One of our big outings over winter break was to the Kinukuniya bookstore in Shinjuku. They have a very decent foreign book section and it is possible that some members of the family were more excited about this than the trip to Disneyland. I’ve been looking for a cookbook for some basic Japanese recipes and after much comparison I ended up with A Cook’s Journey to Japan by Sarah Marx Feldner. This one may not have better recipes than the cookbooks I passed over, but I liked the voice of the author. Read More…
This past week I discovered a new Supermarket (or Supa) called the foodium I’ve passed by it several times, but it is about a twenty-five minute walk from our apartment so I never considered it a convenient place for grocery shopping. Grocery stores in Japan are amazing places where the produce is always 100% fresh, you can get prepared food in the “deli section” both cheaper and higher quality than can be made in your own kitchen, and they will politely point out where the salt (shio) is when you are standing two feet away from it. The foodium takes all of that and combines it with everything you want in a western grocery store. It is well lit, has wide aisles, and more selections of products than most other supa. As an example our usual grocery store has exactly four different kinds of breakfast cereal; the foodium has nearly twenty. If all that isn’t enough the freezer section has motion detectors so that the lights inside the case turn on when you are in front of them. Read More…
We met Rob, the owner of our Kyoto home, on our first day in Kyoto. It was a brief meeting because we were on our way out for the day and he had students from Princeton arriving to see the house. Rob is a larger than life character wearing a coat and tie on most days. but was dressed down with just a summer jacket in deference to the heat. He seemed distracted when we met him, probably because he was expecting to meet students not tourists. He asked how we liked the house and told us we should crank up the air conditioning. It is fair to say I liked him right away. I was glad a couple days later when he and Janet worked out having dinner together on our last night in Japan.
He met us at the house at 5:30, on time, which Janet claims is unusual and I find easy to believe. It is also easy to believe that Rob is a fixture in this Kyoto neighborhood. He told us that he originally was going to take us to someplace that had “very Japanese food,” but that with the kids he would take us somewhere with more normal food. We walked less than ten minutes and arrived at a place called Bamboo. They clearly knew Rob and led us all back to a private room. They tried to bring us menus, but Rob gave them back telling them to just bring us a variety of things, but nothing too unusual. I’ll see if I can remember the order of the dishes. First they brought out individual western salads with a few leaves of lettuce and a cherry tomato. Very refreshing. Next I think was a Japanese salad of some sort with an unusual neon green, bubbled seaweed in it that looked like it was from another planet. It sort of popped in your mouth, but it didn’t have a strong flavor.
There was some sashimi, tempura, some fried chicken dish, and some beef cubes that melted in your mouth. The dish that stole the show was a platter of little crabs that had been deep fried.
Even Rob was surprised by this dish and he said that the chef was playing a joke on him because he asked for nothing too weird. I was game and popped one in my mouth right away. It was salty and crunchy sort of like a potato chip, although more like you might imagine a fried cricket would taste.
Everyone except Sarah tried one eventually and she probably would have worked up the nerve, but we had already eaten all of them. Melanie and Michael both broke off the legs first to make it seem less weird.
While the food was served Rob regaled us with stories of the movie he is working on, his travels, his phobias, and with some culinary and historical facts about Japan, Kyoto, and the Gion Matsuri. He also gave us a great way to get back to the airport which worked very well for us the next day. After about an hour and a half he apologized, but said that he had to go and meat someone for his second dinner. He told us that “everthing was taken care of” and that there would be some more dishes coming. We had one more shrimp dish after he left just to be polite, but most of us were quite full by this time.
The kids were not so full that we managed to skip our now nightly Lawson’s trip for ice cream and breakfast pastries.
The story about Fuji focuses a lot on the getting dark part, but until we realized the climb down was going to take a long time we were having fun hiking up a mountain. It wasn’t easy, but it was something new for both of the girls and I was enjoying making for the top for the second time in my life. We got some great pictures that I’ll post eventually if I can find them. Also it was on the Fuji climb that I remembered I liked Pocari Sweat. I am going to have to look for that in the States.
