Japan Food

I’m back from Japan where I toured with my band. We did not see many of the attractions that most people see when they go to Japan, but instead we were very involved in family and everyday life. We had lots of lovely people looking after us – and making us food! Most of the time, friends and family made a mixture of English and Japanese breakfast: English, to make us feel more at home, and Japanese, to show us the delights of their country! The result was something like what you can see in this picture: miso soup, rice balls, tofu, seaweed, blanched vegetable salad.

… plus toast, sausages, omelette, ketchup, mayonnaise and ‘kotcha’ (English Tea)! The rice balls were filled with pickled plums or fish and there was also fresh fruit salad. The rice balls make a great healthy snack, so I want to keep making them to prevent myself from eating crap while doing my OU stuff. One morning we were also presented with edible, apple-like cactus leaves by a proud home-gardener. That morning we also had doughnuts, cereal, cream cakes, sausages, toast and fruits. What a combination!

The first thing I ate was a fluffy egg sandwich, made by a friend’s mum, accompanied by a tasty drink made from both fruit and vegetables. That evening I instantly fell in love with something, our friend Akiko brought from a local patisserie: choux creme – a kind of profiterole filled with either custard, custard and whipped cream, green tea custard or chocolate custard (I suspect there are even more fillings!). Custard love in Japan – who would have thought that! My favourite ones were from a patisserie called ‘Hirota’, but the slightly bigger supermarket ones were also very nice! Because word got round that I like ‘keki’ (cake) and especially ‘choux creme’ so much, I ended up being presented with at all times of the day – even breakfast! I quickly discovered that alongside the traditional Japanese cake (often made from azuki beans), German and French styles cakes are hugely popular. I came across numerous ‘German’ bakeries (e.g. Koenigs-Krone in Rokko, Kobe). Some also sold an interesting fusion of German and Japanese cakes.

The boys instantly fell in love with drink and food vending machines. Especially the ones suppling iced coffee. These machines seem to appear every few metres inside and outside civilisation (I heard there is even one on the top of Mount Fuji!). The are easy to operate (you don’t have to articulate yourself in Japanese), supply reasonably priced refreshments and occasionally some very unexpected things indeed. Especially in capsule hotels (I love capsule hotels!!). After a while one finds that it only makes sense that these machines are everywhere and cater to almost every need in a handy format…

We managed to eat quite a variety of Japanese dishes. My first Japanese meal was in one of the more quiet parts of Tokyo in a very small upstairs restaurant. It was like an oasis! We had a lovely set lunch with steamed vegetables, tofu, miso soup, pickles – and even some ‘sakura’ (cherry blossom) ice cream. After we successfully escaped Tokyo in the pouring rain, nearly missing our nightbus, arrived in Kobe in the early hours. We took a quick nap – our homebase was our singer’s wife’s mum’s flat and hair-salon – and then first got escorted off to a Buddhist ceremony in the living room (the leg pain!!) – and finally to a Japanese restaurant. The meal consisted of many courses (about eight or ten), starting with sashimi (including whole baby squid), moving towards some kind of hot pot on individual stoves and ending with a surprise creme brulee. I could not eat most of the meal, because it consisted mostly of creatures and alcohol (sake), but because I did not want to be difficult, I ate a few sea creatures, although feeling immensely weird doing so – eating animals always feels like cannibalism to me. Being a vegetarian in Japan is both easy and hard. All the right ingredients are there: tofu, rice, vegetables, mushrooms… the only thing that is in the way is that restaurants try to include meat and fish – or at least their stock – in every meal but the desserts. And there are, to the horror of a Japanese vegetarian friend, the unavoidable bonito (fish) flakes. These flakes make quite spectacular movements on your plate – in fact, they are quite disturbing. The most extreme case of bonito use I encountered was on okonomyaki – also called Japanese pancakes, but more a cross between a pancake and omelette – and heavily reliant on a kind of rich, earthy barbecue sauce. The rest of the band were utterly in love with them – and the octopus balls they serve all over Osaka. I wanted to include here a picture of a pancake restaurant – the pancakes are fried on a hot surface which is integrated into your table – but, unfortunately, I managed to lose 2 gigabite of footage due to an xd card error, which included pancake restaurant pictures and videos. The owner of said restaurant asked us to leave an English description of the pancakes with him which he could give to potential foreign customers – cute! Other local delights we sampled included soba (buckwheat noodles) in many shapes and forms, ramen (a very popular Chinese import), seaweed and plum pickle soup (apparently healthy, but takes quite a lot of willpower to eat), home-made pickles and alcohol (these could be found in every home we went to), kobe beef (not me!), rice and root vegetable burgers, tempura and natto (fermented soy beans with raw egg) – I wish I still had the video of Richard eating them!

