Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

FoodEx 2005, Day 2: The Japanese section, and business dinner

I managed to get a little misdirected on the train this morning, but I wasn’t the only one confused by the ambiguities of the Keiyo-sen; a Japanese couple opposite me was equally bewildered to be moving nowhere closer to Kaihin-makuhari station. I think I had this problem once last year, so I should know better, but it was comforting to know it was easy to be confused.

The other couple turned out to be running a wine importing company, so we chatted a little bit about our businesses and exchanged business cards. They seem to mostly sell German and French wines, at wholesale and in a little retail shop.

Since I focused on the Japan section today, I got to see that in fact the Japanese specialty food trade doesn’t change nearly as rapidly as I had previously thought. In spite of an apparently neverending stream of variations of bottled drinks, most of what I saw this year was, in one form or another, in last year’s show also. But I did see some good stuff, including a vinegar manufacturer and some nice foods from Hokkaido. I was kind of interested in a sea vegetable called “umi-budou” (sea grapes) which have a unique briny taste; alas, they don’t travel well. Some of the local producers of foods might have some potential with high end venues in the U.S., though sometimes the packaging isn’t quite hip enough to reach a mainstream audience.

I think I’ve still only seen about two-thirds of the show, but I hit most of the areas of interest to my company; I’d love to spend a little time looking at some of the European products, just out of professional, and culinary, curiosity. But tomorrow I think I’ll spend a full day at Hoteres and decide how to divide up my Friday thereafter.

A representative from the trading company that’s helping me source yuzu products took me out to dinner with a business acquaintance of his and invited Hiromi along. We had a nice fully vegetarian meal at a restaurant near Tokyo station. My contact’s wife was actually vegetarian, but he said she has unfortunately passed away… Anyway, with a day advance notice, that restaurant can make everything vegetarian. We had a kind of omakase menu, featuring some regional varietal of thin leek blanched and dressed in a mustard-miso based dressing; some hiya-yakko style gomadoufu; a little tounyuu nabe (soy milk hot pot) which had some yomogi (mugwort)-seasoned konnyaku and Japanese leeks. Some boiled glutinous rice, almost fermented like South Indian idli, served as a bed for a nimono of spring bamboo shoots garnished with a cooked cherry blossom. We had some nice parcels of yuba fried in a dough made from soybeans, accompanied by tara no me (a kind of wild mountain vegetable common in springtime) tempura; these were simply offered with salt for dipping. We had some sakura udon, house-made udon colored with crushed cherry blossoms, in a vegetarian kakejiru (soup base). And finally we had a bit of rose-infused ice cream.

Along the way we tried some imo-jochu (Japanese sweet potato vodka), regular grain-based shochu, and two kinds of cold sake. Mr. Hiba indicated that he prefers to have a variety of drinks to taste during a meal… It’s a good thing I don’t drink heavily or this could have been very treacherous.

I’m a little sleepy, and I’m up a little late, but I hope to make some good use of time at the Hoteres show tomorrow.

Avant garde jazz at Al Capone's hangout and Ethiopian food

Sunday I had hunted around Chicago's Chinatown looking for shops that might be the right kind of venue to carry my specialty sweets from Hong Kong and went away not very thrilled at the prospects. There aren't many shops there that do a very good job of displaying merchandise in a way that suggests quality. The two exceptions I found didn't really carry any food type gifts; I think they might be potential customers but I got the impression I'd be better off at mainstream tea shops in other parts of town, and maybe a few upscale gift shops that aren't necessarily focused on Asian products.

On Monday I visited the area around the red line stops Argyle and Berwyn to see if things were any different up there, but that area was overall more depressing. A few of the supermarket type places had better merchandising of sweets and snack items so next time I'm in town I will probably approach some of them. These shops tend to be owned more by Thai and Vietnamese immigrants than the ones in Chinatown but the selection tended to be more or less international. I overheard one Thai shopkeeper requesting green tea mousse Pocky, a Japanese product, from a salesperson for one of the big distributors of Asian imported stuff.

