrimp and vegetable tempura on top and an onsen tamago (slow cooked egg), it came to about £2.50. Tokyo can also be really bargainous.

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Shinjuku noodle bar

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Tempura udon with onsen tamago, in Shinjuku, Tokyo

The rest of my time here has been filled with seeking the best ramen, exploring the high end a little, finding tempura, monjayaki, tonkatsu, yakitori, gyoza and digging out where I had my first tempura meal here 6 years ago. I tried some Japanese merlot (which was very good).

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Ingredients for mentaiko mochi monjayaki

The train stations are underground warrens of food shops. Calbee, the local crisp company, has started making fresh crisps under Tokyo station and serving them with hot chocolate sauce and ice cream. Actually really good. I have always loved matcha desserts but have really fallen head over heels this time. I am trying to stop myself buying this extraordinary chocolate matcha cake until I meet my friend and can share it with her.

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Fresh crisps with hot chocolate sauce, at Tokyo station

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Matcha chocolate cake

Lots of eating, and I will post more details on all of that soon.

For now, my postcard.

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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.

Cup Noodle Museum, Yokohama

Cup Noodle Museum, Yokohama

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 modern art gallery (by the director of Uniqlo, I believe).

The museum details the path to discovering instant noodles, starting with the Chikin (sic) Ramen in 1958 to now, many years and thousands of products later. Cup Noodle is a serious business in Japan, they are actually very delicious (Pot Noodle has given instant noodles in the UK a bad rep). Everyone eats them here and it is common to add lots of fresh bits and pieces like seafood, meat, egg etc to liven them up. I do this at home occasionally, it is (was) a guilty pleasure. Not so much now that I know I am in such fine company.

As part of the tour I made my own instant chicken ramen from scratch, the noodles, the seasoning, frying them to dry them etc. So much fun. We got to design our own package, mine is a disgrace, I think you will agree. I think I will recruit my 3 year old niece next time, she would do a much better job.

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This is a Cup Noodle CANDLE!

Moving on from there, and I was starving by now as I had been making food but not actually eating any, I went to the The Café at Hotel New Grand, the home of Spaghetti Napoletan, a fusion spaghetti born out of requests from western visitors for pasta with tomatoes. Originally it was made with udon and tomato puree, but now they use spaghetti. The spaghetti is not quite al dente as we would expect, as it is allowed to sit for a minimum of 6 hours after boiling to recreate that udon effect. It was actually a very good sauce, fresh & fruity. This dish is hugely popular in Japan.

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On from there through Chinatown, which has 4 large Chinese gates leading into it. The Japanese love pandas and bears and there are pandas EVERYWHERE. Lots of dim sum too.

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I finished up at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum which is an illustration of dedication to a cause, obsession and deliciousness. Mr Iwaoka, who founded the museum, travelled Japan for 3 years and tasted over 1000 different ramens. He chose what he considered to be the best and invited them to be part of the Ramen Museum.

It is set out like a part of Tokyo in 1958 (the year Chikin (sic) Ramen was invented) and 9 shops serve their ramen. The shops change regularly although some are there for longer. The one I visited, and it was so hard to choose, was Komurasakai. It is so good and so well respected that it is there on a 20 year lease serving a sublime Tonkotsu style ramen called kamamoto, that is loaded with garlic chips. The broth is rich but not greasy, somehow seeming quite light. Char siu pork is served on top along with other bits and pieces.

All ramen shops at the museum serve small portions for 550 yen (about £4) as well as normal larger portions. At 300 yen to get in (just over £2), it is well worth the trip. If I had time, I would go back to try them all over a couple of days.

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So Yokohama, well worth a trip from Tokyo. Do it.

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

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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 they all agreed on a direction and I shot off.

Lost again. I asked some people at a candied potato counter. One ran way, I was getting anxious, but came back with a map. They approved of my choice of Mizuno! Go down two blocks (the opposite direction to which I had been travelling) and go left for 3 blocks and then – did a complicated gesture with her finger on her palm, I had no idea – but I followed as much as I could.

