Yugawara Sekitei

We headed out of Kyoto to Yugawara, which is a smallish spa town in Kanagawa between Kyoto and Tokyo. A hot springs stay is a bit of an indulgence but well worth it after so many days of slogging around. Traveling can be such exhausting business! I was looking forward to a long soak and just sitting around doing nothing for a while. I think the problem with traveling is that you always feel like you have to be doing something. It’s too much pressure!

For our hot springs inn, my dad picked Sekitei, which has a few branches in various spa towns. This one was their Yugawara inn. My brother kept whining about how the inn we stayed at in Hakone a few years back was far superior, but whatever. I think every time he goes back to Japan, he just wants to revisit all the same places he loved over and over.

I will say that the food was less to my palate this time, but I’m not sure if it was just the selection of the ingredients or the culinary skill. Everything was gorgeous, at least. The package included a one night stay in their Japanese style tatami suite, 24-hour access to their hot springs (indoor and outdoor), one kaiseki style dinner and breakfast. Pictured above is the first course from the dinner. You’ll have to forgive my lack of commentary on the food, since I don’t remember a lot of the specifics! (^__^);;

The rest:
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Bullet Train Bento

Aah, the train bento. I don’t think I’d ever done it before, on my other trips to Japan. This time, I intended to get a proper bento, especially since I’d be traveling in the Green Car of the Shinkansen. I found some really great bento packages in a Kyoto Station grocery shop, so we bought a whole bunch of stuff and set off for our next destination: Atami.

Pictured above is lemon tea, which I actually get at the Japanese grocery store in Maryland if I’m lucky. It’s so sweet but oh so good.

Corn salad, apple juice (sort of), and chawan-mushi (a savory egg custard). Yum!

The rest:

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Jun Coffee

Day 2 in Kyoto started with breakfast in some coffee shop inside Kyoto Station called “Jun.” It was a tiny little shop and one of the only ones open so early in the morning. The service there was utter crap. I’m sorry they don’t have a Yelp page so I can properly rant at the incompetence of its staff and how slow and excruciating the service was. I suppose this blog will have to do.

At least the food was okay. The salad dressing was especially yummy. That being said, why is it that a western style breakfast set is always the same wherever you go in Japan? Buttered Texas toast. Egg (usually boiled, sometimes sunny side up). Side of salad. Coffee. Not much imagination at work. Good thing I usually skip breakfast…

Pictured above is their toast with egg and bacon set. It came with a small cup of coffee.

And some places have the Japanese style breakfast sets. Fish, rice and miso soup usually make an entrance… Healthier than bacon and eggs, at least! :)

28 Aug 2011, 11:25pm
dessert dinner:
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Kaz Sushi Bistro

Hey everyone! Hope you all survived Hurricane Irene this weekend! I lost power for about three hours early this morning, but other than that, things are pretty much back to normal. I’m quite shocked that the outage didn’t last longer. Pepco is either stepping up at last, or things weren’t as bad as expected around here. I’m accustomed to being out of power for days in such situations, though “accustomed” doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying…

In any case, hello again! I figured it would be quite remiss of me to end August without having blogged once during this month, so here I am. (^__^)/

Today I’m posting about Kaz Sushi Bistro, a place that I actually went to a few years ago and just had a so-so impression of at the time. I’m not sure why that was. Maybe it had something to do with high expectations. I went there shortly after a presentation I’d seen at the Smithsonian on Japanese cuisine, where Chef Kazuhiro Okochi and the illustrious Chef Masaharu Morimoto both did presentations. (This included an awe-inspiring demo of Morimoto breaking down a large fish with masterful knifing skills. It’s not the same watching him on TV vs live-action. I was in the presence of greatness). I am a huge fan of Morimoto, so when I heard that he’d sat down with Kaz at his restaurant and talked shop with him, my expectations just skyrocketed. Perhaps this was somewhat unfair. Regardless, I just never had a chance to try Kaz’s for a second go, so I went back again about a month ago, with optimism.

It probably helped that I was with an equally enthusiastic food-lover (the “Digital Nomad” Drew). I find that when you dine with other food aficionados, the meal just ends up tasting better. Such was the case this time.

