Saturday, December 10, 2011

Япония — О Еде

Street vendor on Miyajima Island.Наша поездка в Японию удалась. Мы погуляли по многим новым местам, попробовали много необычных блюд, услышали много непонятных слов, увидели много красивых лиц, и в целом на мгновение окунулись в другой мир. Мне было одинаково интересно смотреть и на Японию, и на самих японцев. Очень хотелось пообщаться с ними поближе и попытаться лучше понять их обычаи и культуру, но такой возможности не было. Несмотря на то, что все были чрезвычайно вежливы, много кланялись и улыбались, я иногда остро ощущала себя чужаком в этой мононациональной стране. В целом же японцы произвели на меня очень и очень приятное впечатление, и я лично убедилась, что японские женщины не зря славятся своей красотой.

Plastic dishes.Вообще очень сложно писать о нашем отпуске, потому что он был очень насыщенным и от этого не знаешь с чего начать. В эту субботу мы ходили в местный японский ресторан с Маруками, и с тех пор мне очень хочется попасть на рыбный рынок в Токио и отведать вкуснейших суши из Суши Дай. Разница в качестве морепродуктов, риса и чая очень заметна — а это значит, что еще не скоро я смогу получать удовольствие японских ресторанов в Бруклине. Итак, о еде.

Суши Дай


Chefs at Sushi Dai.Вопреки распространённому мнению, в Японии есть очень много разных блюд, которые не включают в себя морепродукты. В суши-ресторан мы сходили только один раз, но зато как метко! Даня почитал на интернете отзывы о разных местах, и этот ресторанчик, расположенный на рыбном рынке в Токио, очень хвалили. Работает он в первой половине дня — с 5 утра и до полудня, и попасть без очереди туда невозможно.

Japanese omelet.Мы запланировали поход на рыбный рынок на утро понедельника. Наша гостиница находилась минутах в 15 ходьбы от рынка, что пришлось весьма кстати, так как метро в Токио закрывается на ночь. Мы проснулись в 4 утра (разница во времени между Токио и Нью-Йорком составляет 14 часов, и к понедельнику мы были на каком-то промежуточном времени) и в начале 6-го вышли из гостиницы. Благодаря тому, что Даня хорошо изучил карты еще до нашей поездки (а так же тому, что в моего мужа при рождении кто-то встроил компас), мы нашли и сам рынок, и нужный нам ресторанчик без каких-либо проблем. В 5:40 утра мы присоединились к очереди (которая, кстати, заметно выросла вскоре после нашего прихода), а в 7:10 нас запустили внутрь. Стоит заметить, что в целом ряду маленьких ресторанчиков, наш был единственным возле которого в такую рань стояла очередь. В очереди там и сям встречались европейские лица, но большинство ожидающих являлось азиатами (скорее всего японцами). Прямо перед нами стояла пара средних лет — муж японец с русской женой. Живут они в Калифорнии, но у него в Японии мама и бизнес, и каждый раз когда они прилетают погостить, то заходят в это место.

Daniеl at Sushi Dai.Сам ресторанчик очень маленький и узенький. Не уверена сколько там посадочных мест — думаю, не больше 12. Мы заказали омакасе — курс на выбор повара, и остались очень довольны. Каждый из нас получил по 10 суши (плюс одну на наш выбор в конце завтрака), суп мисо, 4 кусочка рола с тунцом и сладковатый японский омлет. Еще в Нью-Йорке мы смотрели видео из этого места, и поэтому для нас не было шоком, когда одно из блюд — какой-то там моллюск — зашевелилось прямо перед нашими носами. Мне было страшновато это есть — всё-таки непривычно есть такие свежие морепродукты в сыром виде европейскому человеку — но с заданием я успешно справилась. Даня тоже сьел этот кусочек суши, хотя потом он откомментировал что большей гадости в жизни не едал. Еще мы ели тунца (жирного и обычного), морского ежа, красную икру, скумбрию, мелких креветок, окуня, угря и еще какую-то белую рыбу. Я помню, что окуня в Бруклине я прожевать не могла, а тут он мне так понравился, что я заказала его в качестве дополнительного кусочка. А еще мне очень понравилась красная икра — солёную красную икру я не люблю, а вот свежая была просто обьеденье.

