japan


Food: Home Cookin' and japan21 Mar 2014 09:48 am
k family

The K family and I in March, 2013

We met some of the most wonderful people ever in Japan, people I miss all the time. Mr and Mrs K are our Okinawan parents. That was once a joke, but I absolutely believe they were and are our adoptive parents. We adore them like we do our parents, anyhow.

The K family fed us, drove us around when we sold our car in our final days in Okinawa, taught us Japanese and translated things, taught us how to cook Japanese and Chinese dishes in their home, introduced us to people, sang karaoke with us, dressed me in the most beautiful kimono and hakama for my student’s graduation when I returned to Japan last March… they are amazing people.

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Mrs K mixing chirashizushi rice for us the REAL way in a wooden handai tub, 2o11

The amazing generosity continued over Christmas when we received a large box in the mail from them. Although I wanted to tear into it right in the post office, I controlled myself and waited until I got home before opening the box together with Mr M.

I was crying as I unpacked all of the amazing items within. Favourite Okinawan candies, katsuobushi (かつおぶし,) miso soup mix, ready-to-make chirashizushi (ちらし寿司) kits, a beautiful scarf for me from Mr K’s travels to India and … most amazing of all, 3kg of Japanese rice and the most amazing obi.

Dumbstruck, I am still unsure how to ever give appropriate thanks for such a gift. The shipping alone was shocking, but the bounty of treasures inside that box, and the feast we had on them made us long to eat with Mr and Mrs K so much. It was as close to sending themselves in a care package as we could ever hope to get.

I made the rice into chirashi shortly after we received the gifts. I had to look up and confirm the instructions for the chirashizushi bowls online, to make sure the packets went in at the right times and in the right amounts. Here’s a really cool look at how they make these ready-to-go kits so well.

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Koshihikari (コシヒカリ) rice — our favourite! This is more valuable than gold in our home. I do not let a single grain go to waste when rinsing it

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Unless you have a hook up, you will never, EVER find Japanese rice this fine outside of Japan. Why not? Read this.

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The chirashi packet and our fans, for cooling the rice

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Just like old times! Needed to confirm the instructions using websites and Google Translate

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First you add the vinegar packet while you turn the rice, gently, while fanning it to cool it

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Then the chirashi packet…

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Crazy, right? It was a mix of vegetables, including bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, lotus root and other tasty veggies. Perfectly preserved and perfectly portioned!

The silken obi was extended for photos ONLY, and Mr M prepared the miso soup in the set of  bowls we received from the K family, which were a gift for the year of the rabbit.

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Meanwhile, M mixed the miso soup and laid out the obi

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It’s so incredible. I can’t wait to hang it somewhere, properly.

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Added some shrimp to the chirashi, and sprinkled with nori for the final colourful touch

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Afterwards, Okinawan “kokuto” or brown sugar candies, “shikwasa” candy (a native citrus fruit) and hibiscus flavored gummies.

Such a delicious meal. This post is actually rather timely as chirashizushi is often eaten during hinamatsuri, which is a festival earlier in March! Thank you, Mr and Mrs K for the box of love. It was like you were here with us. We miss you so much.

PS: I did not take a picture of the arrival, but thank you also to Tamara who sent us an amazing box of Japanese treats, also at Christmas. Inside: goma (black sesame) pudding, Kirin World Kitchen (世界のKitchenから) special edition Salty Lychee drink (one of Mr M’s favourite beverages, and so so hard to find!), a favourite kind of mints and of course: Coco Curry House pickles (福神漬), the best! Maybe I’ll do a post on Japanese curry sometime.

Food and Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan28 Apr 2013 02:34 pm

Although the Bow Valley has a large population of Japanese working and traveling through the area, the one place you can get a bowl of ramen at in Banff (Chaya) is just kind of ho-hum. It’ll do in a pinch, but it’s also a good 20 minute drive from Canmore.

