The reason why I haven’t posted anything for more than four weeks is not because I have given up on blogging or cooking – quite the contrary – but because I have been travelling around Japan for a month! I have seen and done so many wonderful things, but most of all I’ve eaten a lot of great food!
I didn’t bring my good 50mm Canon with me and since restaurant lighting isn’t usually the best, the quality of some of the pictures is not great. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to describe the delicacies on show here in loving detail to make up for the occasional blurriness. Originally, I intended to only create one large post, but the list of highlights became so long I decided to split it up into 5 parts instead. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first installment of this series focuses on the Japanese culinary love affair with the sea.
Fish and seafood
The above photo shows what was probably the best sashimi I’ve ever had in my life. I ate this elegant set menu in an izakaya (Japanese pub) in Misasa, a small town in the countryside. It included shrimp, salmon, squid and tuna which all melted on the tongue and had the most wonderfully clean and subtle aroma. The sashimi was accompanied by steamed rice, pickled vegetables and miso soup.
These photos were taken during one of our final days in Japan when we had a sushi lunch at Genki Sushi in Shibuya, Tokyo. This is probably the most futuristic way to have sushi in Japan. We ordered our food with our own personal touch screen computer and it arrived at our table by way of miniature high-speed monorail. The raw fish (tuna, salmon, cuttlefish) was fresh and had that melt-in-your-mouth quality I mentioned before and the menu also included some more unconventional options such as wasabi-pickled aubergine (the blue slices), grilled shrimp and tuna with black pepper, gunkan with salmon roe and cucumber, salmon and avocado and even nigiri sushi with mini hamburgers!
While not necessarily the best, this was certainly the most interesting and unusual plate of sushi we’ve had in Japan and probably our lives. We ate this in Nima, a little sea-side town that almost no one else in Japan seemed to have heard of and which was unaccustomed to foreign visitors. We were the only people at this restaurant, and this luxurious plate was prepared for us by an elderly chef who spoke very little English. Despite the fact that he had pictures of all the fish he used, I didn’t recognise most of them, so this meal will always be a bit of mystery to me. What I did discover, right after eating it, was that the fish in the top right hand corner is the infamous fugu or puffer fish which can be lethal if prepared incorrectly. Luckily, our chef knew what he was doing, but I admit I was definitely a little worried! Things I did recognise included shrimp, sweet omelette, salmon roe, sea urchin (which had unfortunately been seasoned with pickled bamboo: literally about the only thing in Japanese cuisine I really don’t like!) and tuna wrapped in shiso leaf (a Japanese herb with a slightly soapy coriander/basil- like taste).
Squid and Octopus
At another fish restaurant (in Kawasaki, Tokyo), Pim ordered this squid which was grilled on the spot with our own little table grill. We ate it with nothing but a bit of mayonnaise and it was amazingly fresh and tender: not chewy at all!
Here, I’m holding a portion of takoyaki (fried octopus balls). Each ball contains a small piece of octopus, and they are covered with “special sauce”, which is a bit like Japanese barbecue sauce, dried bonito fish flakes, dried seaweed and mayonnaise. I know this probably sounds like a strange and rather random combination, but in fact all these toppings combine really well with the slightly sweet, vegetable-filled batter and the meaty chunks of octopus. Takoyaki are incredibly hot on the inside, so the trick is to open them with your chopsticks and let them rest for a bit before eating them to let some of the hot air out. We had these babies in Osaka, where they prefer their takoyaki to be a bit soggy and runny on the inside. Elsewhere in Japan takoyaki are usually a lot firmer and crispier. We’ve had both styles and I have to say they’re both equally tasty in their own way.