Rolls and tuna sushi, I think.Завтрак нам стоил $50 на человека — не дешево, но оно того стоило.

Говядина Кобе


Kobe beef.Дегустация кобе бифа входила в планы нашей поездки. Мы точно не знали где, но надеялись, что в Осаке найдётся приличное место с умереными ценами (хотелось уложится в $100 на человека). Но то ли доллар сейчас настолько слабый (курс доллара к японской иене не был насколько плохим со времён второй мировой войны), то ли мы не там искали, но найти что-то дешевле $200 на человека мы не могли. К счастью, в ресторане, на котором мы остановились, никто не возражал разделить нам одну порцию на двоих. Хочется заметить, что так получилось даже лучше. Конечно, мяса могло быть и больше (мы получили 150 грамм мяса на двоих, но за счёт того, что в эта говядина очень жирная и соответственно относительно лёгкая, получился довольно приличный кусок), но закусок, овощей и риса входящих в цену ужина было более чем достаточно. Мы оба наелись до отвала.

Teppanyaki chef.Перед походом в ресторан мы очень боялись разочароваться ($200+ за ужин для нас довольно дорого), но получилось даже наоборот — мясо превзошло наши ожидания. За счёт его необычной “гранитной” текстуры оно было очень мягким (я бы даже сказала нежным) и сочным, и его практически не надо было жевать. Я очень рада, что мы побороли наши сомнения и попробовали этот деликатес.

Тэппанъяки


Teppanyaki.Кобе биф нам готовили в тэппаньяки ресторане. Не считая мяса, всё очень похоже на наши местные хибачи. Вкусно (особенно жаренный чеснок), но ничего необычного.

Традиционные ужин и завтрак


Traditional dinner at ryokan.На 5-летний юбилей нашей свадьбы мы останавливались в традиционной японской гостинице — рёкане. Мы решили так же попробовать традиционные ужин и завтрак, которые предлагались в этом месте. Ужин состоял из более 15 наименований, включающих в себя супы, сырую и жаренную на гриле рыбу, овощи, различные соления, рис, десерт.

Traditional breakfast at ryokan.Что-то мне понравилось, что-то было слишком экзотичным на мой вкус, но в целом мы остались очень довольны и хорошо наелись. Завтрак тоже был интересным и включал в себя успевший полюбиться мне омлет по-японски, рыбу, суп, варёный тофу, рис, соления и грейпфрут. Гостиничный персонал посоветовал нам одеть на ужин предоставленные рёканом традиционные халаты с накидками, что мы и сделали. Мне кажется, это добавило всему действу остроты, чего мы собственно и добивались.

Окономияки


Okonomiyaki dinner in Osaka.Это блюдо, представляющее собой жареную лёшку с капустой и мясом либо морепродуктами, мы ели в одной из забегаловок в Осаке. Было неплохо, но лично на мой вкус не более того. Я выбрала окономияки с осьминогом и креветками, а Даня с беконом.

Тэмпура


Tempura dinner.Я никогда не была большим любителем тэмпуры (обжаренные в кляре морепродукты или овощи) в Бруклине, но Японская темпура на голову выше местной. Не знаю в чём заключается секрет, но тесто в Японии было более воздушным, лёгким и хрустящим, и поэтому я с огромным удовольствием ела тэмпуру и в специализированном ресторане, и как часть нашего традиционного ужина.

Свинина в кляре


Fried pork cutlet dinner.К сожалению я не записала как называется эта ветвь японской кухни, но было очень вкусно. Эта свинина напомнила мне темпуру, но немного отличалась от вышеназванной по вкусу.

Бэнто Бокс


Bento box.Из Токио в Осаку мы ехали на синкансэне — “поезде-пуле”. Даня купил в дорогу две коробочки бэнто. Идея таких коробочек, где еда красиво и аккуратно разложена по отсекам, мне нравится, но больше покупать их как-то не тянуло.

