Posts Tagged Japanese food
Today was supposed to be a big double birthday party combined with watching fireworks at Numazu summer festival, however almost everybody ended up cancelling at the last minute. We ended up taking a small group to an izakaya called Uotami across from Numazu station.
The usual izakaya of choice for English teachers is Ryuu, which offers cheap beer and sushi in a no frills, tatami mat and low table environment. Uotami is a big step up on decor: upon entering you walk over a glass floor positioned above a zen rock garden. The tables are all sunken in the floor, and the booths offer a lot more privacy. The food menu is also much larger, in line with other big chains like Watami.
One of the other teachers and I noticed that the menu featured basashi, which is slices of raw horse meat (yes, horse!) served like sashimi. I had never eaten horse in any form before, so I was interested in trying. We decided to order it and not tell anyone else.
When the food arrived, we got a plate with thin slices of red meat, looking similar to some types of tuna. People started asking what kind of fish it was, and I told them to try it and let me know what they thought. We all dove in with our chopsticks.
In my opinion, raw meat isn’t nearly as good as raw fish. The meat was slightly stringy and slimy, and didn’t have the same nice flavour that raw fish does. After almost everybody had tried some, I made the big reveal that we had just eaten horse. One of the teachers thought we were joking, and another was actually pretty upset. Most of us had a pretty good laugh about it.
There are a few important lessons here:
- Don’t trick people into eating things, even if it’s funny. (well, unless it’s really really funny and you know the person well)
- Just because you enjoy raw fish doesn’t mean you will enjoy raw meat
- Some people are really upset about the idea of eating horse.
After a long day of sightseeing in Himeji and Osaka, I decided that I should get some food before crashing for the night. By this time it was about 10:00pm, and I was hungry. My hotel is in an area filled with office buildings, so there wasn’t a large variety of restaurants available. I was about to settle for convenience store food, but decided instead to try out Sukiya, a gyudon chain restaurant.
I had never been to Sukiya before. Going into a new restaurant solo when you aren’t confident in your language ability can be a bit intimidating. I walked in and noticed counter seats around the cooking area, as well as a few tables. There was no ticket machine in the entrance. Usually this indicates that you should sit at the counter and order from there.
I took a seat at the far end of the counter, and started browsing the menu in front of me. There were various different styles of gyudon, which is delicious grilled beef and onions served on rice. I decided to order the kimchi gyudon set, which included a drink and miso soup.
A few minutes later I was presented with a big bowl of gyudon, a small bowl of miso soup, a glass of water, and a small bowl with an egg still in its shell, and a small empty bowl. I knew what to do with the gyudon, soup, and water, but had never been served an egg like this before. I had no idea what to do with the egg.
When confronted with new restaurant experiences, I like to try to figure things out myself. My main technique is to casually look around the restaurant to see what other people are doing and copy that. I started eating my gyudon while looking around at the few other diners in the restaurant. Since it was after 10 pm, there weren’t a lot of people eating, and many of them were already in the middle of their meals. Looking around provided no help at all.
I continued eating my delicious gyudon, stopping to gently spin the egg in the bowl. I remembered a science book from when I was younger telling me that I could tell the difference between a raw egg and a hard boiled egg by spinning them. A hard boiled egg spins longer and more smoothly than a raw egg. This comparison works a lot better when you have one of each so you can see the difference. Spinning my one egg in it’s small bowl provided some small amount of entertainment, but no insight into what I was supposed to do.
At this point, I was about half way through my gyudon. I decided that I would have to test my Japanese language abilities and actually ask someone for help. My mind went back to my Japanese courses in university to assemble a “how do I” sentence. Normally this wouldn’t be terribly difficult, but after a full day of travel and sightseeing, it took some time. I practiced the sentence in my head a few times to make sure I knew what I wanted to say, and that it would make sense to the server.
There weren’t a lot of staff working, so by the time I caught the server’s attention, I had eaten almost all of my gyudon. I called the server over with a polite “sumimasen” (excuse me). I followed that with “kono tamago, doo yatte tabemasu ka?” which means “this egg, how eat?”. In Japanese the verb usually goes at the end of the sentence, making direct word for word translations sound like Yoda speak.
