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Monday, July 28, 2008


The French are both exotic and fascinating.

Matching Japanese style purse and shoes in a kimono shopI went to Japan Center ( this weekend on a sort of reconnaissance mission, primarily aimed at figuring out what I will need to recognize at Japanese supermarkets when I have a chance to visit Japan later this year.

My ideal would be an arrangement like Steven and I had in Paris: I was inexplicably familiar with two major Parisian gourmet food stores prior to our arrival in Paris, and insisted upon visiting them early in our trip. During the visit, I stocked up on all sorts of treats, from juices and fruit soft drinks to roasted eggplant spreads, olives, and chocolate bars. After a long day of sightseeing, when we had already eaten out twice during the day and I just wanted to have a bath and relax, we would pick up a fresh loaf of bread from a bakery (or, if he wouldn't sit still, I would send Steven out to procure a loaf), and we would sit in our room and enjoy a sort of gourmet picnic dinner in our bathrobes. We always had the makings of a light meal, complete with a tasty beverage, bread spreads, snacks, and dessert.

It was luxurious. Especially as a respite from all of the smokers we encountered in restaurants. I would love to have a similar set-up while we are staying in Kyoto.

Back in 1992, I hadn't been so good at fancy advanced food planning, and so I had several minor disasters, generally associated with eating things that made me sick because they weren't vegetarian. There was the elaborate crab and sashimi meal in Sendai, which, while lovely to look at and surely a tribute to my bravery, made my stomach make crying sounds through much of the night, and made me quite queasy. There was the rahmen restaurant, which made me very sick because it had some sort of pork broth (and not a miso broth, or even a miso-and-fish broth, which would not have harmed me so very much). Luckily, I only ate a small amount of that. And there were those breakfasts at some of the youth hostels that involved whole smoked fish, soup, and rice. I remember nibbling on the side of a fish briefly, as it stared up at me with its dried, vacant eyes... [sound of sobbing] I had quite a bit of soup and rice that morning. And tea. So very much tea.

There were a wide range of meals that worked out a bit better. The meals from the faux-German/French bakery in Kyoto worked out well. One oddity: a potato salad sandwich!! It was a sweet roll with a scoop of potato salad in the middle (the kind with mayo and sweet peppers). I had many of those, along with pastries. There was the Indian place in an underground mall in Osaka, with unusual naan and tasty, not-the-Indian-I-know veggie entrees, where I blissfully ate my fill. (Ordering Indian food in English in Japan is... tricky.) There was the pizza place in Kobe, where I believe I managed to avoid corn pizza. There was the "Italian" place in Nara, which... was completely unique, and had me picking sliced cold cuts off of my plate of spaghetti. There was the fabulous odofu meal with my pen friend and her associates... And there were a few meals when I ate ebi tempura in train stations, or okinomiyaki (which I couldn't actually eat, as I quickly learned), or even "lunch" at an American chain ice cream shop, just because I was sure I couldn't do better. That was when I could still digest shrimp. I'm reasonably certain I can't do that now.


Japanese foreign design booksMy first stop was Kinokuniya Books, which always has a fabulous selection of culturally significant products. The fashion magazines adorned with all of those non-Japanese models are really peculiar!!

There were a variety of photo books about French style, showing French people at home, with their modern French furniture, wearing French sweaters, eating French food... There was a sort of documentary/lifestyle combination approach, where I was supposed to be fascinated by the way the French lived... But I really couldn't see it. I loved Paris, but... It wasn't all that exotic to me. But it is to someone. Which is nice, I suppose.

There was a book about Danish "love apartments," which I was hoping about some sort of "love-hotel"-type fetish I was heretofore unaware of, but it was really just a book of photos of small apartments that couples share. (Say it with me: awwwwww.)

There were a series of design books containing paper/textile pattern sample, which were very interesting, especially the ones that purported to be "Japanese" or "Scandinavian," but which could really have been produced anywhere. Those books came with CDs of the patterns as both PDFs and JPEGs: you could print the patterns out using a color printer onto paper or 'inkjet' fabric, and then use the small prints for craft projects around the house.

Both the bookstore and the Kinokuniya Gift stationery shop had large displays of "Japanese wrapping cloths," plus books on how to use them to wrap various objects in a Japanese style. (I was tempted to buy some, before remembering that I don't really wrap things, and that I am, in fact, going to Japan later this year, and will probably have a wider selection there.)

The bookstore had a dining guide that covered Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe: it listed hundreds of restaurants, literally hundreds... But could only come up with five in the entire region that were vegetarian friendly. None appeared to be in Kyoto.



I had lunch at Mifune ( so I wouldn't hit the grocery store hungry. I had a delicious platter of zaru cha soba: buckwheat noodles with green tea added to them, which was served with a dipping sauce, green onions, grated radish, wasabi, and green tea. I also ordered something I had thought was sacrilegious: flavored sake. Lychee sake was on the menu. I love lychee; I love sake. How could this be wrong?

Aside from the oddity of having anything at Mifune arrive in a martini glass, it was a really good choice: it tasted REALLY good. I don't know what brand it was; I don't know where it came from; but it was really yummy. As yummy as soju drinks I have with lychee in them. I may have to find some of this bottled, somewhere.


