Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Eating Out

Japanese pride themselves on being nerds about cooking. They also really love their own food. In some countries it's about the availability of ingredients and exposure or lack of to other ethnic cooking. With Japanese it's plain ol' obsession with the best of their own food. I mean, where else can you find dozens of shops on the same street selling 30 different kinds of specialty tsukemono (pickles)?
During the summer cold noodles are favored as the food of choice. I ate cold udon at a hospital cafeteria (yes, the food is good there) the second day we were in Japan. I once saw a special on soba on tv where they served it by running it through bamboo half pipes of cold water right after cooking it and it flowed down to the customers who picked it up out of the pipes as it came by.
There are innumerable ramen shops. My favorites are the ones where you stand at the counter and slurp your noodles, all of which can be ordered from the pictures on the walls.
The list of types of Japanese food is long, but when every place is a specialty in one of these areas, you know that Japanese love their food. Tempura, curry, tonkatsu (yes, restaurants serve just breaded and fried pork, special cuts stuffed with interesting flavor combinations--I once had shiso and plum), okonomiyaki, takoyaki (I like it best when they leave out the tako), noodles (cold and hot), kamemeshi, oden, ishiyaki, sushi, yakiniku, shabu shabu, sukiyaki, donburi, yakitori... and more.

Okonomiyaki was the best dining experience we had. We sat at a table with a big cast iron griddle top (scary with kids) and they brought out our order as batter with a whole bunch of toppings. You mixed the bowl up and cooked it at the table. The people next to us were more advanced and had ordered other stir fry stuff. We were totally ignorant and thought that the waiter was going to cook it for us so we just sat there. We ordered three-- leek and beef, cheese and mochi, and a kimchi one. Seriously grubbin' (as Amy likes to say). I forgot to take a picture, so I only got one of the leftovers. As you can see, not much.

The funny thing about Japanese, however, is the dessert. Japanese fall way out of line with the whole traditional food thing once you hit dessert. Yes, there is mochi and lots of red bean stuffed confection, but it starts with Taiyaki being stuffed with custard (the picture is the chocolate taiyaki stuffed with custard we made with my new Taiyaki pan) moves to crepes, shaved ice parfaits, french pastries, and ends with cake. LOTS OF CAKE.

I actually didn't eat any cake while I was in Japan, except for the one that was in Jesse and Bekah's freezer, which was from costco. My mom was totally shocked that I did not eat from Even. One. Japanese. Cake. Shop. I was pretty sad about it too. I will have to console myself with the Japanese cake place at Ala Moana. Japanese cake is totally completely different from American cake. Just trust me. It also is way prettier. They set up their glass cases as if you were buying diamonds. Just a little less expensive. The picture of the cakes here is just the outside display. Plus they're plastic. If you go in it's all sliced, and real. They're very creative with cake and really like fresh cream and fruit. Very smart, I think.
I also mentioned pastry. We went to a Joel Robuchon bakery (which has a Joel Robuchon restaurant next door at $200 per person for dinner) that really just blew everything else out of the water. This pictured croissant had dehydrated strawberries on top, and was stuffed with strawberry and chocolate. Pretty much the most delightful thing I've ever tasted. Except for the mushroom and cheese topped pastry that tasted like it had been fried on the bottom. Oh, Joel made that too. Japanese are pretty much obsessive about their French pastry. Unlike the states, where the bakery runs out partway through the day and by the end of the day are selling their leftovers for half off because they've gotten cold and chewy, Japanese pastry chefs are baking all day long and bringing out fresh batches every hour. Plus the variety is crazy. Fried curry pan, katsu sandwiches, hot dog pastries, gooey sweet rolls, milk rolls, custard and caramel topped pastries--- When you go, you really do need a serving tray, because it's impossible to stop yourself. Most bakeries have specialty pastries that you can only get exclusively in that shop, even if it's a chain.
I also never got to eat a crepe this time. I'm regretting that. They are stuffed with soft cream and chocolate, or pretty much whatever you can imagine.
What I did get, thank goodness, was soft cream (soft serve, to you). Japanese have it figured out. I have no idea why this is not widely available in the U.S. other than as vanilla at McDonald's. In Japan you can get it from the convienence store, a restaurant, or a booth in the shopping streets. The flavors are awesome too. At this place I got a caramel (for me and Amaya), and a banana (for me). It took me a while to choose just two. When I'm rich and famous I'm buying a soft cream machine, as well as a advertisement-sized large plastic soft cream with cone to announce that I have soft cream at my house. Just to rub it in.

1 comment:

Jesse said...

Yum. Reminds me to enjoy being here. I tend to eat the same things. I am kind of looking forward to trader joes and less Japanese food though, although i like it.