Since coming home from my whirlwind trip to Japan in March (oh, I haven’t blogged about that, have I? Well, soon) I’ve been kind of obsessed with home cooking Japanese food. (And juicing, but more on that later.)  I had to explain to a US customs officer on my trip home why I had 5 pounds of Japanese rice on me. “Can’t you just use Minute Rice?” he asked.

SHUDDER

I’ve been making taco rice, Japanese curry, yakiudon and okonomiyaki and all sorts of stuff, trying to fill the void. Experimenting with different condiments, flavours, techniques.

However, the thing I am most proud of is my from scratch ramen which I made this week. Everything except the noodles and kamaboko or fish cake was made by hand. 5 pounds of chicken, turkey and pig parts were boiled for 18 hours to reduce into a creamy tonkotsu soup base.

I broiled then braised pork belly for three hours to replicate Okinawan rafute, a super tender, kind of sweet pork. It’s marinaded and slow cooked in mirin, awamori and soy, along with kokuto or Okinawan sugar cane brown sugar. I soft boiled then bathed eggs in a marinade to get ajitsuke tamago, the runny delicious eggs that accompany steaming bowls of ramen – that is, if you are eating it at any respectable place.

If I’m being honest, I’ll say that the broth had an excellent jellylike thick texture, but I really underseasoned it. But I think the thing that turned out the best was the rafute. It’s something that’s hard to find outside of Okinawa – not just in other parts of the world, also in Japan. I guess it’s similar to char siu pork that often tops bowls of ramen, but yet it’s not.

You should come by and try it sometime. I promise you’ll like it.

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The broth at the start, in our biggest of big pots.

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Bowl of bones, fat and other assorted parts after I was done boiling.

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The delicious finished product.

General and japan and Travels27 Nov 2012 10:07 am

From a young age, traveling around all the time, I’ve grown used to not saying good bye, just saying ‘so long.’ I live with the hope that I will see most people again in some way, and it’s paid off in unusual ways.

I first met Ron via his blog before I moved to Japan. It’s hard to find a unique voice that writes well in the sea of expats blogging on Japanese matters, but he definitely was one. He was real, he blogged about interesting stuff (living conditions, food, fashion) and he was prolific. And to add to the greatness, he was blogging from Okinawa, not far from where I would be living. I stalked his blog for some time and finally emailed him (or maybe Twitter DMd?)

When I arrived in Tokyo, I met some of the other JET teachers at the airport who were helping with the new teachers orientation, and met his girlfriend at the time. I’m pretty sure I creeped her out by running up to her (a familiar face through the blog, but we had never communicated at the time) and saying “HI I READ RON’S BLOG AND YOU ARE AWESOME, NICE TO MEET YOU” while shaking her hand really hard on the sky bridge from the Narita airport to our bus.

Over the next year and more, I had a few great times out with Ron. He took Mike and I to a great gyoza place, and we shared many a beer with him, and had a great pancake party that first fall after I arrived. I was worried for him as he changed jobs and looked for a new one, constantly on the verge of having to return home. But, he stayed, he 我慢’d (endured). Very Japanese of him.

Long story short, he’s actually from the D.C. area, and after a problem with a trip this summer, he finally made the voyage home this fall, so we hung out. It was great to see him, share a few (ok, many) brews and eat a few Costco hot dogs while he stocked up for his trip back to Okinawa. Lord knows I know what that is like.

God speed, Ron-sensei. I’ll miss you – but it was great seeing you again. Albeit in a place I never expected I would. Who knows the next crazy ass place we’ll see eachother?

Food: Home Cookin' and japan04 May 2012 01:59 pm

I always feel like a bum when I duplicate content from my other blog, Eating Okinawa, but it seems like a lot of people who read this one do not read that one…so here you go.

