Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hagoromo, Kamiyamada (羽衣)

Various activities ensued after my ramen lunch and before dinner - walking to the (dead boring) temple on top of the local mountain, more photos, nap. You don't get any pics of that.
You DO get this neat picture of a retro streetlight. No processing; the colors here seem to be on accounta some confusion in the sensor. Nice!

I have seen camera and battery vending machines, I have seen beer vending machines, I have seen rice vending machines, and I have seen used underwear vending machines. But I have certainly never seen a freshly-laid egg vending machine. Until now.

Americans, please ponder that Japanese people are going to buy these eggs from a machine on the street, take them home, and eat them raw. And not die.

The previous night at Santensan, I had asked my friendly neighbor for a further dining recommendation. He said 'Basically you should just come here, but Yukari across the street is OK too.' Never one to turn down a good recommendation, nor believe it too fully, I resolved to visit Yukari second. I had spent some time in the afternoon strolling around looking for a starter, and failed. The entertainment district is located behind this nifty sign (if you squint, you'll see that it bears the lively and hopeful moniker 'New World Street'), but there wasn't much that looked good.

Until evening! I did another loop and things were more lively - sometimes it's hard to understand what a place is like when it's closed, which I think is a Japanese trait. Without the cues of lighting, curtain, and menu, it can be difficult to spot a good place that's otherwise pretty obviously going to be good. Like this one. See?

Actually there was no menu outside, but the other decor was enough to decide for me. Opening the door, I didn't get the warmest reception. The mama asked if I could speak Japanese, wasn't really convinced by my answer, and showed me to the counter. The older guy and his wife sitting there looked at me suspiciously, and he grumbled about having to move over and make room. I consulted the menu.

Only two types of cold sake, not my idea of a good time these days. However one of them was the Masamune from local brewer Obasute, which occasions two anecdotes. First, the sake is made with rice grown in terraced fields (rare in Japan) on the slopes of said mountain (on the back side, I think, and it's in the next town anyway, so I could see the hill but not the fields). Second, the mountain is the subject of a folk tale about throwing away old women (really). It starts off with a nice kick but turns into an insipid parable about the wisdom of the elderly. As sake goes, this was not my favorite, but it was served in a pot and was certainly more than the standard 180ml ichigo size. I see from the web that it's a 70% honjouzou; I wouldn:t have ordered this if I had an option. On the other hand, once I asked 'Hey, isn't that the one from the terraced fields around here?' the mama said 'Why yes!' and the grumpy guy next to me said 'I'll have one too!' and within 30 seconds we were pouring sake for each other. I love countryside travel...

I was jealous when I saw the master making up two plates of these before I had a chance to look at the food menu, so I just asked for my own. The bamboo shoots weren't all they could have been - maybe too early for serious bamboo flavor? The misos were good though - a fuki miso and a kinome miso.

Incidentally, for any knife fans in the audience: The master was using a rectangular knife that I initially took to be an usuba. However it was thin-bladed, sharpened on both sides, and not quite rectangular. I'm pretty sure he had taken a gyutou and cut off the end, I guess making something shorter, straighter and easier to use for katsuramuki-ing, but not as fussy as an usuba?

Mama gave me some of her special soy sauce beans. I hadn't seen these before, that I know of (except earlier that day), so maybe they're a local thing. They're beans in soy sauce, and the white stuff is moromi (like moromi miso). This means they're sort of miso-flavored beans. Ace as an accompaniment to drinks, I tell you what.

It turned out that my neighbor and his wife were friends of the chef, and had known each other since middle school. I say 'known each other' carefully, because one of Miyajima san's many amusing quotes (within earshot of the chef - you can't very well get out of earshot at a counter this small) was 'Yeah, when we were kids I really hated him. He was rich.' Hideaki (we were already on a first-name basis) had been at a funeral starting at 12 that day for a 46 year-old neighbor (he's 58), so he was feeling a bit maudlin. And if you've been to a Japanese country funeral, you can imagine what he was doing between 12:30 and 5:45 when we met...

We were already such good friends that I didn't really get a chance to order anything. I just tried to keep up with the pouring and went along for the ride, food-wise. The next thing they got was dried, grilled ayu, another regional specialty that's fished from the river next to town. I confess I was a bit bummed to see these come out of a plastic pack, but they really tasted good. They're small enough that you can eat everything, including the heads if you're so inclined.

When they ordered up a plate of the house-special tongue stew, I didn't mind not getting any...but I still did, after Yuko san carefully arranged a small plate for me in the same style as the main plate. This was of the meltingly-soft variety, with cream on top of the homemade demiglace, and sorta confirmed the global nature of the food. (Actually the house special is really steaks of various kinds, chief among them horse, but I had other things to do and didn't feel like I had stomach space.)

For the second time, I had to find a way to decline an invitation - they were going to buy oyaki, a sort of pan-fried bread filled with chopped spicy vegetables, and insisted that I come along. I said I was too full. No problem, we're full too! They're for tomorrow morning! In the end I said I was going back to the hotel to go to after we walked there together (which was on their way, I promise), I doubled back to Yukari.  I think it's OK. We traded contacts, and if I'm in Togura again, I've promised to stay with them. Likewise if they visit Tokyo, although my current apartment is pretty far from their kids.

Nice people out here, eh?

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