Saturday, September 10, 2016

Adventures in Japan: 2014

In 2014, I took an epic trip to Japan during the cherry blossom season, and I haven't had a chance to write about it. I wanted to make sure I did the trip justice, and I fell into a funk of nothing but business, career, and job. Now that I've got my priorities more settled, it's time to share my amazing Japan trip with you!

It was a whirlwind fifteen days. I visited cousins, gave my respects to my ancestors at our temple, visited our ancestral house, and trekked up a cliff to visit our family grave surrounded by citrus trees. I dressed up as a geisha (maiko to be specific) in Kyoto, hugged deer near Hiroshima, got lost on the Tokyo train system more than once, and explored the enchanting Ghibli Museum. Most of all, I ate tons of amazing Japanese cuisine, and I can't wait to share it with you.

Yawatahama's many graves on the hillside
I thought a bit about how I wanted to present all the information and pictures without turning this blog into a travel blog, but also not leaving you with the impression all I did was stuff my face (to be fair, it was a main feature). So for each city or province I visited, I will have a short post with some history, pictures of what I did besides eat. This regional post will be followed by a review of a restaurant if possible, or perhaps an overview of the regional food will be worked into the first post if not. Lastly, I will have a recipe for each place inspired by my visit. I hope you enjoy sharing my adventures, and I hope that my recipes will allow you to experience a little bit of what I enjoyed on my travels!

This post will stay on top until I complete my Adventures in Japan series so that you can skip to places at your leisure! Each region page will have a list of all the ingredients and recipes associated with it linked at the bottom!

Miss Mochi at Miwajima Island
Fukuoka, Fukuoka prefecture, Kyushu region
Yawatahama, Ehime prefecture, Shikoku region
Beppu and Yuifin, Oita prefecture, Kyushu region
Hiroshima and Miyajima, Hiroshima prefecture, Chogoku region*
Kyoto, Kyoto prefecture, Kansai region*
Tokyo, Tokyo prefecture, Kanto region*

*coming soon! check back!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Beppu and Yufuin!

Beppu and Yufuin are both resort towns in the Oita prefecture in Kyushu. We stopped at both along our way back from Yawatahama back to Fukuoka.

Beppu and Yufuin are both famous for their onsens, but the Eight Hells of Beppu (別府の地獄), where you can see plumes of steam rising was quite the impressive sight! Even when driving around we could see plumes of steam rising around the city. It was very eerie as it looked like the whole place was about to go up in a volcano.

Check out the steam plumes!
After leaving Yawatahama (I fell asleep on the ferry back, it was a very long day), we arrived in Beppu to spend the night at the Umine hotel in Beppu. Our relatives wanted us to try the onsen hot springs that Beppu is famous for, but worried that we would balk about getting naked in a public onsen. So instead, this hotel had a private onsen bath with an ocean view in our hotel room! The hot spring water is piped into an outdoor patio for private enjoyment without having to even leave your room.

My mother in her yukata checking out the view!
This also was a secret bonus for me, as I have several tattoos, a no-no generally for public onsen. I had fretted about the onsen as soon as I heard we were going to Beppu as one of my tattoos is way too big for a cover up.

It was amazing to float in the hot spring water and hear the ocean waves outside, even more so since I was worried I would have to sit this experience out. They also supplied us with yukata and geta which we wore around the hotel in between soaks in the hot tub, and I was very pleased I could wear them around, as a plus-sized American girl I'm bigger than their average guest.

Zombie Miss Mochi just woke up
After running around non-stop in Fukuoka and Yawatahama, this experience was heaven but we quickly fell asleep on the softest futons I've ever met. I was so exhausted I stumbled around like a zombie and my mother gleefully shot the photo displayed on the right. Even I have to look back and laugh at myself!

The next morning, we had an extravagant traditional Japanese breakfast. I amused my relatives by taking notes on it so I could be sure to blog about it later. It was the perfect Japanese ryokan vacation in miniature, with the onsen, the food, and the yukata/geta clothing. But soon enough, it was time to be on the road again!

