Here are some random snacks and sweets from our trip to Japan last year.
I’ll start with the mochi and mochi type items – because I loved the mochi in Japan. It was all so fresh and delicious!
I’ll start with some of the best. When we were in Takayama, there was a sweets shop down the road from our ryokan. I wish I had taken a photo of the shop now – they had glass fronted cabinets lined with what must have been rows of 20 different flavours of individually wrapped daifuku (mochi with a filling). It. Was. Wonderful. The daifuku from there was the best I have ever eaten! The mochi had the usual characteristic chewiness, but it was really fresh and soft, and seemed to melt in the mouth.
Just before we left Takayama for our next stop, I purchased three flavours to eat on the train – green tea, chocolate and the purple one was a purple Japanese fruit that we had seen at the markets, which I believe is called akebi. My favourite was the green tea with chestnut filling. The sweetness of the chestnut filling was perfect against the bitterness of the green tea. Sigh. I still remember that daifuku very fondly and wish we could get ones as good here in Australia.
This is the purple fruit that I think is called akebi. We never tried the actual fruit, but the daifuku didn’t really have a distinctive taste. It wasn’t memorable at all, and all I can recall of it is the red bean filling.
We came across these in a market in Osaka – they are like an inverted daifuku with the red bean paste wrapped around plain mochi.
In this version, the green colour of the mochi wasn’t green tea, as I assumed. I’m pretty sure that I was told it’s due to mugwort, a herb that grows wild in Japan. It gives the mochi an earthy taste. I preferred the plain version, although this one was interesting to try.
This sweet was part of a lunch set we ate on the top floor of a department store in Kyoto. I believe this is called warabimochi, and it’s not a proper mochi. Mochi is made from pounded glutinous rice, while warabimochi is made from bracken starch. It has a chewy, jelly like texture. We had a couple of pieces with green tea powder and some with kinako (toasted soy bean flour). It may not have been proper mochi but I loved it. It wasn’t too sweet, and I really enjoyed the texture.
When we were in Koyasan, we rather quickly ran out of sights to see and things to do. We ended up killing time by hanging out in a sweets shop, eating sweets and drinking tea. We tried three varieties – this one was a warabimochi with kinako covering.
I think these ones were a type of manju (fukashi manju?), a steamed rice cake with a red bean filling.
This was the third item from the sweets shop, and I will have to be honest and tell you I have no idea what it’s called! It’s on top of a paper bag because I bought it for the train ride to Osaka and it got a bit flattened in transit.
These triangle shaped sweets are big in Kyoto and are called nama yatsuhashi. The soft, mochi-like skin is made from rice flour, flavoured with cinnamon, and comes with different fillings inside, such as red bean, black sesame, or fruit flavours. The skin can also come in a variety of different flavours. These were some of my favourite Japanese sweets – I loved the faint cinnamon flavour, and of course, the soft chewy skins. I did try a fruit version (strawberry) but I preferred the ones that were green tea, black sesame or red bean.
They were almost as good as the daifuku from Takayama.
Here you can see all different varieties boxed up for sale. They can also be baked into cookies called yatsuhashi, but we didn’t try the baked versions.
By the way, I have read that a piece of mochi that is around match-box sized has the same amount of calories as a bowl of rice. Gulp! Perhaps if I had known that I wouldn’t have stuffed my gob with so much mochi…. Nah, who am I kidding! It wouldn’t have stopped me!
Now moving away from the mochi, and back to Takayama. This stall at the morning market sold sweets that were like cubes of marshmallow, covered in egg and honey and then grilled.
The cubes were super sweet, soft and eggy. So so sweet! I had a hard time eating a whole one.
Everyone knows that Japan is the land of crazy Kit Kat flavours – we came across an apple and carrot version. Sadly, it was horrible and tasted rather like bodywash!
Alastair bought this box of chocolate covered ice cream balls from a vending machine. When he opened it up, we found that each ball was individually wrapped!