Around dinnertime, I met a friend of mine from college, Grace, for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant with another friend of mine, Lucia. I've been to Ras Dashen, which is located a little south of the red line Thorndale stop along Broadway, before, so there weren't many surprises with the food, but it was good, humble food. We had an okra and lentil dish, some dish made with small chickpea dumplings, some fresh cheese curds called "ib" which are sort of ricotta-like in texture and cream-cheese like in acidity, a cabbage dish, a spinach dish, some kale and bitter greens, and some split lentils. We plowed through as much as we could but were bested...

Lucia wanted to get some cake afterward, so the three of us tried to ignore the drug addict ogling Lucia and Grace on the train who was blabbering incomprehensibly, and made our way to Julius Meinl near the Southport stop on the brown line. Julius Meinl is apparently the only US location of an Austrian coffee shop, and they have impressive-looking cakes that Lucia can vouch for. Grace and I stuck with coffee. I had an espresso with a little bit of cream. Were I not completely stuffed at the time, I probably would have grabbed a Topfenstrudel made with sweetened quark, or a cute little tulip-shaped chocolate filled with white chocolate mousse. Lucia had some sort of banana cake with what appeared to be a caramel topping.

We finished the evening by going to the regular Monday night performance of the Patricia Barber quartet at the Green Mill. Open since prohibition, the Green Mill is reputed to have been a hangout of Al Capone and his crew. Patricia Barber is a clever pianist and vocalist, and has assembled a band which does great reinterpretations of standards, some nifty originals, and genre-bending improvisations. I'm not that well educated when it comes to jazz... Almost everything I know I learned from listening to KPLU and some small shows in Seattle mostly by local performers. But it's really cool to listen to someone as ingenious as Patricia Barber for a mere $7.

Relaxing in Nasu-shiobara at a hot spring

Daylight suffices to signal my body to wake up. Outside, fresh snow is accumulating on the trees and rooftops.

My friend’s hopes of driving to Nikko are dashed by reports of poor road conditions, so she makes inquiries about things one can do in sleepy Nasu-shiobara. We snap a few photos around a pedestrian bridge that crosses a river bordered by snow-covered rocks. We visit a museum and mostly see various artifacts chosen to demonstrate that famous poets have stopped in town here before. I pick up some udon which have bits of yuzu zest embedded in the noodles, which I’ll cook while staying in a weekly apartment in Tokyo.

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We drive to a soba/udon shop recommended by the tourist information center and have handmade soba in soup, served with freshly made yuba, and rustically cut udon in soup, served with mountain vegetable tempura. We also order some soba-gakki, after I describe it to my friend based on the one time I tasted a not-very-similar version of it in Saru-ga-kyou.

Afterward we drive around somewhat aimlessly, and stop in a gift shop and find ourselves attracted to some kuromame daifuku with zunda filling (black beans mixed with mochi, and filled with sweetened paste of mung beans, and some black bean cocoa, which we buy and take along with us. I am nearly convinced that the dried niga-uri (goya, or bitter melon) chips are worth trying by the salesperson, who says they are easy to eat, but I don’t buy.

My friend convinces me to order “cream soda,” an ice cream float made with an aggressively green-colored soda which is flavored similarly to the vanilla soda known as cream soda in the US but apparently with extra esther of wood rosin. At least the vanilla ice cream was nice…

We go back to the hotel and my jetlag catches up with me… I sleep, though I have no idea if my friend does the same or not, for about an hour. We decide to head to the outdoor hot springs pools again after learning we just missed by a few minutes the chance to use one of the private ones… but nobody else is down there, as it’s the start of the dinner hour. The view of the snow-covered rocks in the river is probably more compelling anyway.

Dinner is a typically elaborate spread of mostly simple foods that you would expect to find in a Japanese ryokan, and I get some special treatment to accommodate my vegetarian habit. Dengaku nasu, and some unusual cross between yuba and tofu that the woman serving us couldn’t quite explain, and some nice jelly covering crisp fresh shredded vegetables, and a pot of yu-doufu are all nice; there’s also chawan-mushi (savory egg custard), and some dried persimmon stuffed with candied yuzu peel.

