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Old 06-09-2018, 11:50 PM   #1
amoeba
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Trip blog and perhaps more

I wake up at 5 am in a hotel room in the middle of Ginza still under the effects of jet lag a week after arriving in Japan. Our flight back to the US won't be for another 12 hours. It has been a wonderful week and I wish I could have stayed longer but there will be a next time.

Tokyo hotels are notoriously small, though well appointed. I move to the bathroom to check 2+2 so as to not bother my wife. Almost 15 years since first joining, this place still has a strange hold on me though I suppose as my only social media usage, its not too extreme.

Fatigue is replaced by shock as I learn of Anthony Bourdain's death. I think back to the time I saw him in a side table alone at a dive bar in Austin and I didnt want to bother him or the time he was giving a talk that I missed because at the time I couldnt justify the ticket price.

Bourdain didnt really teach me much about food but rather the joys of transitory experiences. Even more so I adopted the mentality that personal differences in philosophy or politics or culture seemingly melt away when breaking bread together. There is something powerful yet basic in feeding someone.

My legs have become sore from sitting on the toilet seat reading all the other 2+2 reactions and I walk back to bed.
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Old 06-10-2018, 12:33 AM   #2
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Re: Trip blog and perhaps more

Flash back one week, day 1



My wife and I arrive in Kansai airport after a grueling 11 hour flight from San Francisco, which was preceded by a 4 hour flight from Austin to SF.

Though I am able to sleep on economy flights, the excitement of the trip kept me awake. I powered through 3 superhero movies and maybe 30 minutes of holdem against the computer.

Kansai airport is well layed out and passing through immigration was extraordinarily quick.

The Kansai airport is pretty far away from the center of Osaka and the train takes 45 minutes to reach city center. The residential houses that we pass along the way is neither reminicent of the dense futuristic metropolis of Tokyo nor the intricate wooden cottages of the Japanese countryside. It feels like the Detroit of Japan. Industrial buildings that has seen better days.

Arriving in Osaka station, one of the first things I notice is that in Japan, it is customary to stand on the left side of escalators and walk on the right. I wonder if its the same in other left side drive places such as the UK.

We take a cab to our hotel from the station. The cab driver is exceedingly nice and comments in English that I am handsome and my wife is beautiful. One thing that you will notice in Japan is that all the cab drivers are really old (>65). Hotel checkin was a breeze and the front desk clerk was again extremely gracious, following us to the elevator and ending in a 90 degree bow that he maintained until the elevator doors closed.

Another post trip tip, the close door button on Japanese elevators work for real and are not placebo buttons like they sometimes are in the US. For the sake of restaurant workers and hotel workers, please use this button.
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Old 06-10-2018, 02:39 AM   #3
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After a short rest, we head out in to the madness that is the dotonbori/shinsaibashi area.







It is extraordinarily touristy but on the other hand touristy places are touristy for a reason and on a trip I always like to mix the crowded and not so crowded.

My wife really wanted to try fugu this trip. I wanted to talk her out of it not because I was worried about dangers but rather because fugu season is really in the winter when they are nice and fat. Most of the top fugu restaurants are closed for half the year. In any case, marriage is about compromise so we went to a mid level fugu place well known in Osaka.

We ordered a set menu which included fugu sashimi, fugu skin salad, fugu hot pot, fugu tempura, tea, dessert. We also ordered a side of grilled fugu milt.

Fugu sashimi tastes like a more crisp white fish sashimi such as madai or hirame (sea bream/halibut/fluke). Its good if you enjoy those. Instead of wasabi, it is served with momiji oroshi, (grated daikon with red chili) shiso and ponzu sauce.

The hotpot cooked fugu flesh tastes between a mix between cooked halibut and cooked turtle. The blowfish skin and gelatin between the skin and meat is slightly chewy but pleasant, reminicent of bean thread noodles or potato starch noodles.

The highlight is the grilled fugu milt. It tastes of grilled ricotta or grilled cream cheese with a slight fish flavor.


I never understood the hangup about eating milt. We eat eggs all the time without imagining it coming directly from the chicken uterus.


Again service was excellent and we exit in to the neon Dotonbori night.
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Old 06-10-2018, 03:01 AM   #4
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Still feeling peckish, we get some takoyaki since Osaka is the birthplace of takoyaki (grilled octopus fritters).



