Japan culinary experiences …
Welcome to Matcha tea, Matcha Tea ice cream – with or without gold leaf sprinkles (!), Japanese pickles, the lightest most delicious rice crackers and rice snacks and much of the freshest fish in the world. Plus, an amazing selection of fine aged Sake to sample and savor as well as many fine craft beers.
Our favorite eating experiences in the “elegant” category were Shabu-Shabu, Tempura, and Kaiseki.
Shabu-Shabu at Junidanya Restaurant in Kyoto, where shabu-shabu was invented. This popular dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables is cooked by the client in a hotpot of boiling water whose flavor and aroma enriches with each new item placed into the hotpot for cooking. Using our chopsticks, we put one or two items into the pot a time, took each out as it was done and then dipped it into a dipping sauce and ate it with our rice.
We so enjoyed this light and flavorful meal that we returned a second time to Junidanya to savor the experience once again. The quality of the restaurant itself, with its stunning art collection and historic beauty, provided us with enjoyment on a multitude of levels.
Tempura at the Ritz Carlton in Osaka ~ While Tempura was not a new eating experience for us, and we did enjoy it several times during our travel in Japan, our most outstanding Tempura experience was at Hanagatami Restaurant in the Ritz Carlton in Osaka where the highly skilled Tempura Chef Takeshi Fukana used a divinely light and delicious batter and waited on us the entire time, demonstrating his artistry right in front of us, and also making sure that he served us the elements of this dish in the proper tasting order and that there was just the right interval of time between items served.
He also carefully told us whether to use sea salt, lemon or soy dipping sauce as he delivered the artfully deep-fried items to us. Meanwhile, his assistant perfectly kept time with our drinking, so that we never ran out of warm Sake which paired perfectly with the delicious Tempura. The result was an extraordinarily satisfying Tempura dinner of utmost lightness, flavor and quality.
Kaiseki ~ We enjoyed this ultra-sophisticated and uniquely Japanese tasting menu experience twice during our trip, first at the very luxurious Nishimuraya Honkan ryokan, a “traditional Japanese inn” in Kinosaki Onsen and again at the very historic Tsubajin Ryotei, a “traditional Japanese restaurant” in Kanazawa, with two Geishas entertaining and hostessing us.
For Kaiseki, beauty and the elegance of artful presentation, both visual and narrative, is as important as the taste and variety of the food, resulting in a very fulfilling experience. Also key to the experience is the seasonality and therefore freshness of the food.
While we tried various types of popular Japanese street food, what we most enjoyed in the “affordable” category was Kushikatsu in a charming but quite affordable little restaurant, Kushinobo in Osaka on Takimi Koji Underground Gourmet Street in Basement 1F under the Umeda Sky Building. Said to have originated from Shinsekai in Osaka, Kushikatsu is bite-sized meat and vegetables skewered, coated in a light batter and fried until golden. Common items on the menu include beef, pork, lotus root and even seasonal fish … and we happily sampled and enjoyed them all!
At first glance, Kushikatsu might easily be mistaken for a variation of tempura. But the two differ in how the batter is made. While the batter in tempura is made with water, flour and eggs, the batter for Kushikatsu uses a stronger flour with breadcrumbs added to the mix. The accoutrements for Kushikatsu, also differ. Deep-fried skewers are served with dipping sauce on a piece of bread to absorb the oils from the fried items. Plus, a plate of thick-cut fermented cabbage strips are served on the side to help cleanse the palate while enjoying the meal.
Please stay tuned for yet another round of reflections on the highlights and favorite experiences from our trip to Japan!
As always, our focus at BonVoyageurs is on the joie de vivre we experience when we travel, and all opinions expressed in our articles are our own.
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