I end up eating so much I barely touch the rice. The half hour in the hot spring makes it hard to concentrate on anything, and sleep seems inevitable…  

Elevating the American food scene

Hillel of  Tasting Menu has issued a bit of a challenge to himself to elevate the average quality of U.S. dining experiences. It's a frustration I share... I know a few places in Seattle that make me very happy, but most of them are out of the reach of everyday dining prices, and it's incredibly hard to find things that do a few simple things very well, and make me want to go out of my way to get a modest lunch or dinner there.

In Japan, countless television shows will obsessively document what it takes to make the most perfect omelet, which soba places do the best job of making buckwheat noodles (a fundamentally simple, but deceptively challenging task), or which ryokan is best taking advantage of their local ingredients. In the U.S., the closest thing we have to that mentality on TV is Alton Brown, and maybe Cook's Illustrated in print. In Japan, it's pervasive.

In the U.S., we are more excited by drama than by perfection. That's why people like Emeril, unfamiliar towers of incongruous ingredients at trendy fusion restaurants, and big fat California rolls. In Japan, more often than in the U.S., the pursuit of perfection is the drama.

In my first few years cooking regularly, during college, I followed a predictably American pattern of rebelling against bland foods from my childhood and I overseasoned absolutely everything. It was an improvement over what I had eaten before, but it's not necessarily worthy of much praise. After 8 years of regular visits to Japan, I increasingly strive for minimalism, trying to find ingredients that do most of the hard work simply by being wonderful and fresh.

Often enough, when I give an example of this, it's something as simple as a blanched spinach dish with a little freshly grated ginger and a splash of good quality Japanese soy sauce. When I explain it, it doesn't sound interesting, but when it's done right, it's easy to understand its simple poetry.

To elevate the U.S. dining scene, we have to give appropriate due to small places with short menus that get the food right, and take what they are producing very seriously. I can point out a few examples in Seattle, but mostly in a liquid context: Vivace and Victrola coffee, Sambar's signature cocktails that often feature house-squeezed juices and purees, tea at Floating Leaves.

Every Japanese restaurant in Seattle seems to feel obligated to offer sushi, tempura, donburi, and an assortment of over-sized side dishes, all in the same place. Nobody does just ramen, just okonomiyaki, just soba, just kushiyaki, or just udon. It seems like there's some sort of unwritten law that, even if you've hired 3 decent sushi chefs at $80,000/year each and contracted with a first-class interior designer, the restaurant has to devolve into some sort of family restaurant style of having something mediocre for everybody.

And I can pick on most cuisines in this regard: we torture Italian food the same way, not to mention Thai, Mexican, and others. If I'm in Japan, I don't think "I want to go to a Japanese restaurant," I think "I want to go to an izakaya", "I'd like some good soba", or "I'd like to have a teishoku lunch at that little vegetable shop near the office for lunch."

We need to reward the places that are obsessive about getting details right, from perfectly cooked pasta sauced with just the right amount of liquid, to serving just the amount of food that makes you wish you had just a little more, rather than making you feel guilty that you don't want to take the inedible leftovers home. Japan does have a certain level of uniform expectations that means there's far less variation in what's considered "perfect", and the benefit of generally high population density, but in the U.S. we usually have lower rents and more tolerance for idiosyncrasy, so the restaurants can be more maverick-like if they build a passionate audience.

Japanese cooking shows typically show professional cooks as careful, serious, diligent and avoiding wasted motion, respectfully repeating orders and executing them, and the guests are the ones who get all excited. In the U.S. the same kinds of shows have clanging pots, chaotically moving employees trying to avoid bumping into each other, kitchen staff telling jokes of questionable taste, and often haphazardly tossing food onto plates, often portraying the dining room is an ocean of calm customers. We want our celebrity chefs to be exciting; Japanese would rather the food and the guests do the talking.

Restaurants also have to get better at telling their own stories, explaining why they don't have 300 menu choices and why they serve their zarusoba with just a little bit of dipping sauce and a few pickles. The story-telling is part of what makes unconventional restaurants succeed in the U.S.; they have to teach their guests to do their marketing.

We can improve the taste of average restaurants by expecting better... When one place starts making the perfect taco, stop spending so much money at the big-as-your-head burrito place. More realistically, I imagine we will have to take more incremental steps, since we might be trapped in a part of town where we don't have better lunch options... So I'll give more money to places that make me happier, even if they aren't flawless.

