JAPAN

Kyoto, Japan’s Warabimochi

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As is to be expected, dessert takes on a life of its own in Japan, from the French pastries of Kyoto, to the green tea – vanilla soft serve combination, to the cream puffs of Beard Papas, you won’t find a shortage of either sugar rush inducing freakouts or refined post-dinner delights (or pre-dinner delights, whichever). Take for example this delicate concoction, warabimochi, a popular Kansai dish, covered with chocolate powder, necessarily served alongside matcha green tea (another local specialty and an absolute necessity for any traveler) – both pictured here. Warabimochi, a variant of the well-known ‘mochi,’ a thick mashing of lightly sweetened rice forms, now available at your everyday Pink Berry, is more than just a delivery mechanism for frozen yogurt, red bean paste or mango ice cream. Without the white noise of such over-the-top flavors, warabimochi carries its own elegance, something suitable for the serenity of Kyoto’s maze of temples and shrines. That being said, the thickness and stickiness needs an appropriate counterpoint to wash it down, hence the matcha. Come to think of it, a flask of sake would have done just as well.

This combination was consumed at Ichoya, a small restaurant outside the main entrance of Nishi Hongan-Ji, in Kyoto. They have a website: http://www.ichoya.jp/

Written by Jason Summerfield

Japanese Cuisine: Raw Eggs Everywhere

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Raw yolk on yam

Raw yolk on chicken burger

There is an undeniable tendency to include raw eggs in Japanese cuisine. That tendency may get overlooked stateside as consumers shy away from tartar and harbor an unabated fear of salmonella.  But in Japan, raw is a norm. You will eat alot of raw eggs. If you have an egg on the menu, odds are, it’s not hard boiled (please feel free to imagine the disastrous chain of events that led to this conclusion – the messier your imagination, the more accurate the depiction). Raw eggs (or more specifically, the yolks) are available on seemingly everything. The most likely scenario is in a hot bowl of noodles. Just as likely is on a hot bowl of rice. Less frequently, but no less surprising, includes a raw yolk on a bowl of ground up yams, or resting on top of a chicken burger (to appropriately sauce it up). Not to suggest that a raw yolk is the most daring or most unusual item on any menu, but rather, the inclusion is worth noting because the commonplace nature of the yolk hints at the more daring culinary trappings of one of the world’s great cuisines. Keep a weathered eye on the horizon, because at every nook and cranny, next to that raw egg on the menu, you will find something else entirely, something imbued with inspiration, presented with flair and packed with flavor. Maybe it will have a raw egg on it.

Written by Jason Summerfield

Japan’s Finest Water

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Its no secret. Japan is hot in the summer.  And the further south you go, the hotter it gets. The perpetual heat-wave transforms the plethora of vending machines into one of the country’s greatest conveniences. The brutal humidity also turns the Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple complex into a surprisingly appealing destination over the countless temples and shrines within Kyoto. But therein lies some of the charm of Kiyomizu; the complex is not located in downtown Kyoto, but rather, is nestled onto the side of nearby Otowa Mountain in Higashiyama-ku. The complex houses an assortment of structures, massive pillars, rich foliage, elegant walkways, active temples (many of which are simultaneously sad and quirky, eg. a shrine dedicated to the deity of love, Zuigudo Hall with its ‘in space, no one can hear you scream’ darkness designed to resemble a womb, and a so-called ‘aborted fetus’ shrine), and then one structure that provides a convenient excuse for this travelogue entry: Otowa Waterfall. At the bottom of a hill, water pours out from the top of a manmade structure, several feet away from the platform. After patiently waiting in line, you take a metal rod with a cup at the end that’s been sitting in an “Ultra Violet Sterilizer.” You then reach out and try to fill the cup with the sacred water from one of three ‘spouts.’  You will not succeed.  Gravity and velocity work against you.  Most of the water will spill out of the cup, possibly laughing at your feeble attempts as it pours into the bottom of the fountain.  But that doesn’t mean you won’t try. And you will try. Because remember, its hot as Venus in the Japanese summer, and the cold water pouring from the mountain stream is incredibly refreshing.  Odds are, you will try to refill your slightly irradiated cup.

Refer to the website for the complex’s seasonal hours: http://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp/index.html

Written by Jason Summerfield

NYC Street Food: Takoyaki

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A round ball of diced octopus, covered with piles of fish flakes, mayonnaise, pickled ginger, green onion, okonomiyaki sauce and who knows what else. The chef will prepare them in short order batches, periodically turning them over in the pan until the exterior maintains an even brown. If you’re lucky, the concoction is barely cooked on the inside, keeping the batter moist and gooey.  Loose fish flakes will fly away in the slightest breeze as you attempt to devour these little critters as fast as possible, the hot steam be damned. You will get maybe a half-dozen in an order, and perhaps a toothpick in lieu of a fancy pair of chopsticks.  A word of advice: let the vendors pile on everything they have to offer.

From the picture, you can see that 500 yen (a little more than $5.00) is the going rate for an order. This particular vendor was located near Yoyogi National Stadium in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo.

Possibly the best hole-in-the-wall to pick up takoyaki in New York City: Otafuku at 236 East 9th (between 2nd and 3rd).

Written by Jason Summerfield