Monday, May 5, 2008

Japan, Part One (FINALLY!): The Food

Behold! My titanic effort to overcome the burgeoning sloth that besets every student and teacher in the month of May. Here, at long last, is the first post on my trip to Tokyo.

Of course, it's about food: below are the culinary highlights of the trip.

Top Ramen it ain't

Our first meal in Japan was ramen, which, along with sushi, is something of a national dish. Typically eaten at lunch, ramen is sold in nostalgic little establishments that seem to cluster together in shopping districts and malls. Outside each dining room (they're really too small to be called a restaurant) hangs an Iron Chef-style poster of the chef, including a biaxial graph plotting the thickness of the noodle vs. the oiliness of the broth (just to make sure you know what you're getting into). We went for oily, medium-thick. We bought our meal tickets at the vending machine at the door and ducked inside to wait.

This was the result, an absolutely delicious garlic-and-pepper broth packed with onions and tender pork. The fact that this stuff shares a name with Maruchan is somewhat appalling--not that there's no room in my heart for cup noodles, just that, other than the whole "noodle-in-salty-broth" concept, they really are almost nothing alike.

The verdict? Yum. And Dr. Kim concurs:
Hotplate steak

Here's dinner from our second night in Tokyo. We ate at a family-style joint, kind of like a Japanese cross between Denny's and Applebee's, in the restaurant section of the megamart by our hotel. What you see below is a single serving of the same kind of thing you get in a Japanese steakhouse in the U.S. Very good, though compared to the ramen, the serving size was pretty small.Also, I nearly managed to set the whole restaurant ablaze by fiddling with that thing's open flame.


Tempura being another signature Japanese dish, there was no way we were going to get through the trip without a tempura meal. The food at this place in Asakusa was good, and included an assortment of chicken, fish, and veggies, but again a little too skimpy for my fat-guy American tastes--and the highlight for me wasn't actually the tempura, but a variant miso soup (in the right of the picture below) that had been revved up with some ground hot red pepper.
Hotpot chicken

Like the hotplate steak, this was another meal that almost killed us all: we couldn't keep the oily chicken broth from overflowing and lighting the burner ablaze. (Note: this kind of meal had a Japanese name, but I can't remember it. Any help?)

Once safely cooked, though, this was another tasty meal--those thread mushrooms are common here in Korea, too, and have become one of my favorite soup goodies. A plate of udon noodles cooked in the leftover broth extended the garlicky goodness and made for one of the biggest meals of the trip.

Also on the table were this surprisingly addictive shrimp salad, dressed simply with a dash of rice wine vinegar,indescribable marinated bamboo shoots (NB: English language learners love the one about the panda who eats(,) shoots(,) and leaves)

And, just for good measure, we have a plate of fried chicken and potatoes. Why, I don't know.Octopus balls

Are NOT what you think they are. What they are is (apparently) a popular on-the-go snack food, commonly found in shopping districts and such. The one on the bottom is covered in cheese (unfortunately, the plastic-flavored Asian variety) and the one on the top in dried fish flakes. I couldn't stomach the cheese balls, but the fish-flake fellows were strangely addictive, even though they stank to high heaven.


This isn't Japanese food by any stretch of the imagination, but before our day at Tokyo Disneyland I had been craving a plain hotdog with mustard for MONTHS. (The hotdogs here in Korea are usually covered with bulgogi sauce, ham, chopped onion, even CORN.)
Conveyor-Belt Sushi

I had two conveyor-belt sushi meals on the trip, the first cheap and gluttonous, the second more expensive, but also more delicious. Since conveyor-belt sushi isn't uncommon in other parts of the world, there's not much to say: pay per plate, lots of variety, etc. However, I did try toro (fatty tuna) for the first time (yum, but not yummier enough than regular tuna to justify the price), and I can surmise that even cheap Japanese sushi is pretty darn good.

Also: sorry for the lack of pictures, but when I brought my camera out, I got the evil eye.

Weird Shiny Balls of Weirdness

I have no idea what these are, but Naomi (our school's Japanese teacher) recommended them as a good way to fulfill my mission to bring something weird to eat back to my wife.And if weirdness is the criterion, I think I succeeded. They felt like plastic, tasted like half-chewed bubblegum and bad rice cakes, and looked like some kind of alien spore. But, hey, at 500 yen (about $5) they were well worth the blog fodder, at least.

Look for more Japan posts shortly.



Wow, Nan. You've got "no" written all over your face, to quote Paul Newman!

Stephen & Amy said...

was it shabu shabu that you had in the hot pot? it means swish swish in japanese.