It’s finally autumn, my favorite season. I love the cool, crisp days and the sweet, melancholic feeling of gradually slipping sunlight. It’s also a wonderful season — one of the best, in fact — for food. Featured this month on Savory Japan is a menu of favorite fall recipes, including braised eryngii(black trumpet) mushrooms. What is great about these giant mushrooms is not the flavor, but the texture. If you’ve never tried them, you’re in for a treat.
Luckily, eryngii mushrooms are widely available in the West, which unfortunately can’t be said for our favorite; matsutake mushrooms.
However, we’re in luck this year because we’re heading for Japan tomorrow to eat as much (or more likely, more than) we can afford of this delectable treat. Follow us here or join us on Facebook for updates, not just about matsutake mushrooms, but restaurants, ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) and more.
It’s April 1, and the sakura (cherry blossoms) have just started to bloom in Tokyo & Kyoto. According to the sakura forecast, the peak is expected to be April 14th in Tokyo and 15th in Kyoto. But this year’s festival will unlike any other, for the aftermath of the tragic March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster permeates the country, even in those regions untouched by its physical effects. It will be solemn, somber and imbued with a special poignancy. A time to reflect upon the blossoms’ fleeting beauty and the transience they represent.
Reflecting upon this idea, we’ve posted Sakura: Beauty & Sadness on Savory Japan. It’s a tribute to the people of Japan and their great courage and strength during the largest natural disaster in our nation’s history. We mourn the loss of the beautiful Matsushima coast and its’ ancient villages tucked along its craggy shores. We are all left to wonder how we can possibly help, and how we can give back to the Northeast– a place that has long nourished us with the bounty of its pristine waters and fertile fields. It seems impossible, but we can at least try.
Savory Japan is updated for January with a review of Giro Giro Hitoshina, a matchbox-sized restaurant in Kyoto that does an inspiring version of modern kaiseki. If you’ve never had hamo (pike conger) covered in a crunchy shell of kaki no tane (rice crackers in the shape of persimmon seeds) you’re in for a nice surprise.
Giro Giro is also extremely reasonable. You’ll be amazed at the price, even with today’s unfavorable dollar/yen exchange rate. What’s more, you get to watch some of the coolest chefs in the business create some of the most inventive — yet completely accessible — food around.
For November, Savory Japan returns yet again to Kyoto with an article about Kamigamo Akiyama, a one-star Michelin restaurant. Dining there is more than simply enjoying a meal, it is an experience: part theater, part education, part tea ceremony.
Located on the edge of the Kitayama mountains just east of Kamigamo Shrine, the rustic restaurant is worth a special trip. Just make sure you make a reservation at least a month in advance.
Naohiro Akiyama, the young chef/owner spent many years at Kitcho, one of the most venerated kaiseki establishments in Japan. But his approach is fresh, exciting and delicious, making it a place we’ll return to again and again.
Some of you have noticed that we at Savory Japan spend far too much time in Kyoto. The evidence is right there in the Travel section: 12 articles on Kyoto and only a handful elsewhere. We’re addressing this inequity by shifting the spotlight to Tokyo for the next few months. And what better to kick off the series than a review ofKyubey, a stellar sushiya (sushi establishment) serving classic Edo-mae sushi?
We also have a photo essay on Kappabashi, a neighborhood comprised of a few blocks centering on Kappabashi-dori (street) that is nicknamed “kitchen town”. If you’re a fan of food, it’s a fun stop on any Tokyo itinerary.
The two articles also sport a new look: heavy on photos and lighter in text, to cater to the trend of readers on the net. But don’t worry, the long, in-depth articles are still there for back-up when you want more information.
I’d be curious to know if you like the new look. We intend to vary the layouts in the upcoming months, depending on the subject.
