Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Experiencing Japan the traditional Way

Japan was next on the itinerary of the business trip, and I was excited to be sitting in the shinkansen heading to Tokyo from Narita International Airport, taking in the beautiful scenery.
I have always enjoyed the scenery of the places I visit, especially when I had just landed.
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Well, we had to transfer to Nagano for the purpose of the business visit and we checked into Metropolitan hotel for that night.
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The room was quite small; compared to other hotels I have stayed but it was neat and tidy and most importantly, it was clean.
Amenities and toiletries were adequate, and even efficiently provided in an easy to use dispenser like this.
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We were welcomed by our hosts or rather, vendors whom we were supposed to meet as they had arranged for a welcome dinner for our team.
We were picked up at our hotel and arrived at a lovely restaurant atop a hill, overlooking beautifully the small town of Nagano.

It was all about food, on our first night in Japan as we were treated to a luxurious and memorable dining course, serving the finest of Japanese food (or so, in my opinion) .
It seemed that some of the dishes served are traditional Japanese food, and they are just unique; I have not seen them in the Japanese food we have in our country.
Authentic and genuine Japanese food, only found in Japan :)

The Japanese take great care in keeping their place clean, as I have observed
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We were required to take off our shoes at the entrance and walk either bare-footed or in your socks up the staircase; led by the same friendly Japanese ladies who greeted us upon our arrival.

Straw mats (tatami) laid on the floors greeted us in our private dining rooms and we were waited by Japanese ladies dressed in the traditional kimonos.

We were seated in a very unique manner; guests on one side facing our hosts on the other:)
(It is a Japanese custom, it seems)

The appetizers were already served on the tables.
I was captivated by the bright color and the unique presentation sitting there, staring back at me.
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The appetizer was a little Hawaiian papaya with violet jelly-like beads.
The thin sheet covering the half of the papaya is meant as what you see; a cover before consumption.
The violet jelly were placed in that manner because it was supposed to form a type of Japanese flower; which was quite popular in the country (unfortunately, I cannot remember the name mentioned by our hosts)

The papaya holds the contents; baby octopus and fresh scallops
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I am not a fan of papaya nor have I imagined that it could be the base for fresh seafood, but it was really sweet and complemented the scallops and baby octopus well.
You could tell from the picture that it was really good.
This has my vote as the best dish for the night!~ =)

Second dish is a bowl of soy soup served cold; with jelly beans made of corn starch flour and very chewy.
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Fresh SASHIMI in Japan - Raw and Unedited
I am not really a big fan of cold and raw stuffs; but these are just amazingly good!
Fresh, fresh with a big capital F, and it tastes so good; especially the tuna.
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It's my first time attempting sashimi, and I don't think I got used to it as I still prefer my prawns cooked. The mackerel slices were not that good; I didn't try fortunately, but the tuna was good!
I tried sashimi when I returned to Malaysia, and really, nothing beats this!
So, if you ever go to Japan, don't forget the Sashimi; trust me, you won't regret it.

Dish No.3 was the Sugar Fish - no, not the sugar coating on the fish; but the name of the fish is SUGAR Fish and it is not an illusion, the fish is presented standing.
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Ironically, the frosting you see on the fish is not sugar; but salt.
The fish was deep fried and it somehow just tasted like mackerel to me (pardon my ignorance). The green and clear sauce is to complement the fish; it is pretty much vinegar.

Fourth Dish: Cold and smooth homemade beancurd to chill our palates after the heavy drill of raw, sweet, salty and sour dishes.
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There were cold noodles and baby blocks of abalone served along with the beancurd nicely adorned with a baby corn on top.
When I bit into the cold beancurd, I could taste bits of minced fish as well.
It was a very unique way of having cold tofu!

Although the dishes were served in small portions, but I was stuffed then and along came the fifth dish.
(Note: dishes are not cleared unless it's completely empty - the Japanese thinks it is rude or you dislike their food if you don't finish them)

I was quite fascinated with this bowl; much to the amusement of everyone as I was the last one to take off the lid
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It looks like Chawanmushi (boiled eggs); but no, it was actually only Chawanmushi on the top concealing the yam cake in the base. This was not something that I like; not because it was not good, but because I am not a big fan of either yam nor egg.
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The sixth dish was the yasai tempura (vegetable tempura)
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Deep fried asparagus on the top covered with almond flakes, and the bottom was a deep fried fish cake. The fish tasted really sweet and delicious.
Tempura never taste this good!

The seventh dish was a unique cold combination of tofu with minced fish; to make this mashed like thingy.
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It tasted astonishingly good!

Note: Have you noticed how the serving of the dishes was in the form of alternating between the hot and cold dishes?

Dish No. 8: Japanese soba (cold noodles) served in a bamboo hollow
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The Japanese course set seems to consist of more dishes compared to our 8-course Chinese set dinner.
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The accompanying wasabi and soy sauce
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The Japanese love their sake with their food
Sake is a traditional rice wine and is one of the signature drink associated with the Japanese and it it has a rather high alcohol content.
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Note the black pout of the teapot on the right; which contains the water used to rinse the soba.
According to our Japanese hosts; they will pour the same water which had been used to rinse the soba into the soy sauce after they are done with the noodles and then drink the combination!
I daren't try it; though.

This is not the green tea; but rather the Soba Cha (soba tea).
It is made of the same ingredients/material used to make the earlier soba noodles.
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Tastes exquisite; and it reminds me a little of the taste of rice with green tea (think along those lines)

After chatting and resting from the last dish, the finale of the meal was polished with this dessert; yes, it is beancurd again (the Japanese love their tofu).
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This is actually my favorite dessert; tau fu fah (beancurd pudding/custard) served with jelly and peaches in syrup (all my favorites in one combination!)
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Silky smooth beancurd pudding is always irresistible and is the best way to complete a meal.

Plum wine, a unique wine to be found in Japan, and it tastes pleasantly sweet with a light note.
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Not your usual type of wine; and tastes lightly exotic too and is a must try when you are in Japan, according to my colleague.

I enjoyed the meal; and Japanese food is definitely in my favor as the Japanese were telling me that they love fish, vegetables and beancurd.
Yeah, I noticed, and I am loving their food.

It was a perfect welcome to our first night in Japan and we have our hosts to thank for.

To be continued...

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