Food musings from our correspondent in Japan

T.D. Reporting from Japan

“A very good friend is currently discovering culinary delights in Japan. He is so kind (and/or cruel) to keep us posted about his gastronomic discoveries!”

The first part of our journey brings us to Takayama, close to the Japanese Alps. We encounter picture perfect Japanese villages. The beautiful architectures one normally sees in magazines are omnipresent. The weather is damp, a little bit gloomy but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying this trip to the fullest.

We tried to take some pictures of our meals. But the lighting wasn’t always ideal.

The local specialities are vegetables, sake, Hida beef and sweet water fish.
Hida beef is the local breed here of wagyu beef. Yes, yes the delicious meat that melts away in your mouth. The legend goes that the japanese pamper their cows to bits. They are massaged so their meat gets very tender. And they feed them with sake and beer for ultimate taste. Furthermore they are supposed to have some genetic mutation in their fat metabolism. As you can see, the stories around wagyu beef are wild and I¹m not sure what’s true or not. But anyhow the result is this deliciously marbled piece of meat. The high fat content creates this melt in your mouth experience to die for.

Back to our culinary discoveries a small clay pot with hot coals is waiting for us at our table. A magnolia leaf is placed on the grill, immediately interesting aromas tickle our senses. The Hida beef along with miso and vegetables are then grilled right in front of our eyes. Mmm simply delicious. The meat was succulent. It was somehow smoked because of the leaf and soft as butter because of the breed. A perfect combination that left us longing for more!

But no time to mourn cause up came the next interesting discovery!
We had a rainbow trout (Niji Masu) that went through an interesting process of drying and cooking with an amazing result. The fish was sun dried for one day then slowly cooked for twelve hours with fish sauce, sugar, rice vinegar and soy sauce. Next it’s macerated and cooled for twelve more hours.

The effect is a sort of sweet and sour, caramelized fish. It’s purely enchanting. It’s probably the most interesting thing we’ve eaten. Layers of textures and flavours you don’t expect develop as you put a piece of this fish in your mouth.

The next day we arrive in a Ryokan; a traditional Japanese guesthouse. And they have a very interesting welcome ceremony. They charm you with a “light” tea called ‘usucha’ served with either dry biscuits (higashi as in the pic) or fresh pastry (omogashi).

The tea is prepared with one and a half measure (chashaku) of powdered green tea (maccha) and three and a half spoons of boiling water blended quickly with a bamboo tool (chasen). By doing this they obtain a light foam on the surface. The ceremony on its own of creating this tea is already startling. It’s absolutely
not a proper tea ceremony but it shares some aspects with it. The tea is tasty and a perfect digestive. We immediately felt at home.

Note the rabbit on the biscuit is inspired by “nail head concealers” (mamuki usagi). In the historic government buildings of the Tokugawa Shogun (Edo bakufu government 1692-1868) in Takayama they had eye
for details. Even a nail had to be concealed. So they made these beautiful little covers with a rabbit engraved on it.
That’s it for today, more stories to follow!

Konbanwa, Good Nigth!

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