I got there. It must be here! Where is it? I couldn’t find it.

I wandered some more and asked a girl for help. Bear in mind it was pouring down and the streets were empty. She spoke no english but I had the restaurant details and by now FIVE maps. She called the restaurant and gave me directions, again with a complicated palm gesture. I followed, I couldn’t find it, I was so hungry.

I gave up. I know I shouldn’t have but I was ground down by now two hours in. I thought, I will just follow my nose, and if I find it I will.

I wandered aimlessly in the back streets for a further fifteen minutes trying to find somewhere I recognised. I turned a corner and realised that I had been walking in an enormous circle. Super.

I crossed the road into Dotonburi again and within ten minutes had found the kushikatsu that I wanted to try at Daruma, easily recognisable by the giant head outside. A big bowl of sauce sat at each seat with a sign in english “DON’T DOUBLE DIPPING”. It was good, very good. I had quail egg, oyster, Welsh leek, chicken meatball and the original beef with an iced oolong tea. Come to London, Daruma!

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As I left I spotted the takoyaki stand that had had such a long queue across the road, and only one person there so I had some of that. Little balls of batter / pancake with octopus inside. The best I have had yet.

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I went into the seating area behind and rejuvenated by such delicious food, I thought to myself, isn’t life so much easier with just the right amount of delicious food (too much is like cotton wool for the brain, I find myself there too often). So I asked a guy there, who had little english, where is the very best okonomiyaki near here?

Oh! Yes, Mizuno!

I was startled. Am I near Mizuno? Yes, it around the corner. And sure enough it was. With a huge queue that I joyfully joined.

Mizuno. Finally, some really good Osaka okonomiyaki. What I have been looking for. I celebrated with some warm sake and had a bowl of warm tofu with sauce to start. Gorgeous. Mizuno is tiny, only eight or ten sit at the counter where they cook.

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I got the special with lots of seafood and pork, bonito, an egg on top, it broke my heart a touch to see him break the yolk, but that is how they do it. I waited 20 minutes, sipping my sake, watching, smelling and then I had a taste.

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Worth it, so worth it. I am almost glad it worked out this way.

Time to go to Tokyo.

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A Postcard from Osaka

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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.

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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.

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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 journey that should have taken 10 minutes took an hour and a half as I kept getting the wrong train. With two enormous suitcases en route to Tokyo. I do this anyway, I have a shocking sense of direction which combines beautifully with impatience at times like these, so I can’t really blame Japan.

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Never mind, I found everything I wanted to and tried almost everything I wanted to (except oshizushi – pressed sushi). Osakans love their food, it was once known as the nation’s kitchen as it used to be the centre for trading for rice. Indeed, there is an old phrase “Kyotoites are financially ruined by overspending on clothing, Osakans are ruined by spending on food”. Although, in my experience, those folks in Kyoto love their food too.

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I left Osaka hungry for more and I definitely want to go back there. It is really close to Kobe too, so it could be an epic food trip of its own.

Ps. lots more to come on Kyoto, I just like to write my postcards close to the time that I spent there.


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

Street in Gion, across from the green tea shop, Kyoto

Street in Gion, across from the green tea shop, Kyoto

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.

Menu

Menu

I was handed the menu and reviewed the pictures. I had yet to try the sweet local glutinous rice balls and also these squares of jelly covered in a powder of sorts (I now know they are warabimochi, a jelly made from bracken starch, and these were like a really toothsome tea jelly dusted with kinako, which is sweet toasted soybean flour).

So, I pointed and looked pleadingly at my waitress: this?

Waitress: No!

Me: Er, why not?

Waitress: This is a set menu.

Me: Ok, can I get the set menu?

Waitress: Yes! {always smiling}

Me: Oh, good! {relieved} I pointed again at the dish and said, pleadingly: this?

Waitress: No! {Still smiling}

This went on for a bit. A complicated dance of me, essentially trying to order the cover of the menu (even though it was about 5 pages in), I found out later through the wonders of twitter.

