I’ve never been to the city during my previous trips, where I was generally holed up in the mountains down south in Hiroshima. That said, Tokyo is certainly a wonder to me – I was constantly gawking and wandering away from my family, trying to get a close look at things. There’s constantly a clusterfuck of people, but the residential areas are dead quiet unless during rush hour. The city center is literally a forest of concrete buildings, but there’s always some greenery somewhere. It looks highly modernized, but still a bit xenophobic – there’s still right-wing extremists who parade around town, blaring the Imperial march (or something righteous-sounding like that).
But there’s more to Japan than the city of lights, so we hopped on board the bullet train – speaking of which, I should let you in on a secret: if you don’t have Japanese citizenship, you can buy one of these JR Rail Passes in weekly increments, and up to three weeks. It’s basically a ride-all-you-can pass on any JR line (well, except for the Nozomi train) – regular train or the bullet train. 1 week is about 300 bucks, and you’ll easily break even. They can be picked up at the travel counter in any Japanese market in LA. Just make sure to buy them in the states, and activate them in Japan. When you’re in Japan, you can buy bullet train tickets at any JR counter (what they call “midori no madoguchi”/”the green window” or if you’re just using the regular JR train, slip by the gate by flashing your pass at the attendant. You can even buy Narita Express train tickets to Narita Airport with these!
When boarding the bullet train, you should try to get your hands on one of these ekiben, or train lunches. They’re packed lunches with all sorts of local ingredients and goodies, and are sold at kiosks at the stations. There are also bento sellers inside the bullet train, who roll around ginormous carts of food and drinks (and booze!) inside the trains, kinda like dim sum cart ladies.
Don bought a Bimi Tonkatsu O-Bento (970 yen)… Which means ‘delicious katsu lunch’ – so it better be good. (it was)
Meat and rice only, just the way he likes it. Definitely a guy’s lunch.
I had the Ume~ Tako Ryoumi Bento (950 yen). The name translates to: sour plum and octopus cooling lunch. Apparently it’s a limited edition product and is only available during the summer.
It was packed with ume-gohan (sour plum rice), tako-meshi (octopus rice), nasu no hasamiage (eggplant fritters), goya no satsumaage (deep fried bittermelon), tomato no satsumaage (deep fried tomato), anago hachimanmaki (river eel-wrapped burdock root). Carbs overload but delicious. If only airline meals were this good.
Full tummies + beer + train = food coma. By the time we woke up, we were just passing by Kobe. Tokyo to Osaka in three hours, huzzah!
The first thing we do in Osaka is Ohaka-mairi, or visiting the family tomb*. It is Obon after all.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Obon, it’s a Buddhist holiday that’s similiar to the Day Of The Dead. Spirits of your family and ancestors come back from the underworld to spend their once-a-year vacation with the living. When most people hear of Obon, they think of festivals and dancings, but in reality you’re supposed to honor the dead by cleaning the altar and family tomb (most companies will give you a three-day vacation around this time for that reason).
During the Obon festival, you have to provide your dead ancestors rides by making some make-shift horses out of vegetables and chopsticks. In the beginning of Obon, you leave cucumber horses so that they can come home as fast as they can, and at the end of the festival you leave eggplant cows so that they can slowly mosey back to the underworld. Now you know something new!
* Note to self: Ohaka-mairi in the afternoon, in 100-degree weather = ow ow ow.
After cleaning Don’s family tomb, we went to go eat his favorite animal… Chicken.
Kakomiya is a small chain in the Osaka/Fukushima area that specializes in jidori, or free range chicken. Their motto is simply, “eat good chicken” （旨い鶏を喰う）. This particular one we went to serves small dishes, shichirin-yaki (table top charcoal grill), and hot pot (mizutaki).
Tsukidashi (amuse-bouche): tsukune. Chicken sausage on burdock root. Simple yet so sweet and smoky, and the pungent Chinese-style mustard will kick your nasal passage’s ass.
Hinedori no yubiki ume ponzu (480 yen). Hinedori is the term for an old hen that no longer lays eggs, and is prized for its firm, “chicken-ier” flesh. Here, the skin of the hinedori has been blanched, chopped, and served with a refreshing dressing of sour plum and ponzu sauce. Crunchy and additive.
Pirikara tataki kyuuri (300). Sweeeet cucumber, broken into chunks and tossed with Korean-ish spicy sauce. Strong sesame aroma with hints of gochujang. Refreshing and very cooling.
Time for some grilling!
We mostly ate seseri (neck) and nankotsu (cartilage). So good. The chicken here is asabiki, or killed on the morning of, so you can eat it medium-rare. Vegetables like manganji togarashi (a buff cousin to the shishito pepper), eggplants, and leeks are included.
And today’s main attraction: Hakata Mizutaki (1980 yen/pp). It even comes it its own handmade ceramic pot!
See how the broth is milky? That’s all collagen. It’s so thick, you can’t tell that there are chicken chunks in the bottom of pot until you scoop them out. According to the menu, this broth is made by boiling 30 chickens for 8 hours. It is creamier and richer than any tonkotsu broth I’ve had recently. So good with a pinch of sea salt and sansho pepper!
Everything tastes better in chicken tonkotsu (or keikotsu, for accuracy’s sake).
When you’re “done” with the hot pot, ask your server for zosui (380 yen/pp). S/he will make it for you table-side.
Mominori (seaweed paste), crushed ume, scallions, chicken broth. Sigh. It’s love.
We finished the tasty yet sweaty meal with this.
Shiratama Ice Monaka (480 yen). Rich vanilla ice cream, a small mochi ball, monaka shells. Crispy, runny, icy goodness.
Kakomiya is one of our favorite meals from the whole trip. Can’t wait to go again some day!
564-0051 大阪府吹田市豊津町16-5 汐田ビル1F
3 minutes walking distance from the Esaka subway stop (south gate)
Takoyaki Kitteh* says “up next… EAT TILL YOU DROP at Dotonbori!”