Monday, January 14, 2013
What can be a better way to experience Japan than a dedicated culinary tour to savour its tapestry of tastes, colours and smells? My food trail leads you into Japan’s popular streets to relish the Land of the Rising Sun’s delicacies and good news is that eating out in the country is not expensive at all!!!
OKONOMIYAKI IN HIROSHIMA
Sample this, a combination of noodles, cabbage, Japanese mayonnaise, meat and seafood of your choice, cheese, udon or soba noodles and eggs all grilled into a pizza size pancake of perfection - then topped with the decadence known as Okonomiyaki sauce! While the noodles are warming on the grill, the chef creates a thin circle of batter, which looks very similar to our humble ‘Dosa’ and then places the ingredients you chose on top of it. He scrambles an egg and places it on a circle as well on the griddle. The noodles and the egg are then placed on top of the ‘Dosa’. With their spatulas, the chefs dramatically and carefully flip over the okonomiyaki to cook it through and the result is a tight, perfectly-shaped, consistent circle….decadent to the core!
INTERESTING FACT- Also known as Hiroshima’s ‘soul food’ okonomiyaki seems to have evolved from a pre-war children’s snack called issen-youshoku, which consisted of a folded crepe topped with onions and Worchester sauce.
OCTOPUS IN OSAKA
While shopping in Osaka’s market I had this craving to eat some snack. Ramen was easily available but it would stuff me up I knew. Then I noticed these Takoyaki (octopus treats) stalls all over the place and seemed to be Osaka’s quintessential street food which has been popular in Osaka and the surrounding Kansai area since the early 1930’s. Basically round octopus fritters – crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and anchored by the firm bite of octopus. It took a couple years for them to settle on what exactly to put inside the gooey dough, with using beef and egg before they eventually hit upon the idea of octopus. Toppings can vary from seaweed; bonito fish flakes, Okonomi-yaki sauce and mayonnaise! It takes great agility and a steady hand to twist the dumplings with chopsticks while they cook on a special pan. I ordered half-dozen, which costed me about INR300 for that quantity and yes…it did satiate my palate.
INTERESTING FACT- There is a museum dedicated to Takoyaki in Osaka, located in the Universal Studios City Walk shops and restaurants centre on the 4th floor.
TOFU GALORE IN KYOTO
Kyoto’s streets spew historical elements and culture. There are a lot of souvenir shops, some of them with the cutest goods. It’s like going back in time. People always say if you like Japanese culture then Kyoto is a place you must visit and a visit to Kyoto is incomplete without a tofu meal. Fresh tofu in Japan is far better than it is anywhere else, and Kyoto is deemed the place in the country to eat quality tofu. This is perhaps attributed to the skill, refined court and temple-influenced culture and the quality of the local water. Whatever the reason, to most Japanese people Kyoto means tofu! One can experience soy’s platonic ideal, at any one of a handful of Kyoto’s excellent tofu restaurants. Serving fresh tofu in a variety of forms—creamy as pudding, light and airy, dense and chewy—The yudofu set meal, which changes slightly with the seasons, includes a pot of tofu boiled at your table, fried tofu on a stick, vegetable tempura, yam soup, and pickled vegetables. I would highly recommend it all.
INTERESTING FACT-Authentic, handcrafted tofu relies on high-quality soy beans, good water in which to soak and boil them, and of course the expertise of the tofu maker.
GO CHINESE IN YOKAHAMA
Located at Motomachi Chukagai station, it was a forty-minute ride by express train from central Tokyo. What separates Yokohama from other Japanese cities is Chinatown, the largest Chinese neighbourhood not only in Japan but the world too, and attracts over 18 million visitors per year, and is also the biggest tourist draw in town. For a foodie like me the best reason to stop in Chinatown is the food. Popular favourites include steamed pork buns, sweet chestnut, ramen noodles and a wide array of other Chinese dishes. As I strolled along I discovered authentic Chinese ingredients, like fried shallots, fiery-hot chili paste, and dried scallops and the steamed pork bun stalls were at almost every corner and looked fat and succulent. At the small by lanes, one can spot lively shops promising delicious dishes with the aroma of garlic and oyster sauce wafting out. I went in for an all-you-can-eat dim sum spread which was delicious. The only Japanese elements here were the spinach dumplings. They used sticky mochi as the skin but it tasted awesome.
INTERESTING FACT -The district has over 160 restaurants serving every regional style of Chinese food imaginable, a fact that led Fodor’s to label it “the best place for lunch in Yokohama”.
IZAKAYA FUN IN TOKYO
For a local night out in Tokyo an Izakaya, a traditional type of Japanese bar something on the lines of a tapas bar makes a great choice. Literally translates into ‘a place where there is Sake’. I found many Izakaya in Tokyo ranging from a stand up bar with room for around 15 people, to a huge brightly lit place seating a 100 people. Some specialize in a particular type of food such as yakitori or tofu while others have a varied menu for one to choose from. Metro stations make an excellent hunting ground for these fast food lively, tasty and pocket-friendly Izakaya. My friend and I ordered some beer, along with some gyoza, fried small fish, Edamame, sushi and barbecued pork belly. This is a perfect place to go with a big group so one can try lots of different things.
INTERESTING FACT- The history of izakaya started when sake shops opened their shops for drinking to customers. Today it serves foods to accompany the drinks.
published in fnl