Well, we have arrived in Japan, and after many, many hours of travel we made it to Kyoto!
Kyoto — arguably the culture capital of Japan — is beautiful, welcoming and extremely hot. It’s been a high of 36* (nearly 97*F) every day we’ve been here, and the low is hardly a low. While my love for warm weather is well known, this is even too hot for me. What is mind blowing, though, is that the women here (and the men, to an extent) are covered in thick, long, black clothing! Many even have special arm covers if they’re not wearing long sleeves to begin with. I understand keeping the sun off your skin, but I’m quite perplexed all the same.
The worst thing about the heat is how much it suppresses my appetite. Feeling full, hot and humid while walking around in the blazing heat does not make for a good vacation. Nonetheless, the meals and snacks that Keith and I have had have been incredible, and so far not too shocking.
Japan is obviously known for its sushi. And so far just a few days into our trip we’ve been able to try both nigiri (fish on a bed of rice) and maki (the seaweed/rice rolls that most think of as sushi). It’s amazing how fresh the fish tastes; even though Kyoto isn’t a seaside town, both sushi meals we had tasted like the fish had just been pulled from the sea. It’s also refreshing how simple most maki are. No unmanageable, unrecognizable bites, at least as far as we’ve seen so far. Then again, we have yet to go to a conveyor belt sushi bar or trek into the interior of the country.
That’s not to say that we haven’t been puzzled. My tempura one day contained a lotus root (what is that??!), eggplant and some sort of gourd/yam. I’ve only had shrimp and edamame tempura, so it took me by surprise to bite into something squishy like a yam. Keith also bought some sort of azuki bean bun / taro bun (I think it was taro but the sheer amount of azuki beans in everything here makes me question that). He thought it was a sweet bun, maybe a jam filled bun if sorts (taro and azuki are varying shades of purple and red), so he was a bit shocked when he but into a mildly sweet, bean bun! I enjoy it, so I had a bite, but Keith ended up throwing it out and buying some hard candy.
While we’ve been eating mostly out of our guide book (ugh, I know), our first meal outside of Nijo-jo [the shogunate castle and grounds from when Kyoto was the capital; very cool though I did not see any ninja] was a completely random choice, and incredibly satisfying. It was cozy, with a few tables and a bar to sit at, and the owner was delightful. I love how a lot of these restaurants/bars are so down to earth and unassuming, but elegant all the same. They’re a place to get good food, slurp some noodles and relax for a few with a cup of tea.
For the most part, I’ve jumped right in to Japanese cuisine, with the exception of breakfast. I just don’t know how someone can eat beans and onions and miso soup for breakfast; luckily in a big enough city like Kyoto, I’ve managed to find croissants and the like to wake me up. I have yet to have an espresso, so at least I’ve embraced the tea like a true Japanese.
Our next few stops will be interesting. We’re headed to the Alps, and will be in areas more rural and less touristy than Kyoto. I’m excited; we’ve encountered relatively few Americans here (scores of Italians though, a real mess of them!), so as we make our way more off the beaten path, English becomes a rarity, and I’m sure our adventure into eating in Japan is only beginning…