Pictured above is the sushi we ordered a la carte. They were all quite fabulous, though my particular favorites were the sweet shrimp and the Walu (Hawaiian white toro). Everything was fresh and tasty. The rolls could have been a little more tightly bound, as some were falling open at the seam, but the flavors were spot on, at least.

The rest after the jump:

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2 Aug 2010, 7:00am
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Chirashi zushi

Chirashi zushi is a whole bowl of sushi-fabulosity that’s relatively easy to make at home. Pictured here is my mom’s chirashi, and I gotta tell ya, no one makes it like my mama. XD I suppose I’m just accustomed to this palate, but she’s got a subtle hand that coaxes out the best balance of vinegar, sugar, and salt in the rice. She also makes the best Japanese omelet, which is almost always my favorite topping in her chirashi. ♥

Toppings can be chef’s choice, though obviously raw fish is usually key. This chirashi is topped with tuna, omelet, marinated eel, fake crab meat, and squid. Radish sprouts, shredded seaweed, and shiso leaves to garnish.

A few more pics:

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3 Jun 2010, 8:20pm
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Warabi Mochi

Ah…muggy DC summer has arrived. I feel like we’ve hit the 90’s way too early this year. We’re barely into June, and we’ve already had several days where it’s so humid it’s hard to breathe! A cool, refreshing dessert is much needed and deserved in times like these. *nods* (^__^)

The Japanese dessert “warabi mochi” is technically not mochi (rice cake) at all, but made from konnyaku, a transparent jelly type thing. It’s a big Kansai (Western Japan) thing where my own folks are from. The konnyaku itself doesn’t really have much flavor on its own, so it’s usually served with kinako, a powdered soybean flour. Kinako has this vaguely sweet, nutty flavor to it that provides a strange but not really undesirable contrast to the wet and slinky konnyaku.

If you like very sweet desserts, this probably won’t be your thing. But it’s nice and light for a hot summer’s day.

A few more pics:

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Happy New Year!

new year cake

Happy New Year, everyone! \(^O^)/ Hope you had a great start to 2010, and a lovely winter holiday. I apologize for neglecting this blog for the past few weeks. I kept meaning to update, but it’s been a bit of a lazy Christmas season for me. I’m resolving to be more active hereon for the new year, and to catch up on my backlog of posts I’ve been meaning to get to for a while.

New Year happens to be the biggest holiday of the year for Japanese people, and like most celebrations, it centers around the food. Wiki has an article about the traditional “osechi” food here, which is served on New Year’s Day. My mom prepares it every year, though this year’s spread was much more scaled back than usual.

But first, we must have the “toshi-koshi” noodles on New Year’s eve:

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6 Dec 2009, 12:17pm
dinner:
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Shabu Shabu

shabu shabu

First post in December! Can’t believe we’re already at the end of the year, but here we are. I’m not done with my San Francisco posts yet, but before I plow into the big dinner post, I’m taking a quick detour to post about homemade shabu shabu. Now, I’ve never actually been to a shabu shabu restaurant stateside, so I’m not really sure what’s done in those establishments. Personally, I think that unless you’re looking for particularly high grade places that have the sort of high end ingredients you would be unable to find at your local grocer, a homemade shabu shabu is the way to go! It’s easy to throw together, and it’s just the thing on a cold winter’s day. (Wouldn’t you want to stay inside on such a day?)

Basically, it’s a do-it-yourself meal, where you cook your food as you eat in a bubbling pot (a nabe). The water is usually lightly seasoned with kombu seaweed and maybe some hondashi – a bonito soup stock. It’s totally up to you which ingredients you want to cook. A shabu shabu usually involves some kind of meat – I usually like very thinly sliced beef. Non-meat versions usually center around tofu, and you’d call that a “yudofu.”

Aside from the beef, this particular shabu shabu (which I had a few days ago…yum!) also included sliced green onions, tofu, fresh shitake mushrooms, radish sprouts and lettuce. The lettuce is kind of an interesting addition…you usually wouldn’t think that boiled lettuce is very good, but it adds a nice flavor and does retain a little crunch. I usually like adding noodles to mine, like udon or harusame, but we didn’t have any on hand.