I thought this was an interesting post to share because it gave some insight into the cooking challenges I had in Japan when I really wanted to eat something from “home”. It was by no means the most challenging thing to do in my life there, but sometimes after a day of complicated communication errors, long work days and crappy weather, I did not really feel like menu planning or hunting for the ingredients for whatever I was craving. This was a favorite recipe that I found super easy to make and modify for the Japanese supermarket. Because I did not have access to the American bases and their magical supermarkets, I sometimes felt like the ingredients I had access to were a bit limited, so I was happy to make spaetzle, a sort of poor woman’s dumplings when I craved perogies from back home. Really they are just a type of soft, fresh egg noodle.

It’s a pretty versatile recipe; I often would eat it with braised red cabbage when cabbage was in season or with a mushroom cream gravy or pasta sauce. They are great just fried up in brown butter, too. I totally recommend it if you are tired to death of pasta, rice and bread – who can say no to dumplings?

Spaetzle

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup ricotta (or yogurt, or buttermilk, or sour cream or even whole milk!)
  • 2 tablespoons of water, if needed
  • Sometimes I would add a few spices. Cumin, paprika, and cayenne all add a spicy kick. I even added some Ethiopian berbere we were lucky enough to have on hand one night. Add to taste.

Set a pot of water to boil on the stove, 4-6 cups should do. In a medium sized bowl, whisk eggs together with the ricotta (or yogurt or whatever you have on hand) until smooth. Add the flour and salt and any spices or seasonings, if desired. The mixture should become a thin and gluey batter. If it’s too thick, add a bit of water. It should not be sticking to a spoon too much and should come off the spoon on its own (see photo below).

When the water is boiling, take out a regular teaspoon. Dip the spoon into the batter, filling it about halfway. Push the dipped spoon off into the boiling water in one smooth motion. It will make a sort of flat dumpling shape. When the spaetzle float, they are done.

Scoop them off as they cook, then add sauce or vegetables or whatever you desire. Grated cheese and fried onions, beef stew…even sweet style with grated apples, honey, cinnamon and a bit of butter…yum!

I only had soft cream cheese on this day, but the recipe still came out great. This is the brand I used, Megmilk Snow. It’s a lot lighter than the “American style” cream cheese you will find in Japanese supermarkets, and is more like ricotta.

There is also a sweetened version, so I had to be careful when I bought it. I learned to look for the crackers, not the tiramisu, on the label!

Mixing my eggs and flour

This is too thick!

I added a tablespoon of water, and it thinned out. It should “flow” off the spoon.

The floating ones are done!

Pushing the batter off the spoon.

Pushing the batter off the spoon.

A close up! There is no “right” way to do it, just get reasonable sized clumps of batter together when you push. The hot water will do the rest.

After I boiled them, I fried them with some butter until they were a bit crispy. This is not necessary, but it does make them more delicious in my opinion.

I also made a simple enoki mushroom cream sauce. I sauteed the enoki in butter…

Added some whipped cream and seasonings and poured it over the pan fried spaetzle. SO GOOD! SO EASY! SO CHEAP! A taste of home!

 

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan04 Jan 2012 10:19 am

One of my Christmas feast wishes was to eat sashimi for one of our meals. Candy cane striped salmon and Christmas red toro – what could be better? I picked some up from one of the most local places I know.


I bought my fish from the fish market inside the Kochinda Agrihouse farmer’s market. It was early in the morning on Christmas Eve and it was pretty quiet, still. The selection of fish was not so broad – some salmon, toro tuna, squid, octopus and tai.

The salmon and toro were both 500 yen for fairly large portions. I bought the saba, or mackerel, at the local supermarket for about 300 yen.

I also got a root of real wasabi. The taste is a lot more subtle than horseradish faux wasabi. It’s still peppery and zingy, but less sinus clearing and overwhelming. These roots normally cost 900 yen or so, but I got one for 350 yen. A Christmas miracle!

(I recently saw a picture of single roots for sale in Tokyo for $200 and up!)

It was a delicious snack! The next day we seared the toro tuna and made it into tacos.

メリークリスマス!

