For the Love of Soba in Hyogo

With great anticipation I arrive at the impeccable Hoshinoya ryokan in Kyoto, Japan, and head to dinner. Seated in front of the chef’s counter, my host welcomes me and begins to prepare fresh soba noodles, apparently just for me. Humbly checking if all is to my liking, my waitress asks, “Yoroshii desu ka?” as my eyes glaze over and my mind drifts back to a long ago memory…of soba. Continue reading “For the Love of Soba in Hyogo”

Family Friendly Travel in Japan

Beyond the temples and the tech, tourists heading to Japan often wonder what there is to do with their children. Well, there’s a lot. Family travel in Japan offers incredible opportunities that are totally unique and so much fun. Here are DINE’s recommendations. Continue reading “Family Friendly Travel in Japan”

International Farmer’s Markets

Food trails and markets have become the tastiest part of any travel experience. They are the places where we can really sink our teeth into a taste of place. Write up a new bucket list of farmer’s markets. Here are some of the most incredible ones to experience. Continue reading “International Farmer’s Markets”

Unique Japanese Hot Springs

Thermal waters that well up across Japan’s volcanic island arc discharge healing power. These luxurious baths reflect tradition and local pride, and attract tourism in droves. From Ibusuki in Kyushu to Noboribetsu in Hokkaido, we all have our favourites, each one boasting health benefits and beautiful settings. Here are three hot spring areas we’ve written about in DINE that offer unique experiences. Continue reading “Unique Japanese Hot Springs”

Yamagata Beef at Han No Daidokoro in Tokyo

In the world of Wagyu there are so many brands worth sampling. Tokyo has them all. Restaurants specialize in sourcing the best. On a recent visit, I check off another major luxury brand from my list: Yamagata-gyu. Continue reading “Yamagata Beef at Han No Daidokoro in Tokyo”

Ehime, Where Fish Feed on Oranges and Chocolate

The sunset over Ehime is as orange as the profusion of mandarin oranges that grow there. Sunlight, direct and reflected off the sea, showers 18 different kinds of sweet and juicy fruit. As the specialty of the prefecture, the average local eats 10 oranges a day. So, too, do the cows, the pigs, the chickens and the fish. But, orange you glad they also love chocolate!

It’s typical for each prefecture to distinguish their wagyu by their feed. In Nagano the cows are fed apples, in Aichi they’re fed sugar cane, and in Ehime they are fed a healthy diet of mandarin oranges. For the past five years, the fish have been fed orange peels and orange oil, eliciting a subtle mikan flavour and silky texture. Now, there’s something new on the horizon: chocolate, which has yielded surprising results.

The “It” Fish

Antioxidants slow oxidization and delay deterioration. Similar to the effects of the mikan orange peels, chocolate contains antioxidants within the polyphenols that maintain freshness in the fish. That means that every sushi chef racing against time just got a gift: a shelf life extension of the fish by an extra day. The chocolate shavings mixed in with the fish food enable the fish to maintain their freshness longer, so that sushi counters have that added time of freshness before expiration. This yellowtail does not taste of chocolate, but its novelty is trending quickly, making choco-buri the “it” fish of Japan.

A Showcase of Ehime Cuisine

On a recent showcase of Ehime cuisine at the home of the Consulate-General of Japan in Toronto, Chef Daisuke Morizane presented seafood, fruit, Japanese yams, mushrooms and sake products of Ehime Prefecture. Highlights included steamed a Japanese yam soufflé, fried grouper and himeou shiitake mushroom served with julienne yuzu and sweet soy chrysanthemum petal sauce.

We were dazzled by as assorted autumn platter of fried abalone in the shell, decorated with flat knot Japanese paper strings; fried steamed abalone and Japanese yam; grouper and asparagus flavoured with konbu seaweed and served with sour plum-flavoured sake; red sea bream and Japanese yam tartar with yuzu zest served in sudachi citron cup; homemade mullet roe with Japanese yam; tuna sashimi wrapped in thin konbu seaweed; maple leaf-shaped fried sweet potato and ginko leaf-shaped Japanese yam served with fried ears of rice and fried green tea soba.
A hot pot of longtooth grouper, misuna, a thin sheet of bean curd, himeou shiitake mushroom, a medley of fresh ingredients splashed in julienne orange zest and soy burst with the freshness of the mountainous region of Ehime.

In case there was any doubt about the versatility of the jewel of Ehime’s fruit, our dessert of minted orange jelly was a refreshing citric blast.