Savory Japan is updated for August with a personal account of a memorable meal at Kyoto’s Kikunoi Honten. I had the unique opportunity to interview Yoshihiro Murata during a visit to Tokyo in May (chef Murata regularly flies back and forth between Kyoto and Tokyo overseeing his three Kikunoi branches), and when he explained how he sources his ingredients, I immediately decided I had to go. While I don’t typically dine at 3-star Michelin restaurants, and Savory Japan’s recommended restaurants (located in the Travel section by city) represent good value, I would have to say that the expense was well worth it. You’ll learn more about Japanese culture, cuisine and artistry in one dinner at Kikunoi than you would during a week’s worth of travel. At least, that’s how I see it.
For those planning a trip to Kyoto, I hope the article is helpful; for those lucky souls who have dined at this wonderful place, I hope it brings back memories.
Savory Japan is updated for July, and features a recent conversation with famed kaiseki chef Yoshihiro Murata. Read about this amazing Renaissance man and ambassador of Japanese cuisine and culture in the first of a two-part series- which continues in August with a visit to the singular Kikunoi Honten, one of Kyoto’s most respected ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurants). At the moment chef Murata explained how the Kikunoi restaurants source their ingredients, illustrated by the story of a tilefish’s journey – plucked in the morning from the Inland Sea, stopping in Kyoto and ending up on a plate in Tokyo at dinnertime – I knew I had to make a reservation. The network of fishermen, farmers, artisans and chefs that make the magic of Kikunoi possible is a fascinating in its simple, poetic and entirely natural efficiency.
If you are inspired by the article and would like to meet chef Murata, you’ll have a chance when he appears at the upcoming World of Flavors conference Japan: Flavors of Culture in early November. I’ll be there to gain more inspiration and wisdom as well.
We also give a (very) brief introduction to Imari, the elegant and versatile porcelain ware that is an essential part of every Japanese kitchen. The subject is way too broad and deep to cover in a single article. We also share a few of our favorite Kyoto shops, where you can find a good selection of antique and vintage Imari ware.
We’re in Kyoto now, but first we went to Tokyo for a few days for meetings and much needed research. Needless to say, it’s extremely frustrating to even attempt to skim the surface of this vast culinary landscape, let alone report on anything in depth. With such a short time, we wish we had two stomachs and infinite energy! And the speed of Tokyo’s progress is dizzying; things change so quickly, and perfectly wonderful restaurants, galleries and shops close, with new ones taking their place. We visited the newly-opened Ginza branch of Higashiya, the delightful wagashi shop and cafe that closed its’ Naka Meguro branch in May of last year. The new shop brings Higashiya’s unique wagashi, along with its fantastic design sensibility that embodies a blend of Contemporary and traditional Japanese aesthetics (and a sense of calm), to this glitzy street. The artisanal quality of the wagashi remains intact, and the decor is like a tea house in heaven. We’ll add an article to Savory Japan soon.
Seasonal wagashi for the month of May at Higashiya: Red shiso (perilla)
Happily, some establishments in Tokyo manage to occupy the same location since birth, such as the famed sushiyaKyubei, which was established in 1936. Kyubei is widely ranked as one of Japan’s best sushi establishments, and it’s also one of the most pricey. However, in true Savory Japan style, we went for lunch on a less crowded day (Monday after the Golden Week rush) and were able to grab seats at the counter. Owner and head chef Yosuke Imada and two of his top sushi chefs will also be attending the World of Flavors conference in Napa Valley in November.
Savory Japan is updated for May, with new articles on sushi etiquette and Ippodo, one of our favorite shops in Kyoto. Ippodo has been around for nearly 300 years, and they have certainly gotten everything right. What impresses us about this venerable Kyoto establishment is its’ user-friendly outlook and welcoming attitude.
While they have branches throughout Japan and an excellent English-language website, a visit to the main shop is quite an experience. Read more.
To follow articles on Japan dining etiquette (which mainly covers chopstick use) and drinking etiquette is our third in the series, on sushi etiquette. What this, you might ask? Well, every type of Japanese cuisine has its own peculiar rules, so read on to make sure you aren’t offending your Japanese hosts and dining partners while enjoying sushi. More importantly, this handy guide will also help you get the most out of your sushi experience.