This is vanilla ice cream in a squeezy pack – called Coolish – and yes, we did buy it because of the name! How could we have passed it up? Alastair only ate half before it was stolen off him! Okay, not really stolen – a teenage boy with Down’s Syndrome came up to him, said hello, and grabbed the Coolish. Alastair let him have it, although he said wistfully later, “I was really enjoying that ice cream.” Awww!
This was a green tea ice cream we ate in Tokyo and the reason it’s up here? LOOK AT THE CONE! It catches any ice cream drips! Isn’t that just genius?
And now on to drinks – Mitsuya Cider was one of our favourites. There are other flavours, but the basic flavour sort of resembles Sprite, although not quite as sweet. There are also Mitsuya Cider hard candies, which fizz in the mouth as they dissolve. I loved the candies and made sure we purchased several bags to bring home.
We are big fans of Calpis. Big fans. I love all those fermented milk type drinks. This flavour is a “more nutritious” yoghurt version, and was fantastic.
If you’re still with me – yay you! Only a few more snacks to go. I had to take a photo of these potato chips because I was rather amused that the chips were encased in a bag inside the tube.
Not being able to read Japanese, I purchased these chips expecting them to be salty. I was rather surprised when I ate one and discovered that they were sweet potato and therefore, sweet! After I got over my initial surprise, I quite liked them.
And how about some crunchy sticks of unhealthy, fried, processed carbs? Yes please!
And to finish off, here’s a photo of taiyaki, a Japanese fish shaped cake. We ate these in Tokyo, where there were numerous little shops selling freshly cooked ones. The outside is like a pancake/waffle, and inside the most common filling is red bean, although we also tried custard.
We ate many, many more snacks in Japan, but fortunately I didn’t take photos of everything otherwise we would be here all night. If you want more Japan eats, previous Japan posts can be found here.
After a bit of a break, I’m back with another Japan post! Bear with me, I only have a couple left to write.
While in Kyoto, we did a cooking class where we made rolled sushi, miso soup, and spinach salad with a roasted sesame dressing. And then we ate it for lunch!
For the sushi, rice had been cooked before we arrived (otherwise it would have taken ages) and once we all sat down, the rice was tipped out into a wooden bowl. A mixture of rice vinegar, water, sugar and salt was poured in and “cut” through the rice in a folding motion (to prevent breaking the grains). The rice was then fanned to quickly cool it.
The rice was left to finish cooling, and next we made dashi. Dashi is a Japanese soup stock, and is a fundamental ingredient for many Japanese recipes, including miso soup. We made one of the most common versions, using dried kelp (kombu) and dried bonito flakes. The kombu is wiped with a damp cloth, and then soaked in a pot with water for at least thirty minutes. After the soaking time, the pot is put on the heat and just before the water boils the kombu is removed. When the water boils, a big handful of bonito flakes was added and the heat turned off. After all the flakes had sunk to the bottom, the liquid was strained and was ready to use.
The dashi was used to make miso soup. We were given three types of miso to taste – white, yellow and brown. It was interesting to taste the difference in flavour between the three misos. The darker the miso, the more salty it was. The white had a touch of sweetness to it, and the yellow was less salty than the brown. I think we used the brown to make our miso soup, which also had seaweed and diced tofu. Yum.
After the miso soup, we moved on to rolled egg omelette (tamago) for our sushi rolls. This was cool! I had always wondered how the egg was rolled up so nicely. To make the tamago, several eggs were beaten lightly with a bit of dashi, soy sauce, mirin, salt and sugar. To produce the rolled layers, a small amount of egg was added to a well oiled rectangular pan – just enough to cover the bottom. The pan was tilted to cover the bottom evenly with egg.
When the egg was nearly set, the egg was rolled up towards the front of the pan using a spatula.