Зелёный Чай


Tea ceremony.За неделю отпуска я выпила не меньше ведра этого чудесного напитка. Нам повезло, и когда мы уезжали из рёкана, тётушка-японка в кимоно угостила нас чаем, сделанным в рамках чайной церемонии. У чая был насыщенный зелёнй цвет, вкуснейшая пенка и очень приятный терпкий вкус. Второй по вкусности чай нам давали в Суши Дай.

Tea ceremony green tea.Очень многие рестораны тоже подавали неплохой чай, хотя, конечно, с тем, что нам подали в рёкане они не могут сравнится. Я покупала очень много чая в торговых автоматах, понатыканных на улицах с удивительной частотой. Причём, чай в автомате можно было купить как холоный, так и горячий. Я очень удивилась когда первый раз мне выпала бутылка с горячим зелёным чаем, но потом мы заметили, что под горячими и холодными напитками было написано “hot” и ” cold” соответсвенно, плюс у горящих напитков на бутылках были оранжевые крышечки, а у холодных белые. Мы привезли домой 3 упаковки по 100 грамм листового зелёного чая — надеюсь, что когда он закончится, можно будет пополнить запасы с помощью интернета.

Vending machine with hot and cold drinks.А еще мы пробовали буллочки с мясом, приготовленные на пару на острове Миядзима. Очень вкусно! А еще мы ели ланч в районе Сибуя в Токио, но он не представлял из себя ничего особенного. Что мне показалось очень интересым и необычным — это то, что практически кажый ресторан на витрине высталяет пластиковые модели своих блюд. Очень удобно, особенно для иностранцев.

Hiroshima steamed buns at Miyajima Island.А еще хочется отметить, что Хилтон как всегда был на высоте. Так как Даня является “алмазным” членом хилтоновского клуба, то мы получили в отеле бесплатные завтраки и доступ в “executive lounge”, где можно было вечером попить чаю или спиртных напитков, и подкрепится сладким или лёгкими закусками. Завтрак в стиле шведского стола был просто шикарным и включал в себя блюда как европейской, так и японской кухни.
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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Japanese Food

Plastic dishes.To try actual real Japanese cuisine or rather cuisines was as interesting and as important of an objective for us as visiting ancient Japanese temples and shrines. We knew some facts about Japanese food, but we had more surprises than we expected.

First lunch. Shibuya, Tokyo.For one thing it turns out that all the foods that we have at local Japanese restaurants such as sushi, rolls, tempura, yakitori, soba and so on — in Japan these are all different restaurants specializing in each one of those things. One place does sushi, another does tempura, third does something that we’ve never heard of at all.

We didn’t do much research on food before going — we only had one place that was “must visit” on our list. And that’s the place I will start with.

Sushi & Sushi Dai


Sushi Dai is a tiny “hole in the wall” type of restaurant located on the famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. As you can guess by the name — the restaurant specializes in sushi and is considered to be the best sushi restaurant in Japan, which in turn makes it the best sushi place in the world. I’m nowhere near being an expert on sushi, so I don’t know if it is true or not, but I can share my own impressions.

Sushi Dai sign.Having the reputation that it has this little place has a long long line all the time. It opens at 5am along with the market itself and closes before noon. It is said that the earlier you get there in the morning the faster you’re going to get in. It is also said that if the line is too long one might want to try to get into another famous restaurant a couple of doors down called Daiwa Sushi and see if the line is shorter there.

As I’ve mentioned before we really lucked out with our hotel location. The fish market was a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel, so we didn’t have to take subway or anything else to get there. It also happened so that we were still running on New York time. We set the alarm for 6am just in case, but we managed to wake up at 4am on our own — perfect.