Our breakfast
On the way back to Fukuoka, we stopped by Yufuin. It was beautiful and pastoral and everything you'd want a little mountain resort to be. The first picture I shared above was right outside of the cafe we stopped at, and even the ground we walked on was gorgeous. We wandered around, taking pictures of the birds, the greenery, the cherry blossoms, and the streams. Some day I will come back and spend an entire vacation in Beppu and Yufuin!

Later, when we visited Tokyo, I was talking to a native Tokyoite who was jealous that we went to Beppu and Yufuin. He stated a lot of foreigners go on vacation to Tokyo, but the Japanese love to vacation in Beppu and Yufuin and he really wanted to go there.

Look at this walkway in Yufuin! So pretty!
Oita Prefecture is known for kabosu limes, which I was able to try and can vouch for their deliciousness. I wish we had the variety of citrus that Japan has here in America. Oita is also where shiitake mushroom cultivation began and they remain the largest producer of dried shiitake mushrooms. Yuzu jam is a favorite souvenir to bring back from Yufuin, so we made sure we got some as well! Some of the regional dishes: yoshino tori meshi, a rice dish mixed with burdock root and chicken, and dangojiru, a soup made with handmade thick wheat dumplings.

What will I be featuring from Beppu and Yufuin? A restaurant review and a recipe! Stay tuned or follow the links below:

Tenjosajiki Cafe
*I still haven't decided what I'm cooking! Stay Tuned!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Yawatahama!

Do me a favor and google some travel blogs for visits to Yawatahama. Okay, how about Shikoku in general? Not finding a plethora of pictures?

Not a lot of westerners make it to Shikoku island at all, let alone Yawatahama, but that is where we went next on our adventure through Japan. Our wonderful relatives drove us all the way from Fukuoka to Beppu, where we caught a ferry to Yawatahama to see our ancestral home and our family's grave site.

Shikoku is the smallest and least populous of the four main islands of Japan, and the JR railway express only has one rail line on the entire island that runs along the perimeter, to give you some scope of how rural it is compared to the massive Tokyo metropolis. Shikoku is famous for its Shikoku Henro, a Buddhist pilgrimage that goes along 88 shrines around the four provinces of Shikoku.

Of course, there's no pilgrimage stop in Yawatahama. Yawatahama is a port city, with the largest fish market in Shikoku with a natural harbor. The main agricultural export is the mikan, or the satsuma mandarin. This reminded me a lot of my home here in Orange County, California as I grew up playing in an orange orchard.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Yawatahama Champon (八幡浜 ちゃんぽん)

It was really hard to decide what to make for Yawatahama. I wanted to bring you something not just uniquely from Shikoku in origin, but Yawatahama itself. However, I was a bit stumped. A lot of what makes Shikoku cuisine unique is the island itself. For instance, the most famous local food of Shikoku is sanuki udon because the island has the best wheat production in Japan. However, that dish hails from Kagawa prefecture, not Ehime prefecture where Yawatahama is located.

Citrus is a huge part of Ehime's agriculture, however I don't have access to the more unique citrus that Japan has. I could do a citrus recipe, even though it's summer and citrus is at its peak in winter, and call it good. But there's not a lot of recipes for citrus that are unique to Ehime because the citrus is normally just eaten simply and the fruit is savored in its original form, and I've already blogged about that. I'd basically be slapping together a marmalade and making a flimsy connection to Yawatahama, something I didn't want to do. I could do a recipe of a nearby city, like Imabari or Uwajima, instead of Yawatahama. I found some awesome regional foods when I researched, however they still weren't strictly from Yawatahama.

I guess I stressed over this so much because I felt so connected to Yawatahama when I visited. My family is buried there. My family lived and died, and continues to live, there. Our creaky old ancestral house stands firmly on its soil. A tiny portion of my soul, my very essence, I think was left on that hilltop surrounded by graves and citrus and the smell of the ocean. A bigger portion was left in that house where I shared tea and smiles with family. It's only natural I wanted to share some of Yawatahama's soul with you.

