Archive for September, 2015

The final stretch of our Japan tour saw our return to Tokyo.

With bento box in hand we jumped on board our Shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo from Shin-Osaka for our 3 hour journey across the country.  I love bullet trains and I love train station bento boxes even more!

Bento BoxBento Box

Bento boxes are not only delicious and well balanced but they are beautifully presented; just because they cater for the commuter does not make them an inferior choice of meal.  And a meal they are; with compartments for rice, pickled veg, steamed veg and seafood.  An omelette and tofu are also present, some with maki rolls with others including a sweet dumpling doused in syrup.   Alternative bento boxes have special mechanisms whereby you need to pull a string which causes a chemical reaction under the box producing heat, heating up the pork inside!

Definitely beats a meal-deal sandwich bought at a UK train station!

Once back in Tokyo, we headed towards our hotel on the cusp of the famous Shibuya Crossing.  Having stopped in the centre of the crossing on several attempts at perfect filming opportunities, photobombed by random passersby and never actually taking the perfect action shot, we agreed that it was time for dinner.

We were determined to find somewhere that provided us with a Korean BBQ experience.  Even though in Osaka we got the concept, the execution was not as desired.  So on a little side street, just after Taco Bell (which recently opened) we found a place that was full up and asked if they would have us later on in the evening, as we had remembered that in Tokyo everyone dines early.

  Ice cold beer topped with beer froth in the style of a Mr Whippy

Whilst we waited for our table, we popped into Kirin City for a couple of pints of FROZEN BEER!  Now, why has this not reached Gibraltar?!  How perfect could this be?  Ice cold beer topped with beer froth in the style of a Mr Whippy!  And they give you packets of pictures to stick into the beer as can be seen from the images below.

Anyway, euphoric from beer entertainment we returned for our Korean BBQ dinner.

Matsusake beef as opposed to Kobe beef

Once again we were recommended a mixed meat platter of Matsusake Beef as opposed to Kobe beef.  Here we cooked our beef over open flame on a little bar top gas bbq.  The beef was mouth-watering.  Matsusake Beef has a high fat-to-meat ratio; completely marbled throughout.  As the fat cooks out it gives the beef incredible flavour and keeps the beef juicy and succulent.  I would quite happily have picked another platter of this delicious meat!

If I remember correctly ‚Äď frozen beer was dessert that evening.

Train Sushi

Another night, I was introduced to the wonders of Train Sushi.¬† Like a kid in a candy shop!¬† I loved this experience.¬† At one point I had to stop myself ordering more as I could have continued pressing buttons all evening!¬† Then, to keep you entertained ‚Äď as if train sushi wasn‚Äôt enough of a lark ‚Äď you get to play ‚Äėrock, paper, scissors‚Äô against another diner.¬† If you win, you get a discount on your meal!¬† Hahahahahah ‚Äď even losing the game was enjoyable.

Ok, so we‚Äôre not talking high end maki/sushi/sashimi but it beats anything we could every try and emulate throughout the rest of the world (ahem…except if you‚Äôre a trained sushi chef working in another part of the world).

On the last few days we headed towards different boroughs of Tokyo: Shinjuku, Akihabara, Harajuku, Shibuya, to name a few.

And one of the more enjoyable parts of the trip was a Japanese Cookery Class run by a lovely lady called Ayuko at Buddha Bellies Cookery School.

Buddha Bellies Cookery School

Almost appearing out of nowhere, Ayuko introduced herself with hand outstretched and welcomed us all into her cookery iPhone August 2015 1431school.  A mesmerising bookshop/kitchen.  Against one wall, a multitude of books on Japanese cuisine and culture.  At the centre of the room a homely, welcoming dinner table that was to become our work station.

We introduced ourselves to the rest of the group (Bath, Albuquerque & Gibraltar!) Tripadvisor’s #1 thing to do in Tokyo is a Buddha Bellies Cookery Class!  Take your pick of Sukiyaki, Washoku, Bento & Sushi.  We took the Washoku class (Japanese Cuisine) and created some amazing dishes; teriyaki fish, aubergine and green bean miso sautee and three colour miso soboro don.

iPhone August 2015 1428The class was very relaxed in approach and it became a ‘cooking with friends’ opportunity where we talked about ourselves, hometowns and cultures.¬† Ayuko explained all the traditional important elements as we progressed through the session.¬† Once we had all completed our dishes, we sat around the table and enjoyed a beautiful lunch with the dishes we had created.