Our first evening in Kyoto, before we had done anything in that city, the girls confessed that they thought two weeks was too long for a vacation. They didn’t use the words, “We want to go home,” but that is what it sounded like to me. A few nights before this Melanie was lamenting the forced time we all had to spend together. Being a fellow introvert I could relate, but I was not minding it at all. I was enjoying most of the extra time with My family. The climb down Fuji is something Sarah and I will always share. Also for a couple nights in the hotels we had three rooms with three double beds. It worked out that Michael and I were roommates for those two nights and we didn’t do much other than read and sleep, but it was fun. I got to know each of the kids a little better on this trip. Even having the girls agree abut the trip being too long was a moment I appreciated.
Meals where tough at times. There was a lot of strange food for everyone culminating with the whole little crabs we ate on the last night. An army travels on it’s stomach and when there are this many people involved we had to try and remember to eat before we got hungry. If you are by yourself you can skip a meal or two, but with the whole family there was always going to be someone hitting a point of low blood sugar. Michael probably had the hardest time and he acted out more than once when the options available looked like noodles with squid. We could usually find something for everyone once we went in to a place and sat down, but in the end everyone was tired of noodles and we never really liked the squid. Sarah did not find too many things that she liked, but she was always willing to at least try a little nibble. It was easy to forget that Michael had spent a week in China eating weird things before we got to Japan. I enjoyed the food in Japan which is probably evident from the blog posts, but I’m planning next weeks menu to be the following: Pizza, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Spaghetti, Tacos, Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, hamburgers, Mac-n-cheese, and waffles.
It needs to be said that we couldn’t have done any of the things we did on this trip without all of Kira’s planning. She figured out all of the hotels, trains, planes, and automobiles. I tell myself that she is just better at those kinds of things, but that is a pretty weak excuse when compared to the amount of work she did. Thank you, dear!
There were several times that I wish my folks had been with us on this trip. For starters my dad is fairly fluent in Japanese. He may deny that if you ask him, but the few words I know all came back to me so I am guessing the same would have happened for him. A lot of my memories in Tokyo start with my family – even if they think I was never at home. Every first impression I had of Japan was with them. From thinking the tiny coke cans were weird when our taxi driver got us drinks on our first day there, to going out to ASIJ for the first time, to climbing Fuji. I like to believe that my mom and dad got some joy out of the assignment in Tokyo, but I know that it was a life altering event for me and I should probably thank them for it more often.
Ice coffee. Good Ice coffee is everywhere in Japan, why don’t we have this? Going along with this, why don’t we have the sugar syrup to put in old drinks. Everywhere we went had this as well.
Kyoto, Day 3 cont.
After the parade we hopped on a train to go see a shrine. This was different because they had a famous rock garden. The shrine, which was a rare combination of no to shoes,but yes to photos, there is a rock garden with 11 rocks in it placed by an artist 600 years ago. It doesn’t sound very impressive, but it is quite an interesting sight and a very recognizable image. In addition to the rock garden there was a pond and a mossy forest. The moss covered ground looked like it was out of a fairy tale.
We had our penultimate lunch at the restaurant located at the shrine which serves only one dish. The dish was quite good and everyone tried a little bit. They brought out a large bowl of boiled tofu and we each had our own bowl of spices mixed with soy sauce. We took a piece of tofu and dipped it in the spices. It was delicious and I ate way too much of it. The tofu was just a vehicle for the spice. In fact when Kira and I ran out of tofu at our table we started dipping our rice in the spice mixture. The food , while good, actually takes a back door to the scenery. The restaurant is located on the edge of a pond and we sat on the floor with ground level windows showing us the water garden. Best view during any of our many meals in Japan even if my legs did fall asleep.
There was enough of a walk out of the shrine that we stopped to get ice cream and shaved ice near the exit. This is not true at all, but I wanted to get shaved ice me last time before we left. They also served ice cream here and everyone else chose that while Kira and I shared a strawberry shaved ice. It was not quite as good as the one I had in Kurashiki, but it was very refreshing. Melanie ordered the black sesame ice cream and I had a little bit as well. It is an odd flavor, but good.
We went back to our Kyoto house for a siesta and to pack. We had sort of exploded all over the small house and needed to get everything back in suitcases for the trip home.
Our last dinner in Tokyo is a story unto itself. A good one, but deserving of its own post.