Take a guess at what this blog is about. I'll give you a hint (as if the following photos don't explain it clearly enough):
There you have it. It has undoubtedly been one of the highlights from my exchange and now with just a week or two left to enjoy my new favorite Japanese dishes I figured I'd share a bit with all of you. I've experienced so many new foods this year that I don't even know where to begin. So I thought I'd tell you some of my favorites and least favorites foods, along with the strangest, the least expected, and the ones most likely to become popular in the USA within the coming years.
- Favorites: Still sushi and sashimi, but also tempura, soba noodles, Okonomiyaki, and unagi freshwater eel
- Least Favorites: Ume boshi pickled sour plums, Shiso leaf which is a sour green plant added to salads and sushi sometime, and a variety of countryside preservatives such as boiled chicken innards or perhaps rice mixed with potato, sake alcohol, carrots, and...oh yeah, salmon heads. YUCK!!
- Strangest: Sea urchin, wild boar or puffer fish
- Least Expected: Raw horse or whale - both, I'm half ashamed to say, I enjoyed the taste of quite a bit
- Most likely to take off back home: Either tonkatsu fried pork cutlets or Okonomiyaki pancakes
And so with that, I now invite you out to dinner - Bon Appétit
Before the Japanese begin any of their meals they always recite the word
From what I've learned it carries the meaning of gratefully receiving. In the distant past this referred to the animals and plants that had given themselves for our nourishment
With the first Japanese match of the World Cup taking place as I write this blog, I figured we could begin with a nice cup of green tea, some quality soccer gossip, and several hours of sitting cross legged on tatami mats. That's the true Japanese style! Haha
If you need a quick snack you can always make your way to the convenience store and buy a cup of ramen noodles
They've only got a couple different kinds though =\
During a cold, rainy soccer game they're the best
But if you feel like a more filling meal you really need to take your time when picking out what you'd like. Japan has a great variety of dishes.
Thankfully there are usually enticing window displays in front of restaurants in order to help hungry customers choose what to enjoy first. But beware, you don't want exactly what appears in the window - those are plastic!!
Okay now that we've decided what to eat and we've gotten comfortable in our yukata robes, let the courses begin:
How about beginning with a giant Hokkaido Scallop?
Some vinegar soaked Octopus
And oh, this one is awesome!! Duck breast wrapped around sweet leeks in a juicy teriyaki sauce
There's always a whole conch shell
In the summer time you can't go wrong with a nice salted, grilled Ayu Sweetfish over the fire
You know you're in the countryside of Tochigi when you sit down, have a cup of green tea and the side dishes offered to you include pickled cucumbers, sour preserved plums, whole cloves of garlic, and a seaweed, soy sauce and ayu fish head salad...yummy =\
Also very distinctive to the countryside is Devil's Tongue, or Konnyaku
What about a nice Okinawan specialty - Pig Heads!
If you'd prefer a most reasonable appetizer, I'll offer you a wild boar croquette (a seasoned and deep fried potato pancake), along with some lightly fried tempura slices of squash
There's always rice cakes, pounded into "mochi"
This variety has sesame seeds, seaweed flakes, and peanuts in it!
Andrew really liked the variety of fried meats and vegetables on skewers
Especially famous in Osaka, there are Takoyaki fried Octopus cakes
A common soup during the winter, this is a blend of daikon radish, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and leeks. It's best served with a dash of chili seasoning
Kimpira (as made by KTP)
What about some (korean) ground beef served with a raw egg, onion slices, pine nuts, salad, and apples? The sauce is the best part though!
Gyoza dumplings are a must. Do you see at how good they look when friend properly in the background?!
I know it's not Japanese, but I had escargot for the first time while in Japan and it was delicious. Buttery, garlicy, and covered in toasty bread crumbs! Good snails
Now we come to the main course. Just like with the rest, we have a variety of choices. There's always a mixture of tempura and soba noodles like at my host family's restaurant
You know I love them soba noodles!