And hopefully the occasional web rant or rave will help people find better food, so I'll spend some time writing about the good stuff...

The Big Buddha: Off to Wakayama and Nara

Awakened by about four alarm clocks after a short night’s sleep, I found my way to Haneda airport. My confusion transferring at Shinagawa meant that I only had a minute or so to spare when trying to transfer to the express Keikyu line. I ended up eating far too much for breakfast at the airport, but I managed to sleep a bit on the airplane.

Of course, somehow my brain wasn’t working entirely correctly when I told my friend I’d be leaving at 7:30 and arriving at 9:30. It’s actually only an hour flight to Kansai airport from Haneda, and although I did know this, somehow I confused myself into thinking I was scheduled to arrive at 9:30. Anyway, when I arrived, I called my friend Sachi, who was surprised that I had arrived hour earlier than she expected. I apologized for being confused. She came at the originally planned time; I waited in an airport Starbucks.

Sachi had arranged to have a couple of her 50-something coworkers drive us to Nara in a big van. When stopping at a rest area, she said, “don’t you think they look like yakuza?” Actually their faces are very rough-looking and they speak with thick Kansai accents, and if you looked at them from across the room you would probably not imagine it was a good idea to pick a fight with them. But they are very gentle, pleasant folks.

This was the first time I’ve been to Nara, so I took various pictures of deer at Nara park, parts of the Daibutsu (big Buddha) temple.

This is a group whose priorities I can appreciate. At the rest stop, we ate tai-yaki (fish-shaped waffles with bean paste in the middle), and Sachi picked up a cake to share in the car. We arrived in Nara not terribly long thereafter, and, after walking around a bit, they started plotting lunch. We did manage to feed “kiza-senbe” to various deer at the park, then walk around the Daibutsu, before actually committing to lunch, which was at an udon/soba/donburi-focused place targeting tourists. Sachi even made a second order for herself after a craving for curry rice overcame her. Within minutes after lunch, we were already eating again; from a street vendor, Sachi bought four sticks of dango (rice dumplings) seasoned with a lightly sweetened soy sauce and divided the spoils. It wasn’t 5 minutes after that when she had us buying freshly-made senbe (crispy rice crackers) with various seasonings.

We visited the 5-storied pagoda nearby, and then headed back to the car. Sachi made a destination stop at a shop which apparently has some of the nicest Warabi-mochi (a sticky, soft Japanese sweet rolled in toasted soybean flour) around; her companions bought obscene numbers of boxes of them. I would have bought some myself but they only stay fresh for a couple of days and I won’t be back in Tokyo to share with others until late Tuesday night.

On four hours of sleep I tended to nod off in the car on the way to Wakayama, and I wasn’t the only one. Sachi was driving on this leg, but her colleagues fell asleep in the back seat soon after digging into the warabi-mochi. I was seriously drowsy; I fell asleep before even getting a chance to try them.  Fortunately, I did get a chance to taste them when we arrived in Wakayama; Sachi and her colleagues stopped to give some to some Thai friends of theirs in town. When Sachi’s friend was curious about the contents of a plastic bag in one of the Thai women’s basket, she claimed to have “etchi no video” (dirty videos) and was going out on a date… This opened the door for him to make a dirty joke after the woman reluctantly tried the warabi mochi, as she commented that she doesn’t like to eat soft things. Apparently they already know each other pretty well, or this is just a regional variation on acceptable behavior, as I’ve rarely seen this kind of interaction between men and women I know in the Tokyo area.

The food didn’t stop. We ended up at a popular local family restaurant, a few notches above the Japanese version of Denny’s, less than an hour after this stop, and we had a private room to celebrate Sachi’s coworker’s birthday.

The vegetarian or almost-vegetarian items included some dengaku-nasu (grilled eggplant with a sweetened miso topping), tofu salad, daikon salad, inari-zushi, and some egg white tempura. They also ordered a few things for the pescevorous. We shared half a fancy strawberry birthday cake from a local French-style cake shop. I probably shouldn’t have eaten so much today, but there was always something there…

If Sachi eats like this everyday, it doesn’t show on her waistline. While not rail-thin, she’s reasonably slim. I suppose her secret is that she keeps on sharing a substantial person of whatever she’s eating with whoever else happens to be around.

