I apologize for the long break, I've just returned from a two month stint in Japan heading up an office re-opening for my company. I know Dave isn't as fun to read as I am so I can imagine our 5 faithful readers have been missing me tremendously. I'm home for the next couple of weeks before I'm back on a plane headed once again to Tokyo for another couple of months. I needed to catch up on some western foods and blogging!
I'm full on Cheddar Ale soup and Guinness chicken wings (see our previous post) that Dave was kind enough to make for me on this St. Patrick's Day. We're listening to some Celtic music and drinking a Cab/Shiraz blend from Australia (eh, Ireland's not exactly known for their contributions to the world of wine).
So, Japan. You're probably just dying to know what I ate and drank. Sake is what comes to everyone's mind when talking about Japan and drinking and rightfully so, it is indeed everywhere in Japan. What WAS surprising, however, was the many different types. I had no idea! This was all good stuff for me as my wine studies will eventually incorporate a section on sake, so although I'm not at home to take my course I figure it's just as good I attend the school of life as a means to learn it.
The food in Japan was surprising as well. Not that it wasn't good, Japan and specifically Tokyo are known for their culinary offerings. It was surprising the different types of Japanese cuisine that there is. I was thinking of the basics when I first arrived there...sushi, rice and noodles (not the Ramen I had in college but the good stuff). But au contraire mon frere! (I don't know how to say that in Japanese). There was yakitori and shabu shabu and okonomiyaki and oh my!
Fish and vegetables are prominent in Japanese cuisine. Every week, six days a week there is a fish market with an auction that all restaurant chefs, sushi chefs, etc. attend in order to stock up for the day. It starts at 5 a.m. and you can sample the raw fish right there. Needless the say the fish is fresh and plentiful anywhere you go in Japan. I'm a big fan of sashimi so this was one of my favorite things about being there. Sometimes it's a little different or unexpected (check out the little guy in my miso soup in one of the pics below) but I'm okay with that. As a matter of fact most of the Japanese restaurants didn't have an English version in house so I often just let the chef know to make up whatever he thought I should try. I had grilled fish (usually white), Japanese beef steak, pickled vegetables (pickles and fermented vegetables in general are big there), cabbage salad and kimchi, gobo (root vegetable that they slice and fry like french fries) and also some parts of a pig or cow that you don't see every day in America. There's a lot of different styles of eating too, and I loved the Japanese or Korean BBQ where you were brought out the raw meats and cooked them yourself on a grill at your table.
I could write a book on the cuisine...and in the event not everyone has the means to get themselves there I've included below a little link that will help you seek out any type of Japanese food you want to learn more about.
Onto the sake! I had had some tasting experience with sake prior to arriving in Tokyo but obviously being there and tasting what's made in the town you're in or not far from is a bit of a game changer. As I mentioned, there are several different types and like wine governance in any other country what is what in the world of sake is heavily regulated by the Japanese government. All sake is made from white rice and the differences in types are much like differences in wine...the fermentation process, how long or how it's aged and even whether or not it's been pasteurized. Often times it's served in a tall shot glass that's placed inside of a small wooden box, so the overflow from the glass is your second serving that you pour out of the corner.
My personal favorites were Junmaishu because it's both smooth and mellow. I liked this hot and cold. Genshu is a type of sake that's higher in alcohol content because it's not diluted with added water, so hold onto your shorts for that one. The good news there? Most sakes lack the addition of sulfites, and hence the hangover the next day. Now, that's not to say the next sushi restaurant you walk into you should order a bottle and cry "banzai" while downing it (which would be appropriate as it's a Japanese war cry). But it was nice to have some sake with dinner and not wake up with that cloudy head feeling you get from other libations.
I've refrained from adding every picture I have in here and tried to keep it food specific. If you have the chance to go, do it, it's a beautiful city with a ton to do and see. I'll be back there for Japan's infamous cherry blossom season so I'm looking forward to doing and seeing more.
Sayonara for now,