Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Panda party!

Last weekend, we decided to go out for dinner after a day of swimming and gardening. Our plan was to go to a ramen cart that we had seen the other day, set up on the south side of the station. It looked like it had the potential to be a diamond in the rough.

Well, it was not there when we biked over Must have packed it up and rolled away. So, I mentioned a little izakaya (Japanese traditional bar) that I had seen on the way, and off we went.

It was, perhaps, one of the best nights we have had here in Japan.

It is extremely small -maybe three tables that sit four each and a long bar that serves about 10. The bar was interesting in that you sat with your feet in a concrete trench under the bar and with your tuckus on the lip of the trench.

It was also hot and noisy. However, that was made up for by the incredibly friendly staff, cold beer and tasty food. Any visitors will be taken there!

At an izakaya, you will drink. And you will eat. You are served food whether you order it or not, and since you will pay for it, why not eat it?

So, with not much time to get our bearings, the main guy behind the bar, Reiji, started putting
food in front of us. First was a small dish with a cube of "nikogori" - a type of meat-based gelatin with random vegetables ("meat jello with veggies" we called it) - and a fried "wakasagi" (a small fish eaten whole). It came with two sauces: a miso-based salty paste and a creamy sesame flavored dressing.

Next was a battered and fried meatball with chunks of carrot, onions, and peas inside. It had a pleasant curry flavor and came with sliced cabbage on the side.

Last was something we saw another patron eat, and we just had to try it. Turns out it is a ball of pork (a little like Spam but better) wrapped around a quail egg. Then it is rolled in cooked rice
that had been soaked in something savory (miso, soy sauce?). Finally, it is steamed until cooked all the through. They served it with a sauce of spicy red bean paste in sesame oil - heavenly!

Kris, my boss, gardens with Joan and had come with us. She found herself adopted by the tipsy Okinawan woman at her end of the bar. She got the full cultural immersion, including an Okinawan cream cheese with mango sauce and flat bread to spread it on. Derek, a fellow teacher,
who does not eat fish and strange food, watched bemusedly.

A couple mugs of cold beer washed it all down, and at the end of fantastic night of jumping with both feet into Japanese cultural, we tipsily rode our bikes home. We'll be back!

Monday, July 20, 2009

A map of our town

Here is another map that shows our little city, Musashino-shi, in Tokyo. If you have any questions about the location of other things we have mentioned, please feel free to ask...

Nice bike ride in Tokyo

Last weekend, I went on a bike ride with a friend, Josie, out on a bike path we had seen a little bit of a month or so ago. I had looked at it on google maps and saw that it went out a good ways and ended at a reservoir that had the potential for swimming and more biking.

Well, there was no swimming - not suprising in a city of so many people; I guess they want to keep their drinking water clean!

However, it was a really nice ride, and something I'd like to take Joan on.

I have been experimenting with Google Maps and learning how to make my own maps. The link below is one of my first attempts...

Click on this link to see a map of the ride!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Yeosu, Korea - Day 3

The third day dawn hot and overcast - the perfect conditions to hike up the nearby "mountain" and enjoy the view! So with water and snacks, we started trudging up and up and up... The hike itself was nothing exciting, but the view was rather spectacular, even if somewhat hazy.

Grace had brought up kimbap: rice and strips of vegetables and meat rolled up in sheets of seaweed and then sliced into disks. We sat in a rather modern looking picnic shelter at the top and looked out over the ocean and back into the foothills. We could have spent much longer up there,
but the plan for the afternoon was to head to the beach.

So, we trudged back down to Grace's apartment to change and reload.
Then Grace ferried us one by one over to the open air market near Jack's apartment to buy some of the famous local kimchee for our Busan couchsurfing host and a watermelon for eating on the beach.

A fairly long taxi ride got us out to a very empty but beautiful beach. It is another one of Grace's favorite places where she hangs out most of the summer. We had a grand time swimming in the cold water; I always forget how salty the sea is! Joan wandered up and down the tide line, collecting shells and sea glass. Jack finished up his afternoon classes and
joined us later in the day.

After awhile, Joan and I decided to hike over to the sea wall across the and around a peninsula. There is only so much sitting on the beach a man can do... Part of the sea wall was made of a jumbled mass of giant concrete "jacks." Watching them put them in place would have been interesting to see. We wandered the tide pools, chasing crabs and poking random sea life.

