Tuesday, November 06, 2007

11/4/07: Day 3 in Japan - It's All About the Food

Today is all about food. You know in Simpson’s episode, when Homer allegedly invented a meal between breakfast and brunch? I think today, I had breakfast, Homer’s breakfast/brunch interlude, brunch, lunch, dinner, and supper. Yes, I ate at 6 different intervals today. By the end of supper, I felt that I came awfully close to actually hating food if I had invented a course between supper and breakfast.

My breakfast started innocent enough – curry bread, bacon/potato bread, and custard pudding- enough to get me through the morning walking through Horyuji (法隆寺, a temple in Nara). I had to go to Horyuji this time since I took the wrong train the last time, and I didn’t have time to do Todaiji and Horyuji. I thought I had plenty of time, but Nara turned out to be really big. Upon hearing this, I received an earful from my dear mother about the virtues of Horyuji.

Horyuji, was comprised of three main temples, and covered a lot of ground. My dear mother impressed upon me to check on the architecture, since they used a traditional method of construction where they used no nails (hmmm, this sounds familiar.) This was a temple rich in history, and would certainly be worth visiting if you’re in Nara.

After walking around for two hours, it was time for lunch. Right outside the temple, they had bunch of restaurants, and one meal jumped out: noodles made with umé plums. It was a no-brainer for us, and off we went for meal #2. I had umé udon with Yuba, and it was light, refreshing, and delicious.

After Horyuji, we were off to Tennoji (天王寺) section of Osaka. This place was, to me, the heartbeat of Osaka. While Umeda area is prettier and international in appearance, Tennoji was more of a blue collar area, and you felt this certain vibe. In a sports analogy, Umeda may be like boxed seats, while Tennoji is like the bleachers.

It was here Motohiko introduced me to Takoyaki shop with an owner he knows, and she made us delicious Takoyaki, the type that oozes molten cream that will scald the roof of your mouth if you’re not careful.

After Takoyaki, Motohiko insisted we have Kushi (串), fried name- food- of- your- choice on a skewer. I ordered Beef, Pork, Chicken, Cheese, and Whale. Yes, a whale. You read that right, I ate a whale. Why would I eat a whale, you may ask. Simple, it was on the menu. So, what did it taste like? Not what I expected (blubbery white meat). Rather, it looked like a piece of beef, with a notably gamy finish. While everything else tastes like a chicken, a whale tastes like Buffalo. Or a venison. Now you know.

Now, we were off to Namba (難波) area south of Osaka. This area was more hip, and recently had a new mall built. We went to the said mall, only to check on the liquor shop (90% shochu, 10% beer, 0% saké.) We walked from Namba north up to Shinsaibashi (心斎橋), stopping by the famed Doutonbori (道頓堀 ) street. Since Motohiko took me to Ippudo the first night and we talked about Setagaya in NYC, he told me I must visit Ichiran (一蘭) for a very good Hakata-style (博多風) ramen. My stomach was ready to burst, but sure, it’s not like I come around Doutonbori every day.

Once inside, you purchase a meal ticket. I buy one for one order. Motohiko told me, “c’mon, you have to have Kaedama. It’s only about $1.25.” OK, sure, why not, it’s not like I get to come here every day. After waiting 5 minutes, we were seated in a counter. Actually, all the seats were on the counter. Unlike other restaurants, though, the each seat had a barrier wall to each side and front. The front wall had a window that had bamboo blinds, and servers brought food when it was ready. (Picture prison where guards slide the food through locked door in Solitary Confinement…)

The philosophy of Ichiran is that it’s all about the taste, and they wanted to remove anything that distracts from maximizing taste. They would probably use sensory depravation chamber if it was financially feasible. The ramen was good. The soup was very good, rich but not heavy. Only minor complaint was that between noodle and soup, it could have used little more salt. For those scoring at home, I would rate ramen as following:

Ippudo: 4 out of 5
Setagaya: 4 out of 5 (different Shio-ramen style)
Ichiran: 3.5 out of 5

As I stagger out of Ichiran, I vow not to eat food for the next week or so. We end up walking around Shinsaibashi, checking out Sogo Department (総合) as they have good selection of beverages. We check saké accessories, go up to the roof for the view, anything to burn off calories. All the walking got us thirsty, so we are back to Umeda for drink near the hotel. Exiting the subway, we notice Botejyu (ぼてじゅう) because of the bottle of Kanehachi (兼八) Mugi Shochu on the window. Oh, there were bunch of Okonomiyaki and Hiroshimayaki on the window, too.

Kanehachi was something Motohiko mentioned on the first night, as he found it similar to Satoh, but in his opinion, little bit better. At this stage of the evening, with all my blood concentrated in the stomach area, I didn’t really have the capacity to taste acutely. It was very good, and like Satoh, had full flavor of the toasty wheat with finish of wheat, smoky coffee, and dark chocolate. Shockingly, Motohiko proceeds to order Osaka style Modan Yaki, the Okonomiyaki with noodles on top. He insists I try some for meal #6, as I am an Okonomiyaki enthusiast (though not so much tonight). It was very good, but I prefer Fugetsu (風月) for two reasons: bigger noodles, and more lettuce instead of the Okonomiyaki mix, making theirs fluffier style that brought out more umami from the lettuce. On the scale of 5, I give Botejyu 3 while Fugetsu 5.

OK, so I didn’t have Nihonshu today. But I did think about finishing Kissui from the other night had my stomach not been so full, so this entry can have its place in my blog (it’s good to be able to set rules...) All in all, I got to experience the heartbeat of Osaka today, going to some blue collar areas, and having real food of the people. However, if I don’t slow down, my heart will not be beating much longer…

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