The latter we had at a crazy Japanese ‘tapas’ bar in Kobe where women in blue and white yukatta-style outfits prepared the dishes kneeling on a gigantic table in front of the customers. They seemed to like us as they gave each of us a pair of wooden sake cups (the first of many presents to come…). And I also have to mention the Japanese ‘barbecue’ – here is a post-feast, pre-karaoke picture:

And here is the rice burger (from Mos Burger):

One of the highlights for us was a visit to a friend’s cafe in Motoyama, Kochi. ‘Missy Sippy’ is run by the blues musician Fuji, his partner (an amazing cook and baker!) and the ‘lion dog’ Minki. We arrived in the middle of the night, sat around the warm stove, slept on comfy cushions on tatami mats and in the morning got woken up by loud blues music and a delicious breakfast made from home-baked bread, organic vegetables, home-made preserves, honey, butter and sour cream – and delicious teas!

After a visit to the huge gallery (‘Mojoyama’) across the road, a deranged impromptu pin-pong match between five people and a dog and a visit to the local dam, we ate our way across Missy Sippy’s menu.

We all craved very basic food after an overdose of complex Japanese indulgences, so we all ordered rice with vegetables – and the carnivores ate burgers and eggs. The dish was very simple, but because of the way it was prepared – fresh organic food and great seasonings – it was utterly delicious! We also tried the ‘banana cheese’ ice cream – by special request decorated with the cafe’s trademark skull-shaped & marbled ‘dokuro’ cookies – yum! πŸ™‚ Again, the pictures and videos are missing unless I find an xd-necromancer.

And, lastly, for some ‘strange eats’ – starting with the ‘urameshi’ concoction at the Miraikan (Museum of the Future).

I was told it was supposed to be melon flavoured soda with stirred-in fruit jelly. ‘Urameshi’ is a made-up name which made every Japanese person at the table laugh when I said it… Fruity was also this strange feathery ice cream, drizzled with syrup, in Kyoto:

Apparently it’s not a Japanese thing. I was told, maybe Korean.

The most amusing thing for me was the German ‘Imbiss’ in Naruto, which can be found on the grounds of the Naruto German House, a memorial to the bizarrely utopian WW1 Bando prison camp that was at its site. While everyone indulged in sausages, I tried one of the curious butter-filled bretzels. Rather nice and not as salty (and huge) as their scary German counterparts.

What did I love most about Japan?

1. Our friends & family
2. Viva Sherry! (a band we instantly fell in love with)
3. Wearing japanese pyjamas (samuei) & yukatta (bathing/summer kimonos)
4. Capsule hotels
5. Sleeping on tatami mats
6. Ace stage-sound & great sound people
7. Spas!
8. Custard cakes
9. Massive second hand stores (e.g. Motomachi, Hard Off, Book Off, Mode Off…)
10. ‘Engrish’ T-shirt prints/signs (e.g. ‘Have a juicy day dumb ass’) and ever presents ‘kawaii'(cute)ness (the Japanese can even make a butcher shop look cute!)

I hope we can go back soon (despite the scary flight – I am a very nervous flyer) not only to indulge in more Japanese dishes, but to see all the people again who we now all miss very much! Thanks so much for making our stay truly amazing!!

PS: almost forgot to mention the delicious edamame which were my favourite bar snack (the cheese & chocolate combo is also a pretty cool bar snack).

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4 responses to “Japan Food

  1. Sounds totally great, I’m a little envious and love the pictures.
    How did your gigs go?

    • Our gigs went really well! We played in Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto and Lueneburg’s twin town Naruto, Tokushima (got to see the crazy whirlpools, the German House, a temple and a shrine). There will be some gig footage up soon on yooootooobe! πŸ™‚

  2. Hi Angela, I’m doing a Japanese night at the underground restaurant on the 27th. Trying to think of vegetarian fusion japanese tapas…any suggestions?

    • Hmh, there are a number of dishes that are already vegetarian. Not sure whether you want them on the menu, though: edamame (my favourite one!), natto (fermented soy beans with raw egg), miso soup, differently textured types of tofu, mushrooms, pickles, fried seaweed (e.g. fried seaweed & tofu), vegetable tempura. If you want to experiment you could make a vegetarian version of okonomiyaki (japanese omelette/pancake) and even serve strips from it or roll it up. You can also make vegetarian sushi with it by rolling a bit of it up with rice and seaweed. It is also very colourful and hearty! Talking of hearty, there are a great variety of hotpots around, which can be made vegetarian. For instance, the highlight of our big restaurant meal with the familiy was a hot pot. Stuffed dishes (e.g. stuffed cabbage) I’ve also noticed a lot. Btw I found that a lot of the food is cooked with quite a bit of sake that is not always in the recipes πŸ˜‰
      There also seem to be some salads, e.g. seaweed and cucumber or soba-noodle based (cold buckwheat-noodle).
      Green tea flavoured things (ice cream, puddings, cake, even chocolate chip cookies…) are also ever-present in Japan. As are jelly-based things (not only as a sweet, but also as a hot savoury).

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