Takoyaki are ubiquitous in other parts of Asia but these were clearly superior. The octopus piece was bigger and more tender, the inside of the fritter supremely liquidy, a piece of octopus enveloped in a bechamel like sauce encased in an ethereal yet crisp outer skin, topped with mayo, sweet sauce, katsuoboshi.

Its nice drinking food.
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Old 06-10-2018, 03:25 AM   #5
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We go to sleep at around 1130 local time and end up waking up at 430 am due to jetlag. We leave the hotel at 530 and stroll around a largely empty Osaka.



The only people we see are those coming out of nightclubs or workers at the host and hostess bars.

My wife is hungry and we grab some onigiri rice balls and a egg sandwich from the convenience store. I wish they had this type of whitebread at this price in the US. Whitebread that tastes of milk and eggs instead of the starchy blandness that is wonderbread.

We walk our way towards Kuromon market and my wife becomes hungry again. The only place open is Ichiran ramen so we go in for that. Its a good example of tonkatsu ramen and better than 95% of ramen places in the US but not blow my mind level good and arguably not worthy of the over the top praise it gets online. Still solid and a good value.

After shopping at the multilevel slightly discount department store Don Quijote (known in Japan as Donki), we head to the also touristy Kuromon market.









Things are slightly expensive here and after walking around, we got some fresh soy milk which was absolutely delicious and some fatty tuna.



Got some chutoro nigiri



And an otoro mix bowl



Combined it was about $35.
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Old 06-10-2018, 04:49 AM   #6
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Enjoying your blog. I'd​ never heard of milt before.
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Old 06-10-2018, 05:36 AM   #7
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Thanks greg, means a lot to me.

Thr following 2 photos arent mine but shows what the fugu sashimi and fugu hotpot looks like



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Old 06-10-2018, 05:53 AM   #8
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After Kuromon market, we take the subway to Osaka castle.

Tickets are only needed for the central building and you can walk around what used to be the outer wall, inner wall, moat, and battlements for free.





I find the exterior much more exciting than the interior ticketed portion. There are many signs abound outside detailing various historical sites, such as the place where the successor of the castle's founding lord committed suicide along his mother as he was besieged on all sides by 200,000 of the Tokugawa shogunate forces.



That site was right under where we took the above picture. You can barely see a staircase leading down from an opening in the wall. This staircase was closed off to visitors.

The walls were 8 meters thick in parts, composed of blocks of stone. The moat was completely fillled in at one point during the battle.

Its pretty amazing to think about the scale and brutality of warfare even 400 years ago.

To have such a strong symbol of one's power and yet be nevertheless rendered helpless in one's final moments.
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Old 06-10-2018, 06:14 AM   #9
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We take the subway back to Dotonbori to another touristy restaurant, Kani Doraku.

Didnt take a photo outside so stock photo



We order a crab set with snow crab sashimi, grilled king crab, grilled crab innards, crab hotpot.

We also add a whole freshly killed snow crab seasonal special.





The sashimi and hot pot courses were the best of all. I do like that after all the ingredients were eaten for the hotpot, cooked rice, and later beaten eggs were added to the flavorful hotpot broth to make a very delicious rice porridge which was served with pickles and miso soup. This also occurred after the fugu hotpot the night previous.

Rice, miso soup, and pickles is an integral part of any Japanese meal and it wont be the last time these 3 ingredients appear.
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Old 06-10-2018, 07:58 AM   #10
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While we were enjoying our crab, we could see 3 girl group performances on the river promenade below.

It looks pretty much like this (you can even see the crab restaurant from this video)


On the other side of the river were the super fans who knew all the dance moves and danced along. Especially impressive was one man in his 40s dressed in a full suit who knew the dance to every song of all 3 groups. He outdanced all the 20 year old otakus.
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Old 06-10-2018, 08:29 AM   #11
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LAn interesting note, I could hear Mandarin at 3 of the 4 tables around ours. The 4th spoke Cantonese. I realized Chinese tourism to other countries has really increased but I didnt grasp to what level.

