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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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Kinvara Smoked Salmon

Smoked Salmon Salad

One of the things that struck me on my recent trip home to Ireland and the Burren, was how fantastically fresh and delicious the seafood was. This is to be expected, as it’s on Galway Bay, however, for an island, surprisingly, lots of Irish people don’t eat fish all that much. I, for one, didn’t really start eating fish until well into my 20’s, and while living in London!

Kinvara itself, is well known for the award winning Kinvara smoked salmon. A small family run business, their organic irish salmon is smoked using age old, smoking techniques over a combination of oak and beech wood, in (to use their words) a state of the art HACCP approved Smokehouse. The salmon is sourced from their salmon farm, Clare Island Seafarm Cooperative, the only organic salmon farm in Ireland (certified organic by IOFGA), 4 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The salmon are fed on the by products of herring and mackerel and ground up crustacean shells. This lends their flesh a deep colour – it is not chosen from a selection of dyes as the colour of other farmed salmon can be. The high water movement in the Atlantic, generates strong currents compelling the salmon to swim like their wild counterparts, resulting in a flesh that is firm with a firm texture and lower fat content.

So, what of the salmon taste? I loved it, for me for what I’ve tried, it is second only to Frank Hedermans organic smoked salmon from the Belvelly smokehouse. Nigel Slater is a fan, and was quoted some years ago as saying “…the best I have eaten this year was a gently smoked fish from Kinvara.” I’d urge you to try it if you can, it is widely available in Ireland and in the UK in Waitrose, Fresh and Wild and Selfridges food hall.