Finally, as the sun was going down, we headed back to town for showers and beers before going out for more food - what a surprise! Grace and Jack wanted to take us to one of their favorite
places which they called "Bamboo" - the walls were all made of it. We had "pajeon," a type of savoury pancake/omelet with the usual cast of side dishes.

We also had a traditional Korean drink called "makegeolli," a chunky, fermented rice wine that is served very cold, almost frozen. It was...interesting. Let's just leave it at that, shall we?

So, after that filling meal, what was next on the agenda? You guessed it - more eating! Another Korean event is going to a 'sojhu tent,' usually set up on a
empty patch of ground. Inside, they serve all types of grilled "drinking" food and lots and lots of soju (famous Korean liquor), as well as anything else you might want.

We pushed through the flaps into the tent, startling the proprietors and one table of customers, but they quickly welcomed us. We sat in the white plastic patio chairs that are every all over the world now. The table was a round piece of wood bolted to a 55 gallon drum. Grilled pork was ordered, and it came with the biggest blob of kimchee we have ever seen.
We had a grand time interacting with the other people in the tent, not speaking each others' languages but having no problems communicating. Things got more interesting when they ordered the octopus fresh out of the tank. It wriggled vigorously throughout the whole process, even when chopped and served on a plate.

They offered me to join them for a sample, and since I was possessed by the extreme optimism that often comes with drinking too much, I eagerly said yes. I should have said no. It was still wiggling. And it tasted nasty. It tasted very nasty. The shot of luke warm soju did not help. I don't know if you can see it during the video that Grace took and posted, but I had a hard time keeping it down. It was a great way to end the night; although, I was a hurting unit the next

Friday, July 3, 2009

More food adventures in Musashino Sakai

Today is a beastly hot day; the temperature is in the 80's and so is the humidty. The sun feels like a heavy blanket that is not welcome.

I met with a Japanese woman, Makiki, who just moved to the area to work in a retirement home and wants to improve her English. She put a flyer up near our office offering to do a language exchange. As I really wanted a Japanese speaker to help me with my studies, I emailed her, and we agreed to meet. It turns out that due to declining birth rates, there will not be enough workers in the future, and one area of great need will be elder care. The government is planning on importing many care givers from South Easty Asia (Philipines, etc.), and English will be the common language between them. So, Makiko believes that bettering her English will put her in a good position for the future, especially in a management position.

So, while I was practicing my Japanese in the airconditioning at the university, Joan was slaving away in the full sun at the farm. She had been telling Takashi-san and See-chan about our trip to Korea, especially the food. They really enjoyed the story of the still wriggling octopus that I was
lucky enough to eat. She also told them about our regular Friday night sushi take out night. The photo on the right shows what we had last night.

They asked her what her favorite sushi was, and she responded, "Salmon and eel." After some discussion, it was determined that Joan likes the sushi made of BBQ "unagi" or river eel, as compared to "anago" or sea eel. After awhile, Takashi-san paused, made a serious face, and said, "Joan-san, I recommendo (the name of a restaurant). They serve unagi."

Luckily, I just then stopped by on the way home from the university, and it was decided we would go for lunch at this restaurant. This was pefect because it turned out to be one of those mysterious restaurants with the half curtain hanging in the doorway and indecipherable writing on the signs that we had been eyeballing for some months in the neighborhood. In fact, it was immediately opposite the sento (public bath) we had discovered. There are so many we have not explored yet; it is really nice to go with someone who can lead the way.

We ducked past the curtain, the aquarium, and the bucket with the turtle despearately scrabbling away at the sides ("Don't think about it; don't think about it; Don't think about it," I thought to myself."). After we sat at the table, See-chan order four lunch sets of the BBQ unagi, and we hungrily waited while the small space filled with the smell of grilled eel.
As you can see from the photo, the meal was brought in covered dishes. A small dish of pickled cucumber, carrot, and daikon partnered with another of juicy, peeled tomatoes.

Removing the lids revealed a rectangular piece of grilled BBQ eel resting on rice and the ubiquitious miso soup, full of green onion and small shellfish sprung open by the heat. It was all
very tasty and yet another example of the great cooking in Japan, especially the smaller portions and the healthier ingredients. And, all that for only 680 yen!