Saturday, December 12, 2009

Okonomiyaki and Other Food I Can't Pronounce

I acquired my love of sushi and tempura years ago. In fact, Paul and I went to a sushi restaurant on our first date, so it always brings back good memories.

But girl cannot live on sushi alone, even in Japan. I tried tons of food that I'd never had before, and only a little that I will never try again.

First of all, a sight I came to love in Japan:

Soft serve ice cream! These giant cones seemed to be everywhere. And as you can see, they generally weren't advertising vanilla, strawberry or chocolate. My favorite was the green tea soft serve. I've had regular green tea ice cream once at a Thai place in our neighborhood, but it wasn't the same. This was much sweeter.

Paul liked the black sesame soft serve, which I thought tasted absolutely disgusting. The purple potato flavor wasn't bad, though.

Purple potato (left) and black sesame ice cream

Ice cream shops were far from the only places that served green tea-flavored concoctions. Green tea in Japan is like water in the U.S.-- it was automatically served at almost every meal. I came to look forward to it -- especially my morning cup at our hotel in Tokyo.

So needless to say, if I saw something green tea flavored, I was bound to try it. My favorite: Japanese dumplings made from rice flour and green tea (at least that's what the English sign said). Unfortunately, Paul liked them too, so I had to share.

One morning in Kyoto we picked up breakfast at the train station at a place that looked like the Japanese version of Au Bon Pain. Our meal:

My green tea pastry was filled with cream. Paul's pastry was filled with a hot dog. This seemed to be popular. Even McDonald's was advertising a "McHotDog MegaSausage."

In Hiroshima, I knew I had to have a Momiji Manju, a specialty of the area. It's basically a maple leaf-shaped cookie-cake filled with any number of flavors. I tried the green tea there, and the chocolate and red bean paste ones at home. All equally tasty.

Red bean paste was an unexpectedly delicious dessert. Vastly underused in America, I think.

Other surprises: my love of eel. Yummy! And miso soup for breakfast: Much more satisfying than plain old cereal. Oh- and fried oysters. I had those twice. And actually, I didn't think the squid was so bad either.

Squid on a stick.

Most of the time we knew what we were eating-- fish, rice, soba, udon. Needless to say, my chopsticks skills have vastly improved. At least most of the food makes it to my mouth instead of dropping on the table. But there's still a lot of food dropped on the table. Sigh.

Sometimes we had no idea what we were eating until it was half gone. Paul chose something that looked like a savory donut at a street stand in Tokyo. It ended up having a hard-boiled egg inside.

And sometimes we only kind of knew what we were getting ourselves into.

One of my favorite meals of our entire trip came on our very last night. Gail and Joe took us to an okonomiyaki restaurant. Joe said this literally translates to "as-you-like-it pancake." An English menu we saw earlier in the trip took liberties and called it Japanese pizza. Whatever. It's terrific.

We sat right at the grill where the cook combined noodles, lots of cabbage, bacon, some spices, ingredients like cheese and corn and who knows what else. The finished meal was scooped into a personal pan (others eat it off the grill) and topped with some sort of barbecue sauce-- deep-dish Chicago pizza, Hiroshima style.

I didn't get any photos, but this site has a good description of how it's made, with pictures. I've since found out that several restaurants in New York serve it, so I'll definitely be doing a taste test.

Like usual, the food and drink was one of our vacation highlights. We had sushi at two conveyor-belt restaurants, yakitori, sake, and even fermented soybeans.

Fermented soybeans: One of the things I will not be trying again.

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