After finishing dinner, we walk out to browse some of the less crowded side streets in the area. After spending 30 minutes browsing cosmetics with my wife, i finally find a store selling stuff I am interested in.



This was a shop specializing in kelp seaweed. They didnt even stock nori seaweed, just kelp seaweed. Some were ready to eat snacks and others were for stock bases. It was at this moment that I reach back in to 20 years prior, to the first time I watched Iron Chef Japan.



I distinctly remember in battle abalone as well as a few other battles the mention of a Rishiri kelp seaweed from the waters of Hokkaido that was supposed to be extra special.

"Rishiri!" I blurt out.

The store keeper looked at me uncomprehending.

Then I remembered that everything that is spelled phoenetically with a r in Japanese is pronounced as an L. Gathering some unknown power, I manage to put together

"Lishili kombu onegashimasu"

The storekeeper's eyes light up and immediately leads me to the product I am looking for. She has a quizzical look of "how does this guy who speaks maybe 3 words of Japanese know the word for a kelp varietal?"

15$ and many bows and thank yous were exchanged and I walk out happy as a clam with a skip in my step to the eyerolls of my wife.
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Old 06-10-2018, 10:27 AM   #12
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Re: Trip blog and perhaps more

domo arigato!

amoeba okonomiyaki trip report one time in my entire life, dealer! o-kudaaaasaaaaiiiiiiiii!

<3 <3 <3 shinsaibashi district <3 <3 <3
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Old 06-10-2018, 01:25 PM   #13
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I've seen about 5 episodes of Iron Chef in my life and one of them was the abalone one.
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Old 06-11-2018, 01:12 AM   #14
amoeba
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Chop, sorry to disappoint but I could not fit in an okonomiyaki meal this trip nor its less known brethren monjayaki.

This Road and Kingdom longform piece on okonomiyaki is one of the best pieces of food journalism I have read though.

http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2015/hiroshima/
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Old 06-11-2018, 01:36 AM   #15
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day 3

We wake up again at 5. Will be moving on from Osaka to Kyoto today. I realize the trip is a bit rushed but there will be a next time I tell myself.

We check out of the hotel, grab a pork bun and onigiri and the closest thing I could find to Yimyammer's mythical yogurt drink and then head towards Osaka station.

A quick 30 minutes later, we arrive in Kyoto station where we place our luggage inside lockers as checkin won't be until the afternoon.

Another 15 minute train to the Arashiyama area of Kyoto.

Feeling enchanted by a roadside coffee shop, we step inside and are greeted by the septuagenarian couple proprietors and 4 of their equally old clientell. The interior could have come straight from the Swiss alps.

I have a strong coffee while my wife has a hot chocolate and we share a Mont Blanc dessert. The sweetness is balanced and the chestnut flavor strong, the whole candied chestnut inside tender. Coffee is strong without the tannic qualities that are so prevalent in gourmet coffee these days. Hot chocolate is rich but not cloying.



We take a local 30 minute bus to a secluded temple on the outskirts. We are the only people there aside from the monk who opens up the main building and the ticket seller.









This particular temple is full of about 1000 of these statues, each a donation from some random patron.
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Old 06-11-2018, 01:47 AM   #16
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We hike through the back mountain of Arashiyama some more, hitting up random temples.





The following shrine was one dedicated to those who were in search of hair growth.



Before long, we were getting close to our lunch reservation at a restaurant I was quite looking forward to.



This youtube is quite a bit more commercial than the actual restaurant is and I had found out about this place well before this youtube existed

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Old 06-11-2018, 08:30 PM   #17
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Shoraian is a tofu centric restaurant that is mostly vegetarian that sits on the bank of the Oi river and is only accessible by foot





Cold soft tofu starter



Mixed appetizer



Clockwise From top left : Hamo (pike eel), gooseberry, ayu (sweetfish), zucchini, black sesame tofu, white sesame tofu, pickled eel, okra, wintermelon, pork,shrimp, duck.



Salmon with eggplant sauce, broadbean.



Fresh yuba (tofu skin)



Tofu gratin with gruyere cheese and unagi inside.



Tempura corn and yuba.



Yusofu (stewed tofu)



Wagyu



Rice with chirimen and sansho topping, pickles.



Soy ice cream, sesame panna cotta.

