SushiSushiSushiSushiSushiSushiSushi. That was my train of thought while planning this trip to Japan. I was so excited about all the amazing sushi I would be eating. I knew there would be other foods to explore and love, but I just couldn’t wait for the sushi. Amazing sushi was had. We’ve all seen sushi (if you haven’t, then you’re really missing out. Don’t just stop at looking at photos of sushi. Go try some!)
Warning: this post contains zero sushi. Now I’m craving sushi. Does anyone know of a good sushi joint in Orange County that is open at midnight? No? Bummer. Japan has much to offer culinarily aside from sushi. We had tofu, noodles, eggs, toast, pickles, tempura, beef, duck, rice, rice, rice. We had a good variety of foods in Japan. Two of our meals in particular stuck out to me as unique, and those are the ones I will share with you now.
We ate 300-year-old tofu. Yes. Wait, no that doesn’t sound right. We ate tofu from a restaurant in Kyoto that has had the same tofu recipe, using their own water source far underground below their restaurant, for 300 years. This restaurant has stayed in the same family for 300 years, and has been using the same recipe for 300 years. I’d say Sasa-no-yuki knows what they’re doing!
We sat on tatami mats for the first time (which I was very excited about), ordered some sake, and enjoyed this seven course tofu journey. Here’s the thing about sake: it is alcohol. Also, it comes in little tiny bottles. Silly Americans like us are used to large portions so we ordered three bottles of sake. The little old lady that was serving us confirmed, twice, that we did indeed want three bottles of sake and giggled as she walked away. We thought she was just giggling at our terrible Japanese. Turns out, one bottle of sake per person was more than we needed. It comes out to about four little glasses of sake, which equals about four bottles of beer in alcohol content. I don’t tend to drink that much in a one hour period. So by the end of this meal I was definitely feeling the sake in my system!
Right: Pure Cold Tofu. Sasa No Yuki would love for their patrons to just enjoy the pure simplicity of this cold tofu, unadulterated. They understand that some people just don’t appreciate food in this way so they serve their first course with a dipping sauce of soy, ginger and scallions. Pure, homemade tofu is not like the commercial product I am used to. It has the same clean taste, but the texture is more smooth and silky, almost decadent.
Left: Tofu Paste served with assorted vegetables. Upon placing our dishes in front of us, our server made wild stirring motions with her hands and we understood to mix up all the vegetables into the tofu paste. I don’t know what all those vegetables were, but the paste was light, tangy and slightly sweet. I wanted more.
Left: Goma Tofu. Tofu made of sesame and arrowroot, topped with sweet citrus-flavored soy bean paste. This was a difficult course for me to eat. The tofu had a gummy texture that I could barely swallow.
Right: Ankake Tofu. This is the restaurant’s signature and original dish. Tofu in a thickened and slightly sweetened soy sauce, topped with a dot of spicy mustard. Served warm, this dish was comforting and the spicy mustard helped to play up the flavors and make it more exciting.
Unsui. Scallop, shrimp, shiitake, and vegetables wrapped in Yuba in a steamed soy milk broth. Topped with Yuzu peel.
Deep fried tofu served with soy sauce. I loved these little soy sauce containers. Many restaurants served their soy sauce this way instead of in the store packaging that we’re used to. I never found one in a store to purchase, but I guess I could order it online or something. I pretty much need one for home.
Uzumi Tofu. Hot soup with rice, tofu and vegetables. Topped with laver. Served with pickles and horseradish. I was unclear as to whether or not I was supposed to mix the two together so I did not. I’m not a pickle fan so I ate more pickles in Japan than I have in my entire life. The nice thing about pickles in Japan is that, like most of their food, it is very lightly seasoned and simple in flavor. The pickles weren’t as “pickle-y” as they are here. This soup was my favorite course of the meal.
Matcha Green Tea. No tofu here, but a staple of Japanese dining.
Tofu Ice Cream. Made of tofu and plum jam. Topped with a melon sauce. I’ve never had tofu ice cream, but if I could find some here in the States that tastes like this one did, then it would always be in my freezer. This was a very satisfying dessert.
We stayed in a Ryokan for one night in Kyoto. We wanted to have some very traditional experiences in Japan, but we knew our old backs would not be happy sleeping on tatami mats every night. So we booked a ryokan for one night and really made the most of it. We bathed in the onsen, ordered the kaiseki meal for dinner, and even wore the robes down to dinner. This was a night when the boys really indulged me. I’d wanted us to all wear the robes since day one. They were hesitant, but finally gave in due to a miscommunication with the hotel staff. We thought the robes were a requirement for dinner, but we ended up being the only party at dinner in the robes and socks. I was thrilled!
David and Jonathan learning how to properly serve and receive sake (we shared a bottle this time, actually two).
This eight course dinner was beautifully presented and very impressive. The hotel staff spoke very little english, and we speak very little Japanese, so we weren’t able to ask what we were being served with each course. It was a guessing game for the most part. We had some raw tuna and squid, tempura, pickles, tofu, rice, miso soup. Those are the items we recognized. As for the rest, your guess is as good as mine! Click the photo to enlarge. Do you recognize any of these dishes?
Japan has amazing sushi, and we had our fair share, but it also has so much more to offer at mealtime. These were two dinners we had in Japan, but the items pictured above were typical of every meal we enjoyed. Breakfast and lunch often consist of steamed rice and fish as well. We opted for the “Western” breakfast many mornings in Japan. If you’ll be going to Japan that is something to keep in mind. You won’t be eating many foods that you’re used to. The flavors are more subdued and everything is fresh and clean. I got used to the light meals. Even these eight course meals were lighter than a typical American one course meal! It was an adjustment coming back home, and I actually think I’m still eating lighter than I was before I went to Japan.
You will have many grand adventures in Japan, but dont’ forget to take the time to experience and enjoy the many flavors they have to offer.
What is the most adventurous meal you’ve ever had?