Autumn Flavours

Just hungry, one of my favourite food blogs, wrote about the Japanese onomatopoetikon hoku hoku that can be used to describe the tastes of most autumn specialities:"starchy, dense, sweet flavor and texture. Think of roasted sweet chestnuts, winter squash, and sweet potatoes." Yesss, all that is omnipresent here in Tokyo at this time of the year and I love it!
Last weekend I was at my favourite bakery Paritto Fuwatto again and there I bought a wonderful bread that combined two of the goodies that are in season now: Kabocha (Japanese winter squash) and Satsuma Imo (the purple coloured Japanese sweet potato). They also had other varieties of this beautifully striped bread, for example with walnuts or Yomogi (mugwort) and like always it was hard to decide what to take.. In the end I went for the one you see on the photo above and it was awesome: soft, but still chewy, luscious, moist and with a natural sweetness. Especially with a little chestnut spread (maron kuriimu) it was a heavenly combination of the best autumn flavours.

Kaki (also known as Persimmon) is another symbol of the Japanese autumn. It not only looks pretty, it is also sweet, lush and healthy. You can get them fresh or dried (then they are called Hoshigaki) or even get your coffee flavoured with a nice persimmon syrop (as seen and tasted in a café in Kagurazaka dôri - yummie!).
If you buy fresh ones here in Japan better don't take cheap offers at the moment: because of Typhoon No. 9 last month large parts of the harvest were spoiled! The fruits look perfectly fine, but when you cut them the inside is all brown and the flesh is hard and doesn't taste sweet and intense as it should. I had this problem with those you can see on my picture - what a disappointment! They are sold really cheap in big bags at the moment, without letting customers know that they are not quite the way they should be. As so often it is better to spend a few more Yen for good quality. Then Kaki are a real treat for every fruit lover.

Once again to the Vegetarian Fair...

Yesterday I came across a quite unappealing perception of my review of the Vegetarian Festival on Vegan Japan (written on the 8th of October - unfortunatly there is no direct link to the article). Here is my answer that I've mailed to the author of that posting since there was no way to comment directly.
I prefer an open discussion where everyone can speak out frankly...

Hello Herwin,
this is Julia, the "vegetarian foreigner" (just like you, right?) whose posting about the Tokyo Vegetarian Festival you picked to pieces in your last entry on your website. Unfortunatly I couldn't find any possibility to comment on your website, so I had to take this way to straighten out some things. It seems like I really offended you personally, just because I wrote that at the time when I came there the Indian festival was nicer... Sorry for that, I didn't want to hurt you with my humble opinion and always try to have friendly relations to my blog-neighbours, co-vegetarians/vegans/foodies etc. That's why I link to your site for example..
I never denied, even said it openly in my posting that I might have been too late to see the best times of the Vegetarian Festival. However maybe the party there was over too soon, because at the Indian festival it was still in full swing..

When it comes to liking or not liking Indian or Japanese curry - well, that is just a matter of taste! I think it is quite exaggerated to tell me I were in the wrong country and should go to India just because I like Indian curry! Too bad for you that you can't appreciate spicy dishes (if you can't stand the heat... ).

I don't believe one has to love everything here and be more Japanese than most Japanese people. I love being here in Tokyo, I love Japanese food (I wouldn't dedicate a whole blog to it otherwise..) but I don't think EVERYTHING is perfect here. But fortunatly the internet as well as Japan are places where you are allowed to have different oppinions and should tolerate other's and even more fortunatly Japanese immigration officers don't ask for the love of Japanese curry before they grant a visa for Japan...
By the way: I am not from the "country of the supersized Hamburgers" (oh, I feel honored that you thought I am a native English speaker, maybe my English isn't as poor as I thought..), I have never been to the US and I am not interested in supersized fast food, but I don't like the generalizations you uttered about the people there, just as I don't like generalizations about people from anywhere else: Japan, India, Germany, The Netherlands..whereever!
And don't tell me Japanese people in general eat less than people from somewhere else! I had very generous servings in Japanese restaurants and I ate with Japanese people who managed to eat enormous amounts of food while others where just nibbling a few bites.. just like people anywhere else in the world!