When I came back to the hotel I had a complication due to unavailability of a usable internet connection in my room; when my friend called last week to ask if I can connect to the internet in the room, they said, oh, yes, you just plug in and you’ll be fine. Apparently that means you can disconnect the phone and dialup to your usual Japanese internet service providers; I’ve gotten spoiled by in-room broadband, and I don’t have access to the convenient Microsoft dialup system on my new company’s laptop. The hotel tried troubleshooting for an hour or so before we mutually realized this was a communication problem rather than a technical problem. I tried mimicking the settings on the lobby computer and taking advantage of the wireless network down there, but apparently nobody knows how to log in. I found the WEP key in the registry but was stumped by the PPPOE password. After a while, I gave up and did what I could do with Hotmail and the horrible web-based email interface that my provider for yuzutrade.com offers.

FoodEx Countdown

I’m going to FoodEx for the third year in a row next week, the insanely huge Japanese food trade show, where I will go hunting for interesting Asian food products. I’ll also go to Hoteres, a hospitality industry focused trade show.

My business focus has gradually shifted to be less focused on importing itself and more on building the web retail customer base, even if I use other U.S. importers as my vendors for that project, but I am still trying to keep connected to a network of suppliers so that I’m able to move on new opportunities. Also, one of my customers has now dramatically increased their volume requirements, and I need to get in touch with a supplier in Japan to see if I can gain some advantages by working with them.

Hiromi and I have been gradually preparing for our departure on Saturday, but I neglected to snag a reservation at the hotel where we originally planned to stay. It’s probably for the better, because I am really tired of staying in Shinjuku, where the other hotel was located. Instead, we booked a reservation at an even better hotel near Meguro for almost the same price.

I have two days that aren’t fully booked yet, but one of them is on the weekend… I’m not sure if I am going to go to Mashiko to hunt for pottery, or maybe just do something a little more leisure-focused. I’m not sure I can buy any crafts on this trip, although it’s a little less crazy from a cost/margin perspective to import small amounts of pottery than small amounts of food. It does take a bit longer to sell artisanal pottery, though.

We’re only gone for 9 days, departing this Saturday and returning the following Sunday. This is probably the shortest trip I’ve made to Japan in a long time, outside of weird 2–day weekend trips I made bordering other business trips to Asia when I worked for Microsoft. But my contracting gig limits how much time I can spend traveling, and even if I weren’t doing that right now, I’d be a little concerned about the insane costs of spending a couple of weeks in Japan. Of course, the cost of 2 weeks isn’t very diferent from 1, but the distraction from my business is pretty painful.

This time I’ve got some meetings planned with some companies that I think will be interesting to work with, and I look forward to opening some new doors.

Side trips to Doe Bay, Baker hot springs, and last Sunday's dinner

Hiromi and I made a rather sluggishly paced trip out of town Monday morning, owing to some morning errands. We had vaguely planned to head toward the Olympics, but a last minute decision sent us toward Orcas Island instead, which we reached rather late due to a full afternoon ferry.

We ended up in rustic accommodations at Doe Bay Resort, which has a couple of heavily chlorinated tubs filled with water from a hot spring, facing a nice bay view. Originally we thought this would be a short stopover on the way to some forest spring, but I had forgotten about the pace of island life… it’s defined by long, occasionally severely delayed ferry commutes, and particularly in the San Juans, long stretches of windy road. The weather improved as we approached Shaw Island, but the day started out rather gloomy. Once we arrived, we made our way to the resort, took a quick dip in the hot spring tubs, and then set out in search of a late dinner, even after a day full of small snacks…

We ended up at a forgettable but serviceable Caribbean-themed restaurant full of locals, which apparently switches to a no-service fast-food-style order at the counter and pray they find you when your order is ready model after peak dinner hours. The host looked at us smugly and said there was no waiting list or probability of indoor seating but we were welcome to order and pre-pay. We had some overly browned but still edible corn fritters and some pasta, and a curried avocado dish. It was kind of hippie food with Seattle mid-range restaurant prices. The drink, whatever it was, helped. 

