Washoku at the Nomikai.

In September, I went out with my main school to my first drinking party (飲み会, nomikai). Don’t worry if you’re not an alcohol shipper. I’m certainly not and most establishments will provide you with non-alcoholic beverages. I wasn’t a fan of the beer, so I stuck with water and tea.

This meeting was at a traditional Japanese restaurant and it was hilarious to see the other women I sat with watch in rapt attention as I tried and enjoyed most everything I was served. Bear with me as I attempt to explain to you some of what I devoured.

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Nabe.

Starting from the upper-most left corner is a nabe (鍋) pot. Translated into English, it sounds redundant: pot pot. Any potted soup will be called something-nabe. It was filled with shabu-shabu beef, enoki mushrooms, nira (にら, wild garlic leaves), tofu, and kimchee.

 

Moving to the right, to the blue dish, we have tougan-no-ankake (冬瓜のあんかけ, winter melon with a starch-based sauce) topped with crab. This was served cold and was very delicious. It’s not for people who have a thing against certain food textures. It was extremely slimy.

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Winter melon.

Third, in the small pink dish, is a foodstuff all anime-watchers will know: tamagoyaki; specifically hijiki-iri-tamagoyaki (ひじき入り卵焼き, rolled scrambled egg with sweet black seaweed). In Japan, you can buy a specific pan to make this so you are better able to maintain the traditional rectangular shape, but I choose to use my simple skillet. Because I’m a huge fan of eggs, I quickly consumed this.

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Tamagoyaki with hijiki.

To the right one more, there was 酢のもの(sunomono, pickled salad). This was comprised of artificial crab and vegetables. I can’t recall if there was anything else in it. Maybe garlic…? According to Wikipedia (Praise be unto this database!), it’s related to namasu (膾) which is anything marinated in rice vinegar. Cool fact: it’s been in Japan since the Nara Period courtesy of China.

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An example of sunomono.

 

 

Continuing on, we have nimono (煮物). If you like vegetables, this bowl of goodness will make your belly happy. Also, at this point in the meal, any doubts I was having about my digestion were cleared. There are many recipes on the internet concerning the varieties of nimono you can make. This specific one was most likely chikuzenni (筑前煮, vegetables with seaweed and chicken). It originally came from the Fukuoka region of Kyushu, the southernmost portion of the Japanese mainland. This tells me this is an immigrated foodstuff.

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Nimono.

 

The bowl at the very end above the towel is sashimi. This needs no explanation other than it was delicious.

 

Trekking onward, we see a tiny white bowl filled with something that doesn’t scream “edible”. Soft and fluffy in appearance, kiriboshi (切り干し, dried daikon radish) is soaked in vinegar. It reminded me of extra-chewy sauerkraut.

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Kiriboshi.

 

Next to that is the egg custard (tamagodoufu, 卵豆腐). Reminiscent of tofu, it is not for the faint hearted. Smelling strongly of eggs and sugar, it took me a hot New York second not to gag. The only custard I’m used to eating is the lemon custard in my lemon meringue pies. It’s most often steamed. Its next-door neighbor is a simple hijiki salad. I can find this at my MaxValue in the premade section.

 

Sitting right behind it is a seared scallop or hotate (ホタテ). Never having had scallops before, I thought this had an interesting texture. Without knowing what it was before I put it in my mouth, I could definitely tell it was from the sea. Duh, Ashley! We are talking about Japan here.

 

In the lower-most corner of the tray, in the green bowl, is nikogori (煮こごり, fish Jell-O). If you haven’t connected the dots about the Japanese loving textures, here’s your last chance. Nikogori is made of boiled down fish bones. Sometimes chicken is used but fish is the norm. Just like Jell-O, you can put whatever the hell you feel like in this. I know for sure there was soy sauce in mine. Also, if you have an elderly person in your family, this highly recommended as it is very nutritious (see this article from 2007). I feel this is exactly like head cheese.

 

Next to the gelatin, in the yellow bowl, is kurage-no-sunomono (クラゲの酢の物, vinegar-soaked jellyfish). I’m going to assume the meat was dried and boiled back to life. Again, this will be off-putting if you have a dislike for certain food textures. This is the closest thing I can think of to eating a human without truly being a cannibal. Crunchy, sour, and absolutely wonderful, it can be served cold or hot. For anyone reading this that lives in or regularly visits Las Vegas, there is a Chinese dim-sum restaurant off of Sahara called Orchids Garden that has this as an option.

 

Last, but not least, is the potato salad. I’ve noticed that the Japanese like to put cherry tomatoes in this. As a note, Japanese mayonnaise is not the same as American mayonnaise.

 

Sources used: Google Images, Wikipedia, http://sushi.pro/ , http://japanesefooddictionary.blogspot.jp/ , https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17982692 , http://1word1day.livejournal.com/

The Ramen Virgin

I can’t remember offhand when I finally got around to having ramen, but I did give it a shot. On an unexpectedly cold day, I thought I would warm up by stopping in at this family-run joint next to one of the train stations.

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My first mistake was standing there waiting to be seated. As a tip, when you’re by yourself, you are usually able to choose where you want to sit on your own. Just wait for the OK from the staff.

My second mistake was thinking I was going to get the same kind of rice the guy next to me was eating. Wrong! As you can see, I overloaded on carbs. I went down into that deep spiral that results in pain and confusion.

