Japan - Food



One of the things I always try to do when travelling is to stay away from 'international restaurants' and instead eat the same food as the local people do. I found Japanese food absolutely delicious, and I’m sure quite healthy as well. I had Japanese food every day and I already miss it: All the little dishes, the combination of tastes and the beautiful way of arranging everything. I believe the visual impression also matters for one's sense of appetite, and it is often overlooked many other places. This plate was just one dish of the 12 courses. Everything was so neatly arranged.

I really, really enjoyed Japanese food and had it for lunch and dinner, but after the first day I gave up on Japanese breakfast. Fish, soup and rice, etc. just wasn’t a good start of the day for me. So at the ryokan in Kyoto I hesitated when I was asked if I wanted to have breakfast. I decided against it, but the host may have guessed my thoughts because he explained they would prepare anything I’d like. So, I just mentioned I’d prefer some dairy products and/or fruit, maybe a little bread… and got a wonderful breakfast every morning for the four days I was there. I think this trip was the first time I photographed my food so often.

Japan food arranged
Japan breakfast ryokan

When I woke up, I opened the sliding door to the little garden outside my room and lay there for a moment, just looking out into the garden (only one other room was facing this part of the garden). And then I could hear the hostess coming down the hallway in her fast little miniature steps, swoosh-swoosh-swoosh, bringing my breakfast. Now, that was a wonderful start of a new day! When paying for my stay I noticed the breakfast was not listed on the bill so I reminded them about this. 'Oh no, that’s complimentary!'

I looked at the food at markets and in shops. Lots of very exotic ingredients, at least for me. Many different kinds of mushroom, seaweed and a lot of things I had no idea what was. I had exactly the same feeling I have when I am in the Chinese shop in the basement of the building I live in: I do not know how to use most of these ingredients when cooking. And when I have got a recipe and ingredients list to go by, I have a hard time trying to recognize them. But the staff there is very helpful and consequently I have 'experimented' a little.

I am pretty sure I can get most of it in ‘my’ Chinese shop, or ‘Sachie’, the Japanese shop here. 

Japan ryokan tatami

Unlike the experience I had when I was leafing through a Native American cookbook which was given to me when I visited the Pine Ridge reservation in the US many years ago. I do not know where to get squirrels, skunks, bear’s fat or rattle snakes here in Denmark. I toyed with the idea of going into a shop asking for a rattle snake and adding, 'If you do not have rattle snake any good, fat snake will do'. But I doubt anyone else than me would find it funny. And I have tasted a lot of things but I do have a limit somewhere before snakes. 

japanese food
Japanese food octopus

OK, I’m straying here… back to Japan! I did see 'snacks' on a stick, just to eat as you go, which were octopus tentacles and other very exotic food. Perhaps in this case slightly too exotic. (Your eyes are OK, it is the picture which is slightly out of focus). Another day, a very hot day, I passed a place selling softice. They only had two flavours: soy and green tea. I had never tasted any of these but decided to have a go at the green tea softice. It was good. But then again, softice mostly is, unfortunately.

I was very eager to try out a lot of different food, and I certainly did. A lot of sea food of which much was in raw form. I do not mind raw (we eat herring that way in Denmark) but I would prefer if it wasn’t exactly alive when it was served! Well, it wasn’t, but there were times when I was tempted to pass on the food. One of many dishes during one meal was sliced cuttlefish. It was served on top of a whole mini cuttlefish, and as they put it down on the table, it moved slightly. Oh, it was dead, but a little wobbly, which made it look as if it moved. I am not a great meat eater. Fish is OK, but I do have a problem with food that has big eyes and looks back at me. I don’t find it yukky at all, but I do get a bad conscience. Maybe I am closet vegetarian? In any case, I did taste the cuttlefish, and it was really good.

Although I tasted quite a variety of Japanese food: sushi, sashimi, tofu, sukiyaki, tempura, teriyaki, gyudon, miso shiru, tamagoyaki, okonomiyaki, kare raisu, ramen, … oh, I can’t remember all the names, I did pass on one thing. With a dish of tempura came this little fried fish, which I assume I was supposed to eat whole (?) Head, finns and everything. I had to leave it untouched. And my friend did the same with the one on his plate. This poor little thing gave its life all in vain as I didn’t even eat it. 

Japan soft ice
Japan sashimi octopus
Japan fried fish

One of my Servas hosts tried to give me a crash course about tea. What kind of container to use and how to preserve the taste the best possible way. How to break up the leaves of one kind of tea but not another kind. How to whip up the matcha. What temperature the water had to have according to the kind of tea, etc. (I think we generally use too hot water at home). It was extremely interesting and I wish I could remember all this information, but I can’t.

A lot of the food displays outside restaurants made the food look so delicious and appetizing. Of course they were all just plastic. And lunch for four: you need a lot of bowls! 

Japan shop window

The biggest challenge for me was when we had crabs one evening. Try to picture yourself eating crabs with chopsticks. Not easy, I can assure you. We did pick them up by hand and break them, but getting the meat out of the long legs using chopstick was one of the biggest challenges ever for my precision motor coordination. My host saw I was struggling a bit and went to get me some shorter, wooden chopsticks, which were a lot easier for me to handle than the longer, very pointed and rather slippery set I had been using. I never thought it would be possible to actually miss a lobster fork! Afterwards, I almost felt some kind of achievement. I.e. until I started looking at myself and realized I probably needed a hose-down!

Japan eating crabs

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