Eating to travel or travelling to eat?

Posted By: Kimberly

My last food post was a while ago, and I figure it is time for another one before anyone thinks we might be missing out on one of the highlights of our travels!
We generally survive on convenience store and supermarket foodstuffs, and seriously, Japan isn't a bad destination for budget travel in this respect. Our biggest love so far goes out to the 210 yen curry rice package we made from Lawson's, which made for a fantastic breakfast and carbo load on a budget combi that has not yet been beaten.
But seriously, we have good memories of the trip thus far built on food, so here's some piccies and a few stories for you :)

Somehow we felt this was wrong at so many levels... eating Hello Kitty? Affixing it onto a... uhm...totem pole? But it did get a lot of kids to get a'licking...

Who can forget the Fertility Festival I posted about a mere few days ago, with its deluge of phallic-themed items? Obviously, phallic foods were big at the festival, and we had our share of it! While the previous post featured some sweet desserts (featured again here with Hello Kitty and Tigger affixed as charming decorations), it was the savoury sausages that caught our attention.

Speaking of savoury, the stunning flavours of Matsusaka beef steak on a stick is still lingering on my mental tastebuds. When we glimpsed this street stall opposite a used clothing store, just down the road from Osu Kannon temple, little did ZsupCreator and I realise that we were going for a life-changing experience. I am NEVER going to eat a satay without dreaming of this, for the rest of my life. The beef simply oozed rich meaty zsup, and rather than being just oily, the fat-rich meat was an explosion of COW-ness that I have only previously tasted on shiny plates, in restaurants that have solid reputations. I have tasted good food from street stalls before, but never restaurant quality, dream making stuff.

The next day, we passed by again on the way to pick up stuff for a friend, and the stall was not there. We wish we were not on a budget and had gotten more, the day before.

Nonetheless, our gastronomic odyssey continued...

We have also eaten loads of noodles. Soba, udon, ramen, instant, in broth, in soup, with miso, soy and pork bone stock. The LOT. And I have to say, we have yet to encounter anything we dislike. From train station shops, both on the platform and in the station, to restaurants in shopping arcades... even a museum dedicated to Ramen (in Yokohama). It has all been fantastic for Asian tastebuds that were honed on the likes of Myojo, Ramen, and world-class wonton mee/hor fun/bak chor mee and etc.

The three pix above are just a random selection from the many many bowls of noodly type foods we have scoffed along the way. I love the way that the udon is always smooth, never overcooked. I favour the textures of the soba, firm and not at all mushy, regardless of the outlet I'm purchasing from. Much respect to all the noodle sellers in Japan!

Special mention #1: Ramen street in Nagoya! Despite my dislike for the city, I must say I very very much appreciate the existence of this place. Hidden in a backalley of the JR station itself, the bunch of shops gathered here represent the various flavours of ramen available throughout Japan. We is loves this!

Special mention #2: Perhaps Yokohama's only real place of interest to me. The Ramen Museum has a nice display detailing the history and makings of the yummy noodle, and traces its development in Japan. This is of course done in Japanese text, making for slow reading and even slower translation in my Chinese-stunted mind. I count myself lucky that I even know the alternate language that allows me to guess at what the Japanese text is really saying...

Note to people who might venture here for the historically accurate and very excellent ramen concoctions at this place: It is popular with tour groups and queues for the little shops in there can run up to 1hr or more! Getting your hand stamped and returning in the evening at about 8ish will be good if you want to avoid queues, but this would mean less chance of sampling all the goodies at the various shops, since multiple queueing sessions before they close at 9 will be nearly impossible.

In Hikone, we caught sight of these biscuits in a convenience store. They were horribly overpriced, of course, but that's what you get for having Hiko-nyan gracing the surface of your food right? We chose not to eat it, but I felt like I would have liked to try it, just to bite off his head for fun!

