Hello all! We're still in Japan, and having a wonderful time!
We just spent a week in the Kyoto area, visiting shrines, gardens, and parks. It was quite a change from Tokyo, with its neon signs and trendy crowds. That said, I've always been a city girl, so the urban bustle doesn't bother me – especially when it's as stress-free as Tokyo. As my Dad reminded me: “If Americans lived in Tokyo, it would Hell on Earth – but the Japanese make it work, somehow.” Even Laurent, who had anticipated the crazy crowds, had to admit the city felt very peaceful.
We've both taken tons of pictures – too many for me to sort through right now. Thankfully, there are comparatively fewer food pictures, which makes my task of keeping this blog alive during our trip a little easier. So, on with the food!
We didn't just visit shrines in the Kansai region (the South of Japan): we also sampled the local food. Two of the specialties I was particularly keen on tasting were okonomiyaki and takoyaki. If you really want to be a regional purist, they are specifically Osaka's specialties, but you can also find them in Kyoto and other nearby cities.
Takoyaki (literally: grilled octopus) are little chunks of octopus, dipped in an egg-and-flour-based batter. They are then cooked in sphere-shaped molds, and traditionally served with mayonnaise, katsuoboshi (dried bonito flakes), seaweed flakes, and a special brown sauce that tastes a little like zippy teriyaki sauce. There are multiple variations, including takoyaki with extra octopus (shown below), and even octopus-free takoyaki, with cheese and bacon used as filling. The latter actually sounded kind of yummy, but we turned our noses at it, given the context.
Okonomiyaki (literally: what you like, grilled) is based on a similar batter, but is shaped into a large disc and cooked on a teppan (a iron griddle). All sorts of things can be added to the batter: meat, seafood, vegetables... Ideally, the okonomiyaki is served piping hot, crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside. There are also variations, such as the one shown below: a thin crepe, topped with yakisoba (which, ironically, contains no soba, but consists of sautéed ramen noodles), various garnishes, and an egg. Again, you can add mayonnaise and sauces, depending on what toppings you chose.
I don't think I've ever seen okonomiyaki or takoyaki on the menu at a Japanese restaurant in Montreal, so I was very glad to get a taste of them here. Seriously, I see a market for them in Canada, don't you?