Kobe & Okayama
Hello Eaters! I hope that everyone is safe, well and ready for an adventure. While we’re on lockdown, it is easy to feel a bit bored and listless, but for me, food is an amazing way to escape this. As my previous ‘Make your Home a Restaurant’ flogs showed, sometimes cooking an amazing meal can transport you to your favourite places and restaurants. Simple things like a fresh tomato and basil salad can teleport me to Southern Italy for 15 minutes of bliss. However, in this flog, I am taking a different approach. For me to write this, I am referring back to a super quick diary that Mark (my travelling companion) and I created during our amazing trip to Japan. It contains brief notes on all the incredible things we did and ate during our two weeks in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. We went for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and left with huge regret, having fallen totally in love with the country. When Covid-19 is over and we can travel again, Japan should be high on any foodies list. So, while we’re confined and dreaming of escape, I hope this run through of the food I tried will free your minds and make you think of the amazing discoveries and flavours that lie ahead!
Kobe is a city famous for beef, and Mark and I were keen to try it, but sadly, I start by letting you down on this front. Japan is relatively pricey, and I was on a fairly tight budget which meant that we missed out on this glorious opportunity (I will have to address that on another trip). However, this did not mean that we didn’t eat anything delicious. The first notable thing was from a 7Eleven (I know very adventurous). In all little supermarkets, they sell sushi triangles called ‘Onigiri’. They come with lots of different fillings, and Mark knew about them from when he did a ski season in Japan. Now, I would never normally buy sushi from a supermarket because, let’s be honest, it’s usually rank. Luckily, I was open minded, and we stocked up on a few different flavours and a couple of Asahis because we were going for a bit of a hike and needed the fuel. When we stopped in a beautiful forest on the side of a mountain, with a view over Kobe, we were finally able to try the goods. My personal favourite was a salmon one, with wasabi mayonnaise. This was deliciously rich and managed to feel surprisingly luxurious, considering it came from such a budget shop. Obviously, there is infinitely better sushi in Japan, but for anyone who intends on visiting, I highly recommend these triangles as a snack – the katsu sandwiches from supermarkets are another good packed lunch option. All these options are massively enhanced by Asahi which, ever since this trip, has become one of my all-time favourite lagers. It’s just so damn crisp and refreshing. Plus, unlike so many lagers, it has a beautiful dryness which makes it work so well with food (and on its own).
After we had tired ourselves out by trekking to beautiful gardens, through amazing forest paths, only narrowly escaping the incredibly dangerous Japanese hornet, we needed a good feed. We went back down into Kobe and went on the hunt for our first proper meal out. We walked around some backstreets for a while, with no real idea what we were looking for. Luckily, a lovely old lady appeared from inside one of the buildings and beckoned me in. When we went into the tiny ‘restaurant’, it was completely empty. This is never a good sign, but the woman and her husband seemed so friendly (absolutely no mutual language so might have been saying horrible things!), that we decided to risk it. We tried to ask for some sort of curry type thing and the only word we understood was udon. We knew we were getting noodles, but that was it. We waited in trepidation, with green tea to keep us going, while the husband got to cooking. The smells were very promising… Shortly after, a huge bowl of steaming noodles arrived for each of us. It had strips of beef and a thick, rich, curry broth, with large, bouncy udon noodles to fill us up. It was immense! Just what we wanted after a long day’s walking and full of spicy, meaty flavours. As we were eating, the small room started to fill with locals, who all looked slightly baffled by the random newcomers, but were all respectfully friendly (as the Japanese tend to be). We got constant refills of ice-cold tea, which was a lovely counterbalance to the punchy noodles. In short, the experience was brilliant and eye-opening.
By the end, we were full and content, but we got one last surprise. We got a complimentary Daifuku (I think). This is a Japanese sweet made from sweet bean paste and the one we had had a matcha centre. The gesture was lovely, and I could not refuse trying this kind gift, but… it was absolutely disgusting! The bean paste was cloying and hard to swallow, but the powdery matcha in the middle was what got me. It was like horrible flavoured dust in my mouth and I really struggled not to gag. With the help of the tea, I managed to swallow it and then had to soldier through the rest because the lovely owner was watching (you never know, it could have been a great joke by her – give the foreigners a horrible thing and see if they can pretend to like it). It was a shame though because it left a bad taste after such a good meal! Having said that, I don’t regret it, as it’s always fun to try new things and different local delicacies. Sometimes they won’t quite hit the spot, but most of the time they do! Sadly, I could not tell you where this little restaurant is exactly, or even what it is called because as far as I remember, it didn’t have a sign. If it did, it would definitely not have been in English. All I can say is, sometimes it’s a good idea to wander the backstreets, you might just find a little local gem like this!
After Kobe, we made our way towards Shodoshima Island. On our way there, we stopped off in Okayama because that is where we were getting the ferry from. This is a strange industrial city, and I doubt it pulls in many tourists. Because we were catching a ferry the next morning, we stayed in a strange part of town, near the docks. This is not a hotel blog, but the place we stayed certainly deserves a mention. As a total cheapskate, I decided that we would stay in the Chocola Love Hotel… This was just as weird as it sounds. We had Disney princesses on the wall, and everything was disinfected in a way that only made you think it was dirtier. If you’re wondering, Mark and I are not a couple, but we thought we would share a room to save money and because it was hilarious. The only problem was, it was only hilarious for the first half an hour, and then we realised we were sleeping there. At this stage we did the only thing that made sense, we left the bizarre hotel to try and find some food.
After a bit of a wander around the outskirts of Okayama, we found a popular looking sushi restaurant. It was a big place and there were people waiting to be seated so it seemed like a good option. It was called Sushiro and seemed like the Japanese version of Yo Sushi in that the food came round on a conveyor belt. Like most things in Japan, it was quite high tech and you could also use a tablet to order specific items. Then the plate colour dictate how much each thing costs. For the Japanese, this is fairly low end, cheapish sushi, but for us, it was delicious! Everything tasted so fresh and there were loads of interesting things to try. Simple dishes like their salmon maki were lovely and then more complicated items were packed with flavour and vibrance. Also, they just know how to nail the rice there. Sometimes in the UK, the rice feels a bit dry and plasticy, rather than the deliciously sticky correct Japanese version. After tasting lots of delicious sushi, I decided to try some deep-fried chicken cartilage, thinking it might be better than it sounds. It wasn’t. It is exactly what you would expect and for me it’s not the nicest texture in the world, but I really admire how the Japanese use every part of an animal. It’s a much more ethical and sustainable way of eating meat. That isn’t to say that you need to eat the cartilage, but use leftover bones to make stock, it’ll make your next gravy or risotto ten times nicer than if you use a cube. Anyway, we made our way through plenty of plates and a couple of beers before calling it a night. It was a great insight into Japanese sushi, but there was far better to come!
I’m going to stop there for now because my memories are getting me over excited and I think I might start waffling on. I will be resuming this series on Japan soon because the food is just so epic! So, make sure you follow the flog and check out my Instagram for regular foodie updates. I’ll be back with you before long!
Yours in food,
A massive thank you to the Weavers for taking me with them on this incredible trip! And thank you to Mark Weaver for all the great photos featured in this flog (he took the good ones, I took the bad ones). He is a brilliant photographer and designer so go take a look at his awesome website: https://markweaver.myportfolio.com/