Since food is usually the first thing I'm excited about in any new place, I figured it's only right to start off a slue of Japanese posts highlighting some meals. Itadakimasu is the Japanese phrase cheered before digging into a meal and loosely translates to "I greatly receive."
This was kind of just a quickie little tempura place but dee-lish. Fried chicken, seafood and veggies, with rice, miso soup, and some good sauces (man, I loved the sauces in that country). I repeated this place and the kebab place quite a few times.
Hold your breath: it's raw horse. Not gonna lie, it was hard to try, but if you didn't know what it is, the flavor was pretty good, especially with those onions, raw garlic and soy sauce all over it. This is the traditional dish of Kumamoto and it came from a legend that some samurai had been trapped in the city's castle for days under siege and as their last resort they had to eat their horses. This meal also came with the soup and sashimi below. The mound of ingredients cooked down into a soup while you ate the rest of the meal. To enter the restaurant you pass through a charming garden with red maple trees, low standing stables, and soft lighting. Some of the outdoor tables even came with electric blankets on the floor-level benches. We ate in a room that closed off with bamboo sliding doors—many restaurants there have rooms that close off so that you and your party are more secluded. The table has a little button on it so you can summon the wait staff when needed.
I wandered around one day looking for a place to eat lunch and found a cute place with some atmosphere. I went in and it turned out to be an Italian place. Nothing was in English so I tried what I sometimes had to do and just pick a word from the dictionary like "chicken" and point to the menu to ask "chicken?" A lady at the next table watched me struggle as the waitress tried to explain to me it was all pasta, and eventually leaned over and asked me where I was from. She spoke wonderful English from several trips she had taken to England. She invited me to a Chinese restaurant later that week. It was probably the most peaceful restaurant I've ever been in. We sat along a wall of solid windows facing a garden, tranquil music sounding in the background, and had the whole place to ourselves. Akiko pointed out that the calligraphy on the wall above was the symbol for silence. The following two were the amazing dishes we had there. I loved that everything always came on it's own little dish because they have developed a beautiful ceramic tradition.
One of the things I found interesting is that they had vending machines everywhere—and a 711 on about every corner that had pretty decent prepared meals. In the 711s and vending machines they have a hot and cold drink section. I am a slight coffee snob so it shocked me to find that I actually did like the vending machine bottled coffee! Sort of just a cheap latte in a bottle...
One of the drawbacks of Japan is how mega expensive it is. There was a fantastic multi-story grocery store with every kind of food imaginable, included lots of delicacies. Some of it was just "semi-expensive" but affordable. However, there were some prized items like the $140 cantaloupes below, and other various fruits in the $20-150 range. How it tastes any different than a $2 cantaloupe, I don't know.
The highlight meal of the trip was the pre-fixed meal that came with our seaside hotel in Amakusa. They bring it to your room to serve on the floor-level table. It came with about a million different dishes and included raw tuna, raw squid, raw and cooked octopus, sea urchin, raw lobster, cooked crab, soup over a burner, some kind of gelatinous stuff I have no clue what it was, baby dried shrimps, normal rolled sushi, sashimi, egg custard, noodle soup, rice, miso soup and more I can't remember. After it was all set on the table, I kept hearing something moving. I said, "Pedro, I think something is still alive." But nothing was moving. Then we opened the dish with the rubber-band holding the top on to find a live shrimp. When the attendant came in bringing more stuff, we asked her how to eat it, but with the language barrier couldn't communicate it so she showed us how to peel it. Obviously I knew how to peel a shrimp, I just didn't know you could do it while it was alive. So Pedro was brave and ate that one probably still twitching. I got him to peel mine so I could throw it in my soup with the little fire underneath it to cook it. While peeling it, the thing flopped off of the table onto the floor! I've never had a meal that tried to escape me!
This was only half of it (terrible photo from my phone, one day I'll remember to actually pull my real camera out).