Okonomiyaki

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Nagasaki, Unzen, and Shimabara July 20, 2010

Our next stop in Kyushu was Nagasaki. We had a pleasant morning stroll in the Teramachi district.

That’s a big pot! It might be hard to tell from the photo, but you could probably fit about ten of me in this pot. You can see a tiny person wearing a pink shirt in the background, that’s how big this pot is.

After our stroll we headed to Chinatown. We had Nagasaki’s famous “Chinese” noodle dishes, sara udon and champon. The noodle dishes were pretty forgettable, in fact, they seemed to be the same toppings on top of different noodles.

But while we were waiting for seats in the restaurant for lunch, we had some buta-kakuni buns that were very tasty.

The next day we headed out early in the morning to Unzen Onsen. Like Beppu, Unzen also has an area called a “hell,” where sulfurous water and steam bubble from the ground. Most of the hell is pretty dry these days, and crisscrossed with pipes and hoses that siphon the hot water off to the onsen hotels.


a ghostly tree in Unzen

In some spots steam vents out of the ground. Spiky yellow sulfur crystals form around the mouth of the fissure.


A basket of eggs cooks on top of a steam pipe

As at any onsen with a healthy number of tourists, they’ve devised a way to use the onsen’s heat to cook eggs to sell. This pipe basically vents steam directly out of the ground. Top it with a basket of eggs and a towl and you’ve basically got yourself a little egg-oven.

After Unzen we headed to Shimabara, which is just a short bus ride away. Shimabara is known as a city of water, with many famous canals, fountains, and springs. Koi are a famous symbol of the town.

First we enjoyed a lunch of guzoni at Himematsuya. Guzoni is the famous dish of Shimabara, a filling soup made with eel, fu (wheat gluten), kamaboko (fish cake), chikuwa (more fish cake), tamagoyaki (egg), shiitake, hakusai (napa cabbage), lotus root, gobo (burdock), chicken, mitsuba, and of course mochi (those are the white rice cakes on top of the soup in the picture). Mmm… if you find yourself in Shimabara, definitely try some guzoni.

After lunch we walked around to see the sights in Shimabara. First we went to Shimabara castle. Then we went to the city of swimming carp and the Hama-no-kawa spring.


Aren’t these funny looking birds cute?

Interested in Nagasaki, Unzen, and Shimabara? Check it out here: http://www.ngs-kenkanren.com/eng/cs3.html
http://www.city.shimabara.lg.jp/english/003.html

See more from our trip at Alex’s photoblog: Nagasaki and Unzen and Shimabara

 

Beppu June 24, 2010


Takegawara Onsen, Beppu

We headed off to Beppu on the Sonic limited express train. The hotel had a nice outdoor onsen on the rooftop so we could enjoy the view of the stars and the hot bath. In the morning we checked out of our hotel and walked along the shore (which was lined with giant concrete erosion control “jacks”) before walking to Takegawara Onsen. Takegawara is a historic onsen that dates back to 1879. There we took a sand bath: you dress in a cotton yukata, lay down in the hot sand, and the bath attendants bury you up to your chin in steaming hot sand. You lay under the sand until you feel just a little bit cooked and just a little bit crushed, before they tell you to wriggle out of the sand and rinse off in the bath. Unfortunately by the time my “bath” was finished, the morning sun was shining right in my eyes, so I had to close them. The feeling is uniquely oppressive yet refreshing.

After the bath we hopped on a bus to see some of Beppu’s famed jigoku (“hells”). The first one we arrived at was Hon-bozu Jigoku (Real Monk’s Hell), which is managed independently of the other hells. The jigoku is named for the hot bubbling mud that resembles a monk’s shaven head, and the historical  handout that we got said that when the geyser first opened up during an earthquake there was a monastery on the site and the monk was tossed into the air by the hot steam (I hope that part is just a legend). In any case, the muddy hills were pretty cool to look at so I would definitely recommend this jigoku.

There was also a spot where volcanic gases vented out from under a rock. Lots of people have left their coins here and the 5 and 10 yen coins turn an impressive shade of violet.

Next we walked downhill to Umi jigoku (Sea Hell). This hell was very popular but also very beautiful. The water is a beautiful aqua shade. There are some torii that lead to a small shrine. Onsen tamago in a basket suspended from a bamboo pole cook in the main pond.


onsen tamago

In addition to the main pond there is a large, emerald green pond. In the pond you can see lotus flowers and giant lily pads which are apparently large enough to float small children on.