The rolled up egg was then pushed to the back of the pan, and the empty part of the pan was re-oiled. Then another layer of egg was poured in. The rolled omelette was lifted up with chopsticks and the pan was tilted to allow the uncooked egg to flow underneath it.
When the uncooked egg was nearly set, the omelette was rolled towards the front again. The remaining egg mixture was cooked in the same manner, with the rolling process repeated to create a single roll with many layers. I had a turn at rolling the omelette, and it was much easier than it sounds in this somewhat convoluted explanation!
Next, it was time to assemble the sushi rolls. A layer of the prepared sushi rice was spread on to a sheet of nori (dried seaweed) on top of a bamboo mat, leaving a strip clear of rice.
Fillings were placed in the middle of the rice. In our rolls, we had shitake mushrooms, our tamago, and crabstick (it’s not cool, but I love it).
The strip of nori that was clear of rice was slightly wetted. Then, holding the fillings down, the sushi was slowly rolled up.
It was all rolled up tightly, with the bamboo mat being used to press it all together and shape it into a cylinder.
We got to roll our own sushi. This was Alastair’s one.
And Alastair’s one all cut up. Pretty good for someone who not only has never rolled sushi before but also doesn’t cook!
And here’s mine!
And here’s my sushi roll cut into pieces. I had never made rolled sushi before – I was pretty pleased with it. It was easier than I thought it would be.
Along with the miso soup and sushi rolls for lunch,
we also had a small salad of spinach with roasted sesame dressing. Oh, and tea and pickles (of course). The spinach was very simple but delicious. The spinach was boiled and cut into small sections, and the dressing was made with ground roasted sesame seeds, dashi, soy sauce and a bit of sugar.
We had a great time at the class, although next time I would like to make something more advanced. Even Alastair enjoyed it – perhaps I could get him to like this “cooking thing” after all!
After the cooking class, Alastair and I headed off to see the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is a Shinto shrine that is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, sake, prosperity and in modern times, business. It’s one of Kyoto’s oldest shrines and is noted for the thousands of small torii gates that line the long path up the hill behind the shrine.
The torii are donated by businesses, and it’s a very striking place to visit. It takes about two hours to walk the whole trail, so we didn’t make it to the end. At first we didn’t realise how far it stretched, and Alastair started counting all the gates. With 10,000 of them, it would have taken a while!
That’s just about it for the Japan posts – I may have a couple of random bits and pieces that I’ll post, as well as one or two about Hong Kong, China and Macau. Thanks for sticking with them. I have loved writing them and remembering all the great food we ate!
(And if you would like a recap, all the Japan posts can be found here.)
On Wednesday, 6 October 2009, Typhoon Melor, the first typhoon to reach landfall in Japan in two years, arrived on Japan’s south coast. The next day, it hit central Japan, bringing heavy rain and winds, disrupting flights and train services and sadly causing a couple of deaths.
We were in Kyoto at the time of the typhoon, and while the rain was heavy, it didn’t really affect the Kyoto area. Thank goodness! But for dinner on Wednesday night, we went to a yakitori restaurant, where there was a typhoon special – the price of all dishes were 50% off!
From what I can ascertain, yakitori literally means grilled chicken, and is usually used to refer to skewered chicken pieces. On the menu at the restaurant was chicken, chicken and more chicken.
Alastair and I ordered a few dishes to share (actually, the ordering went along the lines of me saying, “How about we order this, this, this and this?” And he said, “Okay.”)
I ordered us chicken skin skewers – there was an option for plain (with sauce) and garlic. We ordered two of each. These are the plain chicken skin skewers – they were fantastic. Fatty, delicious, a bit chewy in parts. Oh yeah.
The garlic skewers were also good, although I did shake off most of the garlic. I love cooked garlic, but not such a fan of raw garlic. I hate how raw garlic refuses to leave the party.
We also ordered some chicken meat skewers with sauce. They were good, but the chicken skin ones were the way to go.
