Monday, March 30, 2009

Last Night in Tokyo

Wandering through Ginza on our last night was like being in Barcelona: a drink and a skewer here, a beer and a chicken ball there. First we went to a place that had exactly enough seats for all of us, and had some skewers of pork stomach, pork belly, and pork intestine, and really tender braised tripe, the leanest meat I’ve had so far on the trip, which says a lot about the richness of Japanese meats. I’ve really garnered an appreciation for meat fat here that I didn’t have before. I hope I impressed my chefs!Then off to a second place with a very strict mama-san (we didn’t have Jiro around to warm up the Mama-sans any more and we all missed him sorely) who spoke great English and served some tender chicken tail (a part of the chicken I never even knew existed), and some little peppers that were like Friuliano peppers that we’ve been seeing the whole trip. The place was literally built into the bridge that the city train ran over, so every time a train passed overhead (about every 2-3 minutes), it sounded like there was a taiko drum festival in our honor.
After that was sushi: the first time we’ve eaten sushi since arriving in Japan (I’m not counting the sushi we ate in the kitchen at “Grand Chef Suzuki’s” tasting a waiter, and I think as a chef, food eaten standing up doesn’t count. Which is probably why we all pack a few more pounds than we might need to.). I think Sho-san really wanted to impress upon us the fact that JAPANESE CUISINE DOES NOT EQUAL SUSHI, and we got it. We really did. This trip has completely changed the way I look at food, though it’s too close to the trip to really say how just yet.
The best sushi (I thought) was the uni, which tasted like fresh, refined sea water, but super creamy. We also had a crazy red clam that was moving, and a white fish that was blowtorched and squeezed with lemon (TACHIUO, ‘scabbard fish’), not to be eaten with soy sauce. Also great and really fresh was a sardine.

One thing that's really interesting about this part of Ginza is the little streets and places full of character that when viewed from the outside lend this crazy party atmosphere to the streets. They’re all festively decorated and there are lots of people going in and out, and the energy of people eating and drinking and having a good time surrounds them all. Then, when you (literally) duck in, it’s a different world, and much more approachable. Real people, doing their after-work thing, and you could never even begin to try the food at all of them, though we did our best. We ate at least four meals a day, every day in Japan and most days we had a full dinner at one place and then went to another for a second dinner.

It’s been really great listening to all of these chefs put their heads together and talk about different projects they could potentially do after being so inspired by this trip. Getting to see and eat all of the things we did, things that no ordinary tourist would ever even dream of doing, was an experience impossible replicate. As a travel writer, and someone who travels a lot even when NOT writing about it, it’s very rare that I get to just sit back and not make any decisions, and to have had a trip of this caliber without having planned any of it myself...I was REALLY impressed. And it was many of our first time to Japan.

The kinds of conversations the chefs were having about food almost seemed to make the world smaller. Think about it: cross-culturally, the heart and soul of food is the same everywhere. Things are skewered, they’re stewed, they’re stuffed. One thing we’ve all really liked about the back-room, family-style food we’ve been eating in Tokyo has been that that food has not taken the foreground. We’ve all been eating constantly, obvio!, but the kind of food we’ve been eating: simple, soulful, smoky (the “smoky” restaurants Sho-san referred to in an email early on was not regarding cigarettes, but rather the wood smoke filled with meat smells and pork fat that permeates everything), has not evoked the restaurant critic in any of us. Rather, it’s provided a great background for conversation and the ambiance of the evening and great fuel for creative thoughts that obviously revolve around food.


greenjeans said...

So jealous. Been living vicariously through these posts!

Mr. Li Fan said...

sushi, i love...

Evilicious said...

i LOVE uni!! =)