One more under the cut…

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25 Aug 2009, 9:33pm
dinner:
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Okonomiyaki

okonomiyaki

Wiki describes “okonomiyaki” as Japanese style savory pancake, and that’s pretty much what it is. Literally meaning “fry it as you like it,” it’s one of the signature dishes from the city of Osaka, my honorary hometown. They have something similar in Hiroshima, but it’s piled high with noodles, which scared me a little.

The ‘pancake’ batter is pretty simple. A standard okonomiyaki has a base of cabbage (thinly shredded), flour, egg, water. Some people season the batter with salt and aji no moto (MSG, the source of all ‘umami’). Where you take it from there is “as you like it!”

This variant pictured above is made with squid, so it’s an ‘ikadama’ (ika=squid; tama=egg). Squid is the best kind, in my opinion, though pork works just as well! The key to making a good okonomiyaki is to be gentle with the batter. You don’t want to push it around too much. And once it’s on the grill, don’t press down on it, or you’ll flatten out all the texture.

There’s a special sauce that goes with it (called – surprise surprise, okonomiyaki sauce) that you can get at the Asian grocer, though you can mix up your own sauces if you like. Sprinkle on some ao-nori (dried seaweed seasoning) and katsuo (shaved bonito flakes) just before serving.

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28 Jul 2009, 5:59am
lunch:
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Yaki Udon

yakiudon

Yup, you heard me, fried udon. (^O^)v As a non-cooking type person, I just love pan fried anything. How else can you make a quick and easy meal with very little culinary skillz?

Yakisoba is one my favorites, a pretty standard fried noodle dish that can be whipped up in 5 minutes. I’d never even heard of fried udon before, so when I spotted a package of it at the Japanese grocery, I had to give it a try. I tossed it together with shredded green onions and fresh shitake, then topped it off with beni-shoga (red pickled ginger). This was not bad at all! The noodles weren’t stiff and nasty like I half expected them to be. Impressive, for an instant variety.

21 Jul 2009, 5:58am
dinner:
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Unagi Don

unagi don

It is midsummer, which can only mean one thing: Eel Eating Day!! \(^O^)/ Also known as “doyo no ushi hi,” it’s a day set aside for the consumption of eel. Apparently eel gives you the energy to withstand the heat of summer. To me though, it’s just GOOD EATS.

Eel is surprisingly easy to prepare, because…you barely have to prepare anything at all! Just pick up an eel at your Asian market (freezer section), as it comes pre-marinated and pre-cooked. Throw the thing in the microwave to warm up. Slice and serve, done!

Or you can make a donburi by throwing it over rice and tossing in a few other ingredients, such as: tare (sauce), kaiware daikon (Japanese radish sprouts), a dash of sansho pepper.

Side of chu-toro sashimi optional, but most desirable. XD

Japanese Breakfast

breakfast

I’m usually not very hungry in the mornings, and a hot cup of java is all I need. So you can say that my morning meal at the Hakone inn was an atypical one for me. Look at this spread! All this for breakfast!

In my mind, a typical Japanese breakfast is just a simple rice and miso soup pairing with maybe a small helping of pickled cucumber. Not so at the full service inn, where they pulled out all the stops. Before the food, there was green tea with pickled plum to cleanse the palate. Next came fresh tofu, heated up and solidified right at the table on a single-serve burner. The food kept coming: grilled fish, several different kinds of pickled veggies, raw shirasu fish with shiso leaf and grated ginger, slices of kamaboko fish cake with pickled wasabi, sauteed burdock, Japanese style rolled omelet with ground daikon radish. And of course, rice and miso soup (with fresh clams!). So many lovely dishes, it was almost too pretty to eat. o(^__^)o

The highlight for me was definitely the fresh tofu, which actually reminded me of a similar dish I had at Morimoto in Philadelphia. Fresh tofu is just no comparison to the blocks of tofu you’ll find in your grocer’s fridge. There’s a subtle soy flavor that you can really taste and appreciate in freshly made tofu. Love it.

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