Waramibochi

Waramibochi

Eventually I got to order this crazy little but very delicious dessert of glutinous rice balls with warabimochi (that came with a liquid green tea sugar to pour on top), and a scoop of wonderful matcha ice cream. Because you just have to.

Fantastic matcha ice cream

Fantastic matcha ice cream

The room was starting to fill up. To my left, Kyoto’s very own Sex & the City seemed to be playing out. A guy dressed head to toe in bright pink (and really rocking it), a pink velvet blazer, light pink trousers and shirt, bright pink loafers, a pink man bag and pink phone was chatting enthusiastically with his girlfriend and to my right a couple sat down and ordered noodles.

Happiness is a green tea shop

Happiness is a green tea shop

NOODLES! I didn’t see them.

I finished my dessert and waited for the waitress. I ordered some noodles through my now established pointing enthusiastically routine. I had managed to find the noodles in the menu by now (this mental chaos is entirely supported by jet lag by the way, it is like oxygen to the flame of confusion).

Green tea noodles

Green tea noodles

The noodles arrived, green tea noodles in a cloudy broth with tofu. Light, lovely, flavourful. Dessert first, but who cares? It was all delicious.

Green tea noodles

Green tea noodles

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Japan: The Anatomy of a Kyoto Breakfast

Japanese breakfast at Touzan in Kyoto

Japanese breakfast at Touzan in Kyoto

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 breakfast at Touzan, Kyoto

Japanese breakfast at Touzan, Kyoto

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 and also tied to its geography, so while there are common themes, there are variations wherever you go. The Touzan breakfast is one of the best breakfasts that I have had to date and it is all about Kyoto.

THE TOUZAN JAPANESE BREAKFAST

Home made soy milk – so rich, fresh and creamy

Fresh tofu – Kyoto is renowned for the quality of its tofu, as it has very soft water (see also: green tea and sake) with seasoning including small fry fish and sansho pepper, detailed below.

Fresh tofu at Touzan, Kyoto

Fresh tofu at Touzan, Kyoto

Fresh semi dried barracuda with a seasoned egg – this was caught near Kyoto, and is dried for two hours which reduces the water content in such a way that the fish dries a little but stays quite fresh, and the fish becomes a little sweeter. Dipped in the seasoned egg, which was rich and gorgeous (I could swim in it), this was the highlight of the meal along with the tofu.

Fresh semi dried barracuda with seasoned egg

Fresh semi dried barracuda with seasoned egg

Kyoto pickles – Kyoto is famous for its pickles, and deservedly so. Aubergine (which in this case was pickled with shiso which changed the colour), cucumber, radish and gobo (burdock?). Really beautifully done and provides a lovely piquancy while cleansing the palate in between intense bites of the other dishes.

Small fry, sansho, pickles

Small fry, sansho, pickles

Small fry, rice and sansho pepper – I think baby sardines, they translate roughly as small fry. Either way, tiny delicious fish used to garnish your rice and your tofu, peppered, literally, with sansho.

Nishin, aubergine, beans

Nishin, aubergine, beans

Nishin (herring) and aubergine – the herring is slightly sweet due to the way it has been marinated and cooked. Herring is intrinsic to Kyoto food and is also served with soba, among other things.

Miso Soup with a beautifully soft and fragrant sesame tofu & yuzu. A bowl of rice. Lots of tea.

Gorgeous. I miss it already.

Touzan is a restaurant at the Hyatt Regency in Kyoto, where I stayed as a guest.

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Valentine’s Day in Japan: a totally different experience

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Valentine’s Day Chocolate in Kyoto, Japan – Honmei Choco, I think!

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.

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A chocolate teapot :)

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 choco, and in between is a potential nightmare, from what I can see.

Giri choco, obligation chocolates are given to the men that you work with etc. and honmei choco, true love chocolates, to the man that you would like affections returned from. The only difference between these is the price of the chocolate, and they aren’t divided into sections in the shops, they are all just chocolate. So you must be clear with your intentions by choosing a chocolate that is not too cheap but also not expensive enough to be considered a honmei choco.

