Saturday, June 11, 2011

Where My Money Goes

I eat my money in Japan. I think it's the best way to spend your money, quite frankly. Sure, there is a lot of useless fun crap you can buy and believe you me, I buy those too, but I spend most of my money on food. Here is a food journal of our trip. Please note, some meals were consumed before being photographed due to extreme hunger.

Day One: We were greeted by this greatness on our first night. A HUGE sushi plate (two of these plus more) by a delivery-only sushi joint near my parents house.

Jet lag be damned. We ate until we hurt.

Day Three: Shakey's. That's right. Japan has a chain of Shakey's and it's one of the cheapest lunches you can get. All you can eat Pizza buffet, which inexplicably includes curry and rice, is less than $10/person.

Pile of pizza and pasta. Not photographed:dessert pizza
Day Five: Birthday cake/mousse for my brother who turned 50. Japanese people a coo-coo for melon flavored things--case in point, McDonald's in Japan has melon milk shakes. This was a melon mousse. Very light and yummy.

Yes, those ARE giant grapes on top

Day Nine: Japanese diner food. We went to Lake Nojiri in Nagano prefecture where my folks have a cabin. This is one of their most favorite restaurants that serves great home meals in large quantities.

Pork Ginger Lunch Set

My husband's favorite meal on the trip: Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) sandwich

Day Ten: Still in Nagano, in a town called Togakushi, known for a Ninja training ground (for serious) and soba. It is our family ritual to stop at this noodle shop to eat what they make by hand, fresh. It is also our tradition to go to Ninja House where you enter each room that has no doors and try to figure out ways to get in to the next one, much like finding secret passages.

Notice both soba and tempura plates have empty spots.
We came to our senses after having initial rabid bites

Day Eleven: Lake side Italian. Nagano is a farm country therefore their produce is to die for. Tomatoes are particularly amazing. This lake side area also has an international village where, during summer, many foreigners from various countries occupy cabins. I used to love driving through there because no one speaks Japanese and it made me feel like I stepped into America. This restaurant is apparently very popular amongst those who spend time there.

Pizza Margherita

Tomato salad

Day Twelve: Izakaya food. The word "Izakaya" roughly translates to "a bar where you dwell." It is basically a bar that serves countless amounts of small dishes that go well with alcohol beverages. Of course, you can get in even if you are not drinking (meaning families). It is Japanese Tapas. You can eat bigger variety this way. There are Izakaya in the States (Seattle has a couple of good ones) and I recommend them highly.

Grilled clam in a shell

Aji (horse Makerel) sashimi. This fish on a stick was still twitching, it was so fresh.
I had to turn its head away from me while I ate.

Grilled sardines: yes, we like our fish whole. It took until I brought my very first American friend to Japan to realize that is totally freaky by U.S. standards.

More grilled fish--can you tell Japan is an island nation?

Broiled Musubi (rice ball)--lightly brushed with soy sauce then on the grill. It is not to be believed.

This was new to me: Ray fins. Delicious with mayonnaise.

Gyoza grilled correctly with "wings," which is a thin layer of crunchy goodness that connects the dumplings.
Wings are made out of water and flour. The dumplings are underneath.

Studs who grill things.

Oh and let's not forget, they have these, too.

It was about $150 for 7 people (granted only 2 adults drank and 1 out of 7 was our 4 year old daughter), which ain't bad for the amount of food we consumed. What we photographed was about half of the food ordered. I don't drink much but imagine above foods with a nice cold beer. Good stuff.

Day Thirteen: Indian food. I've never had Indian food in Japan. It was REALLY good.

Dead give away that this is in Japan: cabbage salad

Day Fourteen: Ueno Zoo kid's meal. Kids' meals in Japan have a common theme. Always on a divided plate, always with a rice that is scooped in a shape of an ice cream and always with a flag. Not sure why it's a British flag here, but it was. We took our daughter to see the Panda bears that recently arrived from China. They were both asleep. Oh well. At least we got some good lunch.

Standard kid's meal: curry and rice

Day Fifteen: Japanese pasta. My husband and I had a date night and we went to an Italian restaurant. I ordered something you could not have in American Italian joints, which was Simeji mushroom with clams pasta in light soy sauce based broth topped with scallions and shredded nori.

So light and good

Day Sixteen: Sapporo Ramen. My father asked if there was anything we haven't eaten and I blurted out, "Ramen." Sapporo is a city in Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan. For whatever reason, ramen from that region is famous and this noodle shop fixes ramen in that particular style.

Rather than sitting and ordering, you buy tickets from this machine, which is old-school cafeteria style in Japan. You give them to the waiter while you wait in line to get seated so when you sit down, your food comes to you right away.

Bummer for those who can't read Japanese

Then you get this:
Chashu ramen. Can't explain the goodness.

Then you sprinkle these on top as you wish:

Thin slices of grilled garlic.
My husband ate these by handful which led him to eat an entire box of mints after lunch.

Dude that makes the noodles.

Day two, four, six, seven, eleven, etc: Katsu Curry. My husband's favorite Japanese dish, ever. He had this a lot. Pork Cutlet (fried) with curry on top. What is not to love, I tell ya.

Mmmm...spicy lard...

What we totally neglected to photograph was many of our convenience store lunches, which are delicious and cheap. You would not believe the variety of rice balls and bento boxes that are readily available at local 7-Eleven and other places alike. If you are on a budget, that is the way to go. Just click here and see for yourself.

And that is the story of our food fest.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Trend of This Year

It is fun to discover what the current trend in fashion is every time I come home. On this trip, I've noticed a horrifying amount of stirrup leggings which kids are wearing UNDER their shorts, along with some gladiator wedges with zippers up the back, which my 16 year old niece is wearing everywhere she goes, including my parents' cabin in the mountains. But the best and most puzzling goes to two items that apparently protect you from UV rays. This trend seems to be most popular with middle-aged ladies.

First is the Darth Vader visor. It is a sun visor that is so long that it covers your entire face:
I'm not joking. People are wearing these as they ride their bicycles. It stopped us in our tracks the first time we saw it.

Then there are the elbow length gloves:
OK, so these are slightly cooler, but please picture a 60 year old Japanese woman wearing these and the visor while riding her bicycle. Some of them carry a parasol in addition. I've also seen long sleeves with regular gloves with the visor situation. My childhood friend I saw on this trip said, "I'm not sure what they think they're protecting, because while they are preserving their skin, they look like idiots."

Japanese people are very easily swayed by trends and I suppose if "everyone is doing it" the level of shame goes down. Hence stirrup leggings. Which is a different problem all together.