Sunday, 3 February 2013

The end is here...and it was delicious!

Well now, it is almost time for the final part of my Japan blog but before we get to that, there are a couple of things I feel the need to mention.  The first is that I have learned a crucial rule when buying/eating food, one that probably applies to most things in life.  If it is so big that it collapses under its own weight, then it is probably too damn big and it ruins the meal.  Please see the picture below for reference.  Secondly, in the spirit of the upcoming valentines day, I am making a slight amendment to my previous life goal, in that I am actually trying to get a date with someone else, not Ellen Page.  Should I be successful, it will have to be in the future sadly (due to the whole being in Nepal thing).  However, more on that another time. 

Ok, now it is time for the last Japan entry…you see, I could have finished writing about Japan last week but I really wanted to focus on a particular meal I had so I decided to combine the meal and the epilogue together.  So, the finale:

Part 4.5 – The Last Supper        

As mentioned several weeks ago (actually months – Ed), I mentioned about a meal I bought for my mum as her birthday present as I thought it would be a really unique and interesting experience for both of us.  I was not wrong.  In Japan, there is a very traditional meal, the Kaiseki meal, which is a multi-course dinner designed to balance the flavor, texture, appearance and colour of fresh seasonal items.  By doing so, the flavour of the food is enhanced and the meal becomes an actual experience.  After a lot of deliberation, I decided upon Kikunoi, a highly recommended, 3 Michelin star traditional restaurant I found through extensive online searching.  I’m really glad I did, as the experience was fantastic.

Having decided to get a taxi to the restaurant (thankfully, as I had planned to walk there but it appeared to be much more complicated than I thought), we were greeted by a suited greeter who opened our doors and took our jackets and umbrellas.  As we entered the restaurant lobby, we were met by our hostess (the person who would serve us for the entire meal), who was dressed in a Kimono, and escorted to our private dining room which was beautifully decorated.  The room itself was done in the traditional way, with tatami mats, a small centre table and a relaxing view from the window.

Once we had settled on the floor, we were brought a small cup of roasted green tea (so good, I ended up having to buy some for my friends and I) and asked if we wanted a drink.  Once our beer came, we then experienced the most extravagant meal that I have ever had. Please note, sitting on the floor for so long can be uncomfortable, so take this into account if you decide to try it.

As part of the ceremony, our hostess, who would bring in each course individually, would bow as she entered and exited the room, whilst making sure our drinks were topped up and that we were enjoying ourselves.  She would also explain to us the different dishes and how to eat the more confusing ones.  Moving onto the individual dishes (see below for the menu), each was beautifully laid out, on individual trays and in ways that accentuated the colours and the ingredients.  In many cases, I actually felt guilty for eating the food and ruining the design.  Here is what we were served:

·         Appetizers: Poached angler fish liver; mibuna and shimeji mushrooms; Karasumi (dried mullet roe); Kuwai chips; duck liver pate with white poppy seeds; maple leaf-shaped cuttlefish and sea urchin; pine needle-shapped tea noodles; sake-glazed gingko nuts; and an edible kombu basket

·         Sashimi of tai (red sea bream) and Koshibi (young Bluefin tuna), wasabi, vinegared chrysanthemum petals, mixed sprouts, udo stalks and carrots

·         Red wakasa tilefish steamed with chestnut and millet, baby daikon radish tied with kintoku carrot, yuzu peel and chrysanthemum sauce

·         Salad of persimmon, daikon radish, carrot, chrysanthemum petals, mitsuba herbs, yuzu and sesame dressing

·         Simmered densuke anago eel, poached turnip, ebi taro, kintoki carrot, gingers and greens

·         Mochi rice with chicken and chestnuts, nappa cabbage soups, pickled nappa cabbage and pickled thistle roots

·         Daishiro persimmon splashed with brandy

·         Ceremonial green tea and Japanese sweets     

This, as you may have guessed, was an epic meal in every sense of the word and was genuinely delicious (HUGE praise coming from somebody who isn’t the biggest fan of fish - Ed).  Plus, I learned not to put a large dollop of wasabi on sashimi.  It will make you gag!  Other than that, this was one of the highlights of the trip and really gave a great view of Japanese cooking and traditions.  Finally, at the end of the meal, we were given our embroidered napkins and they even called us a taxi and waved us off.  

Part 5 – The Curtain Call

I would like to make a belated apology for the passengers on my flight, in case they heard the sound of a baby howling.  That was not a baby, it was me horribly distressed at having to leave.  So, er, sorry about that (Joking, of course but still very sad to leave).  So, what can I say about Japan?  The first thing is that I loved it (They probably guessed that already - Ed).  Not only did it meet my expectations but went well beyond it, in that it felt like I could one day call it home.  One of the biggest things that amazed me was how polite and friendly everybody was.  People would always say thank you or greet you if you came into their shop or home; they would bow in a variety of situations; they won't push through you; and most of all, they will actively help you.  I've visited a variety of countries and it's not often a local will approach you to try and help you but it happened a multitude of times in my time in Japan.  As I was traveling with my mum, I saw a complete stranger take a handle (or the entire case) and help my mum carry the case (I would be carrying the other cases or be on my way to help I should point out).  This actually happened several times.  It was just refreshing.

Not only this but I found it a good balance between tradition and cutting edge. You can easily visit a still used and beautifully ornate temple before returning to your heated toilet seats and high-speed bullet trains.  You can get traditional Japanese food next to a Subway or a French restaurant.  It's very clean and surprisingly quiet: not once did I hear a single phone going off on a train or bus as you a required to have them on silent plus people don’t tend to shout or scream in the streets.  However, don’t get me wrong: this does not mean it is dull and lacking in character.  There is a quiet and friendly buzz in the major streets that made them feel alive and welcoming.   

I'm not going to rant on about it (seemingly 6 weeks of posts do not count as ranting - ed) but I will just sum it up: I well and truly loved visiting Japan and it has knocked Hong Kong off the number one spot.  From my point of view, Japan managed to score top points in all areas: great food; amazing sightseeing; rich culture; modern cities; and a friendly atmosphere and for me, it was a wonderful place to visit and I will be back one day: either to live or just to visit. 

Pick of the week

Far Cry 3 - It's been a while since I recommended a video game but the game is brilliant.  The story is simple: you, along with your friends and family are kidnapped by crazy pirates whilst on a tropical island.  Fairly cliche, yes but it is the game itself that is brilliant.  You are let loose on an absolutely huge and insane island.  Following the quests are possible or you can do side quests or you can merely run around the island causing chaos, starting fires and hunting animals.  Personally, I enjoy liberating island outposts from the pirates using a bow and arrows...yes, I get to live out being Green Arrow.  IT IS AWESOME.    However, you can play it your way.  Do you want to go in steathily or drive into a camp and jump out of the car with a shotgun?  Do you want to snipe from afar or lay explosive traps everywhere?  It is up to you.  What's more, it is random...I was playing this afternoon and spent ages staking out an outpost and what happens?  A tiger runs into the camp and kills all the pirates, liberating it without me moving.   This game is a huge amount of fun with a great setting, strong combat and customisation and it is done incredibly well.  Buy it.

Music of the week

Recently, I interviews Random, as he created the Black Materia album and I was recently informed of a remix album that he did.  This resulted on a remix of Random with Linkin Park: Pts. of Sepiroth and it is brilliant.  Check it out.

Ok that is Japan finally done, so next week I will be introducing my new project: Project Atoll.  So, what is this project you ask?  Well, better read next week to find out but I will leave you with three picture clues to get you thinking.

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