General and japan and Travels04 Dec 2011 04:18 pm

I sometimes feel bad that updating this blog has fallen by the wayside. So here are some photos I took in November(ish).

 

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan09 Nov 2011 05:02 pm

Taco rice! Sounds like a weird combination, right? Well it is a super Okinawan dish, influenced by the unique relationship the American military has had with Okinawa. It is a perennial favorite here on Okinawa with locals, expats and tourists alike. Although it is a kind of fast food here, it is still kind of healthy. The keys to delicious taco rice are the meat sauce and the dense, moist Japanese rice.

I spent over a year in Okinawa before I tried taco rice. BLASPHEMY!

After eating it, I immediately became obsessed and ate it a few times this summer. However, I grew tired of buying it at the supermarket premade and wondered if I could make it better at home myself…without the prepackaged spice kits they sell. So, I tried.

This is the best recipe I found, based on one from America’s Test Kitchen. Good taco rice meat has to be saucy enough to soak into the rice, and meaty enough to be satisfying. I think this recipe fits the bill.

—-

Okinawan Taco Rice Meat

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder (I used a mix of ancho and cayenne pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 cup smooth canned tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce or sake (Okinawan taco rice meat typically uses soy or sake here, but cider vinegar works just fine.)
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar


Directions:

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant about thirty seconds. Stir in the beef and pork and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until no longer pink, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, soy/sake/vinegar, and sugar until thickened, about 10 minutes. Be sure to leave the meat a little moist, not crumbly and dry. Season with salt to taste.

The filling can be fully prepared, cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to three days. Reheat over medium-low heat, adding additional water to adjust the consistency.

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Make your rice (dense, Japanese rice hopefully), and cover with the taco meat. Then the toppings! The classics are fresh crisp shredded lettuce, plump juicy fresh tomatoes and yellow cheddar cheese, with some salsa or hot sauce for good measure.

Personally, I scatter shredded lettuce, diced fresh tomatoes, avocado, pickled jalapenos and spoon salsa fresh or jarred over top, along with a thick yogurt or sour cream. Sprinkle with grated cheese…and you are done. It is seriously one of the most satisfying dishes you might have.

Some variations on the theme might include rolling the meat up in maki sushi rolls or using it as a nacho topping. God, is it good.

{originally published on my other blog, Eating Okinawa}

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan26 Sep 2011 09:41 am

I know I have been neglecting this blog a little bit this month, but that is because I am working so hard on Eating Okinawa. But finally, a post I feel fits over here on Crazy White Girl with a Kitchen! This entry is all about a strange little fruit with a lot of bite: shikwasa. It was probably my favorite blog entry to conceive, photograph and research from this year.

Recently at the supermarket I have noticed shikwasas available in large amounts, for a very low price (compared to lemons and limes). However, I was confounded; how are they used in such large amounts? They are so small and hard to handle I could not imagine juicing any more than five at a time. Additionally they can be so sour, would I even want juice anyhow?

First however – what ARE they? シークヮーサー are very small citrus fruits, about the size of a key lime, 4-5 centimeters in diameter. Their thin rind is green, they are packed with seeds and very very tart, but with an orangey flavour instead of lemon or lime. They originally came to Okinawa from the nearby country of Taiwan. They are said to be high in vitamin C and in nobiletin, which is thought to help control blood glucose levels and thereby keep blood pressure low.

When I cut into them and smell the citrus scent I am almost immediately transported to the streets of Bangkok. You know – where they juice those green oranges at little carts for the sweet nam som or orange juice sold in bottles for a pittance. Smelling shikwasa early in the day makes my mornings a little easier to swallow when I get to think about Bangkok.

I went about making an effort in thinking up seven different ways to use shikwasa. Some ranged from exceedingly simple to somewhat complicated. Most are just reimaginations of other recipes, so nothing too out there. Just enough to get you thinking about using this special Okinawan ingredient in different ways.

I made five out of these seven recipes, and hope to try the remaining two soon.