Finally I suggest that you leave a comment or trackback under articles you refer to in the future, that is part of the netiquette in my eyes. It is quite gutless to pick on someone without letting that person know and without giving that person a possibility to answer.
I will post this letter in my blog, with open comments of course.

Well, aside from all that I wish you good luck promoting fine veggie foods in Japan, that at least is one interest we have in common.

Edit: he is just carrying on and on with his backbiting, smattering and generalization.. I take him off my link list now and stop bothering you with this pain in the neck.

Tofu Ryori in Kyoto

Beside all the much beloved Matcha treats you can find in Kyoto en masse, there is one other culinary favorite of mine Kyoto is famous for. I am talking about the most wonderful, utterly fresh, highest quality Tofu ever.
You definitly do not have to be a sworn in vegetarian to love these perfect white cubes and all the great things made out of it, you just have to have an understanding for the goodness of real pure taste: unspoiled, clean, refreshing and fantastic to relax our overstrained senses. Don't get me wrong: I love spicy food, chili, garlic, herbs and spices, a fair amount of sesame or olive oil, all those wonderful things. However, from time to time nothing is better than the unaltered, straight taste of simple things - nothing can be more sophisticated than that. The preparation of the simplest things is the highest art of cooking in my opinion and deserves a lot of respect. Only ingredients of the highest quality are to be used and everything must be well thought out. Just like a typical Kyoto-style Tofu Ryori Set.
I have to admit that at first I was a little reluctant to go to a Tofu restaurant, because the prices are quite high and there is so much nice and inexpensive food around, so that you start asking yourself: can this Tofu meal really be worth more than threetimes as much as a Soba/Udon/whatever set somewhere else? The answer is yes! And I am very grateful that my friend Angie told me so and made me have a perfectly marvelous Tofu Ryori at a Restaurant specialized on Yudofu called Junsei. It was one of the most delightful food experiences I ever had!
The restaurant itself is a grand old building, a former medical school, established in 1839 and remodeled to a restaurant after WW2. It is located just a few meters from the entrance gate to the Nanzen-ji, a famous Zen Buddhist temple. This area is famous for its Yudofu meals and you will find quite a few restaurants there dedicated to these Tofu dishes, but Junsei is not only one of the more famous ones, but also the only one with a completely vegetarian set.
Because the day of my visit there was rather hot and I was eager for something refreshing I decided to order the cold version of Yudofu: Hiyashitofu, that is plain
Tofu blocks floating in spring water accompanied by some icecubes and maple leaves. This is also the option for everyone who wants to be on the safe vegetarian side, because the broth used for boiling the Tofu in a Yudofu set might be made with Katsuobushi.

The sight of the white cubes, the icewater and the lush green leaves alone is a benefaction and naturally eating it is even more one.
But as a matter of course I didn't get the cold Tofu alone, it was just the core of an array of treasurelike little dishes my set meal consisted of.
There was beautifully crisp vegetable Tempura - although a deep-fried dish light and with the flavour of the veggies absolutly ostensible, not at all spoiled with the taste of oil and other things fried in it before.

In my little Tempura basket I found a slice of Japanese sweet potato, eggplant, kabocha (a Japanese squash), green beans and myoga (if I remember correctly) all with the characteristic fluffy, crisp crust.
Then I came upon a little plate with slightly sweet, stewed cold vegetables (celery, bambooshoots and something undefined) and a shiitake hat, presented with a pretty maple shaped and coloured piece of wheat gluten.

On yet another plate a small cube of a firm and intense sesame-tofu, with a little Wasabi on top swimming in its own special dipping sauce waited to be enjoyed by me. Of course I didn't let it wait too long..
Last but not least I savoured the Tofudengaku, two blocks of firm Tofu glazed with a special Miso-sauce and grilled on sticks and served on a wooden tray.