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Solar system chocolates

Then you wait exactly a month until White Day, the day when men return a gift to the women / woman who gave them giri or honmei choco. The gift returned, if returned, will indicate his intentions.

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Very popular animal chocolates :)

I spoke to a lovely Kyoto lady about this, in detail. I wondered if it was as enormously stressful as it seemed? She told me that she had given her honmei choco to a man that she had an enormous crush on, but it wasn’t returned, and she was devestated. But, one of the men that she gave her giri choco to, interpreted it as an honmei choco (eeek!), but it all worked out brilliantly. He gave her a lovely gift in return on White Day (a ring but not an engagement ring or anything), they started dating, and then she married him.

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Adore this chocolate dinosaur dig, uncover a white chocolate dinosaur

The shops are full of wonderful chocolates for this tradition, I visited the Daimaru department store food court and also a wonderful green tea shop (Ujicha Gion Tsujiri), which even during the week had a very long queue for its café. They have a wonderful range of green teas and products incl fabulous chocolates and ice creams.

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My matcha honmei choco, gifted to myself :)

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…. and a matcha truffle :)

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A Postcard from Kyoto, Japan

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The Yasaka Shrine, overlooking Kyoto at sunset

Greetings from Kyoto! This is my second trip to Japan, but it is my first time outside of Tokyo and I am excited.

Kyoto, like Tokyo, is charming as you would expect, and a lot more intimate, with many more older buildings and a lot less buzz, but in a lovely way. The streets are gentle and calm and filled with the smells of great food.

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Gion, Kyoto, which you might recognise from Memoirs of a Geisha

I have been here for just 24 hours, and have already fallen head over heels for yatsuhashi, a floppy little triangular sweet that is a folded blanket of glutinous rice flour dumpling, filled with the likes of cinnamon or black sesame. I bought some to bring home, however, I doubt they will make it out of Kyoto. I tried it at Nishio, who have been making them for 324 years, so should know what they are doing.

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A wedding photograph I happened upon in Gion

Then the noodles. Lunch had to be noodle based and I opted for some terrific soba at Misoka-an Kawamichi-ya. I had cold soba with tempura. Simple but it hit every spot available. Perfect noodles, rich dipping sauce and light tempura with wasabi and fried shredded leek. My guide had a really intriguing dish that I must try: cold soba with grated raw yam, a raw quails egg and a very tiny bit of seaweed that seemed to be in oil.

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Shoes off for soba

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Soba with yam and raw quails egg

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All mixed up

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Tempura soba

No trip of mine would be complete without a thorough explore of the local food market and food shops so I made sure that I hit the Nishiki Market, a long sprawling market full of wonderful barrels of sharp pickles, all sorts of fish – dried, fresh, sashimi and pickled, a dreamy knife shop. There was also Daimaru department store food court which was terrific. A highlight was the obligation chocolates which I will tell you all about tomorrow.

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Nishiki Market

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Chopstick shop at Nishiki Market

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Amazing knife shop in Nishiki Market – Artisugu, who started making knives in 1560

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Candied sweet potatoes at Daimaru department store food court

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Tofu doughnuts at Nishiki Market

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Pickling fish at Nishiki Market

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Dried persimmons at Nishiki Market

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Octopus with quails eggs in the head at Nishiki Market

Kyoto has five geisha (or geiko as they are referred to locally) districts. The largest, Gion Kobu has 90 geiko, 30 maikos (trainee geiko) and 64 tea houses. A 90 year old geiko is rumoured to still be working there. It is impossible to access a tea house without a recommendation or invitation, but it is lovely to wander the old streets there with its plentiful restaurants and beautiful old buildings. A keen eye will spot a geiko boarding house and tea house, and luckily I was with one. I even spotted a maiko. Although, I was so engrossed with a green tea sweet shop at the time, I only managed to get a photo of her as she walked away.

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Maiko, just outside Gion, on a day off

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Two girls chatting outside a sweet shop in Gion. The board above their heads lists all activities for geiko and maiko training that week by individual.

