The first night we were in Japan, at the end of December last year, we celebrated Robert's birthday. (I have blogged about that here). The next day E and the kids then left for E's parents' home where they spent New Year.
Meanwhile ... we spent a few days with Steve both re-visiting favourite places from our last visit to Kyoto and discovering new places.
We were taken by Steve to a place he'd been recommended for Ramen. Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish. Each region has their own style of ramen. I don't know what the ramen from other districts in Japan are like, but the dish I had in that small, busy cafe on a side-street in Kyoto on that cold day in Kyoto was tasty, welcome, hot and super-delicious.
Later that day for dinner, we stopped at an izakaya we remembered from last time we were in Kyoto, two years ago. Izakayas restaurants are like small bars with their own identity and particular vibe. The waiters were cheerful, energetic and relaxed. We enjoyed a variety of small dishes while there. A lot (if not most) Japanese food / meals are made up of a variety of small dishes.One of the most popular (almost obligatory) side-dishes in an izakaya is the salted bean-dish called edamame bean; a preparation of immature soybeans in the pod. The first time I came across this small-bean dish, I popped the whole bean, pod and all, into my mouth (like I used to do as a kid with young peas) and was told (after they'd stopped laughing) by the people I was with, that this was not the way to eat them. Doh!
One of the new districts we visited with Steve was Arashiyama and Sagano where we enjoyed a wander, taking in ...
a temple and its gardens,
a bamboo grove,
a tea-shop garden,
and ... The Rakushisha Residence is a thatched hut that belonged to the 17th century haiku poet Mukai Kyorai. Mukai was a student of Basho Matsuo, one of Japan's greatest poets. Basho even composed a few poems here. Mukai named his residence Rakushisha ("fallen persimmon hut") after a storm had taken down the fruits of the surrounding trees. (info. taken from this site on the internet):
An example of one of the customary New Year decorations found in every doorway and gate-way over the new year holiday season ...
As we wandered Arashiyama, we ate 'on the hoof', buying our lunch (rice balls & dumplings) from what are called "Conveenies'. (meaning Convenience Stores). It was New Year's Eve, so a lot of special New Year's food was on sale. We also bought some popular glutinous, sweet rice, called mochi. Mochi can be prepared as balls or cakes. The mochi we bought that day was stacked like kebabs on a stick. Every new year in Japan, this extremely sticky rice dish is responsible for people choking to death - especially elderly people . It won't surprise you when I say that when I eat mochi, I always keep this fact in mind!
On New Year's Eve, at midnight, Steve cooked us hot soba noodles. Eating hot soba noodles (buckwheat noodles) on new year's eve is a custom in Japan.
Our daughter-in-law's meals are always a highlight of our stays in Japan. It is hard now to recall every meal she cooked us.
But one we do remember was called 'parent and child' meal because it consisted of both chicken and egg. Another meal was cooked in a large pot which is placed in the middle of the table for us to help ourselves, eating it with rice. The pot is choc-full of vegetables and meat swimming in a tasty sauce or broth. As always there are the many interesting, tasty condiments to have with it. In Steve and E's case, the vegetables in the dish come from her parents' market garden. Beautiful, healthy vegetables that are a joy and honour to eat.
Takoyaki is a traditional Osaka dish. E is from Osaka and she was keen to introduce this meal to us. It consists of a batter with added ingredients (such as grated ginger, prawns pickles ... but most especially, octopus) placed on to the top of the battered rounds as they cook in the special electric pan (as featured in the photo above). E biked to the shop to buy some fresh octopus pieces. Meanwhile Steve was entrusted to get the tokoyaki started.
Mmmm. So delicious and very filling.
Another meal we had which was surprising for us, was a take-away paella! Steve and E ordered it along with pizza. As far as I know, take-away paella doesn't happen here in NZ.
Another memorable meal we had was a New Year meal when we stayed with our friend M. and her family. She also prepared us a beautiful crab meal with some fresh crab her son brought around. I've never seen such big crabs and the meal was amazing. Once again, cooked in the middle of the table in a pot we helped ourselves from.
This account of the meals we had in Japan doesn't do justice to Japanese cooking and celebration of food - the reverence and care that is taken over the preparation and serving, the presentation and pride they take in each morsel, each small dish of sauce or side-dish, is truly amazing.
There is an immense history and tradition behind all Japanese food. Through the meals and the cooking of them, they show their hospitality, their respect. It is a way of presenting their customs, their stories, their ancient history and their way of life. It is just what they do. And all the food is so healthy! I'm afraid my descriptions here only scratch the surface.