Saturday, January 05, 2008

Very Much Like a Whale: Eating Japan Pt 1


Men’s fashion in Toyko this micro second seems to consist of looking like a cross between Russell Brand shot with a glitter gun and a Kiss band member on a day off. An Edward Scissorhands meets a rock scarecrow. For the ladies the Gothic Lolita look is very much in vogue. Don’t ask me what a Gothic Lolita is, but it looks like a cross between what I was wearing in 1988 hanging out in Kensington Market listening to The Cure and the Fields of the Nephilim and a strange Mary Poppins vibe; bonnets and petticoats and the like coupled with as much skull based jewelry as is possible to wear without falling over. A sort of Sleepy Hollow schtick. The slightly older ladies seem content with very short city shorts and very high boots. I feel permanently underdressed no matter where I am, and a complete old perv. Lucky, then I have the distraction of the 300,000 eating establishments Tokyo boasts to keep me from the humiliation of trying clothes on in Japanese menswear stores (“I’m sorry, sir, you’ll have to go to the Sumo district for those sizes”).

Coming to Toyko, you get a great many recommendations for places to eat, followed usually by a series of mixed up and contradictory directions. The guide books are all written by tofu munching hippies as far as I can see (though I have eaten a great deal of tofu and realized it’s not the same stuff they try and press gang you into eating in wholefood cafes) and strangely don’t seem to recommend very many actual Japanese places, and then there’s the Michelin guide to consider. Frankly, I took one look at the thing in the airport and decided I was better off following my nose. It struck me that I would need a letter of introduction from a high to medium ranking member of the angelic host to even get a sniff. It’s hard not to get caught up in the bleeding edge cuisine game, frantically trying to get reservations and the like and to be honest, whilst I’ve succumb on a few occasions over the last week or so, the best food I’ve eaten on this trip has been completely by accident, getting lost, walking into the first place I could see and ordering what the bloke next to me was having.

So, a few highlights and one particularly insane low point. 3 perfect slices of tuna, two a deep blood red, the one on top an almost bubblegum pink, a spring of tiny pink perilla flowers heart achingly positioned next to them atop a long maple wood counter in Mayashita on the 36th floor of the Maranouchi building above Tokyo Metro station. A chou bun and a cup of coffee watching the thousands walk past in Harajuku. A bowl of soba noodles and a piece of semi dried fish in an unassuming but beautiful noodle house, small glass cabinets displaying pine cones and sweet little wood cuts of radishes, chosen because we were lost and it was bloody freezing; the single best noodles I’ve eaten but I’d be buggered if I could tell you what it was called or where it was. In Kyoto, playing a game of “What this called?” (“Ahh…Blowfish!”) with three chefs whilst eating kaiseki, the fantastically elaborate style of food of the city; more than likely the original tasting menu, old school to the tune of a thousand years. They had a little handwritten card behind the counter, which they would consult before introducing the next course.

A bowl of stew, containing at least four items I could not and still cannot name coupled with a bowl of rice topped with fish fry in a local restaurant in a back street of Kyoto, no English menu, no English speakers, just pointing at things in pots and hoping. Really beautiful, beautiful food made by three guys in a kitchen with more elegant discipline that any other kitchen I’ve ever seen. Almost silent these three worked, the waitress calling the orders and they acknowledging with a barely audible “Hai” and a nod, moving round each other with practiced ease.

Oh yeah, and possibly the most revolting combination of jelly fish and slices of duck in a dunderhead trendoid restaurant in Roppongi; it had a beautifully studied worn cool to it, but the food was shockingly bad and apparently I learnt as we left, Italian. Who knew.

I’m typing this from the 22nd floor of my hotel over looking the sparkling lights of Shibuya half expecting a police spinner with Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos to fly past, Harrison with a half eaten bowl of noodles in hand. I have dinner reservations. More soon.


Scott at Real Epicurean said...

Damnit. This has got to beat the sushi salad from Tesco the guy in the office opposite me was eating today :(

Celine said...

Can't wait for the next post!

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