I have so many thoughts and experiences from this last trip to Hawaii, Guam, Japan and Korea it is a bit overwhelming as to where to begin. So, I figure I'll start with that I know best....food :)
Yes, those are Kit Kats....and yes, I bought more than just these flavors. I knew the Japanese had something like 20+ types of Kit Kats and was planning to get a few as gifts. I was thinking they were like in the States….as in you go to a 7-11 (very popular there) and go to the candy aisle and pick whichever flavor you like and pay maybe $1 a bar. Well, that is not the case. It is somewhat of a scavenger hunt. Some flavors are regional and you can only get them in that area. Some are only available in big boxes and some flavors are pricer higher than others (some much more expensive…relatively speaking). I found a Kit Kat store in the the luxury food section of the local department store. The Kit Kat store was fancy---beautifully presented (like all of the Japanese food stores) and it would have been easy to spend $50 to $100 on just a few boxes of Kit Kat bars. Wow! That was a bit unexpected. I also learned there are only a few of these Kit Kat stores, so I was lucky to stumble across one (didn't buy anything, but a chandelier make only of Kit Kats is a once in a lifetime experience). I decided to make the pilmagrage to Donki (Japanese short hand for Don Quiote) which is a huge discount store/supermarket. I was told they have the best selection. Donki is completely different than anything else in Japan---they play loud music (it was heavy metal when I was there) and things are somewhat disorganized. They have a little bit of everything (food, clothes, appliances, luggage....and at some stores designer items). I stuck with the first floor which was mostly food. They did have a Kit Kat aisle and I bought all of the flavors they had. I knew I had seen a few other flavors at other smaller stores, so I continued the hunt for a bit before I needed to head to the airport. Once at the airport, I had heard there were a few airport only versions...and so my quest ended just before the gate with 14 different favors. Not bad for 2 days of searching!
On to some real food (back to sweet stuff in a minute...). We went to an Okonomi-Yaki restaurant on Miyajima Island---near Hiroshima. This is the Hiroshima regional variation...with noodles. They prepare it right in front of you on a hot grill. The pancake is poured from batter and left alone to cook for a minute or so and then cabbage is added (and pork, if you like). It looks like a huge amount, but the veggies steam down. The noodles are added and a cooked egg is put on top to complete the dish. Finishing touches of a sauce (similar to Worchestire sauce) and dried seaweed type flakes are added at the table. Hot, fresh and tasty!
Staying with regional specialities of Hiroshima, let's talk maple cakes. I was lucky enough to have a couple right out of the oven. There are several bakeries that make them on the spot. The maple leaf shaped cake is similar to a sponge cake with a slight maple taste. Each one is filled---some places had more than 25 options--the most common were red bean paste, green tea cream, custard cream and chocolate.
In one port stop, our guide took us to a typical Japanese business lunch. There were several small (maybe enough spaces for 20 people total) restaurants on the first floor of the office building. Nearly everyone eating was a man in a business suit. Each little restaurant had a speciality and ours was sashimi. It was a set menu with no variations (although they were able to make my egg custard without chicken with advance notice). The menu included a large bowl of raw fish and roe (fish eggs), miso soup, pickled vegetables, rice, cabbage salad, and egg custard (a warm savory custard). Each piece of fish was a bit different than your neighbors, but all included basically the same items. Total charge for lunch was right around $11, including a cold tea.
In Kyoto we had another set meal. The Japanese art of presentation really shows at meal times. Everything is placed very intentionally and each item has its place. Some items even have their own vessel...like a small ceramic bowl for a slice of sesame tofu. Many of the set meals include only fish and vegetables making it easier for a vegetarian or pescatarian to eat well, even if you can't translate every menu item. The meal below had tofu cooked in soy milk (upper left hand corner) in which you were supposed to dip in one of two sauces---one like a fish sauce and the other more of a vinegar. In the red topped bowl was a hearty grain and rice mixture (very good) and under the other top was white miso soup. The other items were sesame tofu, pickled vegetables, sweet bean paste and mochi-like sweet (covered in a peanut butter powder).
There were plenty of memorable meals, but I have to say my first experience with Korean BBQ was way more than I expected. First off, as a mostly vegetarian, I didn't think Korean BBQ had anything I could eat. Fortunately our guide, Frank, took care of all of the details so I could just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. There is an opening in the middle of the table for the grill and that is where the meat is prepared. That I knew. What I didn't know is that the meal comes with no less than about a dozen side dishes---varying kinds of kimchi, salad, pickled vegetables, bean paste soup with rice, and fresh lettuces and herbs to accompany the dishes. Everything was very flavorful and of course fresh. The fast cooking and atmosphere of the restaurant made it feel like lunch was an event. My favorite part was the cooked morning glory---something I always search out when I'm in Asia. I asked for several refills :)
Well now that I have made myself sufficiently hungry, I'll end for now. More of my trip to come soon...
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent except Antarctica.