As much as i would love to share with you the tastes, the smells and the sounds of my trip to Japan.. i couldn’t find a teleportation booth for sale on Ebay. So instead i tried to recreate in pictures the different moods of my adventure. My best advice to you, go visit Kyoto Foodie for inspiration and book your plane ticket because this post will only scratch the surface. I guarantee you it’s worth every penny.
I wrote in my last post about the experience working at Kichisen. This post will focus on the rest of the trip. The adventure began when I met my good friend Marc of No Recipes in Osaka a day earlier. After some Okonomiyaki and wandering around Osaka Castle we took the bullet train to Kyoto. Lost in translation style.
I have a blurry memory of our first evening in Kyoto, so i looked at the pictures hoping to find some clues. They were blurry as well. Not a good sign! Marc and I met up with Michael of Kyoto Foodie, and i don’t remember much after that expect we had some excellent local Wagyu beef, best i ever had, and what seems like a lot of shochu.
We ended up in at Asakura Sake bar where the owner/bartender/Michael Jackson fan let us sample a fantastic selection of unpasteurized, unfiltered local Sake which pretty much opened my eyes about sake. There was a smooth unpasteurized one with hints of melon we talked about for days. We finally got so hungry again we had to stop at a great ramen joint at some ungodly hours and finally say goodbye to Michael Jackson by the river (or was it Michael from Kyoto Foodie?). That’s all i remember. Hmm.
The next day we went to see the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) to clear up our heads. It’s a traditional festival enjoyed by people of all ages who participate in the parade dressed in authentic costumes representing various periods and characters in Japanese history. We didn’t stay for the parade but caught up early with the participants gathering in the park for some nice close-up shots. Look for some really nice photography in No recipes in the coming weeks.
Later, we met up with Alice and Jared of Eat Duck I must, a foodie couple, bloggers, and talented photographers from Chicago who happened to be in Kyoto at the same time and we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city together. After lunch we went to Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavillion), a Zen Buddhist temple covered with gold leaf and surrounded by beautiful gardens.
Our afternoon walk took us to Ryoanji, a Zen temple in northern Kyoto. The temple’s main attraction is its rock garden, the most famous of its kind in Japan. The Zen garden consist of nothing but rocks, moss and neatly raked gravel. The meaning of the garden’s arrangement is unknown and up to each visitor’s interpretation. So Alice just had to snap the picture.. Zen chef, in a Zen Temple sitting by the Zen garden. It doesn’t get more Zen than that. Except for the hangover..
At night we all went to see the crowded Fire festival in Kurama where the whole town was lit up with torches carried by children.
We made it back to the city and ate at Torito. It’s by far the best yakitori place i ever been to, and was also recommended by Kyoto Foodie. Marc and Jared asked for the Japanese menu because we wanted to order the ‘not politically correct’ items like oritsukuri (chicken sashimi). Raw chicken liver and heart dipped in salt, sugar and sesame oil anyone? I know it’s hard to believe but it was incredibly good and everyone seem to have survived so far (guys, give me a call if you read this). The Torito special chicken Tsukune (a grilled chicken meatball on a skewers served with an egg yolk) was to die for.
On another day we went on the Philosopher’s Walk which follows a cherry-tree-lined canal in Kyoto, between Ginkaku-ji and Nyakuōji-jinja. The route is so-named because a well known philosopher is thought to have used it for daily meditation. It passes several temples. The monk on the picture above was rushing to a prayer. We sat and watched them chant Buddhist mantra to relax.
Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa made a Sabazuchi (pickled mackerel sushi – Kyoto’s specialty) and packed it in bamboo leaves the day before for us to take to go. That was our lunch and it looked so good that a lady who was passing by nearly fell into the canal from staring at it. She came back later to ask us where we bought it…
We were walking around Nishiki-Koji Market in Kyoto were this little fishmonger caught my eye. She was leaning over a bucket full of live baby eels trying to catch one. She succeeded at first but she let the tiny fish escape on the floor and chased it for a while. She finally grabbed it and proudly show us her catch. I say - she’s pretty damn gifted!
We went to stay at a Ryokan for a night to try to recover from the beating Chef Tanigawa had given us. We were awaken at 5 am by a earthquake instead (true story!). A Ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn and most offer dinner and breakfast and usually promote themselves on the quality of their food. Meals consist of traditional Kaiseki cuisine, which features seasonal and regional specialties.
On our last night in Kyoto, Michael offered to do a chicken Sukiyaki at his house. Marc went shopping and prepared the food while i stayed out of the way and happily snapped pictures instead. Sukiyaki consists of meat (usually thinly sliced beef but it’s done with chicken in Kyoto), slowly cooked or simmered at the table, alongside vegetables and other ingredients, in a shallow iron pot in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Before being eaten, the ingredients are usually dipped in a small bowl of raw eggs. It was great!
Afterward we picked up Chef Tanigawa at Kichisen and all met up with the lovely Miwa of Kyoto Foodie at the unfamous Sake Bar where we got pretty giddy a few nights earlier. Chef Tanigawa gave us gift bags loaded with goodies from Kichisen to take home, including a soup with magic properties…
No, i won’t tell you what those magic properties are.
A million thanks to Marc who made this trip happen and for being a great guide and translator. Who know, I might still be lost be in Japan if it wasn’t for him. Thanks also to Michael and Miwa of Kyoto Foodie for being the greatest Ambassadors known to Kyoto cuisine. All the recommendations we received from them have been stellar. And finally to Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa Of Kichisen for opening his doors to us and for generously sharing a few of his secrets.
Tags: Zen Eats!