Thursday, October 13, 2011

Japanese Food...Lots of Small Dishes!

Breakfast Monday at Okehase, at the Granvia Hotel, a traditional Japanese meal that began with fresh carrot juice and hojicha tea.  We were then presented with our own trays with several smaller dishes; this is considered a meal of temple traditions.
Starting at 12 o’clock, a puree of white fish and pumpkin, in a slightly sweetened and thickened dashi-style broth. To the right, and dashimaki, or egg, roll. Just below them, miso soup. In the bottom right, was a dish with finely minced scallions, which could be mixed in with the natto (fermented soybeans) in the bottom right corner. The large bowl in the middle is gohan, which means rice. This was sort of a porridge style, and the pitcher to its side, a sweetener for it, but not all that sweet by our Western ways of thinking. To the left of the gohan was freshly made pickles (Kyoto is well known for its pickle varieties), and on the far side, kombu (seaweed) and itty bitty dried fish; both of these dishes could be mixed into the gohan. At 9 o’clock, there’s greens with shaved bonito, steamed salmon, and in the top left corner, was a small pureed chicken ball with carrot, daikon, and kabocha squash that was carved into the shape of a leaf.

Lunch was on our own, and we found a noodle house and I had my first udon with tempura.Yumyumyum!
Group dinner was at a place near the Gion district. This was essentially a kaiseki dinner, or meal of multiple small, seasonal dishes.
Starting with, at 9 o’clock, squares of freeze dried tofu, middle one black rice, 12 o’clock, fiddle head fern greens (watercress?), 2 oc –kobocha squash, 3 oc – purple potato, 5 oc – a potato salad, 7 oc – eggplant with miso, 11 oc – miso with winter melon; in the middle, hijiki seaweed.
Then was a sashimi course, a young red hamachi. Octopus. Mackerel.
Tempura with fish puree (kamabuko); these were particularly nice, as they had rice “crispies” on the outside, and kabocha squash.
 Noodles (nu-men) with sesame, scallions, ginger.
Faux tofu, made from sesame seeds (tasted like tahini).
Gohan (rice) with the itty bitty fishes, pickles, and miso.
Bancha tea. Tapioca and red beans with soy and coconut milks.

Leaving Kyoto on Tuesday morning, we headed to the north east to an indigo dyer, who dyes using traditional methods. Along the way, saw both sorghum and buckwheat that had recently been harvested, as well as rice.
We had lunch not far from his village and were treated to freshly made (that morning!) green tea soba noodles.
First presented with kabocha squash with pickles, followed by the new season’s rice with mushrooms, also in season.  And then the delicious cha-soba noodles with a dipping sauce of dashi and shoyu.

We continued to the north to the ryokan (inn) of Miyamasa, a 3-starred Michelin establishment, complete with ofuro, or hot, communal baths. Apparently, the place does not book many foreigners, our tour group has been going for a number of years, and the staff appears to be genuinely pleased to have their repeat business. It’s apparently a vacation spot mostly for Japanese

We had a small welcoming ceremony upon arrival, with akebe (sp?) tea (really a tisane, as it didn’t contain tea leaves; it’s a local plant, had a nice light bitterness to it), horse chestnut mochi, and then matcha tea. {Oooops, I wrote most of this post when we didn't have internet connections, and I realize now, I don't have the photos downloaded; will have to add them in later, sorry!}

Dinner was a production, to say the very least! We were seated on tatami mats on the floor; fortunately, our little chairs had backs to them, as dinner lasted over 2 hours. As each dish as brought in, the young women who are our waitresses come and sit down on their knees in front of you, bow slightly to you, and ask if they can take the previous dish away. In between dishes, they are constantly refilling sake cups and water glasses, as it’s impolite to pour them for yourself.

1 – Ginko nuts and miso with mushrooms, served on a magnolia leaf, over an individual charcoal grill; one of my favorite dishes of the evening; and kabu, or pickled turnip; these first two were served with handmade chestnut chopsticks, which Is what shogun would use before going into battle – very auspicious!
 2 – Shiro miso soup with kobocha squash and a tiny bit of mustard; so incredibly fresh and creamy – I’ve never had a miso that creamy before. Paired with koi sashimi, which was fresh, but a bit rubbery, and without much flavor.
3 – Mukago (a rhizome/tuber) with kuzu sauce

4 – The small cup had delicious tofu made from walnut milk. Small dish on right had an egg yolk pickled in miso. I am not a yolk person (unless they’re scrambled in with the whites), but I forced myself to try it. Smooth, gelatinous, sticky. Faint yolk flavor, and I nearly gagged on it, sorry. Crysanthemum something. Ayu, a riverfish, prepared roasted, a bit bitter. Roasted chestnut. Boiled peanut. Roasted edamame. Crawfish, Small white square you can’t really see, we think it’s a jerusalem artichoke, and it was really good. Koneyaku is the jelly-like paste made from the konjak (?) plant, with horse chestnut breading.
5—Mackerel with sushi rice (gohan) and ginger.
6 – Matsutake mushrooms (seasonal) with yuzu -– delicious! They make a bonito broth, and then add mushrooms, greens, and eel. When serving, add a piece of yuzu fruit to the pot, and pour out the liquid into a cup, then eat what’s left in the pot. The broth was so rich tasting!
7 – Ayu with roe, grilled on cedar planks; great smell, rather granular with the roe.
8 – Mushroom hot pot, with 4 kinds of mushrooms, lotus, mochi. Good, but not as good as the mushroom and yuzu.
9 – Gohan with chestnut, with seaweed and cucumber pickles.
10 – Jellied akebe fruit, with grapes, persimmon, and Asian pear.  
Lots of small dishes! Would hate to be the dishwasher in these parts. But such a beautiful meal, not just this one, but the other ones we have taken part in, and it's been great to experience traditional Japanese foods and cultural traditions. 

Gochiso sama desh'ta! It was a feast!

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