Japanese Cuisine

Well, first of all, how do you order when you can’t read the Japanese menu? We are at a slight disadvantage since the Japanese think we are locals. We went into Mr. Young Man, Kyoto, struggled with the menu. Then we noticed non-Asian tourists being given the ENGLISH MENU.

What if there isn’t a English menu? Someplaces have photos and prices so you point to it. Most places have plastic models and pricing in exterior cases so that you can decide before going into the restaurant.

There are many fast food places offering noodles & rice dishes. We managed between 450-1200Y for meals. Then there was our first encounter with the ticket vending machines. You punch the buttton for themeal that you want, it spits out a ticket, you take the ticket to the cook and then receive your meal. Since it was our first encounter in Ginza, and there were no photos or menus, we took the cook outside, pointed to the plastic model, then the cook showed us what button to press on the ticket vending machine and we waited for our food. We later saw the upscale version of the machine in another restaurant. The buttons had photos. Now this ticket machine saves you menus, cashiers and would be great for tracking inventory. Typical menus have been noodles,rice, fish, pickled vegetables, miso soup, coleslaw, corn, eggs, roast pork, tempura, beef, seaweed. Your food is always served on a tray. Good since some of the places are really crowded.

We also had takeout boxes from our local butcher/supermarket that had chicken cutlets, ham sausage, shitake mushroom, tofu, coleslaw. It was 700Y which is great value for all the food.

And then there was the other incident with a restaurant that had no menus, or photos, or plastic models-Robotas. According to the Rough Guide to Japan, ‘you look for the restaurant with the basket of vegetables outside, and the owner will take care of you and it was moderately priced’. It was very rustic inside like a farmhouse with dark heavy beams, low ceilings, farm decorations, dim, all the tableware was earthenware. It was our first meal that wasn’t a fast food joint and David thought it was romantic. So you come in and the owner shows you the buffet and explains each item and there was a lot of dishes. The food was displayed on a counter on earthen platters. He also bought out a text book of fishes to let us know what was available. Still no mention of prices. There was a sign in Japanese but we couldn’t read it. However everything looked good and we were getting tired of pickled vegetables and wanted vegetable dishes.

So I picked out a chicken stew dish, eggplant dish, jellyfish, spinach with white crumbling stuff, smoked salmon and aparagus spears. In the chicken dish was also bamboo shoots and something that I recognized the flavour but havent had in decades – I think they were gingko nuts. The eggplant was really good and David agreed. I mentioned that why couldn’t he cook eggplant like this since he only cooks ratatouille. David said that it was ratatouille. What I thought tofu on the spinach was actually feta cheese. I said that the cook must have had some other European training. Then we realized we were eating French food. All our food was served on one huge big earthen plate. And then he gave us 2 little pistachio pastries as dessert with cups of green tea. Most places don’t serve you tea, its all iced water. Unlike Hong Kong and China, tap water is fine.

It was a bit unnerving since it was slow that there were 4 staff people just standing there until more diners came in. At this point, we still had no idea how much the bill was going to be, since it was French food, it was going to be more money, the Rough Guide said modest prices, what’s that mean?. Presentation was good with food being on bananas leaves, bamboo utentils- no plastic stuff. However the food was excellent, it was a dining experience, bill 8000Y for both of us. 1Yen is 75c. 5% taxes on everything. No tipping. I didnt think that I would go all the way to Japan to have French food, although with a Japanese touch.

Oh, the hotel here (Courtyard by Marriott, Tokyo Ginza Tobu) has a complimentary happy hour with 1 free drink and free finger foods. We did that for 2 nights but you have to be there at 6-8pm. I asked for decaf coffee and was given a pitcher of instant coffee granules, a teapot of boiling water, individually plastic wrapped sugar cubes. I’ll stick to regular coffee. About coffee, in the stores, you can buy coffee cups with a built filter with grounds. All you do is add hot water. Our hotels have the hotpots. The advantage is that it will keep the water warm and it has a button dispenser. Beats my electrick kettle at home. The finger foods are served in individual oval bowls and with forks. Things like roast pork, beef, seafood medley.

About pointing to pictures to order meals. Sometimes you are guessing at what the food is. We were in Kobe and in their Chinatown, which one of Japan’s 3rd chinatowns. Lots of the shops were serving dumplings and steamed buns which meant that it was northern style Chinese cooking. We wanted a restaurant that had photos, pricing and airconditioning. We found one that served tofu. I ordered what I thought was beef and ended up with LIVER! actually it was tasty, just not what I expected.

Its eel season now so we are seeing a lot of it on menus.

A huge phenomen is coffee and dessert shops. Gorgeous looking desserts ie pastries, eclairs, cakes slices. Yes there are Wendy’s, MacDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, pizza, italian, Thai and a Haitian place. The prices are about the same for Wendy’s, McDonalds and Starbucks. No we havent eaten in them. Local chains are Mos Burgers, Fresh Burgers.

A noodle shop featured soup served in these huge stone bowls which kept the food really hot. while you were eating it. The broth was boiling when it was served. Here you could chose your soup broth as soy based or miso based.

Miso or rather soy is in everything here. I can see why some Westerners would lose weight here. We haven’t had sushi yet.

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