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Itadakimasu

IMG_3989“Itadakimas!” is said before every meal here in Japan. It has no direct translation but means something like “I receive this” or “let’s eat!” Arriving almost a month ago I was unsure of what we would be eating … I heard either you like it or you don’t. Turns out we both like it! And we have developed some pretty good chop stick skills with frustrating determination. We both have been offered a fork and refused. In Tokyo we made some mistakes; Andy ordered dessert for dinner one night. A dish called anko and moshi are popular desserts and are very squishy and sweet.

onigiriWe have had some great noodles and one travel day we had a Japanese lunchbox that had noodles and traditional food for the person on the go. While traveling we have enjoyed delicacies from 7-11 which is more of a small grocery store here with beer, a variety of meals and all types of Japanese snack food. We enjoy Onigiri (Rice ball or triangle made with fish or a fermented plum inside- you never know what you are going to get if you can’t read kanji and we can’t). There has been only a couple rice balls that we could not choke down and many that provide decent taste and nourishment.

At Kanda’s Natural Farm we were introduced to great traditional Japanese food. We enjoyed curry, baked fish, miso soup, noodles (of all types), and fresh veggies like cucumber, plenty of eggplant, tomatoes, corn, onion, garlic, and of course the star of the Japanese food extravaganza: Rice. Co-star: soy sauce. A dish I enjoyed very much was made with a Japanese vegetable called, gobo and carrots and the noodles…mmmmmmmmmm “oyshi!”… my favorite are soba. IMG_3275Pictured here is a traditional meal of soba noodles in the countryside and remember you have to slurp! Slurping shows that you are enjoying the taste of the noodles. After dipping each chopstick-full in soy sauce and wasabi mixture, the soba water that was used to boil the noodles is added to the soy sauce and then you drink it to finish off the meal. Fruit that we enjoyed at Kanda’s included grapes, plums and nashi (Japanese pear – the taste is a mix between a pear and an apple). We also experienced a Japanese BBQ where we sat around a grill on small benches around a grill and ate for about 3 hours straight. Meat included squid, chicken, beef, and hot dogs. Veggies were numerous and delicious. While we waited for the sizzling food to cook we sipped on Japanese beer which is usually light and high on the malty taste. On hour number 3, full and happy, they bring out the corn and then the ramen noodles!

At the second farm we have been eating a variety of dishes and there is a new cook each night. There are several people who live and work at Yohey’s farm, at any one time we can have 4 people eating or the most 20! We prepare and eat food together and then take turns cleaning up. The diet is pretty much all vegetarian and the tofu in all the ways that they prepare it is delicious! I wish it were that scrumptious in the states.

IMG_4120Like most things here you never know what to expect. One night we came home and there were boxes stacked on the kitchen table. Turns out it was a gift wrapped dinner of traditional Japanese food (see picture below). It was tasty, but a bit odd. We have also tried our share of fermented food like plums that are so sour and nato which is Japanese beans that are fermented and very, very sticky.

Tonight we ate a big dish full of cooked cabbage, chicken, bean sprouts, mushrooms, stretchy potato (I will get to that) and tofu. Then we were instructed to crack a raw egg into a bowl and mix with our chopsticks then take food from the dish put it in the egg and eat it. There has been nothing that we have refused and we weren’t going to start even if this was the first time we both ate a raw egg. We will see how tomorrow goes.

IMG_4161One of the most exciting food events that we have had here is about a rooster. One night a neighbor shows up at the front door that is always open with a white rooster in her arms. Yohey fashioned a crate cage for the handsome thing. Very early, too early the rooster woke us and the entire house up. Andy asked that morning if he had plans to kill the rooster. “Kill rooster?” said Yohey, “yes we kill rooster. You want to kill rooster?” Maybe a bit too eager Andy said he wanted to learn how. That afternoon the rooster was put to rest. Yohey did the hard part and then Andy and Saychan (another woofer) plucked the feathers and watched the gutting and preparation. That night we also made soba noodles from scratch and ate the chicken. Besides the tough skin it turned out really well and is one of the best chickens I have had. One morning it was the alarm clock and the next it was an amazing dinner.

IMG_3996We have been to gatherings where we sit for hours as plates of food keep coming, even when you think it has to be the end they bring out a burner and set it on the table and make takoyaki a popular baked ball of piping hot octopus and other ingredients. At this party the octopus was replaced with konnyaku. Konnyaku is made from a stretchy potato and is exactly what one foreigner wrote, “a cross between a rubber sole and Jell-O.” I have never seen this potato in its natural form. A friend that we met at the party looked up the direct translation of this mysterious food (she is pictured here with her tongue out). This is what she found: A gelatinous food made from the starch from the devil’s tongue. It does not have much taste, and is used as a substitute for fish and sometimes as noodles. Octopus and konnyaku definitely share the same texture. I do enjoy the translation and the first round takoyaki made me go back for seconds and thirds!

IMG_4201We have done some cooking, but we feel slow compared to our Japanese friends… they don’t even need recipes and they can combine food to make a tasty and filling meal. Yohey and company also run a pizza shop on the weekends and make standard pies with red sauce and a little bit of cheese. Cheese is few and far between here. We do miss cheese. Yohey makes a pizza with a potato sauce which is interesting and has become our favorite.

To say the least we have enjoyed the food here and look forward to meals. At the end of the meal we say “gochisosama deshita” “which means thanks for this food” or literally “a feast!” A place can really make an impression and the food experiences and flavors of Japan have been like none other. Unlike some (Lindseys!), I fail to take a picture of my every meal, but we have taken a few so please check out all the posted pics to get a better visual.

(As always, there are additional photos under the photo section titled Japan – Fifth Blog).