This is V.....Last month I went to Japan to visit my best friend, K, and her husband C. K has been living in Kyoto for the past year as a part of her PhD program. She'll be returning to Virginia in August and insisted that I visit before her return. So, off I went, for a week in Japan, with a good friend of mine, Z.
First stop, Tokyo. We landed on my birthday! Definitely a birthday not to forget. To celebrate we went to this great hole-in-the-wall Ramen Shop in the Shibuya neighborhood of Tokyo. Shibuya has several universities and is filled with young college students. I ordered a traditional pork ramen and asked for a spicy broth. It was delicious! And, the young man working there was extremely helpful in explaining each ingredient in all of the ramens. I downed it with some nice cool Japanese beer, Asahi. Definitely a lighter flavor than most beers we're use to.
Second stop, Lake Kawaguchiko. This is one of the five lakes surround the Five Lakes region by Mount Fuji. Completely beautiful. Very touristy. Great views of the mountains, lake and Mount Fuji. However, the only quick stop for food in our one-day there wasn't a very pleasant experience. Perhaps because it was such a touristy place the food wasn't very appealing? Anyway, our final stop provided Z and I with some wonderful dishes to try!
Third stop, Kyoto. This was the final stop during our week-long adventure in Japan. This is also where K and C live, so they were perfect hosts and took us to the most delicious food spots. On our arrival, C took us to a sushi place right around the corner from there apartment. I decided on a nigiri plate filled with an array of fish options, including octopus, eel, tuna, egg, and salmon. For those of you that might not know, nigiri is where you see raw fish laid on top of a molded piece of rice, sushi is rice and fish wrapped in seaweed. While in the U.S. we're used to dousing our sushi/nigiri in soy sauce or a mix of soy sauce and wasabi, my plate came with no wasabi and you are only supposed to lightly dip your sushi/nigiri in the soy sauce.
That evening K and C took us to what they said is the BEST gyoza place in Kyoto, and after a quick Google search, apparently the world (or at least Trip Advisor) agrees. Anzukko is the name of the restaurant: http://www.anzukko.com/sp/en/. We ordered a Set which included several courses: steamed shrimp and scallop gyoza, pork gyozas, noodles with beef and almond ice cream for dessert. My favorite was the pork gyoza, which I can hands down say was the best gyoza I've had.
The next day Z and I headed out early to explore Kyoto. We wandered the many many temples that Kyoto is known for - both Shinto and Buddhist. One of the temples was known for its fox shrines. Fushimi Inari-taisha is a Shinto shrine, and foxes are believed to be messengers. There were statutes everywhere. It was beautiful. At the base of the mountain that leads you to the Inari shrine, is an open air market with all kinds of food vendors. C told us to try Takoyaki. What is takoyaki you ask? Well, they are fried octopus balls. And the lady that made them did an amazing job!! I took a video so you can see the level of skill it takes to make these things :) She puts the batter into the molds and then drops a small piece of octopus into each mold, as they cook she starts rotating them. Once they're done she places them in a styrofoam dish and tops them with a spicy teriyaki-style sauce, Japanese Mayo, and dried fish flakes. Japanese Mayo was found as a topping on several street fare and other dishes. Japanese Mayonnaise is made with apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar, which gives it a different flavor from the mayonnaise you find elsewhere which is made from distilled vinegar.
As our final send-off before leaving Kyoto to head back to Narita International and fly back to Virginia, K and C took us to have one of the traditional dishes that Kyoto, Japan is known for...Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a traditional, savory Japanese pancake that is cooked directly at the table. There are a wide variety of toppings you can get. I ordered a pork and kimchi okonomiyaki that was topped with leeks and several different spicy sauces along with Japanese Mayo. Donguri is a famous restaurant in Kyoto known for Okonomiyaki, and there's was wonderful as well as super heavy.
And, with that, we headed back to Virginia the next morning. The different food of Japan was truly something to experience...and now, I'm excited to think about where I'll go next and equally as important, what I'll EAT next ;)