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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

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A Voyage to Japan - Gustatory Coda

More as a note to myself than because I expect anyone else to be interested, I'm going to list the main meals I ate while I was away.

31st March: Lunch was taken hastily, in the mall where I was searching for emergency supplies due to delayed luggage. A kind of chicken and gorgonzola salad, with miso soup on the side. Odd, but actually pretty good, and of course there was the novelty of being served in Japanese. Supper was a spicy pork soup in a pork restaurant near my hotel.

1st April: Lunch – a teriyaki chicken wrap bought from a station stall just before I got on the train to Hakone. Supper was a feast at the ryokan, featuring many good things which I didn't do justice to owing to lack of appetite, the main one being shabu-shabu. My favourite features were the several kinds of tofu hors d'oeuvre; a scallop served in its shell; and some of the pickles, especially one that tasted much (but not exactly) like lime – delicious.

2nd: After a rather ornate breakfast I skipped lunch, and arriving tired in Kyoto ate supper at Hamburg Labo, just across the street from the hotel. I plumped for a bacon and avocado burger, served with rice (no bun). It was actually pretty good - and the first time I’ve eaten a burger with chopsticks.

3rd: Lunch. I ducked into a café as the rain got heavier outside Chion-in, and asked for the whitebait and plum pilaf. Some kind of pilaf arrived, but no sign of either plum or whitebait – could they possibly have been chopped so fine as to be rendered invisible? At one point I thought I saw a bit of plum skin just passing behind a grain of rice, but when I caught up it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. Still, it tasted pretty good, and I watched a pilgrimage of umbrellas make its way to Chion-in from my seat, while inside the café a four-year-old girl who was lunching with her father got into a game of waving shyly at me, which I was happy to reciprocate.

Pilgrimage of umbrellas to Chion-in

By the way, this was the first time I’d taken in the existence of the umbrella racks that sit outside many cafés, shops and restaurants in Japan, with individual lockable compartments. Why don’t we have these in the UK, where (whisper it not in Gath) it also sometimes rains?

Supper was okonomiyaki at Issen Youshoku, of which I have written elsewhere. My favourite meal of the trip.

4th: For lunch I had curry-rice. I've long been curious about this Japanese take on a British take on an Indian dish. The katsu curries I'd tried in Japanese places in Britain had been disappointingly bland, but this one at least had enough chilli that you knew you were eating a curry (though it was still quite mild by British standards – somewhere between korma and madras, for heat). I topped it off with some yakitori from a fast-food stall. Supper was tuna sushi in a sushi place: one nigiri, one makizushi, both very good. I absentmindedly left my coat in the restaurant, and wandered off to look in numerous shops without noticing. Then, as I was passing the same place half an hour later, the waiter spotted me and chased me down the mall to return it. That’s service!

5th: If I hadn't eaten breakfast by the time I arrived at Kyoto station, I might well have bought one of the packages marked "Assorted Sand" at the shop there. I knew the Japanese had abbreviated "sandwich" to "sando", and Anglicizing that to "sand" does indeed make sense at one level - but at another, so so not.

Lunch. Seafood ramen at a tiny ramen place, which was delicious, though far more than I wanted. Partly I went in there so that I could use their toilet – but there was no toilet. Similarly, "supper" was a lemon-chicken sub from a Shibuya Starbucks, where I'd gone mostly so that I could use their wi-fi - but there was no wi-fi, at least for me (as related in an earlier entry). This was the day I’d been hoping to meet up with parasitegirl for supper, but for various reasons that didn't happen either – so a slightly frustrating experience (though I did get well acquainted with Hachiko, the Japanese Greyfriars Bobby, who waits patiently outside Shibuya station for his master's return):

2007-04-04 15.36.14

6th: Lunch was a bought bento with the salarymen of Ginza - supper okonomiyaki at Sometaru, as mentioned elsewhere.

In all, I tried many of my Japanese must-eats, but failed (mostly owing to lack of appetite, for which I blame jet lag and overexcitement) to work through Kyoko Sakura's snack list, which had been one of my ambitions. I saw plenty of dango, for example, but only when I was already feeling stuffed, and no taiyaki at all; but I did at least buy some Pocky. Japanese apples turn out to be the size of melons, and I was daunted.

I fact, though I seemed to myself to be eating quite a lot over the week, looking back I'm surprised how little I actually consumed. I actually lost three pounds while I was away - but then I was also walking a lot.

I forgot to mention before - my last impulse-buy of my Japanese trip was a yukata with a sakura-blossom pattern, which I picked up at the airport. I reasoned thus. How many people are there in this world who regret buying a yukata? Almost none. Contrariwise, consider the millions who languish in hopeless regret at having not bought one. Did I really wish to share their misery?

I did not. And I do not.

Here it is in Bristol, with Jessie playing the part of sidekick.


Kitty and Yukata

And now, alas, I think I've picked that week's bones clean as far as LJ entries are concerned, although I'll be snacking on memories for a long time to come. And, of course, planning the campaign for my return.