Next were some rather large chicken wings. The wings could be done plain or hot, to which we had no hesitation – hot please! They were only mildly hot, but had a good crispy skin and tender meat that came easily off the bone.
We also ordered two minced chicken patties. The patties were served with a raw egg for dipping. The patties were juicy and somehow worked with the raw egg.
I always try to ensure we eat some vegetables, even if it’s a token effort, so I ordered us a salad. It was quite a good salad, topped with fried lotus root slices, and I think that white item was deep fried chicken skin. Which pretty much negated the health factor. Buh bow. It was a losing battle anyway, with all that chicken!
Oh, and we noticed an interesting item on the menu at the restaurant – chicken sashimi. We didn’t order it. I’m a fairly adventurous eater, but can’t stomach the thought of eating raw chicken. Seriously, it makes me feel ill just thinking about it. Obviously that “raw chicken = salmonella” message has been drummed into me! Are Japanese chickens not at risk of salmonella?
As mentioned in the ramen post, Kyoto was our last stop in Japan. Kyoto is one of Japan’s best preserved cities, and was the capital and the emperor’s residence from 794–1868. The city is full of temples, shrines and has an amazing cultural heritage.
While in Kyoto, one of the places we saw was Kinkaku-ji – the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. The Golden Pavilion is a Zen Buddhist temple, and the original Kinkaku-ji was built in 1397 as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. He intended to cover the exterior of the building with gold, but only managed to coat the ceiling of the third floor with gold leaf before he died.
After Ashikaga‘s death, his son converted the building into a Zen temple. Over the years, the temple was burnt down and restored several times (the story of temples and shrines in Japan, huh!).
The present structure dates from 1955, and was rebuilt true to the original except that both the upper stories were covered in gold leaf, in accordance with Ashikaga’s original intentions. In 1987, a new lacquer coating and gilding with golf leaf was added that was five times thicker than the original coating. It’s a beautiful complex, with the Golden Pavilion situated in its garden at the edge of a lake, and is VERY popular for school excursions. In fact, the day we visited, there were hundreds of school kids there in their uniforms. As mentioned in previous Japan posts, we were “shrined/templed out” well before we reached Kyoto, but the Golden Pavilion was a worth while visit. It was really beautiful, despite the hordes of school children (okay, they were kind of cute).
Tea bowl and bamboo whisk
While in Kyoto, we also attended a tea ceremony demonstration.
The Japanese tea ceremony is a traditional ritual that involves the preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered green tea. The development of the ritual was influenced by Zen Buddhism, and the tea is prepared by a skilled practitioner and served to a small group of guests. The setting is very important, as is the preparation of the tea, and the study of tea ceremony takes many, many years.
We entered the small, tatami lined room, and took a seat by the wall. To one side was an open door, that lead out to a small Japanese style garden. It was raining that evening, so we could hear the pitter patter of the falling rain as our kimono-clad host outlined the ritual behind the tea ceremony. She explained to us the importance of the setting, drawing our attention to the calligraphy in the scroll alcove, and the simple flower arrangement nearby. She told us that the scroll and the flower arrangement are always carefully chosen to set the mood and the atmosphere of the tea ceremony.
The tea ceremony consists of many steps, and the guiding philosophy rests on four important principles: harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity. Our host described how tea ceremonies are normally run – there can be shorter ceremonies that consist of sweets, tea and sometimes a light meal, while there are more formal gatherings that include a full-course kaiseki meal that can last up to four hours.
We were all given a sweet to eat. The sweet is eaten before drinking the tea, as it helps to counteract the bitterness of the tea. Our host explained the importance of the equipment used in the ceremony. A wide range of equipment is available, and different styles are used for different events and in different seasons. The essential equipment included tea bowls, a tea caddy which holds the powdered tea, a tea scoop which is generally carved from a single piece of bamboo, a tea whisk, also carved from a single piece of bamboo, and a cloth used for wiping the tea bowls. All different sizes and styles of tea bowls are available, and some bowls are extremely valuable. Slight idiosyncrasies and flaws in the bowls are considered to make bowls more interesting than another and are prized.
