Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mikura, Atami (海蔵、熱海)

Woo hoo, weekend away. It's been some time, eh?

Atami, at the head of the Izu penninsula, is called the 'Monaco of Japan'. Really, my colleague tried to convince me of this. I laughed at the time, then I went there...and I still think it's funny. Sure there are dramatic hills falling down to a decent bay, and some yachts in a harbor, but the buildings are all un-glamorous in a country-Japan way.

And somehow I doubt that the specialty of Monaco is air-dried fish, which seemingly one of three shops in Atami are producing right out front in the street. It's hilarious to walk around here, because there are big wire trays of fish everywhere - gutted, butterflied, and stuck to chicken wire to dry for a day. It's called 'himono', and is much better than it sounds if you're a non-Japanese reader hearing about it for the first time. Except for the miniature brown octopii, which look distinctly gross.

On the covered shopping street (every town worth its salt has to have one) that leads away from the station and toward the beach, there are a couple seafood places, and this one grabbed our eye for some reason.

It's pretty standard in a 'high volumes of fish at decent prices' sort of way. Pictured at right is indeed the one-person portion of aji ( mackerel? A little silver fish is mostly all you need to know.), and this aji was very soft and mild. I liked it, others didn't...

Everyone like this kanpachi though, which was also soft (for a kanpachi), full of fat, and excellent. These sets come, of course, with rice, and soup, and actually some side dish as well, but they:re not cheap. The 'vast quantities of super-fresh fish' thing doesn't really exist, because it's not so expensive to get the fish to market in Tokyo, hence there isn't much price difference if you eat at the source.

Aaaaaand of course a side dish of...heck, I can't remember. These were some kind of shellfish that was perfectly conical and black, and when you speared the foot with a toothpick, the meat came out in a corkscrew with a good 3 or 4 twists in it. Tasty, not as bitter as something like a sazae that's bigger and has more 'liver' in it, a.k.a. 'the black stuff that you don't really want to think about'.

Any Monegasque would be proud to be associated with this place.

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