Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tucking in!

Since the moment I landed in Tokyo I have been at the mercy of my extended family and their willingness to stuff me full of delicious Japanese foods of all varieties.  They seem to think I am joking when I say I am going to weigh the plane down on the flight home, and it fact I need to stop making comments like that because it only seems to flatter them into loading me with another helping of the most delicious steak/sashimi/noodles/fried delicacy that you have had in your life.   

Above is a picture of what mochi looks like in its block form.  Ok, so to make mochi, rice is pounded until it becomes a giant glutinous ball and then if willed other things can be added to it (this mochi has sesame and raw peanuts) and then it sets and turns into the hardest rock ever.  When you are ready to eat it you cut it into thin slices (or most often you buy it in sort of a thin sheet and slice it, or it comes already sliced) and cook it from there.   You can cook it many ways, in a toaster oven or over an open flame or in a frying pan, and it puffs up and gets all gooey and warm inside.  Then you dip it in a mix of sugar and shoyu (soy sauce) and woot woot, that's a good chewy ball of pounded rice!
Ready and waiting to be eaten at the New Year!  It is traditional to eat mochi at the New Year to bring vitality in the coming year, but if you just type in "mochi death" into your preferred search engine the horror that can come along with the New Year's consumption of mochi is easily revealed!  A Japan Times January 3, 2007 article sites "sixteen people ranging in age from 65 to 91 were hospitalized after choking on mochi Monday and Tuesday, including two fatalities, and seven lost consciousness and were in serious condition."  Haha, the first thought that comes to mind is how my dachshund wolfs down his food without chewing, so mochi + wiener dog must = certain death! Yikes, I'm chewing slowly, fear not!
That metro really lulls everyone to sleep!
New Year's decorations.  Everyone seems to be caught up in the madness of cleaning and decorating for the New Year.  I am not really going to try explaining the significance of each element other than they all mean health and happiness in the new year and all that jazz.  Everyone is putting pine branches on either side of the entrance of houses and putting various white and red significant flowers in the house.  Cleaning family tombs and adorning them with fresh flowers, arranging traditional menus for New Year's Even and Day, sending cards and packages and preparing to drop some yen in the New Year's sales.   The hustle and bustle of this holiday has really swept me up and I feel so lucky that not only did I get to have Christmas but now it is the New Year and it is one hundred times as exciting!
Kaiseki ryori.  The other night some of my even more extended family invited me to a fancy dinner in Ginza for kaiseki ryori.  This style of eating is the Japanese haute cuisine consisting of many very exquisite dishes.  I only got a few pictures (and sorry, they are mostly not in focus which I am going to try to blame on the nihonshu (sake) I consumed), so it is hard to get the feel for how many amazingly detailed dishes we were served.   Ok, so wikipedia is going to do the quick trick here: 

"In the present day, kaiseki is a type of art form that balances taste, texture, appearance and colors of food.  To this end, only fresh seasonal ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor.  Local ingredients are often included as well.  Finished dishes are carefully presented on colorful plates that are chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal.  Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals."  

Ok, to be honest, I think that description above could be applied to almost all Japanese food, but kaiseki in particular takes the appreciation of fresh ingredients and simplicity to the next level.  Though difficult to tell from my pictures...
This was a small stew of oyster, fugu (the poisonous puffer fish), tofu and vegetable.  The broth was rich and incredibly flavorful.
Japanese radish on a bed of sashimi with broccoli flower and Japanese mint flowers.
All of the dishes were very beautiful and hand painted.
Agh, this picture is so terrible, but it was the most interesting tasting dish!  A creamy puree of mushrooms and radish with some really rich fish on the bottom.
This was my favorite dish.  Starting on the left, a pickled ginger shoot and fish, roasted mushroom and slightly spicy pepper and wagyu beef with watercress.  Oh man, I didn't know what beef should taste like before I came to Japan!   Wagyu is a beef that has an incredible marbling of unsaturated fat and one of the highest percentages of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (thank you wikipedia)  in any kind of beef, and therefore also is the tenderest, juiciest most melt-in-your mouth animal that I have ever had the pleasure of eating.  Wagyu is also the beef that you hear about being massaged and fed beer to increase its flavor and fat distribution.
Soba noodles made with green tea.
A relative showing off an exquisitily painted rice bowl.
And now, the opposite of kaiseki, Japanese American food.  Japanese people love omu-rice, which is an ommlette wrapped around some kind of flavored rice.  Oh, and they also love these fried "croquettes" (creamy potatoes often mixed with shrimp, chicken or crab and deep fried).  For some reason I can eat way more of this Japanese fried fare than I could eat at home, but then again, check out this double chin I am developing!

1 comment:

FullmetalFlurry said...

Whatever Kelly! You are NOT developing a double chin you crazy person you! XD So there! -From your anime obsessed sister

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Kelly! ^___^