The server gave me a bit of a confused look. I was worried that he didn’t understand my question, but then he started explaining that I should crack the egg into the empty bowl, mix it up, and then pour it over the gyudon. I thanked him for his help, and he walked away.
- When you pour a raw egg over a full steaming hot bowl of gyudon and mix it up, the egg cooks while coating the rice. This is very delicious.
- When you pour a raw egg over a room temperature, mostly empty bowl of gyudon, the raw egg simply sits there, making the remaining rice slippery and nearly impossible to pick up with chopsticks. This is not delicious.
After making a few unsuccessful attempts to finish my slippery gyudon with chopsticks, I decided to use the spoon from my miso soup to help me out. I was rewarded with a mouthful of raw egg and slimy rice. At that point I decided to give up.
The lesson to my story is when presented with an unfamiliar food, it’s better to ask a silly question than to end up with a bowl full of raw egg.
I had a fun night out with The Penpal in Numazu. We ate some great Japanese food.
(2015 Update) I really wish I had kept more details about what we ate or had maybe taken a picture or two. If you are ever living away from home, take pictures of EVERYTHING. You will want to remember it all someday.
In the morning I gathered up my family and we went for breakfast at Jonathan’s, a family restaurant near Mukogaoka Station. Jonathan’s has a breakfast menu with some familiar foods that I thought wouldn’t scare my family. They were a little surprised that the standard eggs and meat breakfast came with salad instead of some kind of potatoes.
After breakfast we spent a few hours exploring the nearby Daiei store. Supermarkets in other countries are always interesting. Like my other visitors, my family commented on the huge fish section and small meat section, which is exactly the opposite of supermarkets in central Canada.
My family wanted to have a fairly uneventful first full day in Japan. After exploring the neighbourhood and stores around the Noborito area. we headed back to Hello House. My parents wanted to have a nap before our evening plans of dinner and a movie. My sister and I went to wake them up two hours later from a deep sleep. They woke up confused and disoriented, believing it to be morning instead of evening. First time jet lag is terrible!
After finally convincing my parents that it was still Monday afternoon, we all walked to Noborito station and took the Odakyu line to Shin-yurigaoka station. There is a large shopping area and movie theatre near the station, with lots of good restaurants. Our first stop was the movie theatre to get tickets for later. My parents and I got tickets for Harry Potter 3, while my sister got a ticket for The Day After Tomorrow (she had already seen Harry Potter). The family was pleasantly surprised to see that the theatre offered reserved seats, so we wouldn’t have to rush back and line up before the movie.
We wandered through the huge selection of restaurants in the department store’s upper floors. My mom and sister wanted noodles, but my dad wanted something with meat. Fortunately the restaurants had a ticket system, so he would not need to communicate with anyone.
Restaurants with a ticket system are common in Japan, usually in train stations or other areas with high customer volumes and limited menu options. You simply insert money into the ticket machine and then push the button corresponding to the food you want. The machine will return a ticket with your order. After you have your ticket, you can sit anywhere in the restaurant and present the ticket to the waiter that comes by. Within minutes you will have your food.
I helped my dad buy a ticket from the machine, and took my mom and sister to get some noodles. In Canada there is a perception that Japanese portion sizes are small. They were shocked when the waitress returned with bowls of soup large enough to bathe a baby in. (author’s note – do not bathe a baby in soup).
We met up after dinner and returned to the movie theatre. I translated the snack menu, which was easy because it was mostly in katakana. When I got to the drinks I noted that beer was available. My dad asked if I meant actual beer, the kind with alcohol. I told him yes, they sold cans of Asahi Super Dry. With a huge smile on his face my dad got me to order him a can of beer for the movie.
The movie, like the others in the Harry Potter series, was fantastic. I tried to read as many of the Japanese subtitles as I could while watching. My dad smiled the whole time while sipping on his can of beer. After the movie we returned to Hello House and called it a night.
It was a great first day in Japan for my family.
Beer at movies
On July 16 the wife was going to visit an old friend in Odawara. I was going to catch up on some internet time, and then meet up with her at Odawara station at 5:00pm. From there we were going to Tokyo for the night. Since we were planning on looking around Akihabara, I booked a business hotel not too far away.
