Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Japan Part 9 - food

One of the best things about Japan was the food. I've already mentioned that everything was delicious and that we had what was definitely the best, freshest fish of our lives on this trip, but there were plenty of other wonderful foods that we had the opportunity to sample as well.

The above image is from OVE, a design gallery, specialty bike shop and cafe in Aoyama, Tokyo. We had been trying to find a place where where we could get salads for lunch, as a break from the many noodle, rice and fish dishes we'd been eating for almost a week straight, when we stumbled upon this little gem of a shop. At first we thought that OVE was just a gallery, but when we found out that they were a cafe as well, serving fresh, vegetable-centric meals, we knew we had gotten very lucky indeed.

Never have I had such a tasty veggie plate. My lunch came with some sides of soup and bread, but it was the vegetables, and especially the creamy, bright yellow dish that they were meant to be dipped in, that really stole the show. I have no idea what was in this dish and no one spoke sufficient English to be able to tell us, but it was unbelievably good.

And while we waited for our food, we got to browse through the store, which was filled with pretty design objects, furniture and bicycles.

During our visit to Nara, we had the opportunity to try kamameshi (kettle rice), which is a rice dish cooked in an iron pot, at Kouen-ten. The best part of a kamameshi meal is the okoge, or burnt rice. The wooden lid helps hold in the moisture and makes it so that you can scoop out the okoge - which gives the whole dish a nice nutty flavor - from inside the iron pot. Like many of the meals we ate in Japan, this was served on a tray with a cup of tea, a bowl of soup and a small plate of mixed pickles. Oh man do I love Japanese pickle plates.

Our last night in Kyoto was spent at the Hiiragiya Bekkan, a very luxurious, traditional ryokan (Japanese inn). We only spent one night there, in a beautiful room overlooking a garden, but it was an all-around amazing experience. Not only did we have the chance to enjoy the ryokan's traditional baths, but we were also served a wonderful kaiseki dinner in our room, and got the chance to try a very traditional Japanese breakfast, which you can see above.

And this is the part of the room where a table was set up for our meals. The table was cleared away at night and replaced with futons for us to sleep on, and then replaced once more with the table in the morning, for breakfast.

All Japanese department stores contain large food courts in their basements. Generally, the fancier the department store, the most luxurious the food stalls. But if you're looking for a place to purchase an assortment of different types of food, these were great places to visit, especially as many of the stalls would give out free samples. One of our favorite food courts, which we passed through a few times, was actually in the main train station in Tokyo. It not only offered choices of beautiful boxed lunches and perfect little sandwiches, which were great for long train rides, but also featured many lovely, exquisitely packaged cakes and candies. I could have spent hours just admiring the packaging on some of these items. The above image is of a baumkuchen, a type of traditional German layered cake that the Japanese also happen to love. It's a bit of an odd thing to bring back from Japan, but that has never stopped us before, and certainly didn't here.

And then there were these beautiful candies, which I am kicking myself for not having bought more of. In addition to the requisite green tea, these also came in sesame (my personal favorite), chrysanthemum, acorn, buckwheat, strawberry, and dairy flavors.

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