Or there's ramen noodles
Breaded and fried oysters
Hambagu and Ebi-furai
A beef patty (usually served without a bun and in it's own juices) along with deep fried shrimp
Or rice covered in various meets, veggies, and sauces
Although we can only get it at New Year's, these specially prepared boxes of Japanese delicacies are a real smorgasbord for both the eyes and the taste buds
If none of the above fits your fancy then there is the incredibly delicious (and I'm convinced would do well in America) Okonomiyaki pancakes. They are cabbage, egg, sauce, seasoning, and then any kind of filling you want all mixed together. My favorites include pork, shrimp, kimuchi, or mochi. Then they are fried right in front of you on a hot griddle. Add a little Japanese sauce on top and it's superb
Another griddle favorite from this year was while out to eat in Tokyo with Ayano and Mai. We had Korean fried rice with melted cheese right in the middle
Another great dish is the tonkatsu I mentioned before. It is high quality pork cutlets, coated in fine panko breading and fried
Again, if you add a little sauce on top they can't be beat!
But how about a little seafood, right!? I mean we ARE in Japan.
If you just want to buy directly from the supermarket you can always buy a whole frozen squid or perhaps an octopus in a bucket!
And who could mention Japanese seafood without getting into sushi?!
There's maki-zushi, which are tiny rolls
Sushi can include anything, even delicious ikura salmon roe and uni sea urchin!!
There's onigiri, which is just a rice ball with fish draped over the top
Or there are bigger rolls of sushi, such as the salmon roe and cucumber ones in the previous picture, or the seafood salad ones found in the center of this photo
If you don't want a sushi roll or onigiri, then there's always sashimi.
Sashimi is basically just the fish, no rice or seaweed attached
Mmmmm, what a good looking sushi platter
Here is some from the world famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. There are all slightly cooked with a blow torch before being sprinkled with salt and pepper.
From left to right they are Maguro tuna, Tai red snapper, Sake salmon, Basashi raw horse, and Hotate scallops!!
Here's Andrew enjoying some Unagi eel and larger maki-zushi rolls
Also at Tsukiji you can buy tasty rice bowls layered with different kinds of fish on top. For example salmon, octopus and tai as seen above
Gotta love that octopus
At this restaurant you can even grill your octopus and squid on cute little skewers
You can't leave Japan without trying some sort of sun dried fish as well. These are covered in miso and sesame seeds
If you ever get to visit my second host family, the Kobayashi's, then you really ought to try their Unagi eel!! It's freshly cleaned and grilled to perfection
Another great seafood snack: whole raw oysters drizzled in soy sauce and vinegar!! Out of this world =)
Kaitenzushi is the conveyer belt sushi, and if you're not careful you can build up quite a stack of plates for yourself!!
Finally, we've reached dessert. How about some Anmitsu? That's Japanese gelatin covered in a sugar sauce, fresh fruit, anko sweet bean paste, and if you're lucky, ice cream!
Okinawan purple sweet potato pies
I think I'm drooling
This is raspberry sorbet, fresh fruit, whipped cream, and a waffer
As far as ice cream goes, Pino is king in Japan. Tiny chocolate nubs that even come with their own poker stick
Tochigi is famous for fresh, ripe strawberries like you can see in this cake we made in my food design class
More mochi rice cakes, these are covered in kinako soy flour, which surprisingly enough tastes kind of like peanut butter
Who could pass up some Crunky Kids...
Who doesn't love the Japanese and their candy names??
And if you're really hungry for dessert (like Ayano here) you could always order this cookies and cream loaf of honey toast!!
And finally, let's end where we began, with a little green tea. This macha is quite a bit thicker than the usual kind, but its foamy, bitter taste has played an important part in Japanese culture and cuisine for years.
We're all done, and clearly we've eaten way too much for our own good, but hey that's how my whole year has gone!! Haha
Now when the Japanese finish their meals they say the words
「ご馳走様でした」 "Gochisousama deshita"
The meaning of ご馳走 - "Gochisou" is basically translated as a feast or good entertainment, so it is only fitting that I end my blog by saying that this year has really been like one long, delicious Gochisou! I'd like to extend a heart/stomachfelt thanks to each and every one of you who have fed me along the way - I enjoyed every bite of it!