Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Nishiki Market

I hesitate about posting about the Nishiki because oh my god, my experience with this awesome food-only market has only just begun, and threatens to evolve with every trip. Each time I walk down its long and narrow thoroughfare I am bombarded by different scenes, smells and sounds. If it isn't the pickle seller going Irrashayimasse! it's the samurai-looking young men pounding the mochi at the sweets stall.

My first trip was a sleepy afternoon when sporadic tourist groups roamed; the second was a bustling Saturday noontime frenzy, where it was a jostle through and through, but when I also felt much less shy about trying the different-flavoured mochi or pickles in their little boxes or bowls (above).

If I don't know what to do with 10,000 varieties of pickles, at least I know I'll be visiting Nishiki again (and again) if only for its flowers at wholesale prices, or the purple firmness of a basket of eggplants. Or the odd cuts of meat, the strangest flat fish to be seen this side of Kansai. Or really just for the heck of being there.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Cantonese dinner at B.'s

Good friends and good food: B. made sweet and sour chicken, beef and broccoli in oyster sauce, char-fried rice (with peas! scallions! egg! fried in a stockpot but with that amazing charcoal-stove crust!). The five of us, from four continents, sitting in a warm hearth of a kitchen in a Kyoto suburb, drinking all kinds of good things, talking till late.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Saturday morning, or the cooking class that wasn't

The plan was summer sweets, which got me all excited about dessert, but instead we were told to come round a table with two takoyaki stoves, which you can buy in electronic stores here. The sensei was a shy young man who represented a yakisoba sauce company (C. would have had a field day).

The class was mostly in Japanese, but since takoyaki and yakisoba were no mysteries even for foreigners like myself, I bumbled my way through the class quite easily, helped by three lovely young ladies.
After the lunch and a little bowl of shaved ice dessert, we worked it all off with an hour of Bon dancing, commonly danced in village festivals in August to celebrate Obon, the month of the dead. You repeat a series of coordinated arm and leg movements while moving in a circle in tune to some trance-like chanting with basic instruments.

The eclectic plan aside, this was more of a fun social gathering than a cooking class. For next month they're promising to teach us what to do with okura, the stuff left over from making beancurd, but who knows? Maybe a spot of fan painting instead!

After all that effort for a sweltering Saturday morning I cooled down by walking through the famed Nishiki Market and buying a basket of eggplants and some fleurs du jour, before heading to Takashimaya to splurge on European bread. Our regular bread was out, so I got a cumin-flavoured half-loaf, which went well with an impromptu French onion soup the next day.

And what unbelievable luck! The already culinary Saturday ended in a superb Cantonese dinner made by a professor friend and chef extraordinaire!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Grand Marnier French Toast

Sounds like something I'd love to try soon:

Grand Marnier French Toast
4 servings

6 large eggs
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
1 and 1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
8 slices whole-wheat bread -- best if slightly stale
3 tablespoons of butter for frying
Powdered sugar for dusting Preheat oven to 200F.

In a large shallow baking dish, whisk together eggs, orange juice, milk, liqueur, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Add 4 bread slices and soak 2 minutes. Turn slices over and soak 2 minutes more. Transfer soaked bread slices to a plate and repeat procedure with remaining 4 bread slices.

In a large heavy skillet or griddle, heat 1 1/2 T. butter over medium heat until foam subsides; cook half of coated bread slices until golden, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in oven. Cook remaining bread slices in same manner.

Dust French toast with powdered sugar and serve with warm maple syrup.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Fine dining in Kyoto

What better opportunity to experience Japanese fine-dining than a farewell party for a couple of visiting professors! And the menu, if you please:

1. Stand outside the well-preserved machiya (merchant's house) waiting for the rest of the party to show.

2. Finally venture through the outer courtyard and into the reception area. Remove shoes and place in lockers provided, and find out you could have spent your last 15 minutes seated in comfortable waiting chairs like everyone else, or milling around and admiring the darkening view of the garden.

3. Allow yourself to be led into the inner corridors, where you are shown to an exquisite tatami room with an expansive ikebana arrangement in the center and two long tables on the sides adorned with meal implements and the first course in covered woven baskets.

4. Be the only person to order wine instead of Asahi. Open the basket when the others do, and collectively gasp at the delicate arrangements of sashimi, puddings, compote of sea urchin lying within the basket.

5. Find out that this is only the first course and indulge happily. Feel a bit woeful about the ice-cold red wine, and wonder if you should have ordered sake instead.

6. Receive plate of things to dunk in the hotpot, of soya bean milk.

7. Receive main course - an unexpectedly understated sushi plate.

8. Discover the best thing since air-con: plum wine or umeshu.

9. Arrive at an epiphany. that Japanese fine dining is less about the food than the presentation (the excesses, the impressions), and, as the evening wears on, an excuse to drink a whole lot of beer and lose inhibitions.

10. Tumble with the other inebriated folk through the restaurant's subtly-lit landscape garden in the moonlight on a tour of its mini-bridges, tricking streams, hanging willows, and imported limestone plunge pool. Try to shut out images from the Blair Witch Project. Find out this very fine machiya was built and owned by the man who engineered the canalization of the Kamogawa, the banks on which the house sits.

11. Realize that drinking on a Monday sets a really lousy precedent for the rest of the week.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Matcha made in heaven

Creations from our first pottery class together, finally painted and fired. Just the right things for my newly-acquired pack of Uji matcha!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

IMBB #17: Lemon Verbena and Lavender Jelly

TasteTea is my comeback IMBB!:)

I remember my first IMBB, way back when it was in its single digits. It was one of those things that inspired me to start a food blog. Two years on, I've moved on to two more countries in different continents, seen my old blog disappear with a bad hosting company, and done nothing much with respect to food blogging except live vicariously through other people's wonderful sites. Not blogging much is also tied to the nomadism and new busy life, the stresses and non-permanence of it all leading to a mostly uninspired kitchen. But with the next 7 months in glorious Japan, I thought it was the perfect time to start it up again.

My first contribution in ages (thank you Clement for probably the most clever and inspiring themes ever) is a very simple concoction, result of the severely simplified culinary life I've been leading, as well as a pretty sparse kitchen. I just had to use verbena, my absolute number-one bedtime tea, and some dried lavender, brought over from the US in a doubled-up ziplock bag for special occasions like these. I added lavender to deepen the flavour, as verbena tends to be rather muted.

Verbena is also special because we used to live in Ascona in Ticino, Switzerland, and the Italian town just across the lake was called Verbania, named after the verbena-lined lakeshore. Verbena isn't such a popular herb but I find it a lot more soothing than camomile tea. I first drank the tea in Lausanne, where some friends were hosting us. With the strong aroma of verbena flowers, and the heady addition of fleur d'orange syrup, we almost fell asleep at the table.

The recipe

1 teabag lemon verbena, also known as vervain (mine had a bit of fleur d'orange in it)
1 teaspoon dried lavender
1 5g-sachet of agar-agar or jelly, procured with some challenge at the local Japanese supermarket
3 cups of water

Brew the lemon verbena and lavendar in the 3 cups of water, boiling gently. At the end of the brewing (according to teabag instructions), add in sachet of jelly/agar-agar and stir until it dissolves. Strain the mixture and pour into moulds as desired. Cool and refrigerate until set.