The vegetarian dishes were much superior to the meat dishes with the tofu skin being the highlight.

Soy/estrogen controversies aside, I could see myself becoming vegetarian if I had access to this kind of product. The tofu is soft without breaking apart in to a watery mess.
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Old 06-11-2018, 08:38 PM   #18
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As a funny aside, I went through the lunch confirming each ingredient to the server in Japanese as if I were some 3 year old going through a language picture book. This had the unintended consequence of our server thinking I was fluent in Japanese and saying something to the effect of "your Japanese is really good", to which I have a blank stare and our server couldn't hold back her laughter as she realized this dude only knew food words.
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Old 06-12-2018, 12:19 AM   #19
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Vegan "duck" made from yuba is one of my favourite things ever. I didn't know those thin sheets of tofu were a thing outside of that dish, but now that I know it's called yuba, I'm excited to track it down the next time I'm at an Asian market.


Last edited by gregorio; 06-12-2018 at 12:28 AM.
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Old 06-12-2018, 12:40 AM   #20
amoeba
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It is yuba in Japanese. Doufu pi or fuzhu in Mandarin.

If you want vegan duck, its Su Ya. Su meaning vegetarian and Ya meaning duck. There is also a Su Ji which is vegan chicken.
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Old 06-12-2018, 01:08 AM   #21
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Thanks. I don't want the duck, just the tofu skin so I can try to make my own.

Looks even simpler​ than I thought http://veganfeastkitchen.blogspot.co...-yuba.html?m=1

Last edited by gregorio; 06-12-2018 at 01:27 AM.
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Old 06-13-2018, 02:37 PM   #22
amoeba
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After lunch we walk back along the Oi river bank.



There are boats in the water taking tourists on short rides. There are also boats affiliated with the various convenience marts: Family Mart, Lawson's, etc... Stationed in the river selling beer and snacks.

We make a final stop at TenRyuJi





Japanese temple names always sound awesome in the original language or even directly mapping the kanji to Chinese but sound really lame when translated to English.

Ten Ryu Ji translates to the temple of the sky dragon, which sounds like something out of a bad RPG.
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Old 06-13-2018, 02:57 PM   #23
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After traveling back to Kyoto by train (15 min), we rested a bit in the AirBnB then took a stroll through the Gion district which is known mostly for historic buildings and geishas.

These days if you see someone dressed as a Geisha or Maiko during the day, its probably a tourist. If there is one at night quietly coming out of a taxi to go to one of the many kaiseki restaurants in the area, then its probably real.

Geishas are really the predecessors to todays hostess clubs or maid bars except better trained and more indentured.

Before long, we are close to our dinner reservation time at Maeda.

Maeda is a kaiseki restaurant opened in 2012 and has one of the higher Tabelog ratings around. They do not allow photos when there are more than 1 customer party.

If interestes, there is a pictoral trip report from this excellet food blog here


http://missneverfull.com/kyoto/2017/4/2/maeda-

I took notes but because there were other diners, no pictures on thisevening

Menu

Uni, tofu cream, caviar, ponzu, chili
Ayu, parseley sauce
Kyo saba sushi
Grilled hamo pike eel
Amadai (tile fish), nimonowan (soup course)
Torigai, asparagus sansho hana
Unagi, salad
Nasu (eggplant), ginger
Ise ebi (spiny lobster), egg yolk sauce, yamaimo
Kegani (hairycrab)
Goma tofu, water shield?
Taro, anago
Rice, karasumi (bottarga)
Ice cream
Warabi mochi

It was a super solid meal with the kyoto style saba sushi, the ayu, the torigai clam, the amadai tilefish just being out of this world good. Super simple but every ingredient was such peak quality.

The ayu sweetfish just blows the one I had at lunch out of the water. It is as if I am eating another species entirely.

It was also surprising that it was 10+ courses of seafood with no meat or fowl.

One thing to note, in Japanese restaurants, even fine dining establishments, the markup on premium sake is very low so its very affordable to drink high quality sake.
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Old 06-13-2018, 04:02 PM   #24
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Re: Trip blog and perhaps more

Amoeba,

Loving this thread!
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Old 06-13-2018, 04:13 PM   #25
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Nice TRs op, keep them coming!
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