Red snapper.Now I want to mention that I’m not the biggest sushi fan in the world by any stretch of imagination and having sushi for breakfast was even stranger. But our hearts were really set on Sushi Dai, in fact so much that we watched a ton of videos on YouTube about people visiting it. One thing that stands out in all the videos is the fact that somewhere in the middle of the course that you’re getting served you get a thing that is clearly moving on top of your rice. That was making me quite nervous.

Another thing about this place is that from everything I’ve read it seems that majority of people have a really hard time finding it on the fish market. And even if you do you must be able to identify it by a sign which is done in the same style as all other restaurants on the market and obviously it is in Japanese. I had the sign printed out, but by the time we got to Japan I had it committed to memory anyhow. I also looked at a lot of satellite photos and maps of the area. I was just hoping that things would look familiar from non-satellite perspective when we actually get there.

Sardine sushi.I’m proud to say that we got to the fish market without making a single wrong turn. And not only that, but we also arrived to Sushi Dai inside the fish market without making a single wrong turn either. One thing was obvious — no need to identify the restaurant by the sign. It was the only place with a line and a long one at that. The time on the clock was 5:40am — we did take our sweet time showering and getting dressed.

I would say there were about 10 couples in front of us. The problem is that the restaurant fits about 10 people (not couples) at a time. We took our place in line — which still was in front of Sushi Dai at the time, but soon after the line grew bigger and eventually extended around the corner of the block.

Our chef at Sushi Dai.Right in front of us was a couple of older people — a Japanese looking man and a very Russian looking woman. It turns out that they live in LA and he travels on business to Japan very often. And when she comes with him they do a mandatory trip to Sushi Dai. A couple of times per trip if they can.

It took us about an hour and 40 minutes of waiting to get in. This couple went in ahead of us and we got in right after them. We ended up sitting next to them too at sushi bar (there are no tables inside) and we kept getting advice on how to properly eat each thing which was helpful.

Miso soup.We knew what we were going to order before we got there. Our choice was an omakase option — which means that it’s up to the chef to pick the best pieces for us — for ¥3,900 ($52) per person. The course consisted of 10 sushi items selected by chef plus 1 item of our choice at the end. It also included Japanese omelet, spectacular miso soup, hot green tea and one roll, but I’m not sure if it was one of the 10 items or not — I lost count.

The chef keeps making sushi pieces in front of you and keeps serving you piece by piece as he goes. The first piece was fatty tuna. I cannot forget its taste to this point. I never really ate sushi pieces in my life. I rarely order rolls with raw fish. Typically it is somewhat chewy, and I don’t enjoy the texture, nor the taste.

Sea urchin — uni.In Sushi Dai we were told to try not to use any soy souse as it kills the taste of the fish. We did as suggested and avoided soy souse except for the things that they said it was OK to use it with. Back to fatty tuna — it basically melted on my tongue. The texture was pleasant and the taste was great. I realized that this type of sushi not only can I eat for breakfast — I’m going to enjoy it too.

After that a couple of other fishes followed which were all great. Than we were served sea urchin (uni) which most people say is pretty disgusting in U.S. It was not bad at all. And somewhere soon after my nemesis has arrived. I saw the chef put some rice into his hand, then a piece of something on top of it, then a hard slap and then he lands it right in front of me on the table. And what do you know? The moving part was no an illusion. It sure is alive.

Red clam — this thing was moving.Good thing I knew this was coming, because if I were not prepared there is a good chance I would lose everything I ate before it. But now I was set on trying it. Not for the taste, but for the experience.

I grabbed it with my hand and stuffed it into my mouth. I didn’t feel any movement, but this thing was like rubber which would squirt out some nasty tasting juice at each bite. I declare it by far the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten. But I was ecstatic nevertheless about the fact that I did not chicken out and went through with it. I was really proud of myself for that. Although I don’t think I will try it ever again. I repeat, ever again.

Roe.After that we had a piece filled with roe, but that’s not a thing you can scare us with. In fact it was much more delicious than the one sold in Russian stores — it was not salty at all. I think it ended up being Alёna’s favorite piece.

