Delicacies from Kumamoto

As I said in my last posting, I was travelling in Kansai and Kyushu in the last weeks and of course the local cuisines were (beside climbing a volcano, swimming at a wonderful beach (although I quite often heard I should forget about beaches in Japan, except for I go as far as Okinawa..), strolling through bamboo groves and paddy fields etc) the highlights of my vacation. Especially in Kyoto I had spectacular meals, but today I start with something small but not less delicious. Like everywhere in Japan omiyage (souvenirs) are a big thing in Kumamoto, the lovely city on western Kyushu. And also like everywhere in Japan most of these gifts are edible. Beside all kinds of the ubiquitous sweets filled with sweet beanjam, you can also get quite different specialities in Kumamoto, that I've really never saw somewhere else before. One is karashi renkon: lotus roots (=renkon) generously filled with a mixture of mustard (=karashi) and miso and baked covered with a batter that is also made with mustard. You can buy big pieces of karashi renkon in every supermarket or omiyage shop and cut slices of it that look like a fantastic yellow-beige flower. However, don't trust the harmless looks of it! It is hot! I never had more intensive mustards than Japanese mustards! Karashi renkon feels tangy on your tongue, tickles your nose and can bring tears to your eyes and the sweat to your forehead - but in a wonderful way! It feels like cleaning your pores and refreshing your mind, especially on a hot summerday with more than 35°C, like the days I had in Kumamoto.
The lotus root itself is crisp and tingly and like the thin batter, it only does very little to lessen the sparkling feeling of the smooth mustard-miso-paste that is filled in its naturals holes. You eat this goody just like this with a beer or some other drink, if you can eat hot stuff. If you are not that strong, you can also have it with rice and other vegetables, tofu or whatever you like. I even made myself sandwiches with slices of karashii renkon on it! It tasted great, but I guess people from Kumamoto might be horror-stricken to see this westernized version to eat their wonderful traditional delicacy - so better try this only at home when nobody watches. And please don't tell anybody that it was my idea ;)
Another tidbit from Kumamoto is filled with red bean paste, but it is so different to most other anko-sweets that I want to present it here.
It is ikinari dango, a slightly sweet dumpling stuffed with potato and, as I said, a little anko. It is steamed, so that the "pastry" that covers the potato-anko-filling still has a very dough-like texture, what I like a lot. And unlike many other Japanese sweets the anko does not dominate the taste of the whole dumpling. It was not that much inside and it was not that high on sugar so that the earthy potato flavour comes to the fore. I bought it at a nice little shop where they sold it still warm.. very delicous!
Another speciality from Kumamoto is a kind of stew with all kinds of vegetables and something in it that appears to be somewhat between noodle and dumpling, reminding me a bit of Spätzle. But to be honest: temperatures were to high to eat a steaming hot pot of stew, so I have to admit I did not taste this dish. It looked very good however and if I ever come to Kumamoto during a cooler season I will definitly try it.
Yet another delicacy Kumamoto is famous for I will surely never ever try: basashi - raw horse meat sashimi! There even is a local basashi-themed Hello Kitty phone strap [click]... well, well...


A few days ago I was tagged by Vegetablej for writing a meme "8 Random Things about Myself". Sorry that I haven't written anything yet, I was quite busy preparing everything for some travelling I will do in the next two weeks - so I guess this will have to wait until I am back. On my trip I will meet my flickr-friend and co-foodie Angie and I am quite sure that the two of us will discover a lot of wonderful vegetarian food in Nagoya, Kyoto and Kobe together! A detailed report hopefully with lots of recommendations will follow in the next weeks. Afterwards I will travel further south to Kumamoto and Hiroshima - hoping that the local cuisine there has some nice things to offer for non-animal-eaters :)
I am so much looking forward to conquer some new territories on my personal travel-map, and of course it will not only be sightseeing but also lots of "foodseeing" (and tasting!!) which is always a major point of interest during my travels (actually not only during my travels.. uhuhu). So stay tuned for my food-travel-diary in the near future.

Kyoto is the only place on my route that I have visited before and in anticipation of the fantastic Kyoto-ryôri, a cuisine with lots of vegetables and famous for its tofu dishes, I will recommend a Kyoto-style restaurant in Tokyo today.
The place is called Tsuruhan and it is located in the stunning Tokyo International Forum, a huge modern building, with impressing architecture close to Yurakucho Stn. I have been there some weeks ago and the food was of the highest quality and best taste to be imagined. I shared some dishes with a friend - the best way to get to taste as many things on the menu as possible, and every single one of them was perfect. We had wonderful vegetable sushi, topped with fresh and lush greens, with a texture that couldn't be more right. The vegetables had still all of their juice and the rice was a dream!
Next a plate of yasai-tempura, deep fried vegetables in a light batter, was served and again it was just to the point. Deep frying always bears the risk that the food looses all its flavour, gets soaked with re-re-reused oil and only tastes like that also - but not at Tsuruhan! It was a crunchy delight, not at all greasy, with crisp and juicy vegetables like eggplant, lotusroots, beans, peppers, myoga and satsuma imo, Japanese sweetpotatoes. Those latter ones were admittedly not juicy, but had a sweet and mild taste that is surpassing. The tempura (the name derives from the Portuguese by the way, who introduced this dish to Japan in the 16th century) came with some matcha salt to dip the battered veggies in and fresh lime to squeeze a few drops on the food- heavenly!
And then we had the best thing I ever ate and I don't even know exactly what it was. It was very similar to tofu-dengaku, tofu on wooden sticks glazed with miso-paste, but I think it rather was some special kind of konnyaku (this has nothing to do with alcohol, but is a jelly-like Japanese delicacy made out of a root). Anyway, it was absolutly perfect: soft but firm enough, mild but each with different tastes and spices, with intensively-tasting pastes spreat on top of them: one with yuzu-flavour, so citric-fresh and summerly, one with black and white sesame and a dark fruity-sweet miso(?)paste on it and the third one with mugworth and even little cute flowers. It was as beautiful as delicous - only for that dish, you should really go there!
The restaurant itself is nice to, with a huge plant arrangment in the middle, surrounded by the central counter and some tables around. It is not a big place and we had to wait a while to get seated although we called in advance. So it is better to make a reservation. Prices are ok, not cheap, but not overly expensive too and absolutly fine for the quality they offer. For the mentioned dishes and two bowls of rice (and some tea that was for free) we paid all in all a little over 3000 Yen. It was worth it!!!

Tokyo International Forum B1F
[click address to see map]
Marunouchi 3-5-1
Open 11am-11pm daily.