I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this class and since following Ayuko on Facebook, you begin to realise how many people from all corners of the globe book themselves into a cookery class with Ayuko.  Glad we took time out of sightseeing to experience this.

All in all, a fantastic foodie trip to Japan ‚Äď the freshest sashimi found at Matsushima Bay, yakatori both great (Kyoto) and not so great (Ginza), weird and wonderful ox tongue (Kyoto) and horsemeat sashimi (Matsumoto), deep fried oysters (Miyajima Island), Okonomiyaki (Hiroshima), the most amazing tempura (Kyoto) as well as the most refreshing soba noodles (Kyoto & Nagano).¬† The simplicity of the vegetarian food at Buddhist Temples in Koyasan, to all the beef stops (Osaka, Tokyo, Takayama) whether served in a burger, sizzler, hot plate or bbq.¬† The sophisticated yet classy approach of Ayuko‚Äôs cookery class to the hysteria of train sushi and the sugar coated cuteness of breakfast at a Maid Cafe; I relished every single moment!

It has been approx 7 weeks since our return from brilliant, vibrant Japan and I must say, hand on heart, I crave not just proper sushi and sashimi but a bamboo tray of cold soba noodles topped with crispy, light and delicious tempura ‚Äď OISHI!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Japanese installments on the blog. ¬†Autumn approaches…can’t wait to show you the dishes I’ve been working on!

Part 5: Osaka

Posted: September 15, 2015 in Japan
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When I got back from my travels, I promised myself that I would try and complete the whole Japan food experience before the end of the summer so I could continue blogging about other things once everyone got back to work and our holidays were long forgotten. ¬†However, It’s taking a bit longer than I had planned…

Looking back through my photos and trying to piece together a food journey through Japan is easier said than done considering the extensive travelling we embarked upon taking us from one point of the country to the other.

We left our westernmost point, Hiroshima, and made our way back to Tokyo via Osaka.  

Osaka¬†is described in tourist guides as “the belly of Japan.” ¬†

Walking around Dotonbori, a very popular tourist area¬†in Osaka, you quickly realise that this sentiment is not exaggerated. ¬†Tripadvisor’s #1 thing to do in Osaka is to visit Dotonbori!¬†

“Osaka is known for its food, and Dotonbori is the main destination for food travel.”

A plethora of restaurants, stalls and bars that line the streets of Dotonbori.  I was clearly going to be a very happy man.

During the day, even under the intense summer sun, street vendors line the streets selling food items such as barbeque scallops, gyoza, roast chestnuts and the ubiquitous takoyaki (Octopus balls).

Takoyaki – described as Octopus Balls; think of these are the savoury version of a cake pop. ¬†And can be found everywhere! ¬†Cooked in what appear to be cake-pop pans over gas burners. ¬†Whether at a restaurant¬†or¬†on the street, this is definitely worth a watch. These Takoyaki chefs half-fill¬† the ‘cake-pop’¬†pans with¬†a very liquidy batter. ¬†They then place an octopus piece into each and sprinkle with plenty of spring onions and red ginger, then pour over more batter.

Once the batter begins to set they go at it with metal chopsticks and make sure each ball is cooked all the way through, perfectly spherical¬†and evenly browned. ¬†Then all that’s left is for you to decide how many pieces you want – these are either smothered in Takoyaki sauce, drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise or sprinkled with nori pieces depending on the establishment.

We went to a few different stalls trying different takoyaki in boxes of 6 Рsome people happily walking away with boxes of 24 balls!

scallops

Scallops cooked over charcoal –¬†Another absolute delight were the scallops cooked¬†on a grill. ¬†The man who ran the stall, would cook the scallops in a small wrought iron frying pan and as people ordered he would place the shell on the grill and place the scallop on the shell¬†with a knob of butter and blowtorch it until the butter was frothy. ¬†Sadly, he wouldn’t serve you the scallop in the shell but in a polystyrene tray. Admittedly, the shell would be so hot that there is no way you’d be able to hold it anyway! ¬†Shell or no shell – lip smackingly delicious!