All this came alongside a bowl of rice and there was a plate with savory things to be eaten with the Tofu: chopped springonions, freshly grated ginger and thin stripes of dry seaweed (Nori I guess) as well as some tiny dried fish which I happily relinquished to my non-vegetarian friends who enjoyed this fantastic feast with me.
As you might be able to imagine after reading this and having a look at the pictures that this was a meal that just makes happy, satisfied, with the warm feeling of having experienced something very special, maybe a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It is clearly not an everyday dish, even if I had the possibility and could afford it: it is nothing to be eaten on a daily basis - this is supposed to be something extraordinary. And that it definitly was! Well worth the 3000 Yen it costed.
If you ever have the chance to have a something as amazing as that - don't hesitate!

Nanzenji-mon mae
Sakyo-ku, Kyoto [click for map]

Tel: 075-761-2311

Kuroke to go

Ever had a purple croquette? No? Me neither, before I visited Kamakura a few weeks ago. One of the souvenir and food shops close to the Kôtokuin (the temple with the enormous outdoor Amida Buddha statue) was specialized in all kind of sweet potato treats. They had wonderful sweet potato cakes, ice cream and those funny looking and delicious tasting kuroke (that is the Japanese pronunciation of croquette). Just right: crispy outside, creamy inside with a sweet and savory taste... and they were vegetarian of course. You'll find it on the lefthand side if you walk down the street coming from the Kôtokuin.

This kuroke was one of the very few snacks (icecream is ok too) I found here so far that can be eaten while walking here in Japan without feeling like doing something wrong and rude. Food to go is pretty unusual here. You are supposed to sit down and enjoy the food (nothing wrong about that), instead of walking, dribbling and bothering others with the smell of your food and your disturbing appearance while gulping down stuff. I guess I lived in Berlin for too long where it is the most normal thing in the world to grab a Falafel or something on the way to care about what others are thinking about seeing me eating. It is quite annoying to search for a appropiate place to sit down and eat store-bought snacks here in Japan when I don't want to go in a restaurant and am not around my appartment. Well, at least I got to know many parks and parkbenches like this...

Vegetarian Fair vs. Namaste India

As written in my previous posting last weekend was the Tokyo International Vegetarian Culture Fair and although rain was pouring heavily all day, I made it there on sunday. However I have to admit I didn't eat anything there. How is that possible you might ask? A veggie foody at a vegetarian fair who doesn't pamper her taste buds? Well, yes and no. I ate, just not at the vegetarian fair.
Just a few meters beside the Vegetarian Culture Fair, that made a rather dull and grey impression and where the foodservings were quite small, there also was a much livelier and more colourful fiesta called Namaste India.
You have three guesses what was served there! Right! Curry, curry aaaaaand curry! I couldn't resist the intensive scents of spices and freshly baked naan breads.
Sorry vegetarians of Tokyo, the Indian chefs upstaged you! Their food was not only smelling nicer, the portions were not only bigger, they were also much more fun and really seemed to enjoy being there - and so did I!
While at the vegetarian fair it was kinda lame, most of the offered food was also curry, that smelled and looked rather bland compared to the Indian originals, and one of the sellers made a not very charming remark about my friend and me after we had a look at his food and decided not to take it, the Indian chefs were joking and performing a percussion show on the tandoori oven AND managed to serve a fine curry! It was loud, with Bollywood soundtracks blaring from the boom boxes and sellers shouting out their offers, it was hot and spicy, with my fingers yellow after eating with them, it was monsoonlike, with the rain pouring and it was a hell of a time!
After having a nice chai (Indian milk tea with spices) to warm up and finishing off a nice mixed vegetable curry and a naan each, we decided to go for another round and checked out the veggie curry of another foodstall, also with naan - and it was even better! They were more generous with the vegetables - I just loved the eggplant chunks inside, and the curry was spicier. The naan was slightly buttered, crisp on the edges and soft inside, so that it was perfect for shoveling the sauce and veggies into the mouth. This is just one of the best comfort foods in the whole wide world..

Maybe I just came to late for the good vegetarian fair food, some stalls were already closing down when I arrived - so maybe I do them wrong. However, all in all Namaste India won my favours!