Either way by the time I ate my last piece I was full. I could eat no more. Alёna felt about the same. Overall it was most definitely worth it. The food was great, the soup was great, the tea was great. Even the rice that they use was great. This is the experience that should not be skipped whether you are passionate about sushi or not.

Our chef was great — very friendly and helpful — had no problem explaining to us, dumb tourists, what was what and how it should be eaten and so on. Also most people did not use chopsticks and just used their hand. We did the same.

Rolls and baby shrimp sushi.I have to mention that when we got to the market Daiwa Sushi had no line and you could just come in. When we came out the line to Sushi Dai has gotten even longer. At this point Daiwa Sushi also had a pretty sizable line, but this one consisted mostly of European looking people. Sushi Dai line had mostly Japanese people, but a good number of patient westerners as well.

On a bit of side note — this past weekend we went with Maruks to a local sushi place in Brooklyn. It was supposed to be a good place. Alёna and I ordered the same sushi pieces that we ate in Japan to see if there really is a difference. Were we astonished or what by that difference. Local sushi hardly compares. The fish was chewy with a nasty after taste. The rice was stale or something. The only way I could eat these was covering them with ginger and wasabi and dipping them fully into soy souse. So basically quite the opposite of what one is supposed to do.

Possibly fatty tuna sushi.I think I could have been a big sushi fan as well if I had regular access to Sushi Dai though.

Traditional Kaiseki Dinner


Traditional Japanese multi-course dinner.One of the amazing experiences of our trip was a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner at Nishiyama Ryokan in Kyoto. We scheduled it to fall on the eve of November 23rd — our 5th wedding anniversary and it definitely made this date memorable.

Boiling pot at traditional dinner.There were 12 different courses served to us. I can’t really recall all of it — a lot of seafood prepared in different ways, a lot of vegetables, a pair of soups. Not everything was to my taste, but a lot of things were quite delicious. There was some boiling soup prepared right on our table and we were served by a woman in traditional Japanese attire. We also wore kimonos for the dinner which added to the whole experience.

Cooking tofu on the table at traditional breakfast.I would not do this every night, and I probably wouldn’t do it for the food, but the experience itself was really great. We ordered 2 bottles of hot sake which made things even better.

Dinner at ryokan.In the morning we were served a traditional Japanese breakfast which was not any less interesting than the dinner with more boiling stuff on our table. During the breakfast time the dinning room was full of people, but during the dinner we were the only people there so it made it feel like it was our private special evening. It was great.

Breakfast


Not much to say on this topic. As I’ve mentioned before breakfast was included in our hotels for free because of our Diamond VIP status. Both places had a large buffet with a selection of American and Japanese dishes. It was a great way to save time and money and we ate breakfast in our hotels every morning with 2 exceptions — Sushi Dai and traditional Japanese breakfast at our Kyoto ryokan.

Okonomiyaki


Okonomiyaki.Okonomiyaki is dish that originates from the western part of Japan. There are 2 distinct styles — one that is popular in Osaka and another that is popular in Hiroshima. I heard about okonomiyaki before and I’ve read about it and we definitely wanted to try it.

Okonomiyaki dinner.Okonomiyaki is kind of a Japanese omelet. It is made with some special batter and cabbage. You can have it loaded with a lot of different things — ours came with pork and squid. It is often prepared right on your table, which has a grill built in.

Okonomiyaki chef.We asked our chef to make it for us as we had no idea how to make it ourselves. We picked a completely random place that we ran into in some food-court maze in Umeda district of Osaka. I liked it quite a bit, but Alёna found it to be just OK. Worth a try anyhow.

Tempura


Tempura in Japanese restaurants is completely different from what we get in ours. If here it is overly greasy and feels extremely unhealthy in Japan it is very light and quite delicious. We ordered a 10 piece tempura course in one of the restaurants near our hotel and came away pretty happy with our dinner.

Tempura.Interesting thing about 95% of Japanese restaurants is the fact that they all have plastic replicas of their dishes displayed in the windows — be it an upscale place or a simple corner place to grab a bite. We as tourist definitely found it very much to our liking — otherwise we would have no idea what to order.