Gyoza – were also prevalent throughout Dotonbori. ¬†We stumbled upon a chef who was making 100’s of these and placing them into crates ready for the lunchtime trade. ¬†I can imagine he would have to undertake the same routine later on in the afternoon to have enough gyoza for the night time trade.

Crescent shaped, pork filled, fried and steamed dumplings – Oishi!

Gyoza are tasty and moreish – regardless of how full up you were from the takoyaki and scallop – there is always room for a gyoza… or three!

The streets around Dotonbori, resonate with the multitudes of people getting to and from work, popping out during their lunch break to grab a quick bite to eat or even take a box of 24 takoyaki back to the office.  However, at night time, Dotonbori takes on a whole new persona.

With its attractions like the Glico running man at the ‘pick-up bridge’ and giant food signs, loud music and even more people; many rushing to dinner reservations – the vibe is electric!

That evening we dined at Gyumabe M a specialist in Matsusaka Beef, IMO better than the very over-rated Kobe Beef! (Kobe is very near Osaka).

In the centre of our table was a hot plate heated by gas burners underneath.  The beef selection we chose was presented to us on a beautiful platter and the waiter identified a piece of fat that had been taken from one of the steaks.  We were subsequently shown how to render the fat on the hotplate and use this to stop the beef from sticking, instead of using oil or butter.  So tongs in hand, we went about cooking our beef to our liking Рrare for me!

Once we had finished our meal, the manager, chef and waiters, with props in hand, posed with us for a few photos… this was a super fun place to come.

IMG_1631Great place, great food, great personalities!

The following morning, we descended for breakfast and in the exuberance of Dotonbori I piled my plate high with Japanese and Western items for breakfast.  Finishing with a corn dog!

Kore wa, amerikandoggudesu

Hiroshima

Having left the still mountains of Koyasan, we travelled to Hirosima – home of the Okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake, “grilled as you like it”¬†with a variety of ingredients; typically batter,¬†cabbage, pork and optional items such as squid, prawns, octopus and sometimes cheese. ¬†In Hiroshima, these are layered rather than mixed and served over noodles with a fried egg ontop. ¬†Lashings of delicious okonomiyaki sauce smother the ingredients just before serving!

Okonomiyaki

As this was being put together I honestly thought that it would not be very nice, however, I was very pleasantly surprised.  The flavours not only worked together but the okonomiyaki sauce tied it all together with its sweet-savoury (umami) flavour.

I thoroughly enjoyed this experience Рwalking into a 3 story building with several Okonomiyaki Hiroshima-style restaurants on every floor.  Seriously Рonly in Japan.

Miyajima Island

The following day we ferried it over to the Island of Miyajima, where not only did we climb to the top of Mount Misen (and down again!) and get involved in traditional festivities and celebrate with locals in a Festival of Lanterns; I also had the pleasure of eating oysters caught fresh from the bay.

Miyajima OystersThe only difference with these oysters was that instead of being served fresh, these were deep fried and served over rice with an omelette on top!  And as vulgar as this sounds and as huge an abomination to cook oysters generally would be, this dish was great to eat.  Admittedly, anything deep fried is good!

Who would have thought that cooked oysters would be good?

The oysters were meaty and succulent and topped with the egg made for a filling, savoury, pit-stop in the middle of a very hectic day where refuelling with carbs was necessary to be able to continue on the fast paced journey that we were taking through Japan – all washed down with the ubiquitous miso soup.

After the adventure of walking down what felt like millions of steps from the top of Mount Misen to the bay of Miyajima we looked into a window where sweet treats were being made.  These are called Momiji Manju Рred bean maple leaf shaped pastries from Miyajima Island:

The gentleman who owned the shop, instructed his wife to serve us some green tea whilst we were trying one.  I brought a box of these back to Gibraltar and were a hit with everyone I gave one to.

Onto Osaka next – the stomach of Japan!