Our host started the tea ceremony demonstration, her movements slow and considered. Everything was done with great care, whether it was wiping all the utensils, folding her cloth, scooping tea into a tea bowl, adding water, and whisking the tea until it was thick and frothy. It’s hard to describe exactly what it was like – her movements were almost like a dance, they were so exact and smooth. The room was dim and silent apart from the sound of falling rain. It was incredibly atmospheric!
We had an opportunity to try whisking the tea before tasting it. Whisking it to a smooth froth was harder than it looked and my tea ended up still a bit clumpy. The tea was quite bitter and also quite thick, similar to the thickness of a milkshake. Definitely not something that you would drink every day.
I loved the demonstration. It was fascinating to watch our host prepare the tea, and learn about all the thought and ritual behind it. After the demonstration, Alastair and I wandered back out into the rain, feeling a bit more tranquil. It was well worth the experience.
Kyoto was our last stop in Japan (sob, sob, sob) and when we got there we realised we had eaten almost everything we had wanted to on the trip – apart from ramen. Naturally this had to be rectified! So ramen for dinner it was, at a small place around the corner from our hotel. It sold ramen, gyoza and beverages.
Alastair and I both ordered the chashu (pork) ramen in a pork broth and shared a serve of gyoza. The creamy coloured broth was porky, salty and rich, and the noodles had the perfect texture – soft but still slightly firm and springy. The pork meat was extremely tender, on the verge of falling apart in the broth. The gyoza, that I neglected to photograph, were also delicious. They had a super soft skin and very tasty meaty filling.
In fact, we enjoyed the ramen so much we went back for dinner on our last night in Japan. I must have been feeling lazy by this stage of the trip, because I didn’t take a photo of Alastair’s ramen or note down what my ramen was (fail blogger). Alastair had the chashu ramen again – but this time he had double pork! I wish I had requested double pork, the meat really was fantastic. Instead, I choose a slightly different ramen from the first night, the name of which escapes me, but it was equally as delicious.
The egg in my ramen was fantastic – the white was set, but the yolk was still gooey and runny. Neat, huh?
Poster on the wall showing how the pork is prepared
I have eaten ramen in Melbourne before, but they couldn’t compare to these bowls of deliciousness. There are several food bloggers who seem obsessed with finding a good ramen, and now I finally “get” the obsession. Ramen is fantastic! I won’t say that I’m obsessed at this stage, but…. any suggestions for good ramen places in Melbourne will be gratefully received.
During our trip in Japan, we travelled across the country by trains and Shinkansen. The Shinkansen, a high speed “bullet train”, was fantastic. The Nozomi service is the fastest, with the trains reaching speeds of up to 300 km/h (!). You can’t travel on Nozomi on a Japan Rail pass, so we were on the Hikari trains, which stop more often and reach speeds of 220km/hr – 280km/hr.
The Shinkansen is seriously fantastic! The trains pull into the station within a minute of their scheduled arrival (just like all trains in Japan, actually) and depart almost to the second of their scheduled departure. Inside the trains, the seats are wide, spacious, clean and very comfortable. There’s no fuss of needing to check baggage or clear security, you just walk on to the train, take a seat and in a couple of hours you’re in a different part of the country. It’s a shame that Australia doesn’t have the population to support high speed rail between cities because taking the train was a hundred times better than flying.
You can’t eat on normal trains in Japan, but the Shinkansen is an exception. Someone with a snack cart comes down the aisle every now and again, and you can purchase drinks, snacks and bento boxes. There are also stalls in all the stations that sell bento boxes to take on the train. Here are some pictures of the assorted bento boxes we ate.
