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Around Kyoto {Japan no. 8}

When people have asked me what the best parts of the trip were, I’ve told them that one was meeting Katsura and her family. I met them on the street in Tokyo when I was lost, and ended up reconnecting with them in Kyoto, where they live.  Two of the days in Kyoto were spent getting to know Katsura – more about that soon. The amount of time spent in Kyoto was really too brief to even begin to understand it, so looking back now it feels very surreal. A few of my favorite images from the dream…

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Tofu donuts from Nishiki Market.
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Kyoto in the morning {Japan no.7}

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A friend lent me his copy of Old Kyoto by Diane Durston - a guide to traditional shops, restaurants and inns. The information is beautifully woven together with stories of family establishments, some that have been in business for over ten generations. I love this book so much that I had to get my own copy. I was able to visit a few of the places listed, and Yubahan was one of them.

According to Old Kyoto, Yubahan began making yuba (soy milk skin) in 1716, and the old wooden structure was reconstructed after a fire in 1864. Yuba can be purchased fresh or dried and is said to contain the highest concentration of protein found in any natural food.

Through an unusual string of serendipitous events, I ventured out at sunrise one morning to go to Yubahan and watch the making of yuba. I was offered a seat by a small heater and a little dish of fresh yuba drizzled with soy sauce. After the soybeans are soaked overnight, ground, and boiled for hours, they are pressed through cheesecloth. The extracted milk is then placed in heated vats, thin sheets begin to form on the surface, and then are deftly swept up with wooden sticks.

This was the moment when I wished more than anything that I could communicate. One day while in Kyoto, I had a conversation with a woman that was in the exact order it had unfolded on a Japanese language CD I’d tried before the trip (it happened once, and never again, but it was fun while it lasted!). While sitting in the steam-filled shop, I made every possible attempt to get by. We used a pocket dictionary and a lot of gestures, they showed me an article about Yubahan in Bon Appetit, and somehow, with an excessive amount of thanking and a little confusion, a conversation was had.

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Tsukiji Market {Japan no.6}

Two of my mornings in Tokyo started with unbelievably fresh sushi at Tsukiji Market. After breakfast, I roamed around the outer market, comprised of produce, knives, pottery, and alleys of noodle shops, until the wholesale area opened to visitors.  By this time, there was a sense that some of the frenetic energy of the earlier hours was beginning to wind down. Still, there were carts zig-zagging around the alleys and plenty to be aware and considerate of, particularly when bringing a camera into a work space. I lurked behind a few tour groups and caught on to a bit of information, but other than that just took it all in. This article by Martin Fackler for The New York Times discusses the plans for and concerns about the relocation of the market.

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Kanda Matsuya, Tokyo {Japan no.4}

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For the holidays, my mom got me a copy of Japanese Soul Cooking, a cookbook by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat.  The book explores the comfort foods you’d find in both neighborhood restaurants and in homes and includes step-by-step photographs.  Although I haven’t tried the recipes yet, before leaving for Japan I jotted down a few of the author’s favorite places in Tokyo to try some of the dishes shared in the book.  They noted that the recommendations were Japanese speaking only, but not to let it discourage you.

My top choice was to try soba at Kanda Matsuya, founded in 1884.  I found a long line of people and assumed I was in the right place, but checked with the group of people behind me in line to be sure. They were curious as to how I found out about Kanda Matsuya, so I told them about the cookbook and they invited me to sit at their table.  I had planned on ordering hot soba, but instead went with the cold soba they recommended (along with a thick potato soup, tempura, and grilled chicken and pork to start). The cookbook has some interesting history and information woven in with the recipes, one note being that for mori sobamade up of just cold soba, dipping sauce, and garnishes, the soba needs to be perfect.

When we were just about finished with the mori soba, a pot of sobayu – the leftover hot water that the noodles have been boiled in - was brought to the table.  This is poured into what sauce and spices are left in the dipping bowl after finishing the soba.

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There is so much more that I’d want to try and see in Tokyo, but Kanda Matsuya and Takemura (below) are the two places I’d absolutely want to experience a second time. Founded in 1930, Takemura offers tea and sweets like oshiruko, a sweet bean soup with mochi. We were welcomed with a cup of sakurayu, a drink made from salted cherry blossoms in water. After we finished the tea and soup, my new friends wrote my name on a chopstick wrapper.  This would have to be the best souvenir from the whole trip, and it will be put in a frame. Arigatou gozaimashita!

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  • Nami | Just One Cookbook - Thank you so much for linking back to my Oshiruko recipe. You take amazing pictures and I really enjoyed browsing your blog and photography work!!ReplyCancel

    • Kristin - Thank you so much Nami! Since returning from Japan, I’ve wanted to learn more about Japanese cooking and am so happy that I found your blog. It’s very informative and full of great stories and images!ReplyCancel

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