Thursday, September 30, 2010


What a beautiful city! Though much of the city is modernized it is not uncommon to turn off a busy street and be right in the middle of traditional Japan. From the hotels, restaurants, architecture, and temples this city is where to find the Japan we foreigners imagine it to be. My friend Eriko and I stayed at a traditional Japanese hotel with bamboo matted floors and paper sliding walls. As a westerner it was a bit strange when i first walked in. There was a separate room at the entrance where you take off you shoes and the room looked like a place to eat lunch not sleep! Except that the table was low and there were small pads on the floor. At 8 pm sharp a member of the hotel staff came to the room, pulled the tabel to the side, and layed down our mats to sleep on. What an expirence!

Breakfast was also quiet special. The room was similar to the hotel room with the bamboo mats and the low tables with pads to sit on. Our food was already on the table with a paper sheet cover to keep it fresh. We were served baked salmon, rice, pickled cucumbers and other vegetables, some sort of tofu and egg cake, and we each had our own pot of miso soup. The waitress lit a burner underneath the pot to heat up our soup, similar to fondu. I have found that a traditional, as well as still common, breakfast here in Japan consists of baked fish (usually salmon), rice and salad.

One of the best lunches I have had in Japan was on our second day in Kyoto. Entering the restaurant, shoes removed, it was hard to tell what the place was going to be like or what they served. We were guided up some steep and narrow steps and the room at the top was small and traditional. Again, bamboo mats and floor seating. The options of the day were either fish or chicken. I ordered chicken and this is what I got:
The chicken was thigh cooked perfectly, bathed in teriyaki sauce, with bell peppers and a salad. To the left is white rice, to the right is miso soup. In front of the miso is a mixture of pickled vegetables and in front of that was some sort of jelly dessert. On the upper left hand corner is tofu and in the center is tempura fried pumpkin and a red pepper. This type of pumpkin is served all over but looks like a cantaloupe and taste nothing like pumpkin. The Japanese even flavor cookies, cakes, ice cream and many other sweets with this. There is also a purple sweet potato that is used to flavor sweets. If the pumpkins and sweet potatoes in the US tasted like these I would eat a lot more of them and I love sweet potatoes.

Here is a picture of me eating a sweet potato waffle we bought in the train station. You can more or less see the deep purple color. These sweet potatoes come from the Island of Okinawa and are either called Hawaiian Purple Sweet Potatoes or Okinawan potatoes.

Here are a few pictures of the beautiful temples I visited in Kyoto. Afterall, there is more than just good food there!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Girls Night Out In Japan

The food and food scene in Japan is something to talk about. Here I am with Eriko at a few of our restaurant picks in Tokyo. The first is called Gyu-Kaku, Gyu meaning beef. At these restaurants you have a hole in the middle of the table, or counter, in which the waiter inserts a mini grill of coles and a grate. This is a picture taken off of google because I feel it shows it a bit better than the ones I have:
They givee you your meat raw, marinated or not, tongs, chopsticks and have at it! We ordered a bowl of rice mixed with seaweed and a fried egg on top, beef tongue and some other cut of beef. Let me tell you, the beef tong was my favorite thing I have eaten so far here in Japan thus making it my #2 must have: Beef Tongue at a Guy-Kaku Restaurant. They give you two sauce options, a lemon and a soy sauce with sugar, the soy sauce is the way to go.
Vampire Cafe

Tokyo is known for its theme restaurants and Eriko and I checked out Vampire Cafe in Ginza and it is awesome! Located down a narrow street in a colorful and vibrant neighborhood Vampire Cafe is just a short elevator ride up into the imagination. As the elevator opens you are greeted by a vampiric host, if you are lucky like we were he is the owner too. You are escorted through a small tunnel of red tapestries and at this point you are probably wondering what in the ******* you have gotten yourself into. The booths are cozy and private due to a curtain of red cloth. The view from our table was especially goolosh because it was a life sized coffin with, well, I'll let the pictures speek for themselves. Our food was seemily normal: raw salmon, friend cheese and crackers, risotto, chicken, chocolate cake and ice cream. Or was it...


Eriko and Me in Tokyo

WOW! What a city! Let me start off by saying it is not what I expected. Sure i figured I'd see most of the high traffic areas electronically lit up like time square, it is Japan after all. I also expected the business men to be walking around in short sleeve white button downs with black pants and ties because after all, I am a big fan of Heroes and that's what Hiro wears. But what I did not expect was the boundless subway systems, the relatively clean streets and honestly, the lack of chaotic chatter. There seems to be a silent order to all things in Tokyo. Men and women just know where they are going and what side of the escalator or street to be on. Stay to the left if you are standing and to the right if you are moving, it is simple and ubiquitously known.

I personally have been very impressed and overwhelmed by the subway system here. There are so many lines that we have switched trains multiple times just to get from one place to another.There is not one level underground the way I remember it in New York but many levels as if it were am airport. However, they have maps in English posted next to the Japanese maps as well folded paper maps you can carry with you. Also the subways have a digital screen that tells you what station you are in upon arrival in both English and Japanese.

Ok now on to food! Here are a few pictures I took randomly at a pretty nice fruit store we passed on the street.

My favorite place so far in Tokyo is Asakusa which is famous for the Senso-ji Temple. The #1 stop for visitors, Senso-ji is a Buddhist temple erected in the 17th century. Destroyed during WWII, the temple was rebuilt and the market and architecture has made it my choice of where to stay in Tokyo. There are many Hotels as well as Hostels just minutes away. The entrance, Kaminarimon, or the Thunder Gate is composed of huge red columns and a traditional black Japanese roof. At the center is an enormous red lantern with the ferocious guardian deities on either side.

Between the gate and the temple is a large cauldron looking piece where you will find many people standing around bathing in the smoke of incense. It is said that the smoke gives you beauty and health.

The market within the temple brings us to my #1 pick of must-haves for Japanese food, tempura friend sweet bean cakes. I am not sure what they are called but trust me, they are amazing! The flavors this stand sells range from original to pumpkin to sesame. The women of the stand understand English so make sure and ask for whichever are fresh and still warm, you will NOT be disappointed.
Here are a few pictures of the relics and sautes around the temple that I thought were fun to see. Also there are a few more pictures of the market.

colorful dipped bananas
mmmmm noodles

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Something to Celebrate

This Thursday, September 16th is Mexico's Independence Day. But this year is extra special, on that day not only does Mexico celebrate their 200 yr independence from Spain but also their 100 year anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. The entire city is a buzz of patriotism, plans and yes, food.

There are a few dishes that only come around this time of year, the most famous being CHILES EN NOGADA.

Chile en Nogada means chilie in a walnut sauce and that is precisely what it is, a poblano pepper bathed in a sauce made from walnuts then sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. The idea is for it to have the colors of the flag. This dish is said to be made by a group of nuns in Puebla Mexico for Agustin de Iturbide, Emperor of Mexico from 1822 to 1823. After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 de Iturbide  signed the Treaty of Cordoba in Varacruz and then made his way back to Mexico City. He stopped in Puebla, about an hr south of the capital, and chile en nogada was born.

It can only be made in the months of August and September because it is when the pomegranates are in season and the walnuts are prime for making the sauce. Since the dish represents the colors of the flag and is made during the time of Mexico's Independence it is considered a very patriotic dish.

You can find this dish all over the city during this time. Simply drive around and look for the signs. Also, it is well worth the traffic to visit The Plaza Mayor or El Zocalo to see the lights and decorations.