Thursday, 10 April 2008

Fishy Fishy Fishy Fish

Day 2 in Tokyo, and we had an early start to goto the Tsukiji Fish Market. Now this was an incredible sight. There were row upon row and column upon column of stalls selling huge copious amounts of different types of fish. From the largest mussels I have ever seen to Blue Fin Tuna, caught at sea at least a few weeks ago and completely frozen, that it took two guys with the sharpest knives you have ever seen to cut them in two. It was truly mind boggling, that a place can house so much fish, and also that a city and its surroundings can eat so much. Oh to live in Tokyo, would be a fish chefs dream. I really can not put into words what I saw there, you are just going to have to come and see it for yourselves.
Some facts : Tokyo Central Wholesale Market handles about 2,888 tons a day of marine products, equating to about 2.8 billion yen a day in business. Some 450 kinds of fish are received. The Tuna auction starts at 5.30am, about the time we were getting up, and is over within an hour. So we are told.
We decided to goto a Sushi bar next to the market, where else can you get such fresh Sushi. Popped ourselves at the bar and ordered a set. The speed at which the chef worked was unreal. He deftly shaped the rice to pop the fish onto it. Cut small slices of fish so accurately and quickly it was scary.
What we ate was truly sublime. The only problem was that it lacked atmosphere. We were the only people there, plus the chef was watching us but not watching us if you know what I mean. It was really off putting. But apart from that it looked and tasted great. The picture you see does not do it justice. The artistry involved is great. I wonder how long these guys train for before they are let loose on the general public. Overall it was a bit of a let down, mainly because of the atmosphere.
Later that day after a busy morning sight seeing and visiting a few Cherry Blossom sights, we found a Tempura restaurant. Now these are easy to find as you just get this whiff of cooking oil and follow your nose. As we had already had Sushi that morning, we only had some prawns as a kinda snack to keep us going. Really crispy tempura batter, lovely firm prawns and the dipping sauce was good also. Would have preferred something stronger but hey ho.
Leaving Tokyo behind us we headed up into the mountains to see the Snow Monkeys in Yudanaka. Arrived into this small town starving. After walking around for an age before we went to the Ryokan. We found a small place that sold noodles. Luckily the chef spoke some English and Spanish. So we ordered two bowls of noodles with fried tofu, local mushrooms, pork and a fried egg. Really did hit the spot as we were both starving, and the inclusion of egg added an extra dimension to these lovely noodles.
After a hard days monkey watching, (or being watched by the monkeys) we headed out to find some food. We had heard about a place that made its own soba noodles. Never gonna miss an opportunity to eat some noodles. Unfortunately it was closed. So we wandered back to a Sushi place we saw on the way, again it was closed. Now this all turned out quite lucky for us, as we stumbled (literally) upon a Chanko joint. Now, Chanko is the desired food of the Sumo Wrestler. It is a huge pot of stock bubbling away with the cheapest veg and meat cuts in, as in the Sumo Stables, the Master has to feed everyone, and the newbie trainees do not earn any money whilst they are training. So everyone sits down and it goes in hierarchal order. The Masters get their pick first then the lowly trainees get what ever is left. They do this twice a day.
It was a very atmospheric place full of locals either having a full meal or drinks and sashimi after work. So we seat down on the tatami mats and a pot appears before us on top of a gas flame bubbling away, with lots of veg and mushrooms in it. So we tucked in. The thing here that I have noticed is that everywhere here all soups and noodles etc have such great stocks. I’m guessing that they use Dashi or miso stock as a base and add to it for the desired dish. On such a cold night when we left we were positively glowing and warm.
The following day we heading off to Takayama, it kind of represents how some parts of Japan looked a hundred years ago or so. They produce a similar version to Kobe Beef there called Hida Beef. Looking in some butchers shops and some cuts going for 12000 Yen for 100g, (roughly works out to be about £65 a kilo) it is hellishly expensive.
We stayed at an old Temple and the Master there “Tommy”, advised us if we wanted to, to eat at a restaurant called Suzuya, if we wanted try Hoba Yaki, a local speciality, as this place did it the best and was the cheapest. It basically is some miso paste, smeared onto a cedar leaf, with some vegetables, noodles, mushrooms and some famous Hida Beef, all cooked on top of a naked flame. Once the miso starts to sizzle you just mix everything together and eat away. To be honest it, the dish itself has been the low point of our trip here, the beef tasted great, very soft and the fat creamy, but overall so-so. The restaurant only seemed to cater for large tour groups, as there was one from Germany in that night. Should have warned us off.
Tommy also recommended another place, a Tempura joint. As if by chance without looking for it, we found it, decided to poke our heads round the door to see what it was like and look at a menu. Really small place fronted by the chef and a waitress. It had 7 seats at the bar and a few tables with tatami mats in a room adjacent. I had a good feeling about this place, so we sat at the bar and ordered a couple of beers (gotta stop drinking beer as getting too bloated) and some Tempura sets. One with 2 prawns and 6 veg, and another one with an eel and 6 veg. All were made right in front of us and were all exquisite. Actually Tempura does go very nice with beer, but so does Sushi and Sashimi also, and with Sake too. We had two dips for the Tempura. One was a normal dipping sauce with some dashi in it, the other was curry powder and salt. He made a clear point of making sure we understood, not to dip the Tempura in one and then in the other. I kinda gathered it would have been a fate worse than a fate worse than death.
The chef was particularly happy at the end, as he had a map on the wall and would get everyone to mark where they came from. Lina was the first Colombian to visit his restaurant. Another red dot to add to the ever growing number. This place was a big highlight. “Tempura Ebihachi” was its name.

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