1: Shikwasa mint syrup for fruit salad

When a food blogging friend of mine from back home Tweeted one morning he was making fruit salad, it got me thinking about a lime based dressing I used to make for my fruit salad. However, limes and lemons can be really expensive here, so I looked to the shikwasas as an alternative, and made my favorite citrus based syrup for the fruit salad.

  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 2 tablespoons of shikwasa juice
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh mint

Combine sugar and water in a small pot, bringing it to a boil on the stove. Turn off once sugar has dissolved. In a small bowl combine shikwasa and mint, pouring sugar mixture over mint and citrus juice mix. Makes approximately 10 tablespoons of “dressing.” Pour by the tablespoon over freshly cut fruit to taste.

This makes enough syrup to keep in the fridge for a few batches of fruit salad.

 

2: Shikwasa water

I really do not like drinking water. But living in Okinawa, you have to due to the heat. I have some packets of Crystal Light to help me get the water down in the amounts I need, but the artificial sweetener can give me a headache. So in the morning I squeezed one of the leftover shikwasas from making the fruit salad dressing into my water and it made it refreshing and crisp and easier to get down. Shikwasa juice is said to help control blood sugar and is credited with keeping aged Okinawans healthy.

3: Grilled salmon with maple-shikwasa glaze

  • 2 tablespoons fresh shikwasa juice
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • salmon fillets
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients in a small bowl. Brush over salmon and grill.

Since we got our little patio grill, The Stache has been a gem and grills at least once a week. I cannot wait to try this glaze out on some of the delicious salmon available at the local farmer’s market.

4: Shikwasa ceviche

Citrus and fish just go together, and shikwasa works wonders in a ceviche.

  • 1 lb of whitefish – we used a mix of tai (red snapper) and hamachi or yellowtail. It was already sliced thinly as it was sashimi.
  • Juice of 6 shikwasas
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 hot pepper, chopped finely (I used the Korean kochu pepper since that is all my supermarket routinely carries)
  • half of an onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro/coriander
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of cayenne pepper

Place fish in a non metal platter with a slight lip. Place onions on the fish. Add remaining ingredients, and cover with the juices. Allow to sit in refrigerator atleast 30 minutes, up to 4 if you can.

I served it with a black bean salad for additional South American flavor. (recipe here, via Fine Cooking)

5: Shikwasa Watermelon mint daquiri

This recipe was born after my fridge froze a very expensive slice of watermelon.

  • 4 cups peeled, seeded and cubed watermelon (about 1/6 of a watermelon)
  • 1/2 cup rum (I used dark, most people use light)
  • 1/4 cup shikwasa juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar syrup (You can also use 1/4 cup triple sec)
  • two ice cubes
  • 2 tablespoons mint

Blend ingredients together. Serve immediately. Makes 5 cups.

 

6: Shikwasa blueberry muffins

I have yet to make this but I think it would be good. I baked a lot back home but in Japan I find my tiny oven a real inconvenience and prefer not to waste time and money experimenting with temperatures and baking times.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons shikwasa juice (about 2 shikwasas)
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, tossed in 2 tablespoons flour

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl beat the egg, milk and oil. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Fold in the blueberries and shikwasa juice. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full and bake at 400 for 18-20 minutes. This makes one dozen muffins. You could also turn it in mini loaves.

 

7: Shikwasa pie parfait / Shikwasa curd

This is the most time intensive recipe for using shikwasas, but I thought it was the best use.

  • 1/2 – 3/4 cups orange juice from approximately 20 shikwasas
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large yolks
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
  • pinch of salt

Pour the shikwasa juice into a small sauce pan over medium-high heat. Bring the juice to a rapid simmer and let it reduce down to approximately 1/4 cup. This should take 2-4 minutes.

Transfer the juice to a measuring cup to cool. Stir in the lemon juice.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, yolks, and sugar. When the juice has cooled to room temperature, whisk it into the egg mixture in a steady stream.