Just beyond AnacortesHiromi surveys the view from on board the ferryShaw Island guardian seagull

We managed to get a healthy amount of sleep, and made another trip to the hot springs and took a nice little walk before checking out. We had a very nice, simple brunch with baked eggs and baguette, a provolone sandwich, and some very nice apricot pie at Rose’s Bakery.

Once off the island, we made our way toward Mount Baker, by way of Concrete. The Baker Lake area has an easily hikeable sulfurous hot spring, which is actually fairly lukewarm. The main challenge was passing through a heavily rutted logging road. The volcanic ash in the spring seems easily disturbed, so you can end up with a small accumulation of coarse ash particles when getting out, but it didn’t bother us.

On our way out, we noticed these nifty not-quite-ripe salmonberries, which I haven’t seen much of since I was younger. Blackberries were everywhere, though nowhere near ready. We also passed a few wild blueberry plants and Northwest red huckleberries, already growing berries, but not yet at the peak of ripeness.

Salmonberries

I think I was too sleepy to post dinner from the day before we departed, but Hiromi and I cooperated on dinner. I usually do most of the cooking, but she did the majority of the work today. She prepared the avocado and shiitake gratin, an eggplant raita (which is noticeably lacking in fresh cilantro on these photos… we were distracted). I made a mushroom and cashew curry, and after dinner, a matcha martini.

Sunday's spreadAvocado gratin
Nasu (eggplant) raitaMushroom cashew curry

Coincidental charcoal and old friends

The last time I saw my friend Sakurako, who was an exchange student while I attended my first year of school at DePauw University, was just before Christmas in 1998 when I visited Japan for the first time. I have been in touch with her occasionally by email, but she had been hard to reach recently. She actually lives in Hyogo prefecture near Osaka, and I had the good fortune to get an email message from her on Monday. She said it would be a little hard to meet in Osaka on Tuesday because she was preparing for a business trip to Tokyo, but since I happened to be going back to Tokyo anyway, we made arrangements for lunch today.

My friend Michiko and I already had a plan to go to some wholesale markets today, so actually I just adjusted the plan so that the three of us would meet for lunch. Anyway, I was happy to see Sakurako after so many years.

The wholesale area Michiko and I went to afterward seemed to be focused on apparel, and it was too late to get much out of going to the area in Tokyo famous for restaurant supply shops, so we abandoned the effort and went to Ginza.

And then, the most unexpected chain of events happened. After looking around at some ceramics and house wares at Mitsukoshi department store, we ran into someone with a display area on the same floor selling all sorts of Japanese charcoal (sumi or bincho) products. Michiko started asking him some questions and told him about my trading company. He’s actually the owner of the small company that has various charcoal products on display at the department store, and he sort of tours different Mitsukoshi locations to show off his products. (I’ll call him Takeshi-san for convenience here, but it’s not his real name). Takeshi-san invited us to join him for a coffee break, and we actually got some wholesale prices after I showed him my cost structures and estimated retail customer requirements.

We did some back-of-the-envelope calculations and then he said that we should meet for dinner to talk about things a little more. I have very little time before I leave Japan and I had plans for tomorrow, so he cleared his calendar for tonight and I made a last-minute cancellation with Hiromi. (Hiromi wasn’t very happy, but she told me I should have the meeting). We arranged to meet about an hour and a half later.

He took us to a sushi place nearby where he has apparently enough of a regular that he has a reserved bottle of imo-shochu (sweet potato vodka) on hand. He arranged for some vegetarian options for sushi, which were all very sappari and very different from vegetarian attempts at sushi I’ve seen at US Japanese restaurants… the rice was seasoned substantially more subtly and even with simple pickle maki zushi the flavor was very carefully considered.

We talked a lot about prices, product details, and so on, after a reasonable amount of small talk. Michiko actually did most of the talking, as I had a difficult time following Takeshi’s Japanese. I’m sure it was very standard, but somehow I couldn’t keep up… maybe the presence of another Japanese who seemed to have sufficient translation skills made him avoid dumbing-down what he wanted to say, and made me a little more brain-dead. Anyway, he said he would work with me as long as Michiko gets some percentage; he said that he felt she was very trustworthy.