My last mistake was thinking the red oil would be savory. Needless to say, my gyoza were particularly spicy.

I ordered a 醤油 (shoyu, soy sauce) flavored soup base. This is the traditional option and a recommended choice for the uninitiated.

It came with:

  • Soy sauce-based broth
  • Cuts of pork belly
  • メンマ (menma, sliced pickled bamboo)
  • Seaweed
  • Fish cakes
  • Green onions
  • Noodles*

*Some ramen restaurants give its customers the option of noodle firmness. They range from al-dente to really soft.

When you eat ramen, what is your favorite kind to eat? Let me know down in the comments!

Potato Soup

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Behold the first true installment of my home-cooked adventures! I try to take pictures of what I make for myself in a combined effort to relate and be related to by those of you who struggle to separate your reality from the glorious world of celebrity chefs. I’m by no means a culinary expert. I don’t know anything beyond using salt and pepper for seasoning.

I often feel like I’m similar to Mama Mankanshoku from Kill la Kill. Everything I make is something mysterious and usually deep fried.

For once, this picture shows nothing fried but it does give evidence to my hesitancy to use anything outside of carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms.

After watching the delicious commercials on TV for soups and stews, potato soup sure sounded wonderful. Unfortunately, when I bought the soup mix, I wasn’t expecting something so thick. Don’t get me wrong. It was tasty enough but nothing extraordinary.

Ingredients:

  • Potatoes
  • White shimeji mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Chicken broth
  • Celery
  • “Bacon”
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Soup mix

I’ll strive to make a note here. Watch what you buy. Pottage is stew, chowder is cream soup, and consume is broth. I decided after my fight with making clam chowder for the first time that I would never buy mix from the shelf.

A New Cuisine: My First Exposure to Japanese Food

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.

Location: Hotel Yonekyu in Hamamatsu

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

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Rice is the main staple in Japan. Brought over via Korea thousands of years ago during the Yayoi Period, the Japanese stuck true to their character and made it their own. 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.

Next, comes the cold noodles with tempura shrimp. After rice, noodles are another staple. They’re super versatile! All you need to know is that they taste delicious. The shrimp tempura I topped mine with was light and fresh.

For dessert, I ate watery yogurt with fruit cocktail. I’m damned sure that cocktail came from the can. Being used to having milk with breakfast, I had some in this instance, too. Did you know that Japanese milk is fattier than American milk? The going rate here is 3.6% whereas American whole milk is around 3.2%.

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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.

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 it at your leisure.

At the Supermarket

As my impatient stomach waits for its breakfast to finish cooking, I thought it’s about time to introduce you to my food excursions in the supermarkets of Japan. Yesterday was a boon for me because I was escorted by my coworker, Toby (Anecdote time! I have to put this in there because it’s cool to me: Toby was born in Zimbabwe and went to university in England. He sticks out way more than I do and it’s hilarious to watch the looks of awe we receive when we go out together. Plus, he gets points because he knows who David Bowie is) to a few stores in Numazu. Numazu itself is as close to being a coastal city without actually being on the coast and is a 40-minute train ride south from my apartment. Unlike Gotemba, this is a true city equipped with skyscrapers and bright lights. It even has a seedy Red Light District. It brings to mind old Japan: dirt roads damped with water lined with wooden houses, sliding shoji screen doors, rooms perfumed with the scents of nature and dainty paper lanterns hanging from the lintel.

I’m sorry. I digress. As I was saying, it’s about time I show you how I’ve been faring in the food department. Surrounded by another language, you might think it’s hard. It’s not too bad once you take the time to really look around. Japan is obsessed with pictures. My hunch is because the arts were a popular thing in their history: from archaic doodles to ukiyo-e woodblock prints, the Japanese were constantly surrounded by imagery.

My first shopping trip after coming to Japan was one of necessity. It wasn’t a leisurely stroll to assess the opposing party; no. It was a grab-what-you’re-familiar-with-and-run sort of thing. I believe I went home with carrots, potatoes, milk, apple juice, oranges, bananas, eggs, bread, butter and chicken.  The second trip produced garlic marinated beef and bacon. Somewhere in there, I procured cabbage, mushrooms, seasoning packets and Frosted Flakes. The Frosted Flakes I was particularly happy about. My latest shopping trip produced quite a bit and has gotten me thinking about meal planning. Because of the humidity and the unavailability of central air conditioning, food spoils fairly quickly. Just this morning, as I drank my apple juice, I noticed a blob of viscous mold swimming around. Let’s see how long it takes for my stomach to realize what I swallowed.

The following illustrates the latest shopping trip and my sudden panic at making sure everything I buy gets cooked and everything I cook gets frozen or eaten right away.

 

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Left to right: Green tea Oreos, tamago cookies, canned peas, and corn, Japanese mayonnaise, and tartar sauce.

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Left to right: Frozen broccoli, Earl Grey tea, vinegar, ketchup, meat marinade, Caesar salad dressing, and sweet pickles.

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Left to right: Pineapple juice, tomatoes, eggs, chicken, and pork.

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Left to right: Cooked peanuts, Pepsi, Frosted Flakes, celery, and Downy (called Aroma Jewels here) laundry scent.