Thursday, April 22, 2010

Did you guys do anything in Japan besides eat?

Well Kendra is not into cosplay so it was hard to find things to do.Also we aren't drinking so that limits it a lot. Here is the golden gai, an area in Shinjuku full of small bars that looks a lot like the Yokahama ramen museum's recreation of the 1950s.
I did play video games. This guy is playing a game where you use trading cards as your controller. They somehow interface with the game and I'm pretty sure it can tell what cards you are deploying. For instance, at points he would turn the cards over.
I still think it is 1982 and am playing pengo.
They had a great selection of old games put into these newer machines. Including one of my sega favorites from 1985, fantasy zone.
The other thing we did was watch baseball.
Not only little league baseball. We went to a Yakult Swallows game. It is sad that they can't fill this stadium that was built for the 1964 Olympics. Only the bleachers had any people.
One of their fun rituals is to hold up umbrellas when a home run is hit and it is raining baseballs.
This was the most interesting thing I could find to eat. Then I bought these for these two kids and had them pose for the blog.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sushi and sashimi

Something we're noticing is that sushi isn't that common in Japan. Other than conveyor belt places which are pretty common, you don't have sushi places on every corner, and many that you do see are really expensive. What they do have is sashimi.
We found this place after unsuccessfully looking for a sushi place in Naka-Meguru. The sashimi was great and much fresher than most sushi you will find.
Here is another place with great sashimi called Nihonbashi Yukari. Kendra had it as part of a donburi (rice bowl dish). There is, of course, egg in there.
One could argue that I ordered more than Kendra with the tempura and all.
But that would be petty.

As tourists, looking more for what we expect than what Japanese people really eat, we did go have sushi. Here is me coming out of Daiwa Sushi in Tsukiji fish market. There is a long line but it moves fast.
Most of the places in the fish market don't allow pictures inside, but this one does and everyone takes them.
Here is part of the omakase starting with uni (sea urchin) and egg (in case I didn't mention it they love egg in Japan)
This is hamachi, along with Kendra's favorite Unagi (eel).
The shrimp head that goes with this shrimp they peel and clean for you which is very convenient as I never eat it otherwise. This toro (fatty tuna) was really good and somewhat chewier than the other piece they gave us which I kind of liked.
Finally, Kendra really knows how to clean out a subway car after eating too much sushi.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ramen is Japan's most popular foodstuff

So we were told, I'll get to that later. Here a sarariman enjoys his lunch.
This guy was great at the slurping which I thought was to show appreciation but apparently is more about cooling off the noodles. Because the noodles cook in the broth it is important to eat them fast, it takes 3 to 5 minutes for these guys to finish a bowl. Which is good because the better places have lines outside.

Here blue and white collar alike line up for the top rated place in Tokyo, Menya Kissou. It was excellent. We had tsukemen (pronounced more like tskay men) which has become a big craze in Tokyo over the last few years.
They serve the noodles on the side with the sauce for dipping. At the end they will add some soup to thin out your sauce so you can drink it. You can also order a double bowl of noodles so you don't run out. The other question they asked us here is if we wanted the noodles hard (katame).

For the uninitiated, here is a bowl of ramen.
It's basically a pork and chicken broth, filled with noodles, and served with various toppings usually sliced pork called chashu which you see here.

Here is Kendra eating it at a place in the opposite direction of the craziness of Shibuya called Nagi.

Nagi (above) was featured in a recent New York Times piece on the popularity of ramen in Tokyo. It was very good, but a little too much of a young crowd, seemed like a number of couples on dates. Ramen should be more of a lonely man's quick and fatty meal, not so stylish like the ridiculous Ippudo which now has a branch on 4th Ave. in NYC.

Here is the more traditional way to eat it, like they might have it in Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu, which I blogged about a few years ago.
This is a cart (these stands are called yatai) outside Shinjuku station, which seems to get it's wood or charcoal from this guy.
Not that I'm against innovation. This place in a suburb of Tokyo called Setagaya-ku makes a Ramen in Thai green curry flavor seen here.
The place is called bassanova for some strange reason, I guess the Japanese connection to Brazil. Here you can see the traditional set up with water, chopsticks, jars of garlic and ginger, tissues and a rag to wipe down the counter. The guy behind it doesn't have to talk to you because there is a machine where you do all your ordering.To learn more about the history of ramen, because that is what I'm into after all, I traveled to Yokohama to the Ramen Museum.
Yokohama was the first place to be opened up after Perry's black ships and the treaty of Kanagawa (that is the name for the whole area of Tokyo Bay or Edo Bay where Yokohama is situated). In 1859 when the port of Yokahama was officially opened to foreign trade the first people to come in large numbers were, naturally, the Chinese. They brought with them Ramen, which until the 1950s was known as Chinese Soba.

