again, i wish we'd spent more time here! osaka didn't seem like so much in the daytime, though i can't say i spent too much time outside of shops and department stores. but at night, the city was teeming with people looking for late-night eats and of course drinks.
a friend who i met in copenhagen at a couchsurfing party was gracious enough to take me to her favourite takoyaki place. 'octopus balls' may sound like a sad prank of a meal, but i promise you it's delicious. it's a savoury, spherical pancake with bits of octopus inside and slathered with a brown sauce and bonito flakes. seeing how thin she is, i was surprised when she suggested we get okonomiyaki afterward. it was about 9pm; i don't mind eating late, but i have to say i wasn't expecting to in japan.
thankfully the okonomiyaki place was pretty popular, so i got to digest a bit while waiting in line. once seated, we got to watch the cooks at the bar expertly forming our dinners. the batter seems to be very similar to takoyaki, but with many more options on fillings. we split two very common pancakes; one with pork belly and cabbage and another with green onion and cabbage (a.k.a. negiyaki). the toppings are also similar to their round counterparts with the brown sauce and the addition of kewpie mayo. equally delicious.
we were only there for two days, but i think 2 weeks in japan was about all the dane could handle. we stayed at guesthouse bon, a nice homestay which was recommended to me by a friend. it is not a ryokan or hotel, it's like someone's home with several additional bedrooms. our host was so kind; showing us points of interest on his wall covered by a hand-drawn map and even picking us up and dropping us off at the nearest subway station. it's a beautiful city, one of the only places in japan where the charm overshadowed the food for me. but that's not to say that we didn't have some good meals there!
unlike osaka and tokyo, this is not a port city. of course in this day and age it is much easier to get fresh fish in landlocked areas, but the traditional sushi in kyoto is preserved. pictured above is a particularly good sabazushi, which is lightly pickled mackerel covered with what i think is thinly-sliced kombu. the flavour is not as delicate fresh fish, but it's delicious! it is a little on the large side though, so i had to bite it in half. i always feel a bit self-conscious when i fail to eat sushi in one bite. >_>;
we also happened upon a hole-in-the-wall noodle shop while on our way to the silver pavilion. i ordered soba noodles and the dane got udon. my dish came with a mackerel braised in soy sauce. it was very flavourful! it wasn't very complicated but it didn't cost much either and it really hit the spot.
the silver pavilion was lovely, but packed with people. almost all of them were japanese, which is definitely a step above american tourists. yes, i realize i am american too, which makes it all the more embarrassing when their voices carry over everyone else's in the metro in copenhagen. anyway, i got bitten by 15 mosquitos (or the same number of times by a single mosquito..) and then we made our way over to the next famous spot.
the sight of all these bright red gates is really something. i have seen many photos of it and once we got there, the dane pointed out; how did they manage to take those photos? it is really hard to get both rows of shrine in the frame, especially with tourists walking in both directions. the photo above is actually the back of the gates where you can see the donor of each one has signed it. after seeing only two sights, we headed to osaka... but not without getting a kyoto-style bento for the road!
we experienced a lot of good food in japan, not least of all the lunch boxes that ranged from simple breakfasts to elaborate works of art to be consumed on the bullet train. there was so much care put into arranging each one and so many different flavours to choose from.. and (usually) very reasonably priced! this bento was about 1,270 yen (around $15 usd). the ones you can get at convenience stores for breakfast look a bit less exciting, but the price matches at 200-600 yen ($2.50-7.50 usd). ever since i can remember, people have been telling me that japan is a very expensive place to visit. but compared to copenhagen, most things are a bargain! we walked away from most of our meals with very reasonable receipts.
upon returning home, my husband announced that he would like to try bentos for his own lunch. although some wives would have rolled their eyes at the prospect of an added workload, i was stoked! his health has deteriorated during the year and i have been bugging him to let me pack a lunch he can take to work. normally he will eat a shawarma or sandwich from a shop nearby; not the healthiest or cheapest way to go about things. pictured above is the latest one i've made for him; (canned) tuna rolls, soy sauce packet, tofu patties and a bear-ful of tonkatsu sauce, potatoes and carrots cooked in indonesian soup, and a clementine.
