hoshigaki: persimmons drying at Akiu Otaki
On Japan’s Thanksgiving and Labor Day weekend (a three day weekend where people give thanks to appreciate the hard labor of themselves and others celebrated around the same time as America’s Thanksgiving) we took a trip to Sendai.
vegetable stand at Sendai morning market
Our first stop was at the morning market, or asa-ichi. It seems like many cities have these morning markets, but if there is one in Maebashi I have yet to find it. We enjoyed browsing through the beautiful produce, much of it was excellently priced too. We bought a basketful of big persimons for just 600 yen.
Next we stopped at an onigiri shop near the station to get some rice balls for breakfast. They had a lot of interesting looking flavors so we got a bunch to try.
November’s seasonal set at Kameki Sushi: toro, hirame, hokkigai (surf clam), kani, tamago, uni, shirako, iwashi, ama-ebi, anago
One of our favorite experiences was going to the shrine at Shiogama and then having lunch at Kameki Sushi. Sendai and Shiogama are well known for their fine seafood and there was no shortage of sushi bars in Shiogama. I had found a recommendation for Kameki Sushi online that said that they use all very fresh and local seafood. After talking with the chef, it seems like “local” might include anywhere in Japan, but I’m not complaining. Everything was really delicious. As we ate at the bar, our chef told us a lot of tips about the ingredients. For example, the lovely purple-tinged-shelled ama-ebi (raw shrimp) are called budou-ebi (grape shrimp) both for their color and because each shrimp is laden eggs underneath that look like tiny bunches of grapes. We also got tips on grating fresh wasabi: always with a shark-skin grater and in a circular motion. Another tip he gave us, slyly mentioning that it wasn’t really appropriate lunchtime conversation but that he really wanted to let us in on the secret, was that the best uni come from Hokkaido: they’re small and brown, and nicknamed “horse turds.” Although the name is unappetizing, those uni are better tasting than the larger purple-shelled urchins. Luckily we were dining at the right time of year to take advantage of the short season for “horse turd”-uni. We finished our meal with slices of the surimi-iri tamago yaki. It looked like a cake, but our chef explained that it’s an older style of making the tamago-yaki than the rolled omelets that you find in most sushi bars these days. This style of tamago-yaki was developed in the past when chickens and eggs were more expensive, so the cooks had to stretch the eggs by adding fish paste and making it more fluffy. The lightly sweet, fluffy egg cake was a great end to our meal.
A local specialty in Sendai is gyu-tan, or beef tongue that’s been seasoned with salt and grilled. We wanted to try Negishi, which was recommended by my supervisor as Sendai’s most delicious, but they were full so we went to Rikyu, a popular Sendai gyu-tan chain. We enjoyed the teishoku set, which was served with barley rice, oxtail soup, cabbage salad, and spicy miso-sauced chile peppers. Mmm…
The next day we went to the Rairaikyo gorge and Akiu Otaki (Akiu great waterfall) in the Akiu Onsen area. Walking along the river, we came upon the Akiu traditional crafts village, where they were having a women’s farming cooperative farmers’ market. Although I didn’t really need any fresh vegetables since we were on vacation, I couldn’t resist the big bunches of fresh dill for just 100 yen. What a deal!
yaki-dango: grilled mochi dumplings with sweet sauce at Akiu Otaki
making tai-yaki at Tai Kichi in Sendai
At night, we went walking in the arcade malls and bought some famous tai-yaki, fish-shaped pancakes stuffed with bean paste or custard, from Tai Kichi. The name Tai Kichi is a play on the phrase dai-kichi, or big luck, so these must be lucky fish! They were delicious and crispy, and hot off the grill. We also bought some Sendai miso from the Sasaju miso company. I’ve been using this in my miso soup lately, and I must say it’s pretty tasty.
vanilla custard and anko bean paste filled tai-yaki
And finally, does this look like soy sauce to you? Be careful, if you look closely it says, “Nanchatte Orange: This is not soy sauce!”