Some new experiences to start the new year …

Its been a while since my last post. I should have been in Vietnam for the past week. Instead, owing to a family emergency, I ended up staying in Japan. And, no, while I was looking forward to a week of authentic banh mi and pho, you shouldn’t feel sorry for me. Food-wise, the past week couldn’t have turned out better. This post then is a bit of a rambling travelogue, starting with those new experiences alluded to in the title.

Tokyo, as you’ve no doubt heard, is home to more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world. While these aren’t the kind of establishments I generally (or ever!) eat out at, I wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity to eat at one. Certainly not at Kagurazaka Ishikawa, a 3-star kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo! And I was more than a little interested in comparing it with my previous (and only) experience of this sort of place: Momofuku Ko in my hometown, New York. Unsurprisingly, the meal – a two hour-long affair of some 8 or 9 courses – was excellent. It was served in a beautiful setting with gorgeous dishware (I’m going to blame the dim lighting and my cell phone camera for the awfulness of the pictures below). Very kōkyū (高級) as they say here. Surprisingly, however, it was completely familiar to me. It was essentially washoku, but elevated to a much higher level by skill, care, and the use of top notch ingredients (and lots of yuzu!). There was no razzle-dazzle, no foams, shaved foie gras, or other eye-catching dishes that seem all-too-common in similar places in, say, New York. It was, to say the least, an entirely different experience from Ko where the dishes frequently startle you with their unexpectedness. Even more surprising, was the gracious hospitality and friendliness of Chef Ishikawa, who actually stopped by to greet and chat with us, not once but twice. You’d think he’d have better things to do than discuss his forthcoming travels with a gaijin speaking broken Japanese! Perhaps this is the norm at 3-star restaurants (hey, what do I know?), but I was definitely taken aback and it made the experience an especially memorable one.

As luck would have it, I also had the chance to try fugu, that famously deadly fish, one little nibble of which can kill. Of course, in fish-obsessed Japan, fugu, while not exactly common, isn’t particularly remarkable. (For my dining companions, it certainly didn’t warrant a blog post! But I’m from Mumbai so I suppose its excusable.) We went to a restaurant that was advertising a special ‘fugu set’ lunch deal, with the fish cooked in all conceivable manners, from sashimi to deep fried (tempura), and sushi to grilled. In the event, I lived to write this post. It was even a bit of a let down. Some people are aficionados of fugu, but I couldn’t really see (or rather taste) the appeal. It was decent enough but not something I’d go out of my way to eat. Still, its one more item I can tick off my ever-growing list of foods to try.

More interesting than fugu sashimi was a visit to a museum extolling Japan’s greatest contribution to humankind (or at least students): instant noodles. This is the instant ramen museum in Yokohama, a paean to its inventor, Momofuku Ando. The museum is run by Nissin, the company Ando founded, so expect some brain-washing propaganda. But it was highly informative and entertaining for that. For instance, the brainwave to put noodles in a cup came to Ando after a visit to America where he was asked how one was to eat them. When he explained that you put them in a donburi, pour hot water in it, and eat them with chopsticks he was horrified to learn that neither donburi nor chopsticks existed in America. Instead, Americans would put his noodles in a mug, pour hot water, and eat them with a fork. That’s when it hit him to sell the noodles in a cup and the cup ramen was born. Like many brilliant ideas its obvious only with the benefit of hindsight.

So, all in all, an auspicious start to another year of good eats or as we say on this site, oishii rasoi!

    Pin It

2 Responses to “Some new experiences to start the new year …”

  1. #
    prakash39 — January 17, 2013 at 7:44 am

    There is no reason to be modest about your shots. Enjoyed the article.

  2. #
    fra — January 18, 2013 at 5:22 am

    I agree with Prakash about the pics!
    Ingredients of Tempura, sashimi and dessert, please?

Leave a Comment