It was around this time last year that I made one of the most important decisions (and largest purchases) of my life. You may laugh when I tell you, because obviously I’m quite young and haven’t had to make too many life-changing decisions. But this one, in the scope of my twenty-three year old existence, did change things quite a bit. The decision was to go to Japan. A place who’s culture I had been (and still am) obsessed with since I could remember. I sort of just bought a ticket. I received a small bonus at work and that sort of pushed me over the edge. After weeks of meticulous research about the best time to go (weather wise), I settled on October and I just sort of bought the ticket. I decided to go by myself. That isn’t to say I tried to convince everyone I knew to come with me. I think the ideal candidate would have been one of my parents (hi mom!, hi dad!) but I guess it’s a pretty big undertaking to leave the country for two weeks to one of the most infamously expensive places on the planet. A lot of friends seemed enthusiastic, but when it came down to it, I knew I would making the trip solo.
And I’m so glad I did. I did everything I wanted to do, on my own schedule. I like to wake up early, so at 5am every morning I rolled up my tatami mat and headed out the door to watch the shop keepers in tokyo sweet the sidewalks in front of their stores. People often ask me if I ever got lonely and truthfully…not once. I was so exhausted from walking around, eating and absorbing that I didn’t have time to be lonely. I pretty much gave up speaking the first day did relied heavily upon the phrase “english menu please,” punctuated with elaborate hand motions and facial expressions.
Did I get lost ever? Yes, all the time. But I was travelling leisurely so it’s not like I was ever late to a social engagement. One of my favorite afternoons of the entire trip was spent hopelessly lost riding my bike in the residential hills of Kyoto. For three hours I took wrong turns, attempting to follow the above ground subway to try and find me way back to one of the main avenues listed on my map. I found the most incredible neighborhood grocery store. A bright and airy building, filled with indecipherable treats. I just bought some weird clear liquid with a leaf on it. It tasted vaguely like cucumber water.
I’m dying to go back, but in the meantime I’ll have to settle for eating the food I love so much. I’ve been to two incredible Japanese places in NYC this summer. My favorite, Saki Bar Hagi is hidden underground in a gross side street off time square. It’s a little dingy, but it’s dirt cheap and mind-blowlingly delicious. I was three free gin in tonics deep by then and didn’t have the wherewithal to pull out my phone to take pictures, so I think a list of what to order will have to do.
Agedashi Tofu (even if you don’t like tofu)
Mentai Pasta (if they ask…you want the creamy one) Check out my previous attempt here.
Okominyaki (a delicious Japanese version of the scallion pancake…smothered in tangy BBQ sauce)
Sake Bar Hagi
152 W. 49th St., New York
On of the best places to visit (if you’re a foodie) in Kyoto is Nishiki food market, shown below. It’s filled with produce, dry good, lots of pickles, sake and the infamous octopus balls or Takoyaki.
It was one of first days in Japan and I had filled my bag with all sorts of nonesense from the market. Not limited to: a ten dollar pair of chopsticks which I have since lost, a bottle of strange yuzu liqueur that doesn’t taste very good, a dozen soy donuts (mini ones) that I carried around with me for a whole day because I couldn’t find a trash to dispose them in and a bag of beautiful pink, shiso-flavored somen noodles….which brings me to this recipe today.
I was having one of those days at work where I literally get nothing done. I just kept staring at my to do list and it’s little beady eyes started right back. So, I decided to phaff around on the internet for a dinner recipe. One of my favorite food inspiration sites is Taste Spotting, though I’ve relied on them less and less because they have cultivated an aesthetic that basically makes it impossible for a regular old food blogger like me to ever make it on the site. All the pictures on Taste Spotting look exactly the same and were taken by the same SLR camera in the same insanely well-lit light and airy kitchen or photo studio (cheating basterds). Boycotts aside, it’s still a great place for inspiration…and they have accepted my photos over the years. I saw an image of some Japanese noodles floating with greens in a clear broth…something so perfect for a gross rainy day. The image led me to this blog. The recipe looked simple enough and I could finally use the beautiful pink noodles I bought so many months ago in Kyoto.
Clearly I don’t know where to find these magic pink noodles, so regular somen noodles will do.
Somen noodles in Miso Broth with Spinach.
Based on Tes’s recipe.
Serves 4 as a starter
You will need:
2 bunches somen noodles (usually sold in a pack of 3 bunches)
1 cup of baby bella mushrooms
6 dried shitake mushrooms (soak in hot water for 5 minutes and drain before using)
3 tbs miso paste (I used white miso)
4 cups vegetable broth (truth be told, I think this soup would have more flavor with chicken or beef broth)
1 tbs mirin
1 tbs soy sauce
1. Boil the broth in a large pot with the shitakes and the baby bella mushrooms (for about 20 minutes).
2. Add the miso paste, mirin and soy. Meanwhile boil a small pot of water to cook the somen in. Tip: somen cook extremely fast…like in 4 minutes) Add the spinach to the spinach to the water as you just want to blanch it. Remove the spinach and set aside, then cook the noodles.
3. The broth (with all the seasoning and mushrooms) should be nicely flavored, add more miso or soy sauce if needed. Then place a handful of noodles in a bowl, ladle the soup on top and add the spinach.