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Curious cats

There are 1600 buddhist temples & 400 shinto shrines in Kyoto, not including the tiny ones on the streets. I visited a few. Some gorgeous, proud and bright, others more subtle and tucked among shops. The Yasaka shrine is bright and vast and very beautiful. With one of its pagodas dedicated to easy childbirth and a shrine dedicated to finding a great love match, it is a quirky place. It also seems appropriate given that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. When I got to the love match bit, it was closed, which tells you all you need to know about my love life!

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Forget your troubles – bad fortunes tied and abandoned for the deities to deal with at Yasaka Shrine

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Part of Yasaka Shrine

I had a wonderful guide, Meg, who brought me around today. She is freelance and can tailor a trip to your most random of requirements as she did mine. I found her through the Japan National Tourism Organization (who are so very helpful – be sure to contact them if you do visit), you can also email Meg to arrange.

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Angry cats – I want one for my doorway to scare away junk mailers

 

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Recipe: Banana, Coconut & Lime Bread

Banana, Coconut & Lime Bread

Banana, Coconut & Lime Bread

As with most children, I was a fan of cake. All kinds of cake, except coffee cake. That, to me, was a filthy abomination. I mean WHY would anyone put coffee in a cake, especially for children? I couldn’t understand it. Cake was a place for jam, cream, ice cream, lemon curd, chocolate, lots of things, but definitely not for coffee. (I get it now before you try to persuade me I should try it :)

When I heard that we would be making banana bread in school, I thought that we were progressing down a similar path. We had cooked mackerel, and I was starting to become suspicious that perhaps Home Economics would not be fun after all. Despite growing up almost on the Atlantic shore, as a child I hated fish. Or, at least I thought I did. So, mackerel, then banana bread, I was losing faith.

What does banana bread even mean anyway? It isn’t really a bread, there is no yeast or rising process, but then there isn’t for soda bread either. It is made with baking powder, sugar, eggs, bananas, flour. Doesn’t that sound like a cake? But it really isn’t one is it? It can be light or heavy, depending on personal preference, but it is sweet and fruity. I was converted immediately. For me, banana bread is a delicious confusion, and I think I have improved it a step here with my twist.

Stepping back a little bit again – I should explain that I have been travelling for over 24 hours and am writing my mini banana bread missive from Kyoto so forgive me when I inevitably ramble, as I am – banana bread was brought back to the forefront of my consciousness when I visited Vancouver. It was everywhere, and in many variations. They love it.

Then more recently, in the Caribbean, I started thinking about the versatility of banana as an ingredient, and I have quite a few new recipes for you now that I developed last week, although I will spread them out over the next few months for I have no desire for this to become a banana blog, that would be a different thing altogether. I could call it bananas for bananas or something similar, but I won’t.

Back to my banana bread. I love coconut as an ingredient too. Occasionally fresh when I have the patience, and maybe a hammer, more often I use coconut milk or coconut cream, and occasionally dessicated coconut. Coconut oil is a great cooking oil which I use a lot too, and it is a decent substitute for butter in baking when you are cooking for somebody that can’t eat it. I have a curd recipe which includes it, I really must blog it here. Lime goes especially well with it, as does banana. It was a no brainer really.

I used a punchy little wrinkly lime from my local Indian shop. It had such sweet strong perfume, if you are in London, seek them out. If you can’t get them, don’t worry, a normal lime will do, just be sure to get a good one, as you don’t want waxed rind in your lovely bread. Dessicated coconut gives extra coconut flavour and texture and also lightens the crumb.

I hope you like it as much as I do. It is nice and light and zingy. I realised after I made it that it is dairy free too (my first draft said vegan, jet lag is a beast! Thanks to those who commented to correct me :)

Enjoy!

