Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Eating Our Way South

Our last night in Tokyo was also one of our favorite meals. The proprietor of our ryokan sent us to a small okonomiyaki restaurant (basically a bowl of ingredients you mix in an egg batter and grill at your table) making what we call "Japanese pancakes". Having done this twice before we considered ourselves somewhat expert. That is until we entered the 4 table restaurant with a hand written Japanese menu and a waitress who spoke no English. Luckily the family at the next table help us muddle through the menu and order the house specialty. As we drank draft beer to cool ourselves down the chef came over and helped us with our grilling. We were apparently fairly inept and needed continuous instruction. The chef helped himself to quite a few glasses of the house draft beer as well-so we were all in a good mood and well fed by the end.

After leaving Tokyo we went to stay with a fellow Lijiang teacher at her home near Hakone. Our conversations were a mix of English, Japanese, Chinese and French. Somehow we avoided making any crucial language mistakes-or so we think. Our first night at her house she pulled out a portable table grill and proceeded to cook us huge amounts of vegetables and meat. One piece of advice-mushroom-phobes should not come to Japan. It was all excellent, though the pig intestines were a bit "chewy". Her house lacks air conditioning so we spent our time there sweating, heading to the onsen, and sweating again as soon as we were done. During the days we went to Hakone to explore. Hakone is well set up as a tourist destination-we thought of it as the Amazing Race Part 2 (Part 1 having been the Chinese Consulate in Tokyo). In one day we were on trains, a bus, a ship, a gondola, a cable car, a narrow gauge railway and of course our feet. The food of the day was the bratwurst house Steve and Li discovered. For our last night with our friend we attended a neighborhood summer festival and drank sake with shaved ice and edamame. Steve charmed the old men (who invited him to stay and play golf) while Li admired the girls in their bright Yukatas.

The last two days we have been in Takayama. The dark brown wood buildings are strikingly reminiscent of the Berkeley hills. We opted for a local restaurant tonight and chose the recommended specialty. Small cooking braziers were placed on our table. Mine was topped by a large magnolia leaf heaped with small pieces of Hida Beef, onions, mushrooms and the local miso bean paste. I was instructed to mix and grill. Which I did. Then I ate and enjoyed! Except for the price, I could easily repeat the meal. Li's required similar cooking with help from her Dad. Desert consisted of local peaches and plums. You gotta love summer. Tomorrow we go to Kyoto-temples here we come!

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