Monday, June 7, 2010

Hokkaido Foodist

Chicken curry with shimeji mushrooms.
Hokkaido Foodist is actually the name of a regional specialty restaurant, but I think it may also be my new political affiliation. The cafeteria-like shop is near the Yaesu entrance of Tokyo Station. It's one of many regional eateries attached to a shop--you have lunch over on one side and shop for food and souvenirs on the other. There are shop/restaurants that sell and serve goodies from Okinawa, Akita, you name it. It's like slow food meets museum gift shop. Genius!

Hokkaido is kind of Japan's Alaska--snowy weather, wide-open spaces, and plenty of salmon and crab. And you can see Russia from there! The food is a major tourist draw, along with the scenery. Observe the big plate of Japanese comfort food above. Oddly, curry is the go-to choice for cold weather as well as a summertime staple. There is just no wrong time for the mild, slightly sweet stewiness of Japanese curry. The famous style of ramen up there is a hearty miso broth, sometimes with corn and a pat of butter. A pat of butter. Just melting there casually, like, "Hey, pork soup? Sure. Throw some butter on that." This time, however, I went with a plain pork broth, which was plenty rich on its own. The noodles had some whole wheat mixed in there, giving them little spots and a nutty flavor.

They also have sweet milk soft serve ice cream, which would be pictured here if not for the impatience of my children. Soft serve gets its proper due here in Japan. Think about it: it's the perfect ice cream texture, cold enough to hold its shape, but warm enough for the milk fat to really spread on your tongue (think of how much better cheese or chocolate is when it's room temperature), and yet it's never made with top shelf ingredients. Sorry, Mr. Softee, but the truth hurts. Years ago, I read an article about someone who was driven to rent a machine and crank out their own homemade cones at home, and I admired the obsessive drive. The sweet milk cones here are made with Hokkaido milk, for which the region is famous. It's pure, creamy bliss, and it can bring you entire minutes of silence from your children.

Stewed squid stuffed with rice. If you can hang with the Italian pasta with black ink sauce, this may just be for you.
Fres Hokkaido ramen you can whip up at home! Say it with me: "I deserve better than Top Ramen."
All kinds of lamb--even offal!

Hokkaido is also famous for its lamb. Last time I was here, the Professor ordered the Ghengis Khan bowl, which is rice covered in a layer of grilled, thinly sliced lamb. There is a theory that Ghengis was actually Japanese. I know. Why would anyone want to claim him? Two words: Mongolian barbecue. Seriously, it's kind of worth all the pillaging.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tokyo Farmer's Market

Compare and contrast! We happened upon a little farmer's market over by Yurakucho Station on the way to Ginza. It was about a tenth of the size of the one we went to in LA, which makes sense, given the space available and the way that produce is grown, prepared, and eaten in Japan.  At a US open air market, as on our tables, it's all about plenty: the overflowing cornucopia, the bushels of fruit, the great platters of food filling a table.  In Japan, it's about small acts of perfection: the fruits and vegetables come in little bundles, oddly free of dirt, and seemingly untouched by human hands. The offerings at the stalls and yaoyas (vegetable shops) are only slightly more rugged.

Perfect little cherries, grapes, and melons--swaddled like babies.
Not the famed $100 melons--these are only about $37 each.  The single bunch of grapes are a little over $25, and the single layer of cherries in a box are about $32. I still swoon a little, but you have to think about it like a bottle of wine you bring as a gift to some one's home. Everyday produce is far cheaper (apples are about a dollar/ 100 yen a piece), but this is special. When you peel one of those black grapes (yes, they peel here) and taste that clear, green globe of sweetness that is the Platonic ideal of grapeness, it' not crazy.

Fresh apple juice from Aomori Prefecture.
It was in this mindset that I bought this juice, which was fantastic. I know. How can apple juice be fantastic? And yet it was like actually eating a fresh Fuji apple. Outside. In the sun. Wearing nicer clothes than I own. It was like the cider we used to get at the orchard in upstate New York, but brighter. Indeed, it cost more than a glass of the house red, but it yielded what you want from wine, minus the buzz--to be surprised by a taste and its power to transport you, and pleased to recognize what you suddenly remember you love, like sitting on a porch and smelling a cold apple just before you bite it.