Banana, Coconut & Lime Bread

Banana, Coconut & Lime Bread

Recipe: Banana, Coconut & Lime Bread

Ingredients

400g ripe bananas (over ripe work very well too)
juice and zest of 1 lime
160ml coconut cream (the small tins not the solid block, alternatively use the thickest part of a tin of coconut milk that has been allowed to separate by not agitating it)
100g dessicated coconut
200g flour
3 tsp baking powder
175g light brown sugar
generous pinch of sea salt
3 large eggs

loaf tin or cake tin (I used an 8 inch sandwich tin), buttered (or oiled)

Method

Preheat the oven to 170 deg C.
Whisk the eggs and sugar until they increase in volume and get a little creamier and thicker.
Sift the flour and baking powder. Mash the banana and mix with the flour, baking powder, and all remaining ingredients.
Pour into your prepared tin and bake until a skewer or knife comes out dry when pierced through. This will depend on whether you bake a shallow or deep cake but will take 55 – 60 minutes.

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Recipe: Bajan Pepper Sauce Chicken Wings

Bajan pepper sauce chicken wings

Bajan pepper sauce chicken wings

So, you’ve made some Bajan pepper sauce, and you really like it. What next?

So many things! It takes a little work to make but lasts for ages and it is so flavour packed that it is the perfect base for lots of marinades and sauces. I have come with several recipes which I will share with you. Starting today, with Bajan Pepper Sauce Chicken Wings.

Chicken wings are fantastic. Boney, yes, but who cares? Those bones bring moisture and flavour. The ratio of skin to meat is deliciously high, and when cooked those wings are so crisp and juicy. They are relatively cheap too, even from the best organic free range birds.

I baked these ones. Baking them is healthier, you still get lovely moist flesh and crisp skin, although it won’t be as crisp as fried. They are still lovely though, I have just eaten a big bowl of them and I want more.

The marinade is very simple: Bajan Pepper Sauce (homemade, of course), natural thick yogurt (with no sugar), 2 cloves of peeled chopped garlic and the juice of a fresh lime. That is it. Marinade overnight for best flavour. I use one third pepper sauce to yogurt so that the heat is present but gentle and then use half and half for a more firey dipping sauce. Feel free to adjust to your taste if you want it punchier.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Bajan Pepper Sauce Chicken Wings[Read more]

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Recipe: Chicken Broth with Prawn and Chorizo Meatballs and Herbs

Recipe: Prawn & Chorizo Meatballs in Chicken Broth with Herbs

Recipe: Prawn & Chorizo Meatballs in Chicken Broth with Herbs

When I am in London, my time is pretty packed. Catching up on meetings, working, organising everything (I need a PA!). My weekend are precious and often work filled. When I can, I will snatch a Saturday and cook.

I have a ritual on those Saturdays, some things I really like to do and that I find very relaxing. I start with a coffee and a newspaper in one of my favourite local cafés, then I trot to the farmers market to gather some bits. Always much more than intended, for it is full of delicious things.

This week: purple and green kale, raw honey, lots of free range eggs (which are much cheaper here than at the supermarket), a lovely plump chicken, chicken wings, and deer bones. It is eclectic, all the food comes from good places, and really, it is quite cheap if you choose well.

One thing I always bring back, either from the market or my local lovely butcher, are chicken carcasses, or failing that chicken wings. From these I concoct a large red pot of delicious stock. Rich and gorgeous, it will pepper my weekly meals.

This week I got 6 chicken carcasses (no wings) and roasted them to brown and extract the sticky delicious schmaltz (tasty chicken fat), both go into my stock pot with diced carrots, garlic, carrots, celery, shallots, bay and thyme. I then tuck into the paper and let it simmer. It is one of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Having this pot of liquid gold on hand throughout the week leads to delicious and very quick meals that tell tall tales of long cooking and exertion. Of course, there was long cooking but that was days ago, and today I reap the rewards of a fabulous soup.

You may have noticed that I love mixing creatures in a meatball. I just love a tasty meatball or pasty. On this occasion I mixed raw prawns with some soft chorizo. I also add some breadcrumbs which lighten them. Because it is so rubbish outside, I must lighten my bowl too, so I added fresh chilli, parsley and spring onion.

Now I am calling it a meatball, but being more of a meatfishball it has a different texture, being primarily prawn. Lovely though, and it brings a little character and interest to a simple bowl of broth. Lots of protein too, and not a lot of fat.

