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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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Floor B1

Floor B1

Sometimes you hear about this stuff, sometimes you don’t.   Many guidebooks suggest that you stop in a department store to explore the food offering there.   What they aren’t always clear about is HOW to explore and, interestingly enough, how standardized all the offerings are in Japan. First of all, there are usually three main places to find food in the department stores – the first floor has lots of fancy gift food (all boxed up, very pretty and sometimes very expensive), the top floor usually has restaurants (sometimes the top two floors) and many of them are surprisingly good.   Then there’s B1 – or the first level basement. That’s where you can get an amazing variety of food, from baked goods to produce to fresh fish to prepared dishes.  Each city has it’s own specialities, but there is usually a whole underground floor of Japanese food delights (including ice cream!). If you’re traveling with a group, on a bus, you might not get a lot of opportunity to explore these food halls, but if you’re traveling on your own, on the trains and subways as the Japanese do, you won’t have any problem finding them.  Many department stores are connected directly to the train and subway stations and you can wander into some of them while waiting for your train connection (or rush in to get something really quickly while running for your connection!). Perhaps something like...
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Taberarimaska? Eating when you’re allergic…...

Traveling when you’re allergic to common foods is always a challange – in Japan it can be even more so.   I’m allergic to onions, my boyfriend to garlic.  As you can imagine, some cuisines are totally off limits.   Japanese food, however, is great because it doesn’t always contain these, but that doesn’t mean NEVER. What makes traveling in Japan with allergies more difficult is the inability to read the language – so even if you know the word for what you are allergic to, it’s not always possible to figure out if it’s in the food you’re about to order or buy. Enter two useful tools:  The first is a food allergy card produced by Select Wisely.  We were alerted to this resource about a year ago and it has become invaluable.  They produce allergy cards for a very large number of food allergies (in addition to diabetes, medical conditions, etc) in just about every language there is.  Just as a side-note, they also allow you to indicate the level of your allergy (serious, life-threatening, etc.). The second useful tool is the phrase covered in about lesson 14 of the Pimsleur Japanese tapes:  Taberarimaska (my own spelling, not official) – which means – can I eat this? We take out the cards – present them to the food vendor/seller/waiter – point to what we want and say, in our faltering Japanese, “taberarimaska”.  Then we get surprised looks and delight, followed by lots of discussion with nearby colleages and then, either the very politely delivered shake of a head “no”, or the grinning, thumbs-up “yes!” we CAN eat...
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What’s with the No Chocolate Ice Cream?...

OK, I can now say, without qualification, that it is impossible to find Haagen Daz Chocolate Chocolate-Chip ice cream in Japan.   This is too bad for the chocoholic, ice-cream addicted traveler who is jonesing for a fix. Here’s where we tried:  every 7-11 we could find, every Lawson’s we could find, every grocery store that we could identify as a grocery store, the Daimaru, Takashimaya and even the Haagen Daz shop on Kawaramachi-dori  in Kyoto.   None. Nada. Keine.  and, of course, Betsu. We also found every OTHER odd-ball flavor of Haagen-Daz – green tea (of course), Azuji bean (see future posting on this very fine sweet), the god-awful Milk Tea (which did NOT taste like a good ‘cuppa’ at all),  Bitter Caramel,  Mango and “Rich Milk” (whatever that is). Just for emergency support -we went with some Godiva Chocolate ice cream purchased at a high end department store at great expense.  I think it cost $10 for two small cuplettes. But at least they gave us two of those “freezy things” they put in bags of food to keep it fresh until you get it home. We figured we had to wait until we hit the Haagen-Daz stand at DFW airport on the way home.  BUT NO!  Not for the addict – it was Thanksgiving day and even it was closed!   Then, when we got home, the grocery was already closed in 24-7 Las Vegas.  So we tried the 7-11 and the Walgreens.    They didn’t have any either.   We finally wound up buying some plain chocolate ice cream and chipping up a Giardelli 72% chocolate bar to add to it.  This is desperation. Twenty one days after the last fix we finally rounded up some of the real thing!  Ah…. So, if you are a chocolate afficionado (OK, addict is a better term), you might want to consider bringing your own, or else be prepared to pay – big...