Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Guest Blog: Highlights of Japan

Following on from the Japanese themed post last week (check out this super cute Japanese Inspired Sweet Treat Jewellery from last week), I decided now would be the perfect time for a guest post from my delightful friend Dan and his gorgeous pal Gab about their overseas adventures in Japan. I asked him to write a little rundown on their experiences for anyone that may be travelling over soon. Or for poor little me, who is stuck here in Australia for the time being (until I can save, save, save!) and just loves being inspired by other people's journeys - ESPECIALLY when their stories contain food related escapades. So... here is a little tale about Dan and Gab's Japanese adventure for you to enjoy. Their lovely friend Alisa also accompanied them too. P.S Dan and Gab just finished med school and took this well earned holiday to celebrate. I want to congratulate them both SO much! All the hard work has paid off, and on the down low, I would be more than happy for either of them to be my Doctor. IN fact, Dr. Dan already has become my personal medical consultant!! 

"We arrived in Japan with high expectations of the culinary experiences that would greet us there. Our first encounter did not disappoint. Hungry from the reluctance of Jetstar crew to sell us food reserved for “Star class” passengers, we were delighted on the express train from Narita airport to Tokyo, when an apron-wearing vendor rolled her cart down the aisle and sold us triangle-shaped sushi rolls. When we finally arrived at our hotel at about ten p.m. we were ready for a real meal, and chose a humble-looking establishment in the backstreets of Shinjuku filled with locals and a haze of tobacco smoke. Despite this, we had a satisfying albeit simple meal of udon (wheat) and soba (buckwheat) noodles. Tofu arrived in a bowel of broth atop a mini gas–fuelled cook top. This was lit in front of us keeping the dish simmering away throughout our meal. We fished out the tofu with a small metal spatula as necessary. Steamed greens and yakitori chicken completed a cheap and cheerful welcome to the country. 

The Tokyo fish market is a hub of activity, and the surrounding alleys are alive with market stalls and sushi bars where you can sample the freshest fish in Japan. 

Ravenous travelers, we selected the first sushi bar we came upon and ordered a selection of salmon, tuna, squid, prawn and roe. We sat at the bar and watched our skilled sushi artist mould the rice perfectly and attentively slice each piece of fish to the perfect size and shape. I searched the bench tops for wasabi, only to find it hidden in just the right quantity between the rice parcel and topping draped over it – not so good if you don’t like wasabi, but it saves having to attempt to dissolve stubbornly-clumped wasabi into soya sauce. The fish was the smoothest and tenderest I have ever sampled, and the taste was equally sublime.

After reading a review in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Traveler, my friends and I decided to treat ourselves to a stay at the Hakone Hot Springs Ryokan, a traditional inn with baths filled with water from thermal springs. We were shown to our room by our personal attendant, or nakai-san, a young Japanese woman dressed immaculately in a kimono. We were welcomed with green tea and Japanese confections – small portions of a moist, dense substance flavoured with bean paste and only barely sweet. 

Dinner commenced at six p.m. sharp and came in the bountiful form of kaiseki – a feast with many courses that our room assistant attentively delivered to our room at very comfortable intervals. The first course was sashimi, accompanied by pickled and turned vegetables and light soy sauce. Next was “special soup”, a clear broth that came in individual teapots and a wonderfully subtle smoky flavour. The next six courses became a blur of excitement and taste-bud stimulating dishes including grilled salmon, crab and melted cheese (though not very Japanese) and steamed vegetables. When we were full to the point of bursting, our degustation finished with a simple dessert of fresh seasonal fruit. 

Despite a complete lack of ability to speak Japanese, it was surprisingly easy to make ourselves understood when ordering food. Most restaurants in the large cities offered English menus. Otherwise, menus were often accompanied by pictures making it easy to point and end up with a meal similar to what you had imagined. This only led me off course on a single occasion, where I thought I was ordering a chicken dish. To my dismay, however, I was served tripe. Plastinated meals were frequently on display in the front windows of restaurants, making for an interesting preview of the food to come. 

When sushi bars and restaurants were too lavish for our tastes, my friends and I investigated the gamut of food choices available in the ubiquitous convenience stores. These ranged from beer and edamame, to trays of freshly packed sushi, and packaged gyoza that could be heated in in-store microwaves. Most also had heated water baths containing waterlogged dumplings and other food items that you could fish out with the stick provided and place in a take away container, however I was not persuaded to try these less than appetising fast-food options.

 Vending machines are another source of Japanese foodstuffs. They can be found on most city streets, often a few in a row, and sometimes in more unexpected locations like tranquil mountain paths. They offer a selection of beverages, such as iced green tea (usually unsweetened) and canned coffee in a surprising number of variations including hot, cold, black, white, sweet, and not sweet. The green tea, however, wasn’t limited to the vending machines, nor to beverages for that matter: green tea powder, or matcha, is used in Japan to flavour ice cream, sponge cakes, and countless other sweets. Though I could conjure up more tempting flavours at dessert time, the taste grew on me and I found myself coming back for more .

It was hard to find bad food in Japan. The country was replete with opportunities to taste amazing sushi, noodles, gyoza and sashimi. The amazing hospitality and amiable nature of the Japanese people enhanced the experience all the more. The only drawback to my appreciation of Japanese cuisine was my lack of language skills and a limited understanding of the cultural heritage of Japanese cooking. Nonetheless, my first taste of Japan has provided me with sufficient impetus to return one day to further delve into its culinary delights."

After reading their post, and checking out their beautiful photos, I find myself drawn towards Japanese food and now I REALLY want to go to Japan! Maybe, I'll just have a little browse for flights.......! 

So, Tell me readers, Have you ever rewarded yourself with a holiday?

6 fabulous comments:

Leah said...

I have a friend living in Japan atm and I'm planning on visiting her next year - now I know what foods to look out for!
Was this the post you were avoiding writing, or is that still coming?

Jennifer said...

Great post! My boyfriend and I are planning on going to Japan in April next year so all of this info is very useful. I'm looking up Hakone Hot Springs Ryokan as we speak!

Dan said...

Thanks for your intro and publishing us on your blog GG! Looks great and the photos have come out well.

mademoiselle délicieuse said...

So many of my friends have been visiting Japan lately, either for first or return trips and I'm really looking forward to going myself one day... Hopefully not in the too distant future!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Great guest post! Hakone is gorgeous and I have a minor obsession with Japanese convenience stores too! They stock so many delicious treats :)

Steph@LittlePotBelly said...

This brings back memories of my honeymoon in Japan. I'd love to go back one day, perhaps to Kyoto this time, or if I'm lucky Hokkaido - foodies heaven!

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