Restaura-scapades

Episode I: A New Cuisine

The rain pitter-pattered down from the sky. A light mist hung over the town. A stranger walked along a cobbled street dampened by slick rain. Beckoned by peals of laughter and the gentle clinking of ceramic cups, he turned onto a garden lined walkway and towards a simple timbered structure. The lacquer of the wood twinkled warmly. The low-hanging cloth of navy blue blended in with the shadows while the stark whiteness of the smooth calligraphy stood out in contrast. It read wa-shoku. Japanese cuisine. Pulling his lips back and tucking them into a smile, the wet-speckled man ducked under the lintel and into a world all its own.

You would reckon my introduction to Japanese food, uninfluenced for the most part by outside sources, would be one of subtle tastes and delicate presentation. It wasn’t. I also think my first residence, however temporary, would have been more expensive if I was served something professional. Being from a landlocked country like America, I’m used to grease, beef, and cheese that’s been beaten, battered and fried in some manner. Eating so much natural bounty from the ocean is unusual to me and I confess to craving an In-and-Out burger.

For what it’s worth, the meals I had at Hotel Yonekyu were delicious and very filling.

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Location: Hamamatsu, Hotel Yonekyu (浜松市ホテル米久)

Rice is the main staple in Japan. Should the world end, I’m sure there are stores of the stuff below the earth. Much like nuclear containers, but instead of destruction, there’s glorious white bounty. Brought over via Korea thousands of years ago during the Yayoi Period, the Japanese stuck true to their character and made it their own. Also, when rice cookers hit the market, Japan went nuts with the variety. Speaking of variety, Hotel Yonekyu offered up four types of rice its patrons could choose from: plain white, unagi (鰻, eel), some kind of medley with bits of tiny prawns and chirimen-jako (縮緬雑魚, young sardines), and a brown sort. Being an accommodating business, the chefs strove to make available foods that would appeal to everyone.

Next, comes the cold noodles with tempura shrimp. After rice, noodles are another staple. Having tried to emulate China, their biggest rival for (again) thousands of years, I’m pretty sure they were practically begged for by the up-and-coming Japan. Popular among the Chinese nobility during holidays and special occasions, the Japanese 1% of the 1% were pretty stoked. Granted, said noodles can also be served hot (i.e. ramen [ラーメン], yakisoba [やきそば]). I’m not even going to go into the kinds of sauces, marinades, and dips this country can produce. All you need to know is that they taste delicious. Tempura itself is rather exciting in that you are still able to satisfy your crunch-tooth without being weighed down by oil.

Traveling along, I happened to have watery yogurt with fruit cocktail. I’m damned sure that cocktail came from the can. There’s no mistaking that unbecoming shade of red the cherries were displaying in the serving bowl. Nothing too amazing there and, since I couldn’t get enough dairy that day, I also had a glass of milk. Now, Japanese milk is fattier than American milk. (I was lucky to have help in finding out where the percentages on the cartons were located in the supermarket.) The going rate here is 3.6% whereas American whole milk is around 3.2%. I haven’t even ventured into the realm of Japanese buttermilk. I want to say I’ve seen percentages up there in the 8’s. (I buy 1.8%. That’s as close as I can get to the regular 2% I drank back home.)

You can see for yourself that I had scrambled eggs. I’ve noticed through my restaurant adventures that Japanese like their eggs on the viscous side. Cooking stories on the evening television shows will ascertain that statement. Also, next to the eggs is fried fish with tartar sauce. Yes, I was surprised to see tartar sauce offered alongside ketchup. Because my guilty pleasure in life (among other things) is an unnatural delight in fried food, this became my best friend and was thoroughly relished.

Lastly, we have the pastry. Wherever it came from, it was delicious. Since I’ve been living in Gotemba, I’m pleased to announce I’ve seen two bakeries. When I have funds, I will most definitely treat myself because, quite frankly, I never saw a bakery in Las Vegas. I’m sure they exist, though, but may either be on The Strip or be stupidly expensive. Then again, my image of a bakery back home is one of solid concrete walls and smokestacks with trucks painted in graffiti speeding off the premises like ants.

Here is a shameless video from the Japanese Propaganda Depart… I mean, the Tourism Industry… giving you a small glimpse of Japanese cuisine. I will also include an older educational video that’s around 40 minutes. Please watch this at your leisure.

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