Wednesday, November 05, 2008


(Fujisan and sprawl from the Osaka to Tokyo shinkansen)

It was another successful trip, full of fantastic food, good friends (thanks Hiroko and Satoru!), orgies of vinyl shopping, and wacky done the Japan way.

You know, I realized as I was uploading my photos that I didn't take very many. I think this is definitely because I've documented much of "my" Japan in the past. But more so, I've been there quite a few times already, and it never seems to change. And I know this sounds a little doucheoisie of me, but I'm rarely shocked or awed anymore by the the lights and noise and wackiness and beauty that is Japan.

I am, however, totally enamored of the food. The food in Japan never disappoints, and as my language and reading skills get a little better each time, I end up at places that are better and better.

I know I've been getting all food blog on your asses lately, and if you don't care for that, apologies. But Japan is the mecca for deliciousness done in a million different ways. I thought I'd highlight my favorite food adventures, and then post a bit later about the other things that draw me back to Japan, again and again.

My highlights...

1) The best ramen I have ever had -- "modern-style" red-miso ramen with pork and garlic, at Hakata Ippudo in one of my favorite places to visit in Japan, Kichijoji.



This place offered unlimited fresh ground sesame and pickled chili bean sprouts for your soup, as well as cloves of raw garlic that you could crush into your ramen. And yes, those are both garlic flecks and fat globules in that broth. And yes, it was AMAZING.

There's apparently one in New York. Hopefully the West Coast is on their radar!

2) Organic salad bar and steamed vegetables at Noukano Daidokoro, in the town Trevor and I lived in for a spell and still love to visit, Kunitachi.

The presentation was gorgeous:

It was also a gorgeous space, with low tables on tatami, and Western-style rough hewn tables on polished dark brown floors that overlooked the tree-lined main street. The hallways were constructed of shelve-filled walls housing growing plants that were served in the restaurant.

We also had full access to their free organic salad bar. If you know Japan, you know how difficult it can be to get the amount of greenery Westerners are used to. This salad bar was phenomenal, with perfect veggies you placed into a martini-style glass and dipped into housemade mushroom salt or olive oil. And I had something I had never had before, salt green -- a succulent with a distinctive salty taste:

3) Batteriffic goodness in Osaka.

Took a side trip to Osaka this time around, via the Tokaido bullet train -- by far the most pleasant train travel I have ever experienced (except for the leg in the smoking car -- good god!) for ease, comfort, speed, and scenery.

Osaka is a nice place, with nicer folks than Tokyo, but in a lot of ways it seems that once you've seen Tokyo, you've pretty much seen every metropolitan area on Honshu.

Oh, but the food! Osaka is the official birthplace of two of my favorite Japanese fast foods that incorporate batter, okonomiyaki and takoyaki.

Oh lawd is the takoyaki in Osaka good. My mouth is still slightly burned from scarfing down molten octopus goodness.

4) Japanese bread and pastry shops.

Ah, the Japanese breadshop. Strangely, it is often what I miss most about Japan. This is probably because I usually stay away from white bread in the States, forgoing it for more healthful options. Not so in Nihon.

Japanese rolls and pastries are an art form -- light, fluffy, consistent in size and shape, golden brown and never burnt, the epitome of what white flour can become that shames anything I've ever seen in the States. Sugar is used sparingly, and many doughs are often sweetened with stevia -- cutting the calories of each lovely roll, bun, and danish. And at any given train station or grocery you will find at least one bread purveyor, smelling sweetly of butter and goodness, with more donuts, rolls, danishes, or meat/cheese-filled goodies than you can shake a stick at. Coupled with a glass of cream-like Japanese milk (a glass of which I had at Mister Donut last week that should definitely merit a mention on this list) it is heavenly.

I might just kill for a "milk soft" roll from Danish style Little Mermaid in Kashiwa right now.

One particular shop in Tokyo station had something I'd never seen before. This is part of what makes Japan great:

5) All of the delicate kohada (shad) and briny, creamy uni (sea urchin) that I could eat.

Love these two, and unfortunately one is seasonal in the States while the other can be nasty in the wrong Japanese joint. Mmmm, I was lucky to get my fill this time around of these two bits of yumminess.

6) And of course, things are never the same around Japan without mutant fruit.

Those grapes are like plums! What you can't see in this photo are the Asian pears the size of mini watermelons. Proper.

More Japan-ness to come in the next day or two!

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Blogger Mark said...

So, Japanese milk: is it the cows, or do they forego pasteurization?

November 7, 2008 at 3:22:00 PM PST  
Blogger saudade said...

A 'z' instead of an 's' in pasteurization? Are you turning Yankee on me?

I think Japan ultra-pasteurizes all of their milk. There's one brand of American milk that comes close to Japanese milk, and it is also ultra-pasteurized. I'm sure there is something else besides that to why Japanese milk tastes so damn good.

Chalk it up to the Japanese need to make food perfect. I don't want to know why it's so good -- it's probably something scary.

November 7, 2008 at 7:02:00 PM PST  
Blogger Mark said...

It's "pasteurize" over here, too, so I went with "-ization". Maybe a controversial choice! My Brit-occentric spell check didn't spring for it, anyway.

Living in a big ol' dairy farming area, there's nothing better than unpasteurized milk, even if it does freak out the squares. With Japan being the land of Kobe beef, I was hoping the milk might have a "secret ingredient". Y'know, "our dairy herd is fed exclusively on a diet of chocolate and Guinness", that kind of thing.

November 8, 2008 at 1:25:00 PM PST  
Blogger saudade said...

British English, that rascal.

Didn't know you were from a big dairy area. I never put two and two together, but I notice that there are plenty of mighty fine cheeses from Northern Ireland in my local cheeseshop. Expensive here though!

If we make it over there someday, would love a tour. Will bring you a bottle from Napa Valley in trade...

November 9, 2008 at 11:19:00 AM PST  
Blogger Mark said...

God, aye. I'd take you and Trevor to Fivemiletown and stuff you full of world-beating cheeses.

November 9, 2008 at 1:35:00 PM PST  

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