Pour the egg and juice mixture back into your small sauce pan and set it over medium heat. Stir slowly but constantly until the mixture has thickened to a pudding-like consistency – about 6-8 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a clean bowl. Stir in the butter and the pinch of salt while the curd is still warm. Store the curd in a clean jar with a lid. It will keep refrigerated for about a week.

I served this curd over pancakes, and layered with freshly whipped cream and graham cracker crumbs as a sort of “pie.” It would be great on toast, in tart cups…all sorts of situations.

 

In closing, shikwasas are wonderful. They have a load of seeds so straining is almost necessary, but the juice to size pay off is pretty good. Try using a shikwasa instead of a lime or lemon in your favorite recipe – you might be pleasantly surprised.

Food: Home Cookin' and General and japan15 Aug 2011 08:55 pm

While I love my space here at crazy white girl, I kind of felt like I was missing my audience on Okinawa centric blog posts. They get lost in the volume of posts from Edmonton, and I am certain that most of my readers from Canada do not give a damn about restaurants thousands of miles away.

So, since September last year (!) I have been trying to start a dedicated blog about food and restaurants in Okinawa as well as any other areas I may visit while I am here. It is hard going for English information on restaurants here – many of the blog posts by English speakers tend to be about restaurants close to the bases, and frankly, do not look that appetizing.

I enjoyed rebuilding a blog, especially one with a specific purpose. It took a long time, though, with many breaks as I contemplated my fate in this country.

Each post offers English information about the restaurant, as well as a map. I am hoping it will soon become a resource people can rely on. There are easy to browse sections by location, cuisine type and information about Japanese ingredients as well as shopping for food products and cooking in Okinawa. When comparing it to crazy white girl, there are bigger pictures, better tagging and more features about food in general here in Japan.

There are still a few glitches and changes I am making, so excuse any bits and bobs left lying around there as I move into my final preparations to really promote the hell out of this thing.

I will still be posting here about home cooking experiments, more general Japanese food tidbits and my travels, but most of my blog posts about Okinawan restaurants will now be posted on Eating Okinawa. If you are a regular reader, you will notice a lot of duplicate content up there so far, but from this point on it will be all new. So please be sure to visit EatingOkinawa.com for all your Okinawan food needs.

Think of it as a first year in Japan anniversary present to … ME!

Food and Food: Asia and japan and Travels09 Aug 2011 11:33 am

We left Okinawa at 3am or some other ungodly hour. Everyone in Japan travels at three times of the year – Silver Week in September, Golden Week in May, and July/August. So my choices for cheap flights were really cut down and our options were leave at 3am or pay $300 one way for a flight to Tokyo.

Arriving at 7am, we hit the ground running and were on a train and headed into downtown Tokyo in no time from Haneda. This is the beauty of Japan.  We grabbed a snack, stored our stuff in a handy locker (they make them big enough for a standard rolling suitcase and a backcountry backpack) and went to pick up the bikes we had reserved with Neil at Tokyo Rent A Bike.  Despite being exhausted, I was elated to have our bikes and be on pedal power the rest of the day. It was exhilarating, and I will absolutely do this again and recommend it to anyone who is traveling to Tokyo.

With a general route mapped out, our first stop was the Tsukiji Fish Market. After visiting Sushi Dai three years ago, Mike had another place (Sushi Bun) in mind, but it was unfortunately closed. No worries – have bike, smartphone and back up plans – and will travel. We biked a short distance to a street in the outer ring of the market and tried to find a restaurant called Uogashi Senryo just after lunch rush.

It is not known for sushi (although they do serve it), but for chirashisushi bowls. It is behind a dried fish shop and kind of blends in with the other shops. The quality is not the best you can get in the area, but it is popular for a reason. I think my two kinds of tuna bowl was excellent, and Mike’s uni ikura bowl was salty, creamy and hit the spot. Just what we needed after an early morning of travel and bike riding, and just what we needed to power us up the rest of the day.