Then came the grocery store. I knew it wasn't a gourmet place, I knew it wouldn't be like the snooty Paris places I had been to for gourmet goodies for our hotel room. But... It was still rather distressing, how un-veg-oriented the place was. Fish, fish, fish... Japan is an island with a seafaring culture, and it shows in the incredible range of things that have fish in them. Golly. I picked up a range of fresh things from the deli area, most of which were seaweed, a range of pickles (I LOVE picked daikon radish!), some steamed veggies, a package of organic nama (raw) miso (without fish added), some packages of seaweed specifically to add to miso soup, some organic edamame (frozen), a bunch of different types of mochi (sweet glutinous rice desserts, generally filled with bean paste), some Pocky sticks, some cookies, a few rice crackers, fried tofu (also organic)...

The reception at home for these items was wary. Some of these items will not be finished. I think some of my strategy in Japan, when faced with smaller supermarkets or convenience stores, will be to stock up on drinks (especially soy milk, when available - I will have to keep note of the characters before heading over), fresh fruit, and non-shrimp crackers (I can re-learn the character for ebi, and thus remember to avoid it).

I'm also hoping that good advance research will tip me off as to where I can buy things that will hold us through the night on those evenings when we don't have the energy to go out to eat.

But I have high hopes that one of Japan's centers for "shojin" vegetarian cuisine can deliver some spectacular meals. My fear is that we will go broke getting them, considering both the weakness of the dollar and the price of meals at Buddhist shrines.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:10 AM

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Sayuri Nigori Sake

Nigori sake must be "in" fashion among... people who make their drinking choices based on what is "in" (you know I'm talking about you, G). When people ask me what I like to drink, and I tell them nigori goes with everything, they either know what I am talking about (and tell me how they like it much more than regular, fine-filtered/clear sake) or fake knowledge of what I'm talking about very effectively.

I bought a bottle of Sayuri nigori sake, which is bottled in one of my favorite Japanese cities, Kobe. (Kobe is a lot like San Francisco. More on that some other time.) Sayuri comes in a frosted, pink glass bottle. It has a label that looks like a pretty washi paper and features small, adorable little flowers, some of which are printed in gold. The packaging, with the matching pink screw top, suggests that this darling little bottle is filled with some sickly sweet syrup drink which tastes the way Hello Kitty erasers smell.

It contains nigori. Not my favorite nigori, but one that is tasty and that I will drink again. Also, I will likely have to save the bottle, and find a place for it on a "cute" shelf, until it is displaced with some other cute thing from Japan.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:30 AM

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Another tasty nigori sake!

I know that I lean toward being a "localvore" - I prefer, for a wide range of freshness, quality, and environmental reasons to eat foods that are grown in my local area, rather than foods that are shipped or trucked in from great distances. This hasn't applied to my sake-tasting for what I think are obvious reasons: sake is generally produced in Japan.

But, as a once-frequent viewer of Channel 26, I do know that there are locally brewed sakes, and I finally picked up a bottle of the one that is brewed closest to me: Sho Chiku Bai. SCB makes Nigori (unfiltered, milky-looking sake) that is reasonably priced, and which goes beautifully with Thai food and other spicy dishes that I make. I purchased a bottle of their "Silky Mild" sake... And it is light, clean-tasting, and delightful. It is on the sweet side, and I think it could go with anything.

In light of the clean, light flavors in my more recent tastings, I now do realize there are nigoris (such as the one I tasted with the slightly bitter aftertaste) that just aren't as good, and that there are more differences in flavor than I would have guessed.

I will buy this again, and drink it with my Thai curry experiments!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:52 AM

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Another tasty sake

"Hitorimusume" Nigori Sake (Junmai Nigori) is another one of those snowy, unfiltered sakes that I'm developing such a taste for. It is from Ibaraki prefecture in Japan. This particular one, despite my vigorous shaking, appeared to contain more clumps of rice than other types that I've tried: little tiny cloudlets floated around in my glass... I feared that the clumps would affect the taste or texture of the drink.

This sake tastes VERY pleasant, clean, and light. Despite its appearance, the texture is completely smooth.

Disregard the label, which describes this drink as having a "round aroma of dairy products." This beverage does NOT smell like milk. (Milk is icky.) It smells like sake. Sake without an accent over the e, because this brand doesn't use any such accents.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:40 PM

Sunday, March 30, 2008



The Richmond May Wah, my favorite Chinese supermarket, stocks an awesome selection of small bottles of saké. I now have a much better method of taste testing many brands! My research continues.

Nigori saké is the main focus of my current testing. Nigori is cloudy and slightly thick: you need to shake the bottle before drinking it chilled. I first tried this unfiltered saké at Citrus Club , whose cocktails I have always loved. A chilled martini glass full of cold nigorisaké goes perfectly with a steaming, swimming pool sized bowl of their heavenly tom kha. (I get sentimental just thinking about it...)

I currently have two large bottles of nigori saké at home. 'Nigori Genshu' saké from Momokawa Brewing (Japan, which uses an accent over the e, and thus influenced the formatting of this entry) has a good texture and light taste, with a slightly dark (fermented and slightly bitter) aftertaste after the first few sips, which subsequently fades. I will report on the other bottle when I've had a chance to drink more of it.

I've also tried 'Tanrei Junmai' saké by Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Co., Ltd. (Kobe, Japan) a normal filtered type of saké, mostly because I loved the shape of the little bottle it came in. It is very clean tasting, and especially pleasant warm.

More on this subject as my research progresses.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

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