This one was an octopus themed bento box – rice, a sausage cut to look like an octopus (cute!), takoyaki balls, baby octopus, half an egg, and pickles. I was pretty much expecting that the baby octopus would be tough and fairly inedible, but it was surprisingly tender. The takoyaki was not great though, but I suppose that is to be expected!
This one was Alastair’s and it was appropriately man sized – it was massive! There were two layers of thin steak, rice, pickles, tamago, potato salad and crumbed pork. There was something underneath the steak but I can’t remember what it was now – possibly salad or vegetables, judging by the cherry tomato you can see peeking out.
This one was purchased on the Shinkansen – look how cutely it was packaged. It’s a giant peach!
Unfortunately, taste wise it was not great. At the bottom was a layer of vinegared rice, covered by flavourless egg, and then on top was various seafood. It was all kind of bland and unexciting. Some of the fish was really vinegary as well, and it just didn’t do it for us. Oh well.
Aside from buying bento on the Shinkansen and at the train station, every convenience shop and supermarket that we went also sold bento. Microwaves were available to heat them up if they were meant to be eaten warm. They were generally quite cheap so were good for an inexpensive lunch. At the beginning of our trip, I was a bit worried about our budget and tried to eat more cheaply. Lots of people gave me the impression that Japan was really expensive, but after a couple of days I figured out that food wasn’t particularly expensive (Japanese food that is, I think Western food is a different story. But why would you visit Japan and eat Western food anyway?). I mean, food might be expensive compared to the rest of Asia, but not if you compare it to a Western country. So I relaxed after a couple of days and after that there were no more convenience shop bentos! Here are some from early in our trip:
This one had rice, nuggets of fried pork (I think! either pork or chicken) and potato salad.
This one had crumbed pork, half a boiled egg, rice, noodles and that brown thing was a fishy/seafoody ball. It was better than it looks and sounds.
This one was pretty simple, just soba noodles with dipping sauce.
And this one had fried pork, rice, and a bit of spaghetti. The spaghetti bit was a bit strange, but the pork was nice.
I should mention the negatives though, I felt bad about all the packaging associated with the bentos. And while we tried very hard not to use disposable chopsticks in Japan, the bentos that we purchased to eat on the Shinkansen came with disposable chopsticks inside the packaging, so we couldn’t refuse them. Gah. And I’ve read that the convenience shops throw out a lot of their perishable food at the end of the day, which contributes to the rather staggering amount of food waste in Japan.
Even with the negatives, it’s a shame that convenience shops in Australia don’t sell food like this – it’s better than a dodgy sandwich or meat pie any day!
After lunch at Miyajima, we took the ferry and tram back to Hiroshima, where we spent several hours at the Peace Memorial Museum.
As I’m sure you know, on 6 August 1945, at 8:15am, the world’s first atomic bomb to be used on an inhabited city was dropped on Hiroshima. It killed an estimated 140,000 people, most of them civilians. The Peace Memorial Museum was established in 1955 to present the facts about the bombing, and to encourage the abolishment of nuclear weapons and advocate for world peace.
The A Bomb dome
Inside the museum, the exhibits started with the history of Hiroshima City before the bomb, as well as the development of the atomic bomb, and what lead up to the decision to drop it on Hiroshima. Two large models of the city sit in the middle of the first floor, one showing Hiroshima prior to the bombing, and one showing the flattened city afterwards.
There were also displays and exhibits that presented information and history of the nuclear age, as well as scientific information about the atomic bomb. Other exhibits of the museum were rather confronting, with photos and relics showing the damage that the bomb and resulting fires caused. There were rather gruesome photos of bomb victims, covered in burns. Some exhibited artefacts were heartbreaking – items such as burnt and tattered clothes or shoes, blackened watches stopped forever at 8.15, a black and rusting child’s tricycle.