I'm not normally this cheesy, but truly it was a special experience.

So really, the choice was made for me. If I was going to share a bit of Yawatahama's soul, I was going to have to get serious about creating a dish I've never actually eaten: Yawatahama-style Champon.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Amalfi (アマルフィ)

Before paying our respects at our family grave site and visiting the local temple in Yawatahama, my relatives in Japan took my brother, mother, and I to an Italian restaurant in the heart of Yawatahama called Amalfi. I wanted to share this experience with you as our meal showcased not only the Japanese's twist on Italian food, but also some of the local ingredients of Shikoku. Their attention to detail and ability to express a lot of flavor in small portion sizes were two things I was very impressed with.

Despite it being the lunch hour, our meal was a multi-course extravaganza. I think a lot of restaurants back in the states could learn a thing or two about portion control from places in Japan like Amalfi. This was a five course meal that managed to stay light!

We started out with an amuse-bouche of a warm potato cream soup with a thin savory crisp skewered on top with a side of a house parmesan cream cheese. The potato soup was pleasantly creamy and without any sort of graininess that sometimes happens with potato soup. I was impressed with how they managed to serve it piping hot as I've had amuse-bouches arrive lukewarm by the time they are done plating, and all of ours arrived at once. There was not a large staff by any means, so that meant they worked like lightning!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Tomato Miso Soup (丸ごとトマトの味噌汁)

I bring you a break from my Japan adventures to make sure you have a chance to make this soup while tomatoes are in season!

Before we get to the recipe, I wanted to share a funny tidbit about food blogging in general that I really think applies to this recipe. I'm no bullshit. I really don't have the time or energy to pretend life is perfect. I've written about how disastrous I am in the kitchen, and just last week shared how I can't even eat spaghetti or salad without ruining a blouse.

As I've said before, this is isn't one of the more ambitious food blogs, but I'd like to think it's one of the real ones.

I wear an apron not for the fetishized Stepford wife effect, but because I'm really just fucking messy.

So when I set about making this recipe, I was able to make it with my mother's huge bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes. The problem with most heirloom varieties is they are very photo-ready. They tend to crack, have splotchy color, and seem to never be a uniform shape. Not exactly blog-worthy visually, but definitely delicious! But food blogging is about pretty photos. Really, no one cares about what I write up here; we eat with our eyes first. There's a reason Pinterest is popular: we are visual creatures. You can't take my word for it that the ugliest tomato ever is actually delicious. It's gotta look the part.

Some of the wonderful crazy colors!
Therefore I was faced with a choice: make the recipe with grocery store Stepford wife tomatoes, or not-so-pretty heirloom tomatoes? I could even make it with the perfect umblemished grocery store ones for just the photos, then eat the ones from the garden. But that just seemed to venture too far away from my style.

Instead I hosted a casting call of all the ripe heirloom tomatoes from my mother's garden and chose the prettiest ones for my photos! Is it perfectly round? Nope, but it tasted perfect. You'll just have to take my word on it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Fukuoka!

After taking a long plane flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo, we took a teeny plane from Narita, Tokyo to Fukuoka, Kyushu where most of my relatives call home.

Fukuoka is the capital of Fukuoka prefecture, and it's one of the biggest cities in Japan. What I liked the best about Fukuoka is even though it's the 6th most populous city in Japan, it has a lot of open spaces, greenery, and little shrines even in the heart of it.

We were led through Fukuoka at a blazing pace by my relatives. Coming from Orange County, which has virtually no public transportation, we were amazed when we took a plane, private car, taxi, ferry boat, bus, train, and subway all within a 24 hour period. Not only was I jet-lagged, I was overwhelmed.

Fukuoka had two of my favorite shrines. I fell in love because they weren't tourist attractions, like I would experience later in Tokyo and Kyoto, crowded with people of all walks of life.