Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Post #419: Lakes, snow-tiped mountains, and pork!

I am thinking of starting every post with Hokkaido is breathtakingly beautiful! There are an amazing number of lakes nested between snow-tipped mountains. This is one of my favorite lakes on this trip because of its temperamental color-changing qualities. On this sunny day, we arrived to find turquoise water in the deep and dark green patches near the shore.

It's hard not to feel that life is worth living if only to see this kind of sights another day.

Of course there is also the grilled pork to live for. Shiretoko is famous for these pork rice bowls besides the lakes. The tiny restaurant we were recommended to go to had seats for about ten. Being so popular, we all had to eat with another ten watching from the door. But it's hard to care when the entire room is permeated with the smell of searing pork fat on the grill in an open kitchen that took up more than half of the room. Much less aggressively seasoned than the color may suggest, these slices were examples of balance, between fat and lean that is. Really quite perfectly salty sweet over rice. It was even more exceptional with a side of fresh daikon salad.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Post #418: Hello Hokkaido!

Hokkaido is the second largest island of Japan and the nation's number one supplier of agricultural products. It is also insanely beautiful, boasting 22% of the entire country's forestry. Our 8 day GPS and satellite phone guided trip through the eastern parts of the island took us into hills of pink moss, fields of tulips, and miles and miles of pastures populated by happy cows.

We also filled our stomachs with loads of fresh veggies that would be exorbitantly priced elsewhere, even in Tokyo as I found out during my four day stay there. These irredecent purple eggplants were my absolute favorites lightly pickled and eaten with slightly sweet sake.

While this is not Kobe, there were plenty of wagyu beef for the having (number 1 producer of cows and dairy). The preferred method of eating is charcoal grilled. Look at that beautiful marbling!!
We were given a ball of beef fat with which to oil the grill, but really there was no need. The meat itself just melted and seared beautifully on the hot grill. This is not a steak to eat by the slabs. It's simply too rich for that, but in small mouthfuls, it's juice squirting heavenly. Our entire meal at the this log cabin restaurant called Bibi's included four orders of meats of various cuts and fat levels plus sake came up to only $100. Now that's value for money!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Post #417: best start to the day

The best thing about being in Japan, Korean, China, or many other Asian countries is the feast that one has for breakfast. How good is it to wake up to this!

The part that makes me the most happy is the soft boiled egg. Without fail, it's always gooey in the center and bright orange. The joy!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Post #416: more raw fish of the best quality - Sushi Kanesaka

E and I braved the rain to keep our lunch reservation at Sushi Kanesaka. The place has a Michelin 2 star, but the distinction is not advertised at all due to the Japanese dislike for it. Similar to many great sushi spots in Tokyo, this one is also hidden deep in a basement with a barely noticeable entrance on the street level. Luckily E's ability to read Japanese alphabets plus my ability to read Kanji (the Chinese characters that are still used in modern Japanese) allowed us to navigate around quite efficiently.

Our sushi chef for lunch was by far the most friendly I've ever encountered. His willingness to speak English and wonderful service really made the whole experience so much more enjoyable.
At this top level, it's hard to compare the fish quality between Kanesaka and Kyubey. What did differentiate was the texture of the rice. Kanesaka's version is just a bit more vinegared and quite a bit more al dente. Viewed from the underside, the grains looked rather distinct. I prefer this version when paired with the firmer white fish pieces, but the more buttery fish types seemed to do better with the softer textured rice at Kyubey. Although all this is really hair splitting talk. Either one is WAY better than any I've had state side. On a side note, the Tokyo Nobu was just around the corner from my hotel. I was told by the hotel staff that if I wanted something average and easy (not cheaper), I could just go there. :)

An awesome piece of fatty tuna.
Then for contrast, a clean flavored slice of lean tuna.

Look how that skin shines and the flavor was so clean, it was hard to believe that it is a skin on piece.

This is definitely the most beautiful and non-fishy piece of aji I've ever had. My compliment on its fresh sweet flavor got our chef to comment that he heard that Americans use mayo on their sushi, he supposed that it is because there is a need to hide the fishiness...

The chef kindly gave a single piece on the left side, so the photo would show the neat composition by hand on the right.

Very very sweet clam.
The eel here was the most different I've ever had. The piece was so soft, it literally melted in my mouth. I think I prefer my eel with a bit more texture, but the consistence here was definitely an experience.

Somehow I failed to take a photo of my uni piece. I guess being my favorite, I was too busy easy to think about photo. The chef, upon hearing that I was heading to Hokkaido, said that I'd have even better uni there. I was doubtful then, but having now consumed a good quantity of the best stuff in Hokkaido, I am completely convinced that he was right. Hokkaido does indeed have the best uni, which you will see in a later post.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Post #415: Starting on Japan- Kyubey

I had a few days in Tokyo on my own before heading to Hokkaido. It has been quite awhile since my last solo international trip, so I was quite excited to eat whatever I wanted at exactly when I wanted. For my first meal, I didn't have to go far. Hotel Okura where I stayed had a branch of Kyubey, which some Japanese consider the best traditional sushi in Tokyo.
With sushi this fresh, even bad lighting can't hide the glistening. This is just the standard set, but already satisfying enough.

These look like little scallops, but are in fact bits of clam. Very sweet and chewy.
This piece with garlic paste changed my whole thinking on no strong flavors with sushi. It was so yummy!
Best bites of the evening these were. Eel with and without the house made sauce gave a great side by side comparison. My preference here was for the non-sauced one with just a bit of salt on top. This preference was proven true again when my husband and I ate eel rice as our last meal in Japan. Somehow the sauce changes the texture of the eel into a more firm state in addition to flavor.

To me, sushi is first and foremost about the fresh fish, but the rice texture and quality comes at a close second. At Kyubey, the rice is on the softer side and slightly less assertive. When I post about sushi Kenesaka later, you should be able to see the difference visually.