Actually after dinner he extended the discussion to a little more drinking at a somewhat exclusive-looking jazz bar (Michiko and I had simple iced oolong tea and he continued drinking); most of the clients are salary men and are entertained by a single waitress sitting between them. I think we’re the only table without such entertainment (not appropriate in mixed company) and also the one table where the bar’s owner came and spent a substantial amount of time talking to Takeshi and occasionally to us. He spoke in a very familiar way to the staff of both places we visited.

He was generous to what for me are unusual extremes… he even paid for our train tickets home and he accompanied me as far as we were continuing in the same direction. Anyway, tomorrow we’re expected to go and meet him at the department store again to arrange for delivery of some product samples.

Some indulgences, part 2, Tokyo, March 2006

Hassaku Orange

Hassaku orange

A somewhat dry-fleshed, thick-skinned orange, possibly from Ehime prefecture, popular for its sappari or refreshing taste. It’s a bit bitter and perhaps a bit similar to a Seville orange.

Matcha madeleine

Matcha-madeleine

Not quite shaped like a traditional madeleine, this was a conceptual sample from one of my green tea suppliers made with a madeleine-style batter.

Matcha cake

Matcha poundcake

This matcha dessert was more of a pound cake style.

Zundamochi and Ayamemochi

Zunda-mochi

Zundamochi are daifuku made with edamame paste. They’d probably be more impressive in cross-section, but we were hungry already. We found them at Mura-kara-machi-kara-kan.

Smoked egg

Smokedegg

One of our smoked eggs, before peeling. We ate the smoked eggs for breakfast in the hotel.

Okayu

Okayu

A few years ago a chain of okayu restaurants sprouted up around Tokyo, even offering brown rice and multigrain versions. With modest 200–300 calorie portions and optional add-ins, the restaurants are popular with women in their 20s and 30s. There are no unaccompanied men in most of these, and I was one of perhaps two in the restaurant. Hiromi had the yuba and greens okayu in the foreground, which had 5 grains; mine was a brown rice okayu with fried onions and greens, with an add-on onsen tamago (soft-boiled egg).

Kabocha mushi cake

Kabochamushi

I’ve forgotten what they called it, but this is essentially a steamed cake with chunks of kabocha, and ever so slightly sweet. It’s actually in the “yum-cha” or dim-sum part of the okayu shop’s menu, rather than their dessert section.

Annin-doufu

Annindoufu

Almond “tofu”, a flavored gelled dessert.

Sakura ice cream

Sakura ice

Cherry-blossom ice cream, from an old-school kissaten near Meguro-station that serves average quality vacuum-pot coffee and various sandwich-like nibbles. The ice cream appears to be a lightly-flavored cherry ice cream served on a cherry leaf and topped with shiozuke, or salt-pickled cherry blossom. This one wasn’t terribly salty, so they may have rinsed it first.

Half day trip to Icheon: All about the rice

Hiromi and I met in Seoul late at night Friday, and woke up insanely early (6am) after too little sleep. After a breakfast of al bap for Hiromi (tarako or cod roe on rice) and cool bibimbap for me, we got on the bus to meet an eGullet acquaintance in Icheon, a town I've only previously visited for its biennial pottery festival.

Bus to Icheon

And we're off...

Hiromi en route to Icheon

Our driver gets caught shoulder-driving and passing on the right...

D'oh! Pulled over...

He gets a little scolding.

Polite conversation between two professionals.

Finally, we make it to Icheon, which, in addition to being a pottery destination, is also a major rice producing area. At Cheng Mok restaurant in Icheon, it's all about the rice.

 Hot bowl of fancy rice

Apparently, this particular rice and preparation, ssal bap, was considered suitable for royalty. But you might want a few things to accompany the rice...

A few side dishes to accompany our meal

Some simple pajeon (scallion pancakes)...

Pajeon

Ssam (lettuce and other leaves) for wrapping various treats...

Ssam

Gratuitous gimchi (kimchi) porn... 

Kimchi (gimchi)  

 Hobak (Korean zucchini)

Dwaenjang (miso) soup with cabbage.

Grilled fish (for the carnivores in our party)  

We leave fat and happy...

 

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