Umi Jigoku’s Chinoike

There is also a mini Chinoike (Blood Pond) there. Although it was small, on that day this Chinoike was much more impressive than the real thing.


the real Chinoike

Unfortunately, it was really sunny that day so the jigoku were not at their photogenic best. The steam rising from the ponds was a little thin and a lot of them were just plain old boring. I’d say that Umi Jigoku was the best value and Hon-bozu Jigoku was pretty interesting. Bozu Jigoku, next to Umi Jigoku, was a huge disappointment and hardly seemed worth the 400 yen entrance fee. Shiraike Jigoku was just ok, but might be better on a cooler day. Chinoike Jigoku seems to have potential, but was pretty boring on a sunny day.

Of course our day in Beppu wasn’t all hells an photo-taking. We also stopped to enjoy some snacks. I wanted to try the onsen tamago at Umi Jigoku, but unfortunately they’re sold 5 at a time. I didn’t really want to eat 5 boiled eggs so we had some ice cream and an onsen steamed custard (it was just ok). Outside of Shiraike Jigoku, some vendors were selling eggs cooked with onsen steam by the piece, so we bought some. They were much firmer than the onsen tamago that I’m used to (I suppose that makes sense, steam is hotter than most onsen water) and pretty bouncy (well done). I suppose in the end it’s just a novelty, but it was a pretty tasty snack. We also found a shop selling moromi soft serve. Moromi is a kind of chunky, whole-grained relative of miso that is often used as a vegetable dip. It’s a little sweet and tastes a lot like miso. So how was moromi soft serve? Pretty good, actually.

 

Silver Week in Kyushu: Hakata/Fukuoka June 19, 2010

Filed under: Eating,Four seasons in Japan,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 11:25 pm
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Fukuoka’s yatai street

September in Japan has the public holidays Respect for the Aged Day and the Autumnal Equinox. Respect for the Aged Day always falls on a Monday, while the Autumnal Equinox always falls on September 23rd. If, by a quirk of the calendar, there is only one day in between them, a new holiday called Kokumin-no-hi (People of the Nation’s Day) is created. Well, last year, just such a day occurred. Like Golden Week in the spring, many people used this extra-long holiday (which became known as Silver Week) as an opportunity to travel. We took Thursday and Friday off too and took a whirlwind tour of Kyushu.

First off, we flew into Fukuoka, which is also known as Hakata. They used to be two cities but are now one. It seems that they haven’t been able to settle on a name yet (Officially it’s Fukuoka, but the train station is Hakata). We had an afternoon to see the city before heading off to the hot spring town of Beppu.


A very narrow building along the river

We caught a bus to get to an area called Bayside Place. Wikitravel had recommended it as a good place to go for a date… well, not so much. As far as we could tell it was closed for renovations… or maybe just closed. The Hakata Port Tower is in the same area, so we went up to the top for the view. After enjoying the scenery we came back down and walked back to the downtown area.

Now we were getting hungry. Since we were in the Tenjin area, we stopped into an Ippudo Ramen that we passed, seeing if it was the honten (original store). It was not, so we appeased our stomachs with a Hakata pork bun before heading back out in search of food.


Hakata pork buns


waiting for a seat to open up at a yatai

Hakata/Fukuoka is known for it’s yatai, which are open air food stands like the ones you see at festivals. We went walking along the yatai street at Nakasu looking for something to eat. It was really crowded, so we found one where the wait seemed reasonable and enjoyed a bowl of Tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu is Hakata’s famous style of ramen made with a thick, white, pork bone broth, thin noodles, and slices of pork.


tonkotsu ramen

After dinner we went walking through the colorful Canal City shopping center before catching our train.


Canal City


Canal City

See more from Fukuoka at Alex’s photoblog

 

Oden April 18, 2010

Winter is over, but the recent cold and rainy weather means it’s still a great time to enjoy oden, a long simmered mix of root and sea vegetables, eggs, tofu, and fishcakes that is sometimes referred to as Japanese comfort food. A steaming pot of oden is a great day to warm up on a cold day, so it can really get you through the winter. Another great thing about oden is that it’s even better on the second day, after all of the bits have had time to soak up the broth overnight. So you can put together the oden on a weekend when you’ve got time, park it in the fridge for a night or two, and then reheat it to enjoy it during the week.