Enjoy and let me know how you get on with it.

Ps. there is ginger in the bowl in the photo, which doesn’t exactly go, but I have a poor tum and ginger is terrific for it. The recipe is better without it so I have excluded it below.

Note on the recipe: You can use hard cured chorizo too but just make sure it is pulsed fine in your food processor, and it if it is not binding because it is dry, also add an egg. This isn’t necessary with soft chorizo. This recipe is much easier with a food processor.

Recipe: Prawn & Chorizo Meatballs in Chicken Broth
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Bajan Pepper Sauce
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Recipe: Bajan Pepper Sauce

Denise with our finished pepper sauce

Denise with our finished pepper sauce

Greetings from London, I am back. The first day of Spring (really?!), in Ireland, Earrach (Ar-ock) and the 1st is St Brigid’s Day, where we traditionally made the St Brigid’s crosses. I wonder if kids still do that now?

Everyone was secretly hoping I would be miserable, I think (you were!) but, I love London, and the weather doesn’t really bother me, mainly as I have been away from it for a bit. Plus it is not long until I go away again so I want to soak London up. There is so much to write about Barbados though, and there are those recipes too, so it will live on here for a few more days at least.

The first thing I will share is the recipe for Denise’s Pepper Sauce. For the uninitiated, Bajan pepper sauce is delicious and is served with everything. Recipes and preferences vary but, generally, it is quite spicy (for the UK palate at least) but some are very hot and some a bit cooler. I like mine in the middle somewhere. This one, that I am sharing now, is HOT but, really delicious.

The interesting thing for me is how much turmeric went in it. I love fresh tumreric and use it over dried a lot. It requires prep though so I sometimes opt for powder when pressed for time. Bright yellow, a rhizome like ginger, it stains fiercely, be warned. I have had yellow hands that looked like I was an incredibly clumsy smoker for days after using it the first time. I now use gloves. It is worth seeking out as it is quite different to dried, with beautiful aromas, almost floral. Turmeric is terrifically healthy with anti inflammatory and anti oxidant properties too, it is also said to help prevent cancer and recent studies indicate it may help with lipid metabolism and weight loss.

Denise, a chef at The Club in Barbados where I stayed, shared her mother Thelma’s recipe with me, which I am so grateful for. This is the one I am sharing her with you now. Her mother passed away 2 years ago, and her recipes were her legacy to Denise. She still makes her Bajan seasonings, pepper sauce etc. Her pepper sauce recipe is traditional, and basically is composed of turmeric for colour (it also adds a lovely aromatic quality), chillies for heat, onions for consistency, vinegar thins it out and preserves it, mustard gives it an extra bass note and helps with the consistency too. A pinch of brown sugar balances it.

I took notes as we went, Denise adds as she goes and knows what she is looking for. It is a terrific and quite hot sauce. If you want it milder, add more vinegar and mustard (they use a mild American style mustard), or stretch it with some conrnflour & water. This is what they do for commercial pepper sauces. Personally, I think it takes from the flavour but if you want to reduce the heat, this is one approach you can use.

I have some recipes coming up that use this as an ingredients. Both Bajan recipes, and recipes of my own that use it as an ingredient, including a twist on Sunday roast chicken, which I am very excited about.

Whole turmeric

Whole turmeric

Peeled and chopped turmeric

Peeled and chopped turmeric

Note on the recipe: fresh turmeric is widely available in London in Asian shops and Chinese shops. It looks like skinny small ginger. Fiddly but worth it. I have also seen it in Asda too, so keep an eye out for it. If you can’t get it, don’t worry. I will be publishing my own recipe soon once I have played around a bit, and I will make a version without fresh turmeric.

Turmeric

Turmeric

Adding the peppers. PHWOAR!

Adding the peppers. PHWOAR!

Pepper sauce before vinegar and mustard

Pepper sauce before vinegar, sugar and mustard

Finished pepper sauce

Finished pepper sauce

Recipe: Bajan Pepper Sauce
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