Despite our tight budget for this trip, deprivation has not always been our lot. The plate of sweet goodies above is from Sweets Paradise in Nagoya, where we dug into several servings of cakes over the course of 80 minutes. The buffet is timed so as to facilitate the movement of the queue, which was really long. We would have liked to stay longer though, all the cakes looked amazing!

Food has also sometimes been a source of amusement for us, especially when we see tantalising shopsigns like the one above. While the pictures look really yummy, I doubt I would buy the stuff from reading the text...

This next picture holds the memory of a night in Nagano, being chucked out of a purportedly 24 hour Macdonald's that was really only a 22 hour Macs (they close from 3am-5am for cleaning) so that we ended up going next door to have a beef bowl to justify our taking up a new sleeping spot at 3am in the morning. With our brains scrambled from shattered sleep, we were faced suddenly with a bowl of stewed beef rice (familiar and tasty), and a chilled raw egg (????????) which we were told to simply stir into the meal. Chilled, so that it wouldn't cook even when mixed with the piping hot rice. With the risk of salmonella firmly stuffed into our one-week-old-socks, we tucked into this with positive comments of "MMM mmm MMMMMM". Kudos to ZsupCreator for scoffing the lot in his determination not to waste food in our impoverished travel conditions.

Better food memories exist in Yokohama, where we had our first Real Burger. McPork does not count - it is practically a sandwich. Everyone who goes to Yokohama should check out the lovely babes at Kua'Aina and have one of their luxurious cheese burgers. This is King of CheeseBurgerdom. Rivalling the portions of Carls Jr, and definitely floating around Uberburger and other gourmet burger stores' quality.

It was also in Yokohama that we had the chance to see a ninja chef literally whipping up a storm as he made the omelette in omu-rice a visual display of his skills. The above picture barely captures his mad skillz in creating an omelette of even texture on the pan, and does not at all show the very cool and accurate flips he makes every single time he creates a dish of omu-rice. We watched him do this nearly 5 times in an attempt to pick up some tips and maybe try this at home!

And now we're in Kyoto, and somehow the theme has shifted to rice rice rice! While it is not the only thing we are eating, it is definitely something we are happily indulging in every single day. From stewed beef/egg bowls to stewed chicken/egg bowls to curry laden plates... I am in happy rice heaven!
Not to mention, we picked up these adorable collectibles from 7 Eleven at JR Kyoto station! These little containers hold magic sprinkles which transform any bowl of rice, no matter how plain, into flavoursome chicken rice! I choose to believe that the seaweed bits constitute a healthy portion of fiber additive, while the powdery bits are practically a compressed whole chicken. Unbelievably tasty, and best for our budget living style!
Last, but not least, we have made passing acquaintance with this van-store-takoyaki-selling chap. Who has our gratitude for his generosity... immediately after hearing that we were tourists, despite our absolutely scruffy exterior, he said "Service, service!" and promptly upgraded our order of 6 takoyaki balls (for 200yen), to 10! Parked outside the JR Kyoto station at night - we have reliably visited him at around 9pm for the last two nights - he simply sits there in his van, opened at the back, with a HUGE red lantern hung on the open backdoor that doubles as a shelter for his customers.
There is so much more, obviously, that we haven't posted, the endless samples we have consumed - photos being impossible because we are constantly trying to avoid notice while scoffing down enough food for entire brunches, teas and suppers. In this way, I have been blessed to enjoy more flavours of mochi than I have ever eaten before in my life. Same applies to yatsuhashi, the cinnamon flavoured specialty from Kyoto. Resembling snowskin wontons, ZsupCreator has been downing it all with great relish.
There is more yet, that I have not posted... Kyoto is turning out to be a place that is putting more calories on me than I can work off. (Hint: Dinner today was a pile of sugar glazed mini croissants that I could not help but scoff one after another until I was accidentally too full to eat anything else!)
All this, I think, is one of the biggest reasons why I travel. I aim to eat at least one round of a proper Kaiseki meal before leaving Kyoto... I wonder which place would be best?

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