Sunday, March 21, 2010

Eating Japan

Mr. EA will be guest-writing this post. Enjoy!

In February, I had the opportunity to go to Japan for work. We stayed in Yokohama, where there are many great places to eat. It should be noted that the place we stayed in was the waterfront area – it’s a tourist area, very Westernized, so we had a difficult time finding Japanese food. In particular, we never got to try any actual sushi while we were there, because everyplace was either very, very high-priced or looked untrustworthy. One of the interesting characteristics of restaurants in Japan is that they display models of the food outside. These are realistic, 3D representations of the dishes they serve. This is a big help for ordering, as there is a significant language gap. I’d like to describe the things we ate – and I’m going to take it day by day.

The 7 of us traveling arrived Friday night on February 12. After a very long day of travel we met three of our coworkers who were already there, and who were familiar with the area from previous experience. We were pretty tired and didn’t want to make any decisions, so we went to a favorite place of theirs, called the Kirin Beer Hall. Kirin is a Japanese beer brand. I can’t comment on any of the beers or other drinks available in Japan, because as a rule I don’t drink when I’m away from home. My dinner that night was billed as Beef and Scallions. It actually was Beef and Garlic. It consisted of 1 x 2 thin slices of meat, sautĂ©ed in butter and garlic. Some scallions were sprinkled on it, hence the name. I am a huge fan of garlic, so this one was a particular treat for me. The dish was delivered on a sizzling cast-iron plate, fajita-style.

Saturday, Feb 13.

Saturday morning began with a stop at the Starbucks in our hotel, a ritual we repeated every day. We then went out to our worksite by train, and there discovered one of the most wonderful things about Japan. Everything, and I mean everything, is available via vending machines, banks of which can be found at every building. I got a can of hot coffee for about 100 yen (roughly $1).

Dinner Saturday night took us a long time to find. There was a difficulty reaching a consensus on where to eat, so we walked around for a while looking at different places. We wound up at a place called Beer Dock, where I had a grilled tuna dish that was really good. Two of our party ordered garlic bread, which for some reason was made long and thin and delivered in a stein.

Sunday, Feb 14

Sunday was a day off. So we took most of the day to explore the harbor area in Yokohama, scouting out places to eat and generally tourist-ing. We had lunch in an all-you-can-eat place in our hotel (Washington Sakuragicho). The restaurant featured American and Japanese breakfast foods. I ate American stuff, which I suppose isn’t that interesting for this blog. We ate supper at an American chain called Jonathan’s which was not very good, so not much to report there.

Monday, Feb 15

Supper was the culinary highlight of my trip. We ate at a most astounding restaurant on the third floor of our hotel (which had a LOT of restaurants). The restaurant was called Seiryumon. Its interior is decorated to look like – and I’m not making this up-a sewer (or an old subway system or similar), complete with rounded brick ceiling, pipes, and cast iron hatches. The food here was excellent – I returned several times during the week. I had their version of my old Chinese favorite, Ma Po Tofu. I think it was the best I ever had. However, the highlight of dinner was the “show”. They quite literally “flush” the restaurant. The lights go out, and the sound system starts to play rumbling noises like explosions. Lights begin to flash, and a big valve at one end of the room opens, pouring gallons of water into a channel on the floor (which during dry times is the middle aisle of the restaurant). We were told this demonstration commemorates the bombing of Yokohama during the war, in which the inhabitants took shelter in the sewers.

Tuesday, Feb 16

A strange thing happened Tuesday night. Almost every business and restaurant in Yokohama was closed. We still have no explanation for this. However, we lucked into one restaurant that was open, the name of which escapes me. It was an Italian restaurant run by a young Japanese guy whose name was Tommy. Tommy spoke very good English and spent a lot of time talking with us. He also did not know why everyone was closed. I had grilled chicken with herb salt – it was quite good! We were served some more weird breadsticks, which were essentially extruded to the width of a single electron, but were tasty anyway. Tommy told us his dream was to fish for salmon in Alaska! My boss left Tommy his card – we hope to see him someday.

