Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Om nom nom (Part 1)

I had the pleasure of eating my way across Japan. Quite literally. I'm pretty sure 90% of my budget was allotted for food, and I'm definitely sure that I used up most of said budget. From the street food and tiny train station restaurant of Tokyo, to the legendary gastronomical delights of Osaka, to the haute cuisine of Kyoto, I ate and ate and ate. Here are some of my favorites.

One of my goals in Japan was to eat as much takoyaki (octopus wrapped in a ball of gooey batter) as possible. I accomplished this goal, to the dismay of my innards and wallet.
-Top right: A random takoyaki stand in Seoul, which had surprisingly fresh ocotopus
-Top left: Takoyaki outside of Hie-jinja in Tokyo. Good, but a bit unremarkable
-Bottom right: Takoyaki from Donai-ya in Amerikamura (America Village, named for the black market trade there post-WWII). This place gave 8 in a batch instead of the usual six :D
-Bottom left: HUMONGOUS takoyaki outside of some shrine. Whereas most places used small chunks of octopus, this stand used half of an entire leg for each ball. Definitely felt more substantial, but the giant pieces of sea creature deliciousness seemed to throw off the balance of the batter. They were also noticeably harder to eat than lesser takoyaki.

More izakaya food
I shared my first dinner in Tokyo with Ricky (Saaya's bro) who was nice enough to let me crash at his place. He also took me out to an Izakaya (Japanese version of a pub, sort of) that was popular with students from his university. We ordered lots of tiny little plates of food, but these were two of my favorite. Pig tongue, chicken skin, and chicken skewers that were greasy and delicious. If I had the option, I would buy these in bulk and walk around with a bag full of them, munching on them as I went about my day. In the background is a plate of lightly fried housemade tofu topped with an assortment of vegetables. The tofu was soft and creamy, a bit like flan.

Mabo Tofu
Mabo Tofu from the Vulcania restaurant in Disney Sea. That park was quite impressive (especially for Disney fans) and I'll write about that in a later post. The mabo tofu itself was surprisingly good for theme park fare, and quite filling. The cast members warned me of its spiciness several times, but I was not impressed. Still tasty, though.

Yuba Udon
Yuba, a specialty of Kyoto, is the skin of tofu, made through an extremely painstaking process that I probably do not have the patience for. The texture is unlike anything that I would expect from something tofu-derived - it's stretchy, for one. I had it served over udon in Kyoto in a peculiar restaurant owned by a man who looked like an extra on Miami Vice. The dish itself was wonderful, however.

In Japan, one does not usually order sake when referring to rice wine. Sake is an umbrella term for alcohol; Nihonshu is used to denote traditional rice wine.
The one on the left is reishu sake, or chilled. The glass is sometimes served in a small wooden container, with the glass overflowing into said container as a show of generosity. In my case, it came in a small bowl (which was almost filled to the brim in itself). It had a nice sweetness to it and went down quite smooth...if only I remembered the name of it. Damn.
The one on the right is amazake, a sweet sake mixed with rice bits and ginger and is usually served piping hot around winter festivals. I got to enjoy this particular cup of nihonshu on the grounds of Kyoto's Kiyomizu-dera, one of the most famous temples in Japan. Pictures of that amazing location to come shortly.

Unagi and folded egg over rice served at Kaneyo in Downtown Kyoto. The restaurant had the awesome marketing strategy of placing barrels of live eels outside the front door, to denote freshness. Sadly, it was too cold for the eels and they had to be brought inside. Shame. The eel here tasted fresher than any unagi that I'd had in So Cal, with the sauce combining just the right amount of saltiness and sweetness to perfectly complement the flavor of the eel. The egg was a tad out of place, but I love eggs so I didn't mind at all. Definitely a place to check out again when I go back to Kyoto (whenever that may be).

This food post has drawn on a lot longer than I expected. So this shall be part 1. Part 2 to come shortly. Thanks for reading, and I hope this has spurred a desire to hit up your local Japanese restaurant.


Indra said...

I'm actually about to cry I'm so jealous. Haha more so because it just looks too exquisite. I'm literally drooling

marshall said...

That takoyaki from Donai-ya looks insane. Takoyaki in LA is always so uneven. I order it and feel disappointed all the time.

So much envy!

Great lighting in the photos, too.