Friday, January 15, 2010

Om nom nom (Part 2)

More delicious goodness from the Land of the Rising Sun :D

Let's begin.

While in Osaka, I met up with a martial arts friend who took me to a great izakaya (I love those places) in the covered arcades right by Osaka station. The walk down the stairs into the restaurant was...interesting. Spiky, hardened grasses protruded from the walls of the stairwell that led into the restaurant, which would be quite hazardous if encountered during an inebriated state. Anyways, the food:
-Top left: Ostrich meat cooked rare, covered in a Japanese style-mayo, avocado slices, and nori. Turns out that I'm a huge fan of ostrich.
-Bottom left: Skewers of the most random parts of chicken that I never would have expected to eat. Heart (surprisingly flavorful, and a bit firm), liver, esophagus (quite chewy), and the normal bits and pieces. I didn't encounter a part of the chicken that wasn't at least palatable, though.
-Right: A flight of five clumps of minced chicken meat with an array of toppings. I won't name all of them, but the one in which I dipped it into raw egg was quite delightful.

Huge Mitarashi Dango
Enormous mitarashi dango bought from a stand in Arashiyama, Kyoto. These were the best dango BY FAR that I had in Japan. The dango itself was hot and gooey with just the slightest tinge of sweetness. The sauce itself mixed the saltiness of the soy sauce with even more sweetness from the sugar base, creating a snack that was absolutely perfect to eat while wandering through the bamboo forests of Kyoto. I immediately went back for a second one, thanking the girl that made them profusely.

Fresh soba!
After visiting Fushimi Inari shrine, I had a hankering for soba. To my utter and complete joy, I walked by a restaurant where a large window showed a chef making soba noodles by hand (not uncommon, I know, but still cool). I took an immediate turn straight into the restaurant, where I spent a good five minutes speaking terrible Japanese with the Japanese-only speaking workers. Oh well. The soba tasted just as fresh as I had seen firsthand. It did well in absorbing the soba tsuyu on the side, which itself was tasty but not remarkable. With a few cups of green tea, I was satisfied and on my way.

The famous Kagizen Yoshifusa sweets shop in Kyoto serves a peculiar dish called Kuzukiri, in which arrowroot noodles in iced water is served with a black sugar dipping sauce. The noodles have a somewhat slimy, gelatin-like consistency and not too much flavor. The dipping sauce had a lovely caramelized flavor that I found surprisingly complex for what I initially assumed to be a simple sugar syrup. But the details of the dish are what impressed me the most. It was served in a set of stacking bowls, made from wood and lacquered with urushi. The bowl enhanced the overall aesthetics of the meal, and I wouldn't be surprised if the bowl was older than me. The ice used wasn't just some random ice from some refrigerator's ice machine; the ice was comprised of substantial chunks and were crystal clear, to the point that they became invisible in the water. It was the sort of ice that I wouldn't mind using for a top-shelf cocktail, and heightened the perceived value of the dessert.

Modan Okonomiyaki
Modan Okonomiyaki from Chibo in Osaka. The restaurant was recommended to me by both the hostel owner and Lonely Planet, so I gave it a shot. Seeing as Gaja in Lomita has you prepare your own okonomiyaki, I assumed that the procedure would be the same in Japan. Turns out that only the cheaper places have you do that, which takes out a little bit of the fun of the meal but is worth it in terms of taste and appearance. The shrimp, pork, yakisoba noodles, and other things thrown into the okonomiyaki were fine and typical, but the fatty beef was something else entirely. It was salty and chewy, slowly melting in my mouth as I savored the flavor of the delightfully unhealthy pieces of fat. I died in that restaurant. On a different note, the meal actually looked exactly like it did in the menu picture. Impressive.

Osaka is famous for its okonomiyaki. After eating at Chibo, I can see why.

Ippudo Ramen!
Ippudo in Tokyo. This was one of the several Ippudo locations throughout Japan, nationally renowned for their Kyushu-style ramen. It is customary to pile a tower of seasoned bean sprouts onto the ramen, then crush fresh garlic into the broth. I did both with cheerful abandon, mixed the concoction, and slurped away with gleeful abandon. This was the single most flavorful broth I ever drank in my life, and is what I feel embodies the idea of umami. The noodles were a bit hard, but the chashu was sublime as was every single drop of the broth which, to this very moment, I can taste on my tongue. I wish to never lose it. The workers here were exceptionally friendly, and I also managed to eat my bowl at the same rate as the regular (he had a frequent eater card) next to me. I felt a tiny bit accomplished, not gonna lie.

That concludes the noteworthy meals I had in Japan. Looking at this post now, I could go for some really good Japanese food. Oh well.

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