PS. I've just returned from Yume, my local Japanese restaurant, which has occasionally featured in these pages and which has taken a decisive turn for the posh while I've been away, with noren, ceramic chopstick rests, an extensive sake menu and all sorts. I'd sent them a postcard from Kyoto, and the daughter of the house said that my thinking of them had brought a tear to her eye, which was lovely. Also, my friend Marta, the Polish head chef at the Spanish tapas place next door, who takes Japanese lessons with me but is about to leave for the USA (keep up!), happened to arrive while I was tucking into my udon noodles. I was delighted to see her, and it was all very convivial.

I think I may survive.

I love your yukata and am somewhat jealous. I think your reasoning there was exemplary.

I have much enjoyed your stories of Japan. Thank you for sharing them.

I'm glad you enjoyed them! They've been a pleasure to write.

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Possibly! There were also quite a few non-lockable umbrella stands outside Japanese shops, where I left my sopping brolly on numerous occasions, without loss.

I've been catching up with your posts.

Thanks for sharing your journey! :o)

It's been a lot of fun to share it with my LJ friends - a bit like writing long, chatty letters in the days when I wrote long, chatty letters...

Aye, teh intarwebz has largely killed the kind of letter that I recall from my studenting days.

I love your yukata - much prettier than the t-shirt I bought at Boston airport, on similar grounds.

I'm occasionally surprised, looking at my on-the-move notes in the hope of constructing an LJ post, how often food features, so I was indeed interested in this report. Indeed, I wanted to know more about that "rather ornate breakfast" - and breakfast in general, since this is where culture shock so often lurks.

There were a lot of bits to that breakfast: it was there that I ate "flattered fish", if I remember rightly, and of course the natto. Mostly, though, the hotel breakfasts were the usual kind of buffet, and I tried to vary my selection, with steamed rice and miso soup being the only constants. Fish was usually at the centre of things. The only exception was the budget hotel I stay in in Asakusa, where the rice was supplemented simply by a rather drizzly pancake. Not the best, but not as bad as that makes it sound, either!

I love the yukata. Pocky are everywhere here and I am over them. I'm over dango too, but mainly because of the song!

I love the presentational aspect of Japanese fruit. It does mean that some of them are meant for sharing. It also means you need to go back and try musk melon and cook with tofu bought fresh at a shrine (washed by spring water from the mountain on which the tofumaker resides) for obviously these things still await.

Japan does small and perfect experiences better than any other country I've visited.

I only scratched the surface of the surface, I know that. And I'm already plotting.

Do you mean this song? It's the only one about dango that I know.

Edited at 2015-04-16 06:04 am (UTC)

I do indeed mean the song. I've a 16 year old friend who loves it and so I am tired of it.

I can imagine! Clannad and Clannad After Story are very good series, though, I think. In context the song packs a lot of emotional weight.

I like the first series much better than the second. And now my mind's eye is bemused by the food dancing.

you have now inspired me to buy a yukata when I go to japan later this year as well. that reasoning, it is flawless

also, I LOVE JAPANESE CURRY!!!!!! *clenches fist to chest in classic shounen anime pose* *single tear runs down face*

I much enjoyed all of your Japan posts, and I love to hear about food experiences. I have a great interest in Japan and the culture and really look forward to finding people of whom I can live vicariously through on their trips until I can find a way over there.

You mentioned that fish was usually the centerpiece... are there many options for people who don't or can't eat fish? I've always wondered how feasible it really is.

That yukata is absolutely gorgeous!

I'm so glad you enjoyed my posts! And good luck getting over there - you won't regret it when you do.

I'm honestly not sure how to answer your question about fish. I had chicken and pork (and indeed vegetarian) dishes while I was there, and I don't think it would have been hard to eat that kind of food exclusively, but I suspect that dashi is often used even when fish isn't a headline act, as it were - most obviously in miso soup but in plenty of other dishes too. I'm lucky enough not to have any allergies (that I know of) and I don't have other dietary restrictions either, so I probably don't take as much notice of these things as I should.

The good news is, I'm not allergic to fish (I don't think). The bad news is, I don't like "fishy" taste. I'm not opposed to fish in principle, I just really dislike things that stink really badly like fish (for example, salmon USUALLY tastes okay to me but I can't stand its smell). I am typically a person willing to try most things - and indeed when I was in Spain I stayed on the northern coast and they were very proud of the fresh fish they served, so I made sure to try everything. It was funny trying to explain to my host family that I think the fish tasted fine, but that I didn't have much of a frame of reference for comparison AND that my stomach still objected psychologically.

Currently I'm trying out vegetarianism (while still eating eggs and yoghurt/cheese) for a number of reasons, but I'm not opposed to "when in Rome"-ing when I travel. I mean, this is probably at least two years in the future, but I'm looking into exchange programs and host families, and as a current teacher am considering teaching in Japan. I'm coordinating with the woman at my school who teaches Japanese in hopes we can collaborate on a class together next year, so that I can develop my writing skills while also assisting students, and naturally some speaking.

Regardless of what the future holds for longer-term, I WILL be going over there within the next 5 years. I'm not a very patient person for these types of things!

Ganbatte ne!