A Beach Break in Kamakura
Hello foodies! As Autumn comes to an end, I can’t help but wish that I was planning my trip to Japan all over again. It’s over a year now and there’s no prospect of doing anything similar for a while. So, what can we do about this? We can daydream and sail away in our minds hoping that the new vaccines sorts this mess soon. This is what I want to help you to do now. Let’s escape to the groovy surf town of Kamakura – about 1 hour from Tokyo, but with a totally different vibe. It’s much more open and chilled with a nice, if not beautiful beach. It was a lovely stop off on our way towards the Metropolis and we had a great time with some even better food. We ate one of our best and most memorable meals here. We also (slightly shamefully) sampled Japanese McDonalds – talk about contrasts. If you ever get over to Tokyo, I really advise a weekend trip to Kamakura. It’s got such a great atmosphere with awesome cafes, markets, restaurants and even an amazing hostel.
We arrived in Kamakura quite late and headed straight to our hostel. This was called Hostel WeBase and it was a 2 minute walk from the beach. It was lovely and modern with a really open and spacious feel to it. There were massive communal spaces with everything you could want, including instant ramen and beer vending machines… a match made in heaven. After a quick tour of the hostel and finding our beds, we headed out to check out the food scene. We wandered with only a vague idea of where we might end up. Luckily, we stumbled across a restaurant down an alley, just off the main market street. I’ve just spent hours trying to re-find it on Google Maps, but I cannot. This isn’t that surprising, given that it was a small restaurant with a very local feel. It was beautifully laid out with dark wood tables and absolutely no sign of an English word on the menu. In fact, they almost seemed as though they didn’t want Western customers. Initially they warned us that they couldn’t speak English. If anything, this made us want to stay more and we managed to ask for whatever they suggested and a beer. It turned out to be a brilliant plan. They told us we would get some fish and some pork but that was all we knew. To start though, we got some soft tofu to in miso broth. This is a very traditional way to start a Japanese meal and a very nice touch. However, the texture of the tofu isn’t for everyone, i.e. Me. It is quite creamy considering it’s in a soup and doesn’t provide the contrasting textures I was hoping for. This was still a good starter though because it wakes up the palate for the delights that were to follow. This consisted of the most delicious pork chop that I have ever eaten and an amazing plate of sashimi. The chops were beautifully seasoned and cooked perfectly with a lovely soy glaze. They weren’t quite pink, but they were so close to being pink that they were tender and moist, unlike the leathery chops that gives the cut a bad name. It was such a simple looking dish with no garnishes or frills, but it was incredibly tasty. Each element balanced it perfectly, with sensationally rendered fat to round things off in the mouth. This started things off on a great note, really impressing both of us and making us desperate for more amazing food!
Then came the sushi. It was one of the best presented plates of food that I have seen, and the highest quality fish we’d tried at that stage. There was tuna, a white fish which I believe was bream and then mackerel. It was served with wasabi, ginger and delicious micro herbs and mini salads to make things insanely fresh. Of course, there was also soy sauce for dipping. Mark and I dived in, starting with the bream which we assumed would be less strong than the other two. We were right, but that made it no less delicious. It was delicate, light and incredible. I know I’ll say this a lot when talking about sushi, but it was just so clean! After eating it, there is no cloying feeling or unpleasant lingering fishiness, which you sometimes get in places like Yo Sushi. Instead, your mouth just feels like it is tingling with pleasure and desperate for more! Luckily, at this stage we had more to try. We decided to save the tuna for our last mouthful because it looked so decadent, so we wielded our chopsticks with mediocre skill and plucked the mackerel from the plate. After a quick dip in some wasabi infused soy sauce, we both went for it at the same time. Now, I am going to try and paint a picture which I hope you have all experienced at some point your eating careers (hopefully a few times). Have you ever had that moment when you’re with another foodie, and you taste the same thing at the same time and your minds are just blown? You know it’s happening when you just look up at each other in wide-eyed astonishment. This is what happened here. Mark and I locked eyes and that little grin of satisfaction started to appear on both our faces. No words were needed, we just knew we were eating something unbelievably delicious and we wanted to stay in that moment for as long as possible!
