Spring in Japan - Food

Finally, as promised, I have a Japanese food post today! I've collected my best and strangest Japanese food experiences, I figure the best way to talk about it is to add a caption to each set of photos. So excuse the lack of structure today and enjoy these little nibbles of food in Japan.

The top picture is our dessert in Koyasan. We stayed in a temple with a sect of Buddhist monks. The food was all vegetarian, and it was a true feast. C joked that the tanukis (raccoon dogs famous in Japanese folklore) made our dinner, as it was full of so many unusual, fresh and natural flavours. The soup was a bit grassy. The dessert was not too sweet at all, broad beans, plus some other sweet veggies, I think some sweet potato and perhaps a pickled apricot? Most of the time I didn't know what I was eating! It's pretty fun tasting new things with no expectation from the name of what it might taste like.
Another new treat, Mitarashi Dango. This was C's favourite! They are warm rice dumplings with a sticky sweet/salty sauce. I suppose it's the Japanese equivalent of salted caramel. How amazing is the pyramid of them? And below that, a few Mochi - Daifuku specimens. They are also rice balls, but instead of sauce on the outside, they are filled with a variety of sweet centres. My favourite, and probably the most common was the red bean! mm. We also had amazing Sakura Mochi, which were a spring flavour, wrapped in a leaf.
I commute by train for work, and let me tell you, I've never seen train food like this before! This was a $10 takeaway lunch from the little kiosk on the platform. I love how Japanese food is always perfectly presented. It even included a face-sized panda sticker! (panda?! - I think) We still have the fabric wrap too, it's so cute! Kawaii!
 This ingenious drip coffee was in our hotel in Tokyo. You just unwrap the foil, pull out the filter, tear the top of, prop it on your cup and pour boiling water in. So clever! And some Japanese chocolate, the CRUNKY. I am pretty sure it's the Japanese cousin to a Crunchy bar, just chocolate coated rice crisps.
Calorie Mate. I made a real scene in the Conbeeni (convenience store) when I saw these. I just couldn't believe it. Eventually we had to taste the Calorie Mate, and it's not too bad. It's kind of a protein bar crossed with a Space Food Stick. Space Food Stick, but kinda crumbly like a biscuit. I'm pretty sure they kept us alive on our hike in Yakushima when we had no other food ;)

You've probably heard about the vending machines over in Japan. It's true, they are everywhere. I like that they have hot and cold drinks inside, not just cold. The weirdest one we saw was a banana vending machine, but I didn't get a photo?! I really couldn't find the more questionable vending machines, no matter how hard I tried.

On the left in the middle above is traditional candy from Kyoto. Each piece is so perfect. We bought some home but I cannot bring myself to eat them! Finally, there was a Cafe Du Monde in Kyoto!! I was so excited. When we were in New Orleans, we didn't make it there for some absurd reason. So, reading the tagline on this cafe's doorway, "Beignets and Coffee" we decided if we didn't have beignets in NOLA, we would have them in Kyoto. Unfortunately the girl at the counter said "No beignets" with her forefingers forming a cross. I asked if they would have some the next day, and she said again, no beignets. None. Never. We don't make beignets. My mastery of Japanese was not enough to protest the tagline of Cafe Du Monde. Mister Donut was very popular, Japanese people love cake!
Speaking of cake, this is a little gross. Our friend Gerard mentioned an all-you-can-eat dessert restaurant  and I went to investigate. I took this photo of the sign, walked past the window and peered in at the multitude of Japanese schoolgirls consuming tonnes of sugary treats. As I rounded the corner, I was confronted with a huge puddle of puke on the floor, and a couple of waitresses hastily attempting to mop it up. Needless to say, I didn't feel like the all-you-can-eat dessert challenge after that. Kids. Sugar is bad for you ;)

The Pungency deserved it's very own superhero rays. I think it might be a case of a funny translation, but really, the Japanese are pretty hardcore and maybe just thought calling a tea drink "The Pungency" would give the tea some credibility or something.
We visited a maid cafe in Osaka, which was interesting. The girls are dressed up as, you guessed it, maids, and are supposed to converse and flirt with you (in a very young, innocent way). It seemed a little strange, but it was one of those Japanese things we had to try out. Gerard came along too, and was complimented on his blue eyes. And then C was complimented on his blue eyes. I don't think they wanted to talk about my eyes... Anyway, perhaps the language barrier was a problem, but all the things I heard that the maids do, like cast magic spells to make your food taste better, and sing songs and play paper, scissors, rock with you? None of it. It was fun anyway and we shared some pancakes and keiki after being told that the mysterious pixellated green drink on the menu was "not for us". Curious.
My favourite part, the traditional Japanese feast. If you stay in a ryokan, which is a traditional inn, similar to a bed and breakfast, they often offer the choice of paying a little extra for dinner and breakfast packages. Either this is just plain amazing, or we were really lucky, because everywhere that we chose this, the food was incredible! There was a little table set-up, often in your room, and you sat at a traditional Japanese table, on a cushion or little chair (which is basically a chair with no legs) on the floor. Always served with tea, and surprisingly, not green tea, but rice tea. I love all of the little tastes you get, and even though it's many small dishes, I always struggled to finish everything! As you can see, I had a little trouble sitting properly, I have pretty low blood pressure and I get pins and needles if I sit in one position too long! I might need some practice at Japanese sitting too :)

We had so much fun trying all of the new foods! We eat Japanese quite a bit in Australia, but it's definitely a different version of Japanese food, and not all that authentic. I guess it's maybe more modern Japanese. Other things we tried that I don't have pictures of were ramen (of course) where you order from a vending machine, take the ticket to the kitchen and pick up your ramen when it's ready. We also enjoyed a lot of Japanese style curry. Most surprisingly, we ate a lot at 7/11. Yep. You could buy fresh salads, sushi rolls and onigiri, pasta, all kinds of things. It was super fresh and pretty tasty. Best of all, it was really affordable. We had to try any random things we could find, I think the strangest 7/11 food we had was what we thought was yoghurt, but turned out to be cough-medicine-cherry flavoured tofu cream. It sounds weird, but we returned for more a few days later, so, maybe we are weird ;)

I wasn't a huge fan of Japanese food before I left, I only enjoy sushi occasionally  But after being to Japan, I've found a few new favourites and I definitely miss the delicious ryokan feasts! I can't wait to go back again for seconds. Do you have a favourite Japanese food?

Kitty

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