I have become a lazy traveller.
What makes a great travel destination? For some its history, for others maybe culture, architecture or art. For me these days it seems to be all about the food. Not sure exactly when this happened, I’d say it was somewhere between those Namibian oysters and that lovely artichoke in Lodi, CA. The city scape photos with our Canon SLR camera are slowly making way for iPhone snaps of sushi and bowls of noodles. I’d rather soak it up than capture it.
Maybe it’s just Japan that is making me care less about pixels. It is the only holiday I’ve ever been on where I have not been disappointed, not even once, with the food on our plates, despite my travel companions’ craving for carbohydrates and my fussy eating past (I can hear a few people thinking ‘o yes very fussy’).
So I have to write about the food in Japan. Obviously it will be just the tip of the iceberg but what the heck.
We did not have much time in Tokyo so our only full day started off with a trip to the Tsukiji fish market. Of course we did not get up early enough for the auction (nor had we planned to…) but there were plenty of nibbles to be found in the outer market, including the biggest oyster I ever tasted.
A recommendation brought us to Sushizanmai (their original one at the fish market) where we queued outside for about half an hour for a seat at their sushi bar. Sushi would never be the same again…
As if their food was not amazing enough, they decided to impress us afterwards with their efficiency. The plates on the sushi bar all have different colours and corresponding prices. We both went for the gold plate at least once. By the time we nearly burst we had both collected a nice pile of different coloured plates. The waitress came by to scan the side of the pile with her handy machine and without lifting any of the plates was able to give us a bill itemizing all the separate plates we gorged of. This all took less than 5 seconds by the way. Pretty amazing.
Our evening meals in Tokyo were actually quite basic. We were unable to find the teppanyaki restaurant recommended by a friend (even with a taxi driver) so we decided to just wing it each time. Without fail this works in Tokyo as the standard is very good everywhere. A simple spinach and egg salad on the first day made me want to move straight away. On our last evening in Tokyo we stumbled upon a small restaurant which only had a rectangular bar decorated mostly with men having their evening meal. There was a choice of various types of grilled fish and a few meat dishes. They all came on the same standard (yet well designed) tray containing miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables and the fish of your choice. It tasted amazing and turned out to be only about 6 euro. So we had some cash left to stop off at the standing sushi bar!
Our train journey from Nagano to Nozawa-Onsen brought us along the apple-line, named for its many apple orchards. Needless to say Nozawa-Onsen had lots of nice apples and plenty of fresh apple juice on offer.
At the Ryokan we opted for the Japanese breakfast. It took a little bit of adjusting but by day three I was looking forward to it. There was miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables, eggs, wood-ear mushrooms, fish and always a bowl of something we could not identify (either by look or taste).
After skiing we soon discovered Takoyaki (octopus balls) and came back to the Foot Bar each day for another taste, usually accompanied by some hot sake, which I quickly befriended.
In the village of Nozawa-Onsen, onsen meaning hot spring, there was also a lot of soaking going on (by some). However there was one hot spring in which no person is allowed to bath. Its 90℃ hot water is used by the villagers to boil vegetables and eggs. It is like their very own giant pot!
So it turned out to be a healthy (minus the ‘jugs’ of sake) and tasty holiday. And just because I didn’t mention the amazing Tokyo architecture, doesn’t mean it went unnoticed! Maybe next time I’ll bring a bigger camera…
Here’s one of the giant apples I saved for the return journey!
Having returned to China with some healthy eating resolutions, the new juicer is ready to go and the veggies have just been delivered. Lets hope it will last.
Then over the weekend I discovered the Kimchi Chronicles – so a trip to Seoul has to be next!