Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Kyoto Days 0 & 1 - Getting settled, the Nikishi food market street, and a Japanese cooking class!

On Sunday, my mom and I flew into Osaka airport. She arrived from San Francisco, and I arrived from Shanghai, and we arrived about 15 minutes from each other. As soon as I got to the immigration line in Osaka, I saw my mom several rows ahead. Score! At least I didn't have to worry about finding each other! However, I should have been worrying about the pace of the line, which was so slow for immigration that our shuttle bus to Kyoto was about ready to leave without me and my mom thought I was waiting for her at the luggage carousel!

But that was about the only rough part of the trip, because once we were on the shuttle we were good to go. We arrived at my favorite spot (I stayed here two years ago on my sabbatical), Hotel Mume, and were welcomed by the lovely staff who offered us sparkling wine in addition to any information we needed for our touristing.

We got settled into our room pretty quickly and then set off to dinner, on the recommendation of the hotel. That night was a local favorite, which is a cooked pancake-like thing (maybe more like a crepe) with a bunch of stuff piled on top. I got beef and green onions, in addition to some standard things (cabbage, squid, soy sauce... who knows what else was in there). Mom got a variation with a slightly different flavor to it. With both got plum wines, and had fun chopping our food up on the hot plates in front of us. For a very close and pretty inexpensive meal, it was perfect for our arrival.

Here we are pre-meal, a little tired:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Here's the okonomiyaki I had:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

The restaurant also happens to be on one of my favorite blocks in this area, so that was great to return to. But really, walking anywhere around the Gion district makes me happy and I've been reminded of this in all of our outings since we arrived.

This is from the next day, but my favorite little street. To feature geisha later in the tales!
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

After dinner Mom was battling jet lag and I was just plain tired, so we returned to the hotel and arranged our breakfast time.

Those who had read my travel blog from my sabbatical might remember the amazing breakfasts that Hotel Mume serves. Some things (thankfully) never change. The breakfast of soup, fruit and yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, fresh-baked pastries, and fresh-made coffee was more than enough to get us going for the day. I wish I had an extra stomach!

Breakfast:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

After breakfast we took our time getting organized in the room, and hit the road shortly before noon. We were making our way over to the entrance of the Nikishi streem market, which is where we were to be starting a guided tour of the food markets on the street. But first, we wandered about Kyoto a bit, heading across the river from Gion and grabbing a tasty tempura lunch in the restaurants in the department store downtown. While it was in a department store, don't let it fool you. The food was amazing and the tempura was so light and not even remotely greasy. So good!

Part of the lunch:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Many choices of salt, and the soy sauce container. Even the condiments are lovely.
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

We got a little lost in our next effort, but did manage to meet up with Taro-san, our host for the street market tour, and also our cooking-instructor for the later part of our day... a Japanese cooking class!

So, the market. I don't even think I can sum up everything, but here's some mental highlights: six million types of pickles, getting to see daikon, wasabi, and several other fruits and veggies in their native state, seeing many wonderful fish and the biggest and smallest clams I've ever seen, admiring different types of rice and different types of tofu, and getting samples of many of the things listed above.

The market:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Pickling things:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Pickled things:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Fresh wasabi:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Taro slowly walked us through, explained common ingredients, when they would be used, and how to know when things were worth the cost. He was very knowledgable, and it was much more conversation than guided tour, which suited my mom and I (the only attendees on this part) just fine.

Once we got to the end of the market, Mom had a stop at a yarn shop to make, so Taro humored us and helped us find it before we all returned to his home. Taro's wife, Yushiko, and their two and a half year old daughter, Haru, were at home in their home. The space is small but it is filled with warmth. Haru was actually napping on the tatami mat next to the dining room table (on the floor) when we arrived, which was super cute.

Mom and I at Taro-san's house:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Haru:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Ready to get cooking:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Soon after our arrival, the other two students for the cooking class showed up. Eve and Good (yes, that's his name) were from Bangkok, Thailand, and were delightful co-students. With all of us there, Taro walked us through which recipes we'd be making and then we were off and running. Yushiko was actually doing a lot of the prep work on the kitchen side of the area we were in, while we got to take turns doing various cooking pieces. Taro guided us through the steps, explained how the flavors come together and how to tell different ingredients apart (like the three types of miso). It was very interesting to hear it from the perspective of home-cooking, rather than "cook like a restaurant". Like miso soup will often have whatever leftovers you have tossed in, whereas in restaurants it's very plain.

Some cooking shots... Mom gets cooking:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Taro starts the omlette
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

I'm helping plate dishes at this point:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Taro shows mom, Good, and Eve what's next:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

We made some fun dishes and I'll have to dig out the copy of the recipes to find the names, but perhaps the most fun experiment was that we got to cook with Kobe beef! And even more than that we cooked both Kobe beef and an Australian beef and compared them. The marbling in Kobe is amazing, and I don't know that it's always worth the cost, but we could sure tell the difference and Kobe tasted much better. Plus, there's a certificate. With a nose print. And an animal name and its whole lineage of parents and grandparents. Yowza.

Kobe certificate:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Kobe beef, sirloin (back and left) and tenderloin (the other two):
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

The meal itself turned out to be lovely, and we had such great flavors and setting, and great company, too. While it felt like a long day because we had started our market trip so early, it was much more like visiting a friend than spending time with strangers, so all in all, it was a great experience. Plus it was a great way to see a more day-to-day side of Japanese culture, which my mom and I both appreciate.

The four of us (Eve, Good, me, Mom) with our meal:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

The table all set:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

A single place setting:
From Kyoto Days 0&1 - Oct 2-3, 2011

Upon finishing dinner we hopped onto the bus and made our way back to our hotel. It was a long day, and we knew we'd need some energy to get ready for the next day's events... Kinkakuji and the geisha performance!

There are many more photos from the day, of course, and you can see them all here on Google+.

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