Saturday, June 27, 2015

Japanese Food Rules My World

I could live in Japan. Seriously, I mean, immerse myself in the culture, learn the lingo (far beyond food terms), go onsen-hopping nightly, live on a diet of pickles, sea urchin, sour plums and sushi, and be perfectly content for the rest of my life. At least that’s how I feel when I visit the island nation.

But for now my foray lasted less than two weeks, and I felt as though I were pumped full of methamphetamines as I tried to keep up with my flitting travel companion as we speed-walked (and flew) from Osaka to Kyoto to Tokyo; we ate as if there were soon to be a food shortage in all of Japan, felt moderately guilty for overindulging in our fair share of what seemed like torrents of seafood, then ate some more, if only because we soon grew hungry again from so much walking.

For my edification, my travel tour guide/companion made sure I experienced a broad range of Japanese cuisine, from amazing kushi katsu to Tsukemen dipping ramen, to green tea-inspired desserts and even potstickers at Tokyo’s Gyoza Stadium. But for the sake of this blog, I will be staying on the subject of sushi. Don’t worry…plenty there to be covered still.

In Japan, food overflows, from bountiful food halls in just about every department store and subway station, from tucked-away eateries and supermarkets and convenience stores. Dotonbori in Osaka is like a seafood-themed Universal Citywalk on steroids. And with our dollar currently stronger in Japan (81 cents to 100 Yen) than in years past, we felt it was high time to eat our way through the three major cities.

Kyoto is a city in which the modern and traditional coexist; despite the massive steel-and-glass Kyoto Station, beautiful temples can also be found in this town, along with the famous geisha district known as Gion.

From the food halls of Kyoto’s Takashimaya Department Store, the unusual, wonderful combination of squid and shiso in a hand roll beckoned from inside its glass-encased confines. It wasn’t your common California roll, or the average spicy tuna roll with cucumber inside; it wasn’t even a typical shrimp tempura roll that was sitting there and getting soggy from being out of the fryer for too long. This was squid with shiso…wrapped in seaweed!

In the States, squid can be a dodgy sushi item to order because it can be chewy and tough, depending on the caliber of the restaurant serving it. Yet here were these cylindrical hand rolls, not tapered at the end like a cone, nor cut into slices; this brought back memories of the way hand rolls are served in Australia. These were also cheap, and ready to eat (¥195 each, or about $1.60 each in U.S. dollars. You couldn’t find a squid and shiso hand roll for this low of a dollar amount in the States).

I tried one and not only was it fresh, without the cold “refrigerated effect,” but the squid was soft and not hard to chew at all. And there was something else here, perhaps ume (plum paste) had been applied inside the roll to make it taste just a bit tart, which blended perfectly with the shiso. And lightly dotted throughout were what appeared to be tobiko, or flying fish eggs. I wanted to stand there and ingest at least five more of them, but I knew there was more food around the corner to explore.

Of course, the assorted crab sushi box was the next thing that grabbed my attention, and I had to have it. I devoured it—the gunkan-style ones, the maki, the nigiri, feeling a tad of compunction about leaving behind some of the sushi rice so I could continue to eat more without getting too full. (I noted this crab sushi assortment tasted better than a similar crab sushi box from the food halls of Matsuya Ginza, which I had visited years before.) So many choices, so little time.

Takashimaya Department Store 52
Shincho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8001,
Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
+81 75-221-8811

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