Monday, January 3, 2011

Chopstick it over, Tokyo! - Welcome to Japan

This is a guest post by Joel Edinberg, my frequent dining companion/co-conspirator/etc. Just over a year ago, he took a business trip to Japan. He took tons of food photos to make me jealous. He succeeded. This will be the first of four posts by Joel about the food he encountered on his trip.
Ohayo gozaimasu! This is Joel here, writing part one of the four part Fork it over, Boston! mini blog series Chopstick it over, Tokyo! As you all know by now, at night I am an occasional guest food blogger, but during the day I dress up in my spandex and cape and work for a telecomm company. Occasionally, they send me over to Japan to help out with our customers. That’s right, an American company that sells technology to the Japanese. Last December (2009), they sent me over for about two weeks to Isehara, a small city about an hour outside of Tokyo. It even has a slight view of the top of Mount Fuji, as you can see below.

Though it is hard to see from this cell phone picture, that white spot in the red circle is the top of Mount Fuji.
In today’s post, I will be telling you about all the good standard/traditional foods that I ate in Japan (good luck with all the links to restaurant websites, unless you can read Japanese). And, let me tell you, what you eat out there and what you see in America as “Japanese” are two different things. Actually, the same goes the other way around. At Denny’s in Japan, you can have a breakfast with bacon, eggs, toast, nattō, and a seaweed salad. But don’t get nattō. It’s really disgusting.

The first place I ate was a Japanese grill called Gyukaku. It’s very similar to a Korean barbecue where you cook your own food on a grill that’s on your table. They had many different cuts of steak, pork, and chicken (including offal). The waitstaff looked at me and found the best English speaker to help my colleague and me with the menu. They didn’t even have to ask if we didn’t speak Japanese…it’s amazing how they just know. We ate an assortment of beef and pork cuts. These came with different dipping sauces and were a lot of fun to cook and eat. My colleague ordered some amazing grilled sweet potato fries cooked with brown sugar and butter. This was the star food of the evening. They were served in a tin foil wrapper and came out perfectly. The sugar caramelized over the fries and left the inside to become nice and soft.

This meal turned out to be a very good transition to the world of Japanese food. It was easy to find similar foods to what you would find in the US, such as the beef and pork cuts, with sauce flavors much like what you’d find in a Japanese restaurant in America. This is all provided that you did not order their best choice...

But since this was my first night in the mountain town, I wasn’t quite done. We ended up going out for dessert and found a really nice donut shop. Appearance is very important in Japanese culture (at least around Tokyo), and it shows even in their donuts. Also, they make everything in green tea flavor. I felt it was my duty to order the most ridiculously looking green tea donut. I think this had ties to some Japanese TV musical show, but I didn’t care. The donut was only ok. It didn’t have much flavor and was a bit dry, but the decorations definitely made up for it.

Next stop was breakfast. On the way to work we found a nice little bakery that, in order to make Rachel jealous, had KOALA DONUTS! It was a nice chocolate-filled donut with a cookie top… I figured there was only one way to eat it.

Well, I’m sure you love seeing how I eat my donuts, so I’ll also show you how I eat my beef (in Japan). For the weekend, my colleague and I were in Tokyo. She was leaving Saturday morning, so we decided to go out for shabu-shabu for her last night out. The last time I went to Japan, I missed out on shabu-shabu. I didn’t even know what it was, and I totally felt like I missed out on eating the most fun meal to say. After deciding that we had to have shabu-shabu, we decided to look around Shinjuku (where my hotel was) and find a place. After a little bit of walking around, we decided going to the Sumitomo Tower for our meal. We ate at Seryna, which is on the 52nd floor of the building. My phone isn’t good enough to take good photos at night, so you’ll just have to imagine what the view is like. So, after talking to the hostess and dealing with the language barrier, we finally got our seats and were promptly handed the English menus. Really, it’s amazing how they can tell right away. Lucky for us though, our server was actually from China, as is my colleague, so they were able to discuss the menu and explain what everything was. We went with the all-you-can-eat shabu shabu. For those of you who have never had it, it’s a must-have in your travels to Japan. They bring out a pot of boiling water (on a small gas stove) and serve you vegetables and very thinly sliced beef to cook in the water. I enjoy cooking so this was very fun to go out to restaurants and still cook your own meat.

Shabu-shabu vegetables, meat, and serving/preparing chopsticks.
Here’s me, starting to cook the beef. How they knew I couldn’t speak Japanese I’ll never be able to figure out.
This was such a tasty and fun dinner. This meal was not on the cheaper side, but it would be a perfect place to have a fancy meal with friends or even business partners. The Sumitomo Building has a few other restaurants at the top (all with great views) that are all very top quality, even including a very nice restaurant that serves food in the traditional style of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. I ate there on a previous trip a few years ago and would strongly recommend either restaurant if you are looking to impress someone with your taste in Japanese food and good atmosphere.

Well, that concludes my first weekend in Japan. Continue on to my next post about my Japan trip to hear about my adventures when I didn’t have a voice of reason working with me ;)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails