April 23, 2008

Things we will miss

Tomorrow is our last day in the country of Japan.

Technically, we've already waded away from the waters of Mainland Japan and, what feels to me, towards home by visiting the champuru island of Okinawa (I suspect this has more to do with the demographic of the bay area than any actual shared culture between the two melting pots, but I digress...).

I started to make a mental list of things I would miss because I can't get them at home and, if I could, would import. Then, I recruited E. Together, we came up with this list, in rough order of how much we will miss them:

10. Tiny dishes, ornately prepared. Never again will I ever encounter so many tiny dishes to present one meal. Of this, I am almost certain. Yesterday, for Japanese breakfast, E and I were presented with 12 small and unique (even our respective similar shapes had different designs) dishes on a deep maroon circular platter (with an edge flattened to line up with the table), plus a blue and white tea cup on a saucer with shiso tea and a glass water cup. The amount of time and effort that must go into the presentation of the minutiae of food is overwhelming. We were not stuffed. We ate it all and were pleasantly full and ready to snack again before dinner.

9. Pickles. You never know what you'll get soaked in vinegar in a little tiny dish on the side of one of your courses. But they're all good. Yes, we have a japanese grocery store nearby. We can get many of these there, I'm sure. But the variety and ubiquity is what I'll miss.

8. Pre-warmed toilet seats. Especially when you get up in the middle of the night. I mean, if you're going to be all energy consumptive, do it in a way that *matters.* Fucking brilliant. The pre-flushing noises to cover your business, on the other hand, just make me laugh.

7. Getto herb tea. This one is all mine -- E couldn't care less. Apparently, it's an Okinawan root related to ginger and not common in mainland Japan, so the likelihood of me finding it at home is quite low. Bummer. I love this stuff. That being said, the herbal teas I've had in Japan have been the best I've ever had and when I get home I may just start experimenting until I find something close to my favorite.

6. The option of entering the thankyou-loop. It's so funny to realize that you could just keep thanking the people who thank you, that they'd thank you back, and then... amusement available at every turn. Typically, we refrain, but occasionally, who could resist?

5. French pastries. I'm not sure why, but you can get much better quality French pastries in Japan, and here, in Okinawa, than you can in San Francisco. The default croissants at the train stations and breakfast shops are flakier, better, more frequently available, and much closer to their French counterparts than they are at home. A quick chat with our French waiter today confirmed it for us. He used to run a French restaurant in Tokyo and claimed that the pastry chef next to his old restaurant made the *best* mont-blanc in the world. The Japanese, he admits, do a very good job of making French delicacies. That's quite an endorsement from a Frenchman!

4. Japanese confections. Mochi and azuki-based sweets are my favorites, but I've loved most everything I've tried (including some delicious soba-based sweets). In Kyoto, which specializes in many of the types I love the most, E finally learned to pull me from the shops before I could purchase yet *ANOTHER* mochi-wrapped snack.

3. Okinawan Beef. We didn't make it to Kobe, nor did we purchase any of the super-expensive famous beef you read about on this trip. But, last night, we had Okinawan tenderloin at the teppanyaki place, and DAMN! When it came out we were impressed. So perfectly marbled. Thin white lines of saturated fat, just waiting to be seared to rare perfection on the 200C grill by a skilled local chef who added nothing but butter to the grill and salt and pepper to the meat. Both E and I agreed -- it was in contention for some of the best beef we've ever eaten in our lives.

2. Picture-ramen. How could you not love a method of food where you match up the plastic food price with the price on the machine, put in money, and then hope that the food you will be served will be more appetizing than the plastic? In all machine-cases, for us, it has been a cheap and delicious success. One time, at an actual counter, where we payed a human, I enjoyed my meal, but E informed me that he thought the ramen back home was better...

1. Cheap, ridiculously fresh Kaiten Zushi. Sure, it's kitschy, and not the true artisan experience. But it's better than anything you can get at home for the price. However, much to the disappointment of those who insist that travel is required for an authentic experience, at least on the freshness side of things, after doing a 5-sushi meal survey (including the obligatory Zushi-bar non-kaiten Tsukiji experience), we've decided we can get sushi of this quality and freshness at home, within walking distance of our house, in a restaurant where everyone speaks Japanese except us (and the lone Mexican waiter who speaks significantly more Japanese words than either of us do). But, in exchange, it's twice or three times as expensive and there's no rotating conveyor belt of happiness, you have to order it, which means we get worse service since at home than in Japan where the good stuff just gets made and goes on the belt and we can take it by sight, since at home we'd have to know enough to order it.

So... it looks like we'll miss the food the most. Shocking.

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