A Vibrant Range of Sake

Known across Japan for its spectacular hiking along the 88 Temple Pilgrimage route, as well as Japan’s oldest hot spring, Dōgo Onsen, Ehime also boasts a vibrant range of sake with wonderfully bright floral aromas and citric notes unlike any other region’s sake in Japan. Sake like Ishizuchi Muroka Junmai Funashibori, Junmai Ginjo Green Label and Junmai Ginjo Yamada Nishiki 50 are so refined, so elegant, and now available at the LCBO in special limited release.

Derived from Japanese mythology, Ehime means “lovely princess”. The golden sunshine through the mountains and along the coastal islands, and the sweet fruit it yields, enables a rarefied sojourn in Japan.

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How to Brew Japanese Tea

Japanese monks brought tea to Japan from China in the 9th Century. At that time only the religious and royal classes were consuming it. From it’s popularity among nobility came the Japanese tea ceremony. Today, Japanese typically drink green tea or oolong tea—hot or cold. Chinese green teas are pan-fired for a more roasted flavour profile. Japanese green teas are typically steamed to maintain nutrients and elicit sweet vegetal notes. However, to extract their optimal flavour, green teas must be brewed at lower temperatures and for less time than most other teas. Brewed too hot or too long and it all becomes bitter tasting. Continue reading “How to Brew Japanese Tea”

Oasis of Tranquility in Bustling Tokyo

Who could have imagined a population density of a staggering 9.3 million people in an area slightly smaller than Victoria, B.C. How do they keep from bumping into each other in this intensely urban city? Personal space is precious in Tokyo and so they persevere with extreme courtesy and fanatic tidiness.

Traffic is relentless. From airport to hotel it’s one vast, crowded, downtown. At last, our taxi pulls up at the front doors of the Park Hyatt Hotel, and we slide out of the spotless, white, slip-covered seats, forewarned that the white-gloved driver would consider a tip a sign of disrespect. Continue reading “Oasis of Tranquility in Bustling Tokyo”

My Fifteen Minutes as a Geisha in Kyoto

Every year, 50 million Tourists visit Kyoto, and the Flower Towns are a favourite since they are home to the remaining Geishas and Maikos, (geishas in training.) I peer through the wooden slat screen into the foyer of a Geisha house. The names of the Geishas who live there are written on a wooden plaque at the door. Should I enter? No, I feel that to go any further would be a rude invasion of privacy. Tonight, there is much activity in the Gion corner where they are preparing for any evening of traditional musical theatre, including comic and puppet plays, and the Kyoto-style dance performed by the Maikos. Like ballerinas in the Western world their movements are just as graceful, almost liquid.

On the narrow streets and Tea House lined alleys of Gion, Geishas are heading to their rendezvous’ in taxis and on foot. Graceful and swift they do not appear to walk, but simply glide very quickly on their wooden clogs (okobo), their silk kimonos gleaming in the lamplight. In front of one restaurant decorated with traditional red lanterns, seven tuxedo-ed security men stand guard. Tonight, a Japanese corporation is entertaining international clients and executives with a dinner and a traditional geisha performance. And just as it is in the movies, the cost of such an evening is astronomical and far beyond the reach of the hoi polloi. To dine with a Geisha and have her entertain you with music and dance will be $900 to $1000 U.S. per hour. And that does not include your dinner. These elegant women are not “escorts” as some Westerners might think.

This ancient city has its own dialect and cuisine. What do the Geisha eat? By day when they are not eating a simple lunch of Yudofu (simmered tofu) at home, you might see the Geishas lunching at any one of the many restaurants that serve local Kyoto cuisine.

In the interests of research, I wanted to have my 15 minutes as a Geisha, so I traveled to Eigamura Studios in Ukyo-Ku outside of Kyoto, to get into costume. A portion of this studio is open to the public. The makeup department took about an hour to apply the white make up to my face, pink eye makeup and black eyeliner, and a three prong fork shaped area at the back of my neck. An ornate black wig covered my head, but, they let me know that my blue eyes simply looked “wrong.” I stood with my arms outstretched as two women from the wardrobe department dressed me in the layers of silks, and showed me how to hide my hands in the folds of the sleeves in a certain way. Next came the white tabi socks and wooden clogs, like big wooden flip flops.

Then, totally unrecognizable I said, “I’m ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille.” Staring at my reflection a full length mirror was surreal. I had disappeared. It was as if my personality had been erased. Now I understood how a young Japanese woman feels when she finishes her training, and goes through the makeup and clothing ritual. She becomes another person. A Geisha. Could I have passed as a Geisha if I walked swiftly along the dimly lit streets of Gion? I’ll never know. They wouldn’t let me off the studio lot wearing a $17,000 silk kimono.

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