The location of the hypocentre. The sign reads: Carried to Hiroshima from Tinian Island by the Enola Gay, a U.S. Army B-29 bomber, the first atomic bomb used in the history of humankind exploded approximately 580 metres above this spot. The city below was hit by heat rays of approximately 3,000 to 4,000°C along with a blast wind and radiaion. Most people in the area lost their lives instantly. The time was 8:15am, August 6, 1945. (View of the devastation looking north from hypocentre, November 1945.)
One amazing relic was a section of the old Hiroshima Branch of the Sumitomo Bank wall and steps, where a human “shadow” was etched into the stone. Just before the bomb was dropped, a person was sitting on the steps of the bank. When the bomb exploded, the intense heat rays bleached the surrounding stone, leaving the spot where the person was sitting dark.
The final exhibits were photos and descriptions of the health effects suffered by survivors due to the radiation of the bomb, and at the very end were survivor stories, guest books, and photographs of world leaders who had visited the museum.
In 1949, Hiroshima was proclaimed a City of Peace by the Japanese parliament. Hiroshima has been rebuilt into a lovely city, and it uses the lessons learned from its tragic past to encourage the abolition of nuclear weapons. The museum itself was poignant and heart-rending, and a definite must see. I was very, very moved.
Sorry to be so serious – let’s talk about food again.
Here are some photos of that evening’s dinner from a random izakaya in Hiroshima.
We ordered some fried spicy chicken wings. They were hot and juicy, although not very spicy.
I ordered us a serve of deep fried tofu. I have had better tofu – it wasn’t as soft and silky as I like it to be. It was acceptable though.
This is deep fried mochi. When I found out that there was deep fried mochi on the menu, I HAD to order it. But unfortunately it wasn’t that great. It was rather bland, and the chewy texture didn’t appeal to me (and normally I love mochi). I preferred the tofu.
We had some pork skewers with miso. These were delicious – salty and slightly sweet.
And I ordered us a vegetable salad in an effort to counteract all that deep fried stuff. That’s how it works right? Salad cancels out the other calories? The salad was surprisingly delicious, with a sweetish, soy sesame dressing. The little blob of white was potato salad.
I must admit it was a terribly unhealthy dinner – at least we didn’t eat like that the whole time!
This will probably be my last post before Christmas (I can’t believe it’s in TWO DAYS, where has this year gone?!), so I hope everyone has a fantastic Christmas! I will be eating and drinking a lot, and I’m sure an afternoon nap will also feature in my day. Bliss!
Continuing the Japan posts – our next stop after Osaka was Hiroshima. From Hiroshima, we did a day trip to Miyajima.
Miyajima, offically named Itsukushima, is a small island that is most famous for its giant torii gate which appears to float on top of the ocean at high tide. I’m sure everyone has seen photos of it – it’s very recognisable.
Ticket for one, please.
Lots of wild deer roam around the island. However, the deer are very accustomed to people and, due to their tameness, have become very naughty. Their lack of fear, combined with their love of eating paper, means that they will often “attack” people for pamphlets, maps or bags.
We saw one deer eat a hole in someone’s paper bag, and another deer nibbling on a women’s sweater. I was quite amused to see it, but the deer smelt pretty bad and I wouldn’t have let one come that close to me!
We had a walk around the island, checking out the very famous torii gate, and Itsukushima shrine. This woman had brought her dog to the island to take pictures of it. She didn’t even bother with taking one with the gate in the background!
Both the gate and Itsukushima shrine are built over water, and the shrine consists of multiple buildings that are connected with each other by boardwalks above the sea. It was nice enough, but we were a bit “shrined out” by this stage after seeing numerous shrines already.
But one thing that we never get bored of is food! So after checking out the shrine, we had lunch at a small restaurant on the island. I had kakidon – oyster omelette on rice. The oysters, even though they would have been frozen ones at that time of year, were sweet, plump and juicy. Delicious!
While in Japan we ate okonomiyaki twice – once in Osaka and once in Hiroshima. Did you know that there are two styles of okonomiyaki? I didn’t!