I made oden for a party, but when you’re making oden for eight the hardest part might just be finding a pot that’s big enough to simmer all that stuff in. I made do with a two-pot arrangement where I used one pot to blanch the age-mono (fried things like fish cakes, fried tofu, and tofu pouches which need to be simmered to remove the frying oil), konnyaku, and boil the eggs and a second, broth-filled pot. When I had finished blanching ingredients and boiling eggs I split the broth into two pots and simmered all of the ingredients for about 3 hours. In fact, even with my two largest pots, there wasn’t quite enough room to fit the eggs in the pot, so I just put them into the storage containers to absorb the flavor of the broth overnight. Actually, this proved to be a stroke of luck because the eggs were flavorful but still had a nice, slightly soft orange yolk since they didn’t simmer for so long with the rest of the goodies.

So there’s about half of my party oden at the top of the page: two types of age kamaboko, konnyaku triangles, daikon, carrot-gobo kamaboko, shiitake mushrooms, thick fried tofu, hampen, boiled eggs, shirataki bundles, chikuwa, age-tofu pouches filled with mochi or egg and tied with kampyo, shrimp surimi balls, and kombu. My favorites are the carrot-gobo kamaboko, eggs, shirataki, and stuffed age-tofu pouches. Another tasty idea from Jiman no Nabe Ryori is Nagoya style oden made with the usual suspects, plus skewered beef tendon and a rich, Hatcho miso broth.

Typically oden is served with sinus-searing karashi mustard, but not being partial to such an intense burn, I also mixed up a slightly sweeter and milder mustard-miso mix to go with mine. (more…)

 

Tsukiji market tuna auction closed to public until May April 14, 2010

Filed under: Eating,Four seasons in Japan,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 10:57 pm
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Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Central Wholesale Market, the center of the world’s seafood trade, has closed the famed tuna auctions to tourists until May 8th (see the story in Mainichi Daily News). Although the market has closed the auctions to tourists during the busy New Year’s season, this is the first time that they have been closed outside of that time period. It’s too bad, but on my last visit I did notice that the long lines of (slightly clueless) tourists were in the way and some of the workers at the market seemed frustrated with their mere presence. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the market is completely closed–you can still enjoy a delicious sushi breakfast in the outer market and peruse the shops there. Once the auctions reopen, if you go, stay out of the way of ongoing business, look out for those turret trucks, and don’t touch the fish!


turret truck traffic

 

Nishiki Koji March 16, 2010

Whenever I’m in Kyoto, I love to go strolling in Nishiki-koji Market. Here are some bamboo-wrapped kuzu manju.

On this trip I really had pickles and dashi on my mind. We stopped at the nuka-zuke shop and I bought a few nuka-zuke cucumbers.

At another pickle shop we bought some salt-pickled cucumbers. There were some chiles and kombu pieces in the brine too. We liked this one so much that we bought some more. Alex decided that they might be the best pickles in the world–in his opinion, at least.

You can see the cucumber pickles in the second vat in the front row. I guess we weren’t the only ones who liked them; they were nearly sold out even though it was still morning.

I bought one of these sticks of driftwood. Just kidding, they are really dried katsuo for making dashi.

At the kombu shop I bought some dashi kombu.

 

Kyoto Continued… March 14, 2010

Another wonderful day in Kyoto. The day started out cloudy and rainy, but that meant perfect lighting for photographing lotuses at Hokongoin, near Hanazono station.

It was doyo-ushi-no-hi so this shop was grilling eel over charcoal all day long. Mmm… it smelled so good.

We stopped at Nakamura-ya for a snack of korokke (croquette).

Then we walked through the bamboo grove to Okochi-sanso, the former residence of samurai film actor Okochi Denjiro.

We saw this mossy, grass-roofed house as we walked north-west of Arashiyama and Sagano.

We saw these passion flowers growing near there too.

Later we went to Nanzenji. This is the old aqueduct. First were were enjoying taking photos…

…when suddenly the sky opened up and it began pouring rain like mad. We took cover under the big San-mon gate and tried to wait it out, but after an hour it wasn’t showing any signs of letting up. We ran back to the subway station. The rain was coming down so heavily that the water in the storm drains was pushing up the sidewalk tiles and gushing back out onto the street. We were soaked.

The next day we visited Nishiki-koji market and went strolling in Gion.

Somehow I always have to come here when I come to Kyoto. I love the colorful saru-bobo.

Finally we visited Sanjusangendo before hopping back on the shinkansen to get home.

That is definitely a long hall.