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Food Excellence – Hot Chocolate

Food Excellence – Hot Chocolate

The Japanese are obsessive about food quality and one of the joys of travel in Japan is the amazingly fresh ingredients and the overall quality of the food at every level.   Simple sushi shops have fish that would command high prices in the US and obscure noodle shops in train stations can have the tastiest udon that you may have ever had.   Good food is the norm so it’s easy to come to expect it of Japanese cuisine.  But I’m a chocolate aficionado and so I’m always on the lookout for a great chocolate desert or special item.   Now leading my list for best hot chocolate in the world (a short list with some favorites from New York and Paris) is the SUPERB cup of hot cocoa prepared by the Four Seasons Marunouchi in Tokyo.   Made with Valrhona chocolate (need we say more…), it comes perfectly prepared with a selection of enhancements neatly arrayed on a tray – white chocolate curls, whipped cream and the tiniest little marshmallows ever.   Now it could be a little better if the curls were more Valrhona, I guess, but for a special treat – I always make it a point to stop into their quiet, 7th floor lounge (right next to Tokyo station) to warm up and relax whenever I’m passing through Tokyo. Post Note:  I asked the hotel to send a picture and when they did – voila, dark chocolate curls.  Knowing the staff there, I’m sure it’s the 70%...
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Exquisite Food

Exquisite Food

On our November trip to Japan we had a chance to stay at Oyado – The Earth – a fabulous ryokan on the Ise Peninsula that overlooks the sea and rests in quiet isolation far above the pounding waves.  The views are amazing, the rooms wonderful contemporary ryokan rooms with updated furnishing, the internet connection one of the fastest we encountered and the food topped it all.   Look closely, apparently we weren’t the only ones taking pictures of the food…
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Sushi Training

Sushi Training

Conveyor belt sushi in no longer a new phenomenon, but on our last trip to Kyoto we found a new twist on it at a fun place in Kyoto and a great place to take the kids. In addition to the standard conveyor belt, with the sushi on multi-colored plates based on price, this place featured a way to special order your sushi (electronic, of course!) and then it’s delivered on little Shinkansen trains (more famously known as the Bullet trains).  Here are some pictures, with guided instructions.   And just in case the kids don’t like raw fish… there are quite a few cooked items as well.   Next time you’re in Kyoto, drop in for a chance for some sushi...
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Kurabu – Eating Well in Obuse

One of our guides in Tokyo had been recommending we visit Obuse for years and on this latest trip we finally got a chance to go to this small town near Nagano. One of the best parts of our day was lunch at Kurabu, the robata-like restaurant operated by the folks who also run the local sake factory, Mashuchi.  The Club (kurabu) got its name because it was built in an old section (bu) of the brewery (kura), and serves the traditional “yori-tsuki” style cooking that the brewers enjoy. The “yori-tsuki” was a place where the brewers could quickly gather for breaks or meals between shifts. Every day rice is washed and steamed in an old-fashioned wood-burning oven. The seasonal foods cooked over wood and charcoal can be enjoyed with sake straight from the brewery.  The sauce served with the grilled beef was one of the best soy sauces I’ve ever had.   Here’s a video to give you a feel for the...
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Sour Milk: It’s Just Different Here

Sour Milk: It’s Just Different Here...

As a frequent traveler to Japan it should come as no surprise that there seems to be a different set of tastes that appeal to the average Japanese. The fruit flavors are different, the candies are different and certainly the drinks are different.  But this new offering — conspicuously being announced in the Tokyo subway system, had even my iron-stomached traveling companion gagging:
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Kumamoto Volunteer Guide

Kumamoto Volunteer Guide

Some of what my last trip to Japan was about was exploring some places where American tourists don’t generally go (well, at least not on their first trip).   Kumamoto is a small city located on the western edge of Japan, about halfway down the west coast of Kyushu island.   My visit here included the first time I’ve had a chance to use the volunteer guides that are often found throughout Japan.   We had a wonderful day exploring Kumamoto Castle and Reigando Cave with Kano-san.   Despite the dreary wet weather that day, the castle was wonderful – very accessible, featured lots of information and exhibits, was very picturesque and is well worth the visit, even if it’s out of the way.   Here is a picture of our guide – Kano-san, showing us his name on the small wooden placques that honored donors to the castle’s restoration fund.   Kano-san was a fabulously enthusiastic guide who clearly loved his city and the castle.  One of our fond memories, though, is about our lunch encounter.  We ate lunch in a Chinese restaurant that, for some totally unexplainable reason has olive oil on the table.  Since I normally eat olive oil on rice, and after days of traveling really missed it, I took the liberty of dousing my perfectly fine Japanese rice with olive oil.  “Unbelievable!” exclaimed Kano-san.   He was truly dumbfounded that these crazy Americans would put olive oil on rice.   Soy sauce is considered quite gauche, so you can imagine how olive oil seemed.   Probably about the same as putting motor oil on it.  Oh well…   I wasn’t eating like the Japanese that day.   Here are some nice pictures of the castle (Hokosawa Family; original about 1607; this is reconstruction.   More about Japanese castles at...