Uogashi Senryo from the street. They do have an English menu.

 

Recharged we rode around east Tokyo, circling back to the bike rental office while hitting a few big sights and neighbourhoods along the way. Again – I cannot emphasize this enough; renting a bike was insanely easy, relatively cheap and very safe. They come with wheel locks so you can park and lock wherever you are, there are bells to ring and let people know you are coming at them on the fancy shopping Ginza shopping street and 6 gears to make climbing hills in Roppongi easier. Most people ride on the sidewalk, and this is accepted and perhaps even expected (pedestrians beware!) Many many people in Tokyo have bicycles, if only to get them to the nearest train station. It is insane to think that the world’s largest megacity is bike friendly to even the lowly tourist, but it is. If the Neil the bike guy had not been going on holiday I would have totally rented for a few more days. Next time, Tokyo. Next time.

Food: Home Cookin' and japan06 Aug 2011 09:34 am

Alright. We have been stuck in the house for almost two days now because of typhoon Muifa, and I grow concerned that we will have to start in on the more boring food like packaged noodles and what not. But up until now we have been eating like kings!

I visited the grocery store on Wednesday night for last minute bits and went to a near by chicken rotisserie called Riiko Chicken.

It is kind of a bareboned place – they only sell two things, a whole chicken and a half chicken. That is their menu there. I think maybe at Christmas time (a very popular meal to have at Christmas here is roast chicken) they might do something special, but I am not sure. They were sold out four days before Christmas last year, so we missed the time to order one.

The lady pulls the chicken from the roaster, scrapes up extra garlic and will cut your chicken if you like.

Then it comes wrapped in this wonderful bag. We had roast chicken and crusty bread for dinner that night…

And the next day, Thursday, we had sesame soy dressed hand pulled chicken salad as the storm was rolling in.

I made some bolognese sauce later that day, and it was some of the best I have made. We also had some nachos and a few other special treats to get through Friday as we watched movies and surfed the Internet.

Now it is Saturday and I am ready for this storm to be over, if only to restock on groceries. I made these mango whipped cream pancakes as an indulgence this morning. And also to save the last few pieces of bread for grilled cheese sandwiches later.  A few brave/silly friends have ventured out to convenience stores close to their home, and reported that most of the food is gone, and some of the booze. No one really expected this storm to stick around so long, so it is a reminder for how bad things could be, I guess.

Anyhow, although I am a little bored at times and maybe am not sleeping as well as I could be due to the sound of driving wind and rain, life is not so bad. I worry for all the fields around Okinawa though. It is really agricultural, and I am certain many crops from okra to sugarcane to mangos will be decimated.

japan23 Jul 2011 11:03 am

Although it was not always the case, this blog has effectively become food centric. As such, I often feel odd writing non food posts – even though it is my own blog! They just do not feel right for the tone of the blog sometimes.

However,  I recently had an experience that I thought would be good to post up on here. It is mostly photos – but I can answer questions in the comments if you have any.

A short intro: the sprawling Nakagusuku Kogen hotel was built in the mid 1970s next to a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are a few explanations for what happened to it, spanning the gamut of absurd (built too close to ancient burial ground) to realistic (ran out of money, government was angry it was so close to a historical site and shut it down) but the place fell into ruin.

Apparently there are periodic discussions about tearing it down but it simply remains, the jungle slowly encroaching on the concrete structure, with visitors and typhoon season after typhoon season slowly destroying it a little more each year.

We approached via the jungle, which in retrospect was a bad idea. It was chock full o’ palm sized spiders and mosquitos.



My favourite photo is this stitched panorama of the “art gallery” at the hotel. It is a room with 5 panels making up a mural that is about 8 feet tall and 60 feet across – maybe more. Click to embiggen it.

If you are interested in learning more about haikyos (abandoned ruins) and exploring them, in particular this hotel, visit this site or the Japanese Wikipedia article on it.

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