Tonkatsu


Fried pork cutlet dinner.Tonkatsu or at least I think it was Tonkatsu is a Japanese pork cutlet. We weren’t sure what to do with dinner for our first night in Osaka so we went to one of the huge malls at Osaka Station City and picked out a meal by looking at the plastic dishes. It turned out to be very very good.

Bento Boxes


I was familiar with the term bento box before I came to Japan. It’s yet another type of thing that you can order in pretty much any Japanese restaurant in New York. There are different types of bento boxes, but each one consists of many sections filled with different types of food.

Bento box lunch on a bullet train.It is common to see bento box kiosks on JR stations especially in Shinkansen sections. We bought a pair of these for our trip on a bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka. I think the total for a pair was somewhere around ¥2,000 or so which comes out to $27.

Kobe Beef


And for the last, but not least I left Kobe Beef. Anyone who even remotely likes steaks have probably heard of Kobe beef. There are a lot of urban legends floating around about it — these are special cows that are feed with beer and massaged all day long or something along those lines. I’m quite sure that those things are not true, but it sure is famous.

Kobe beef.Now while most of the food in Japan is moderately priced and very comparable to prices of decent restaurants in New York, Kobe beef places in Japan are extremely expensive. In fact they are so expensive that we were considering for 6 nights whether we should visit one or not.

And even if you do want to visit one — they don’t seem to be easy to find. And when you do find them or somebody recommends you go to one you still better make your own research and make sure that in fact they do serve Kobe beef. After doing a bit of research we found a place right across the street from our Hilton hotel in Osaka — a place called Rio.

Teppanyaki.Now because the price was so high we decided that we’ll just go up to them and ask if we can share a meal and to our surprise they had no problems with that. So we made a reservation for Friday night and we kept it.

My biggest fear was that I’m going to get disappointed. Our dinner in the end came out to ¥15,000 which is roughly $210. And that is for a single portion. So back to my biggest fear — I was thinking that it would really suck to pay so much money for a steak that I wouldn’t be able to tell apart from something that would get served in a local Hibachi place in Brooklyn.

Teppanyaki chef preparing Kobe beef.Kobe beef is often served in a teppanyaki style dinner (I always knew this process as hibachi, so I’m not really sure what the difference is). They started with different appetizers, vegetables and so on. They gave us two plates and split everything for us, so we didn’t feel bad at all about splitting a single meal. They made us feel comfortable.

Kobe beef was weighted on a scale in front of us to be exactly 150 grams (as it states in the menu). It turned out to be a bigger piece than we expected. I guess the reason is that it has a lot of fat in it. If you look at the meat you can tell that it looks different. A couple of strands of meat, a couple of strands of fat — like marble.

Kobe beef is almost done.When the meat was cooked and given to us — oh, wow! All the worries about it being “usual” were instantly gone. Had I known all along that it would be as it was we would go to this dinner without the slightest hesitation. The meat just melts away with a slight press of the tongue. I think it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.

The closest thing that I can compare it to is a shish-kebab from a Uzbek restaurant. If you were to take a piece of fat that they typically put on the skewers and a piece of meat and merge them into a single piece you would get something somewhat similar. The fat becomes non-nasty and the meat becomes super soft.

Us visiting Rio teppanyaki to try Kobe beef.We were so happy we decided not to miss this opportunity and go. So not only did Japan ruin sushi for us it ruined steaks as well. How am I supposed to enjoy steak after that? And luckily for us one full course was enough food for 2 of us that we didn’t walk away hungry at all — we were quite satisfied.

Conclusion


What a rich country Japan is. So many things to try, so different from the ones we know. There are many more things that we didn’t have the chance to try in our time there, but I think we did good. Lots of memories, lots of great impressions that will stay with us for a long time.

However I will add that I was very happy to eat a good old American hamburger upon getting back home. I guess you need time to get used to the tastes of things that are so foreign to us.

P.S. A lot of photographs are going to be from iPhone, since we don’t have pictures of all our meals taken with D700.
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