after a week of bentos, what's the verdict? he loves it! the convenience of not having to worry about what to eat today or when is a good time to take a break to go buy it, coupled with the money saved makes it a no-brainer. plus it gets him to eat a couple more vegetables than he normally would, and eat more rice and less wheat. i pack a lunch for myself anyway, so it's not really so much extra work for me. the only problem is that he has a fridge but no microwave at work, so i have to plan a meal that will be enjoyable (and safe!) to eat cold. over the weekend i invested in the project by buying a 20kg bag of japanese rice.. for 400kr!! omg. my mom will probably scream when she reads this. japanese and korean products are not widely available (or inexpensive..) in copenhagen, so once my stock of items from 100 yen shops has run out, it will take a bit more creativity to blend elements of the danish madpakke with the japanese bento and korean doshirak.
yet another travel post! it may seem like i go on a lot of adventures, but really this year is an exception. normally in my free time, i sit at home and twiddle my thumbs and cook to keep insanity at bay... heh heh. but this trip was a long time coming. even before my husband and i were married, we fantasized about going to japan together. we had only traveled twice together besides to and from our respective homes; new york and new zealand. we had a blast together and were looking forward to doing it again. fast-forward to 4 years later and we haven't traveled to any new places at all. luckily when we got married, my parents gave us money towards our honeymoon. and that's what this was, a belated honeymoon to japan. ^^
oh, the food. the service was impeccable at every restaurant we ate at; i am not used to servers being so polite after living in copenhagen for 4 years... ok! that's the first and last jab at denmark for this post. while my husband was more interested in eating as much quality sushi he could fit into his tummy, i was looking forward to comfort foods like freshly-made ramen/udon/soba, katsu-sando, tarako, pretty much anything with tofu.. i did get to eat all those lovely things, but i feel like i didn't eat enough noodles. the ones i had were all very good, with perfect bite and length. nothing sadder than a short noodle when you are expecting to slurp. (;
they have a tendency to eat eggs quite raw in japan; which i have absolutely no problem with, since they take the necessary precautions. i never got sick from food in japan, even though i was served almost raw eggs to crack on top of the tsukemen pictured above. and the yolks are bright orange! you can also get them already cooked (somewhat) at convenience stores if you have a craving. seems like those shops are much better in asia than any other place in the world, or at least it seems that way to me. i only ate breakfast once in a hotel because you can always find a delicious bento at the convenience store and they will warm it up for you. or if i wasn't feeling hungry, i'd just buy an umeboshionigiri for later. everything was delicious, i don't remember tasting anything i didn't like. even tomato chocolate.. it took a while, but it grew on me. ^^
along with seeking out and ingesting all the food, we did do some sightseeing. in tokyo we went to koishikawa korakuen gardens, tsukiji market, and attempted to enter the imperial gardens which turned out to be inexplicably closed on the one day we had time to go. it was closed sunday, and monday was a national holiday.. 'health and sports day.' grrrr! i highly recommend visiting the other two places, though. contrary to what i've read online, you don't need to show up at tsukiji market at the crack of dawn unless you want to watch the tuna auction or line up at sushi dai or daiwa zushi. we weren't interested in a 5am wake-up call, so we moseyed along at our own pace and reached the outer market at about 11:30. it was still bustling with activity and we sat down to a delicious (and reasonably-priced) sushi lunch at a random spot. afterwards we poked our heads into the actual fish market, which was all but shut down. merchants were hosing the place down and the boxes were empty, but we did get to witness two guys wrestling with a slice of tuna.
we only got to see a fraction of the city so i'm hoping i can go back someday. especially for the shopping! be on the lookout for places like tokyu hands, muji, and 100 yen shops for cool stuff that won't put a dent in your wallet. besides not eating enough noodles, my other regret of the trip was not buying enough groceries and clothes! especially packs of umeboshi and seaweed at tsukiji. i did get some but my suitcases were almost halfway under the weight limit. it's very unusual for me to not be right at 23kg! i should have bought more stuff... but i was thankful for the lower weight once we got home. we live on the second floor (third floor to americans) of an apartment with no elevator, so coming home from trips is hard in more ways than one! my husband was probably also grateful, as i tend to squeeze provisions into every corner of the flat. but he'll thank me when the zombie apocalypse is upon us...