This museum attempts to recreate that era, when Japan emerged from U. S. occupation and became a growing industrial giant with a consumer culture and the fast food that comes with it.
Yes it's a little cheesy like a Vegas hotel, but the attention to detail in the phony back alleys like this one make it a unique experience, with broken down period motorbikes, wooden sandals neatly placed outside the doors, and even black and white wrestling matches playing on the TVs inside the homes.
Here we had real authentic ramen from the era, very greasy and heavy. They say a ramen cook might ask you in some shops if you want extra back fat in yours.

That brings me to our last stop, a shop, believe it or not, run by an American Ivan Orkin. He is trained at the Culinary Institute of America in classic french techniques but chose to move to a suburb of Tokyo and run a small ramen shop.
Here he is posing in front of it for us. Being a native New Yorker he is a talker and taught us a lot about Ramen. He is a celebrity in food crazed Japan, being featured regularly on TV. He seemed happy to see us, as he gets a lot of tourists but almost all of them are Asians.

He cooks traditional Ramen like Shio or salt Ramen, the most popular style in Tokyo. Having worked at Mesa Grill with Bobby Flay in the early 90s however, he does a Chipotle spiced Ramen with cooked down eggplant and tomato.
It was really great, without the overwhelming chipotle flavor you can often get with an unskilled chef. He even convinced me to eat the egg which I normally don't like. He told us that Japanese eggs are more natural than there American ones and therefore full of flavor. I would agree, but I wouldn't say it is the best part like he did.

He also does great side dishes like this pork and tomato over rice, and he had a very good salty, sour lemon ice cream. He says ice cream is one thing he misses in Japan (along with mofongo believe it or not).


Hanami is the Japanese practice of having picnics beneath cherry blossoms (or Sakura).
We were in Tokyo while they were in bloom so that is my excuse for putting a lot of pretty pictures on the blog.
Seeing all these picnics begs the question as to what they are eating. Here are a few things from the food stalls set up around Ueno park which is one good Hanami place.
It isn't just because these fish are on sticks that I took the picture. I just thought it looked cool.
These "fish" are not on sticks. They are called Taiyaki and made from waffle batter and filled with an azuki bean paste.
Here is the big greasy okonomiyaki which you might remember from our trip to Hiroshima. It is a pancake stuffed with noodles and all sorts of other things. The point of this greasy food is that these picnics are more about the drinking than the eating.
These two guys are piling up empties.
These guys are looking for a place to put their cooler and cases of beer.
These people are keeping it cool in a kiddy pool.
These sararīmen are carrying cases home after a day of drinking. And this last guy has probably had too much.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chocolate without Cheese?

Is like love without kisses they say in Ecuador. You dump the cheese into the hot chocolate and it melts to form a gooey mass you can eat with the spoon.

You can have it with cream instead (or in addition to) if you want. But the cream has a very thick consistency.
The harder drink is this vat of canalazo. Which is a cinnamon infused naranjilla (something like parsimmon) cider that they spike with aguardiente (sugar cane alcohol).
They order pitchers of it and drink it hot because this rainy season seems to be their winter. You can also get blackberry.
It was "cold" because we were in the mountains in the capital Quito.
They make a big deal about Serranos and Costenos having problems with each other but the costal food is eaten up here.
Cheviche is very popular. You can just have a big bowl of it for lunch just in its juices.
They also take corvina, fry it and serve it on top of a bowl of ceviche. I got mine with rice instead, but they put a bowl of ceviche on the side anyway.
Kendra is enjoying guanabana juice with it.

The mountains have their own fish cuisine though with river trout (trucha).
But up here they mainly eat potatoes and plantains.
You can see that the best way to give the plantain flavor is to let it sit in goat fat all day.
These are fried and stuffed with cheese.

They mash a potato into a ball called llapingachos.
The best way to give it flavor is to cover it in greasy eggs and chorizo.

The most simple dish is this mix of beans, lime, plantain chips, corn nuts, salsa... called cevichocho.Anthony Bourdain is doing a show on Ecuador next week (biter). I will guarantee that he eats guinea pig or cuy, which is a popular highland food. The guinea pig is a rodent and not a pig. Here is pig served on the streets of Quito.
Much tastier.