The predominant style is the Osaka/Kansai version, where the okonomiyaki is prepared somewhat like a pancake, where the batter and other ingredients are mixed together and fried. The other style is the Hiroshima version, where the ingredients are layered rather than mixed together.
Naturally, both regions claim that their style is best. But which one did I think was better? Read on for the okonomiyaki showdown!
We had the Kansai style okonomiyaki at a restaurant where they were grilled in front of us. This was NOT a cook-it-yourself joint (although I believe those places exist), and we had been warned beforehand not to touch the okonomiyaki until it was ready. Apparently that is not the done thing!
For Kansai style oknomiyaki, a batter is made of flour, grated yam, water/dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage. Also added was tempura flakes and pickled ginger. It usually contains other ingredients such as spring onions, meat, or seafood – we had ours with seafood.
The batter, cabbage and seafood was all mixed together. Surprisingly, most of it stayed in the bowl. Skills!
The batter was poured on to the hot plate, and shaped into a circle. You can have cheese on it, if you so desire.
As well as cheese, there’s also the option of having yakisoba noodles. You can see some here under the mountain of bonito flakes!
After spending some time cooking on one side, the okonomiyaki was flipped over.
Mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce was spread over it.
Seaweed flakes were sprinkled on top.
And it was ready for eating! Boy, was it delicious! Cutting pieces off the okonomiyaki while it was on the hot plate meant that each bite was fresh and hot. They were quite filling but we gobbled it all down with gusto.
Now to to Hiroshima – as mentioned before, Hiroshima okonomiyaki differs in style to the Kansai style by having the ingredients layered rather than mixed together.
For Hiroshima okonomiyaki, we went to this building that was kind of like a food court of okonomiyaki “restaurants”. The restaurants were basically kitchens surrounded by grills, with seating around the grills.
The okonomiyaki was cooked in front of us again, and we definitely didn’t touch anything. Chef looked rather grumpy! For this style of okonomiyaki, a circle of batter was spread on to the grill, and then topped with lots and lots of cabbage, bean sprouts and spring onions.
Alfalfa sprouts were placed on top.
He placed slices of bacon on top of the cabbage and sprouts.
Then some more batter was squirted on top of the bacon. (I’m pretty sure it was batter since I certainly wasn’t going to ask – remember me saying before that Chef looked grumpy??)
It all got flipped over to cook the other side.
We wanted oysters in ours, so the oysters were placed on the grill to start cooking.
Next he squashed it down into a more compact pile.
The noodles were spread out, and a bit of oil was sprinkled on top.
Chef separated the noodles and shaped them into circles. The cooked oysters were placed on top.
Then the cabbage piles were placed on top of the noodles. It was looking good, but there was more to come.
Eggs were broken on to the grill and lightly fried.
And then the okonomiyaki was placed on top of the fried egg.
The okonomiyaki was flipped over again, placing the egg on top, and then a generous amount of okonomiyaki sauce was spread on.
And finally, some spring onions and seaweed flakes were sprinkled on to finish it off.
And it was finally ready for eating! Ahh, it was delicious too. And SO big and filling. But yes, we ate one each. Gluttons.
Both versions were delicious, and worthy challengers for the Okonomiyaki showdown.
With the Kansai style okonomiyaki, it was like a savoury pancake, with a mixture of texture from the cabbage and seafood. However, the Hiroshima style version is like a glutton’s dream with the bacon, seafood, a ton of cabbage, noodles plus a fried egg. If someone wasn’t full after eating it, then they would have a stomach the size of a house.
I would gladly eat either them again, but there can only be one winner – and for me the Kansai style okonomiyaki takes it out. It just edged out the Hiroshima version because each piece of the okonomiyaki was a combination of tastiness – no one ingredient in it stood out from the others. With the Hiroshima version, even though it was really good, because it was layered, everything seemed quite separate.
And there you have it! Has anyone else eaten both versions? What was your preference?