Sadly, all good things come to an end and this mouthful of bliss was no different. But we still had tuna to look forward to. We had a few bits of peppery cress and some ginger to cleanse the palate before moving onto this morsel of fishy goodness. The colour of this tuna was beautiful. It was a deep maroon and just looked so so appealing – beautifully cut and glossy. It tasted as good as it looked. There is a reason that tuna is so sought after in Japan; it’s because when it’s treated with such reverence, it becomes the most simply perfect thing. This was rich and full of flavour, but without any unpleasant intensity. It had a beautiful texture, with a little bite to it but it was still silky smooth. This was really delicious, but not the highest grade of tuna by any means. And in fact, it wasn’t quite as amazing as the mackerel was. I think this was because it was very lean, whereas the mackerel had a slightly higher fat content. Later in the series, we’ll cover some fatty tuna sushi from Tokyo which was one of the finest things I have ever put in my mouth. But for now, we will stick with this meal and its delights. It was everything you want from sushi, with the soy and wasabi adding a salty kick and the fish providing the fresh, delicate balance. We washed this down with a nice crisp Kirin and wished we could afford to eat the same thing three times over. It was fantastic. I would go back in a second if I could escape the country and I would happily walk around Kamakura for a good hour to find this gem again! After this beautiful meal, we were pretty knackered and only went for a little wander before hitting the bunks of WeBase and getting some well needed kip.
Feeling refreshed and hoping for some gnarly waves to appear, we woke up and headed out to try and find doughnuts and coffee to rival the ones we had in Shodoshima. This proved to be a tough ask, but we found some decent organic ones that did a job, without being awesome. These were from a little street stall on our way to the market (there were no gnarly waves around), and they sustained us enough to reach the other vendors. Here we found some really cool shops and some really boring touristy, trinket shops. At the end though, we came across some nice little food stands. I went for a bao bun with pork belly which was decent but slightly uninspiring and didn’t have any sauce. It was my mistake though – I had that very British craving for a bacon sandwich and thought that this would be the closest I could get to it. Mark was more sensible though and queued up for a weird and wonderful German sausage which was drawing in the crowds. Predictably, I was immediately jealous when his looked much better than mine!
After visiting the amazing Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū Shinto shrine and taking in its beauty, we retreated to the hostel for a chilled afternoon and some pot noodles from a vending machine. These were actually pretty delicious considering I think most pot noodles are absolute filth. Mine was some kind of ramen and certainly filled a gap for minimal cost. We then spent an afternoon on the beach before heading out to find a spot for dinner. We had somewhere very specific in mind, having walked past it earlier. It was a small locally dominated restaurant and there was something about it which made Mark and me desperate to go. We found it pretty easily but were immensely disappointed to discover that it was full and there was no chance we would get in. From what we could understand, once people had taken their seats, they didn’t leave for the whole evening! We were pretty gutted and didn’t fancy wandering for miles without any idea where to go (if I ever return to Kamakura, I will eat here). So, we swallowed our snobbish pride and decided to save our pennies and try Japanese McDonalds for the first time. Both of us were intrigued about what we might find, and I was hoping for something a bit different. Sadly, McDonalds is more or less McDonalds regardless of where you are. There were a few differences like black buns and unfamiliar drinks, but the bulk was the same – well what did I really expect? After chowing down a decent meal, we decided that enough was enough and bed was calling – we aren’t normally super boring, but the non-stop travelling was starting to catch up with us at this stage! Plus, we were hoping to wake up early for some waves that were very unlikely to arrive.
After a relatively early start, we checked the beach and found again that there wasn’t any swell. We even visited a surf shop to ask if they thought there was anywhere that might have waves, but no luck. So, what did we do instead? Well, find somewhere to eat of course! Mark found a really interesting coffee shop called Maruyama which sold coffee varieties from all over the world, even Japan. I tried the house blend which was really nutty but quite mild. It was delicious and definitely set me up well for the day ahead. This was important because it was a day where I would get my first taste of Tokyo! A city which was as incredible as it was unfamiliar. That is what we will cover in the next flog which will be a cracker! The food scene from here on in was incredible. Ramen and sushi consumed all our thoughts, with amazing rugby being the only thing that could distract us from this!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this edition and are excited for the next one! Sorry that it has been a long time coming but life got in the way (as the old cliché goes). Please remember to comment with anything you might have to say – however nonsensical or unrelated (it all helps) and to like and subscribe. Subscribing’s particularly important because who knows when a new post is coming (I know I don’t), so how else will you know to read the next instalment?
Yours in food,