Ahhhh, Japan. I just got back from a week-long trip to Tokyo, Japan and I was blown away. What's to love? The food, the beautiful people, the buzz, the 99 Yen stores, lemonade Kit Kats (?), ... twas hard to come back. Despite knowing only ten Japanese words/phrases -- Hai (yes), Konichiwa (hello) , Domo Arigato (thank you), Sayonara (good bye), Sumimasen (excuse me), Gomen-nasai (Sorry), Tasukete! (help), Ohayō gozaimass (Good morning), Wakarimasen (I don;t understand) and ikura desu ka? (How much is that) -- I had minimal problems getting around the city, ordering food, shopping or taking the trains. Sure, I got lost a couple of times ... in a cab! The cabbie didn't understand me and I don't blame him but it was all good in the end and with sign language and a lot of smiles, I was able to get where I wanted anyways.
I've been to Tokyo just once before, a couple of years ago. It was a busy working trip though and I had hardly enough time to explore the city. This time around, I was luckier. Though I has quite a few events to attend and five interviews to conduct (work really does get in the way of fun!), my schedule still allowed me two full days to explore the city. Also, since my travel buddies were night owls, I was out gallivanting in the city till way past midnight most night. Tokyo can seriously challenge the Big Apple for the "city that never sleeps" title!
I was also blessed because my two buddies, Shirley and Zoey, were rel foodies. Hard-core foodies who kinda made me throw my diet out the window. Aww, you're in Japan. Plus they have a gazillion instant diet pills that you can pop as you eat, they said. I was easily convinced. I had resigned myself to eating mainly tempura, miso soup, soba and edamame throughout my trip. The Japanese are serious carnivores and although there are a number of vegetarian Japanese dishes, asking for a purely vegetarian dish (no bonito flakes, no pork or beef stock, etc) via sign language was just impossible. So, yeah, I had low expectations on the food spectrum.
Turned out, I was wrong. Yeah I had tempura (vegetables which are deep-fried in a batter - oh, my, it was delicious), miso soup (you can't ever go wrong here, yummmm) and edamame (to go with Kirin, way better than beer nuts!) but I also had some yakitori, vegetarian Onigiri (rice cakes), the most delicious grilled and chilled sesame-seed tofu served with grilled tomatoes ... and more. We ate everywhere, from small basement (literally) Japanese restaurants to road-side stalls to really fancy five-star style restaurants.
Remember the movie Kill Bill? Remember the Uma Thurman's swashbuckling scene at the japanese rest (PIC above) ? Well the set was inspired by an actual restaurant in Roponggi, Tokyo called Gonpachi and we went there despite mixed reviews about the food. It was AWESOME. (pics will be up later).
So anyway, to cut a loooooong story short, I am so in love with Japanese food now that I have been craving nothing but since coming back. Let's start with the basics while I practice my sushi/onigiri skills. It's coming... I promise. Yesterday, I had a super healthy, detox Japanese dinner: edamame for starters and miso soup + tofu as my main (with some cold soba on the side). Yummmmm.
Simple Miso soup
4 cups water/light vegetable broth
1/3 cup miso (check the ingredients, not all miso is vegetarian)
3 scallions, chopped
1 tbsp shredded nori or wakame seaweed
1/2 block firm tofu, cubed
dash soy sauce (optional)
1/2 tsp sesame oil (optional)
Bring stock to a simmer and add the seaweed. Allow to simmer for about 5 mins (low heat). Add the tofu, soy sauce and sesame oil and continue to simmer. Ladle out some of the simmering stock to dissolve the miso paste and then add it in the pot with the tofu. When it comes to a boil, remove and serve.
To prepare the edamame, just boil in salted water for about 10 min or steam and season with salt and pepper. I added some red chilli flakes (bought in Japan for authenticity).