During the day, the in-laws took me out to their favourite curry restaurant in Numazu. Japanese curry is like a stew with meat and veggies in a rich delicious sauce, naturally served with rice. The restaurant’s lunch special was beef curry, salad, dessert and a soft drink for 980 yen. After taking one bite I could understand why the in-laws liked this place – it was one of the best Japanese curries I have ever eaten. Rich, creamy and a little spicy. Yum!
I took the regular Tokaido line from Numazu to Odawara, giving me an hour to read (always bring a book). I met The Wife and we got a ticket for the Romance Car to Shinjuku. Unlike my experience a few days earlier, this Romance Car had no children running up and down the aisles. In Shinjuku we followed the signs to the subway line. Subway signs in Tokyo can be very misleading. Sometimes you will see a sign that indicates that the subway entrance is just up ahead, but what they really mean is just up ahead after 500 meters of tunnels and probably a few flights of stairs.
After waiting for a very rare train delay that featured continuous updates and apologies from the good people at TOEI subway, we made a quick subway ride across Tokyo with one transfer and got out at Kuramae station. Our reservation was at APA Hotel Asakusa Kuramae, which described itself as close to the station. In previous experience, “close” to the station could be anything from right outside the station entrance to a 15 minute walk down unnamed side streets. Fortunately this hotel was, in fact, actually close to the station, and cross from a 7-11 as an added bonus.
We checked in and went to our “double room” to drop off our bags. I have stayed in business hotels in Tokyo and Osaka before, and they are usually very small. However, this was, in fact, the SMALLEST hotel room I have ever seen, not counting my stay in a Capsule Hotel (story to come in the future). It was literally too small to take proper pictures. The main room space was about 2 meters square. It had a bed just smaller than queen size and a small desk. Under the desk was a small fridge that you could probably fit 3 beers in. A flat screen TV was mounted on the wall. The Wife and I were both traveling with backpacks, which went on top of the “desk”. There was literally no place for a suitcase if we had one.
The bathroom was one of those ubiquitous all in one units that can be found in small Japanese hotels. It was a molded plastic one piece unit with a toilet, small sink, and small, deep bathtub. A dial on the sink distributed the water between the shower and the sink, but not both at the same time. I am not a tall person (about 170cm or 5’7 for you Americans), and I was able to stand and put my hand flat on the ceiling.
For the record, there are “normal” size hotel rooms in Tokyo. You just have to be willing to pay much more for them. Our room cost 9400 yen for one night, breakfast included. It was close to popular tourist areas and a one minute walk from the Tokyo Metro. Like most business hotels it was a clean and quiet place to sleep, and nothing else. For 1000 yen extra we could have watched the entire catalog of PPV movies until checkout time. Don’t get me wrong – the room was okay, it was just really, really small. Hobbit small.
Once we got over the hotel shock, we went back to the station and made our way to Akihabara. Our late dinner was at Gyu-Kaku, a yakiniku restaurant where you cook at your own table. We stuffed ourselves on beef, pork, chicken, scallops, and a few veggies as well. If you are in Japan and like meat, eat at Gyu-Kaku. You will not regret it. English menus are available!
We rolled ourselves out of Gyu-Kaku and took a quick walk around the station planning out our shopping for the following day. During weekends in the daytime, Akihabara is packed with people and is difficult to move around. Tuesday evenings are not very lively, so we had a unique experience of being able to wander around without bumping into people everywhere. Despite being a fairly quiet, slow night in Akihabara, we were well aware that we were in Japan’s geek paradise, full of anime stores, video games, maid cafes, model shops, and porn porn porn everywhere. Seriously, so much porn.
At this point the food and long day started to kick in, and we returned to the hotel. We got into the bed only to discover that our “bed” was actually futon on a frame and not a mattress. I had been sleeping on a thin futon on the floor at the in-laws house and had been really looking forward to a soft, spring filled mattress. The futon was okay, but was a bit lumpy in places. Since I was less likely to get up in the middle of the night for the bathroom, I had to sleep against the wall. There was almost no space between the foot of the bed and the wall, so the only way I could have gotten out of bed was by crawling over The Wife, or by waking her up and making her move. Fortunately for both of us I was asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow and didn’t move until morning.
As I drifted off into sleep, I found myself, for the first time ever, being thankful that I was not a tall man.