Wednesday, Feb 17

Lunch – I went to McDonald’s. The only reason I bothered to go to McDonald’s in Japan is that I was told that they use a different frying medium and that the burgers and fries taste better than they do here. I’ll say that they were different and good, but not necessarily better than here. I would describe it as tasting a little fattier, but not greasier. It is also comforting to note that #3 is a Quarter Pounder with cheese in Japan as well as here!

Dinner was at a place called Beer Next. Gentle reader – at this point you are probably noticing a certain undercurrent in our dining choices. What can I say? My coworkers like a lot of beer. This surprisingly exceptional restaurant is located in the “Red Brick Warehouse” on the waterfront. I don’t recall the actual name of the dish I had, but I would describe it as “flaming chicken”. I think I recall 5 of us in the same party ordered the same dish which was prepared flambĂ©-style at our table.

Thursday, Feb 18

For lunch I went back to “The Sewer”. I had a dish that was the rough equivalent of another Chinese favorite called Seafood Triple, which was pretty good. I also had a side of Gozya, which are long, flat dumplings filled with meat and spices. I highly recommend these! I passed on supper Thursday, as I had a cold and didn’t feel good enough to venture out.

Friday, Feb 19

Lunch was at a Thai place, again in our hotel. I had a dish called Cam To, and a side of very peppery miso soup. Cam To was sort of fried chicken in a salad. The miso soup was good and made me feel better. This was OK, but only passing. I wound us wishing I had gone back to The Sewer.

Dinner. Finally! A Japanese restaurant! I don’t recall the name, but it was on level B2 of the Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan. The restaurant specialized in yakitori, which is stuff on sticks. But since most of these were unidentifiable and I’m kind of a picky eater, I wimped out. I had a dish that was like southern fried chicken with garlic.

Saturday, Feb 20

Back to the Sewer for lunch for my beloved MaPo Tofu. I skipped supper again, still due to the cold.

Sunday, Feb 21

Another day off! The guys and I went touristing to the nearby town of Kamakura. We did a lot of walking this day, all before having anything to eat. Happily though, this day of touring included a lot of back-street, authentic Japanese food. We were well off the tourist track and it paid off.

Lunch was, with a nod to the Marx brothers, duck soup. I had Kamonanban – hot soba noodles with tender breast of duck and Welsh onion. This was at a little mom-and-pop restaurant on a side street in Kamakura. We did some souvenir shopping then and stopped for coffee at a little shop in an alley. I had a "Blue Mountain" Coffee that was 800 Yen! Basically, an $8 cup of coffee. I have to say that was the best cup of coffee I ever had! It was worth $8 easily. Now I'm looking to get some Blue Mountain here but cannot find any. Supper, also in Kamakura but at a different place, was called Batu Soba. Essentially noodles and pork. This was another performance restaurant, where our food was cooked before us on a giant griddle. My supper was pretty good. I also got to try a bit of calamari from my neighbor’s plate. That was pretty good too – kind of like fish gum.

Most of the second week was unremarkable – mostly return visits to places I had been before.

Wednesday the 24th was our last night in Japan. We returned to the Kirin Beer Hall, where I bookended my trip with the same beef and scallions dish. Starting Thursday morning and for the next 24 hours, it was airline food and snacks, and then I was home.

If you visit Yokohama, you’ll have no shortage of places to eat, but if you stay in the tourist area, what you’ll find is Western food, Westernized food and food from other places in the world than Japan. To get the good Japanese food, go out into what the locals call “real Japan”. In Sakuragicho, it’s just on the other side of the train station from the hotels. If you’re feeling adventurous, take the train a few stops in any direction and start looking. The Japanese have a lot of good food, especially seafood, but if you don’t see pictures or models of the food you may have a hard time ordering (unless you speak the language). Do not expect the local to speak English, most of them don’t. But be polite, and they’ll be happy to help you. They are very friendly and inviting people.

PS - A sign on the table at the All-U-Can Eat place.....You figure out what it means...

1 comment:

themissingx said...

Amazing! Thanks for the tour. All the food looks amazing and delicious too, wish I could learn the recipe how to make those, hehe! Great post! Keep it up :-)