Saturday, March 26, 2011

Eating my way through Asia

While my trip to Japan and China was short, I did have some great food. I try to eat what the locals eat when I can, and on this trip I had some really interesting, unique food experiences. Below I feature some of my favorite food.

After many delays and an uncomfortable traveling experience, I was so happy to find a little stand in the Hokkaido airport that sold containers of sushi. It was an unusual breakfast for me, but to the Japanese much more usual. The fish was very fresh though and with the rice actually made an excellent breakfast the was gentle on the stomach. Cost: $11.30.
Living in the airport for a day, waiting and hoping I would eventually leave for Japan, I had my first noodle bowl in a small café in the Hokkaido airport. A clear broth, some noodles, and fried tofu slabs on top. There was also a pink marshmallow which I still am confused about. The soup was sweet, hearty and satisfying. I really enjoyed it. Cost: Free, courtesy of Delta airlines.
The next day, I did some sightseeing in Tokyo. I was not very hungry that morning, so I avoided the big American style buffet in the hotel. Instead, I got a cream puff in the subway. It was warm from the oven with a seriously rich cream filling. I stood in the subway, making a mess of myself from all the powdered sugar and started to really enjoy this trip. Cost: $0.80.

I went to an old section of Tokyo called Asakura. After a few hours of walking around, I was very hungry but a bit unsure where to eat. I strayed a bit from the tourist areas and found a narrow street lined with tiny restaurants. None of them had any signs in English, so eventually I picked one at random and sat down. This place was tiny. They had about ten seats total plus a small bar in front of the kitchen. The kitchen was the smallest restaurant kitchen I have every seen. Everything needed to be coordinated so the three people in the kitchen did not knock each other over. The cook was stationed by a small stove tucked in the corner. A woman washed dishes at a small sink right next to the stove. A steep stairway led upstairs to what likely was storage. A few shelves held bottles of saki. They seemed a bit surprised that a westerner had come to dine with them, but they quickly had a menu in my hands. The menu had a bit of English, combined with limited English spoken by the waitress. I told her to make me something good. A little while later they delivered chicken on skewers with a sweet teriyaki sauce, accompanied by a cold Asaki beer. Cost: $6.00.

The next day, in downtown Tokyo I want to a local noodle shop with my work colleagues for lunch. Noodle shops are great and I wish we had something like it in the US. I ordered a Golden mushroom soup. You sup the broth with a large broad ceramic spoon and eat the noodles with chopsticks. You can see by the picture that it was good. Cost: about $10.

That night I flew to Shanghai, China. I stayed in a small Chinese hotel and I think I was probably the only Westerner there. The front desk staff spoke no English, but the rooms were only $32 a night. In the morning there was a breakfast buffet set up that consisted entirely of Chinese foods. No bacon, eggs, and hash browns. There was no coffee, in fact there were no drinks at all. There were steam dumplings, vegetables, noodles, rice noodles and fruit slices. It was a simple but good breakfast, of course eaten with chopsticks. Cost: Free, included in the price of the hotel.
The next day I had the chance to spend a couple hours in Shanghai, exploring the Yu Garden area. While exploring alleyways a bit outside the tourist area, I stumbled upon a street lined with outdoor food vendors. There were so many choices, but I was drawn to a man making fresh bread turnovers stuffed with turnip greens, onions, and spices. They were cooked over a propane flame in a big covered flat pan. Fresh and steaming, I hope to learn to make these myself. Cost $0.40.

A little while later I stopped by the JR Dumpling shop because I was still a bit hungry. The shop was tucked under a staircase in a little alcove. It was piled high with stacked steaming baskets over boiling water. There were many different varieties, but all the signs were in Japanese. So, I selected at random. Inside was a spiced meat that was tasty. No better than the frozen dumplings I buy in Columbus, but good for the price. Cost $0.80.

Walking from work to the hotel the next day I stopped by a woman cooking potstickers at the side of the road. These dumplings were being made fresh, boiled then fried. A line of people were waiting to be served, which is always a good sign. They came with a sweet soy sauce which made it possible to eat all eight. Cost $0.75

That night was my last night in China and I decided to go to a Chinese restaurant (hah!). I went to a very busy place that had about thirty tables, all full. The menu was all in Mandarin, but there were pictures. I picked out Ma La Tofu and a hot and sour soup. They arrived at my table covered in red spicy peppers. It was so hot I could not eat it. My stomach turned to fire and I started worrying about vomiting. I ate a bit, washed it down with a cold beer and headed for the door. I was worried that I would offend them by eating so little, but they did not care. They were happy that I got up so they could seat the next customer. Cost: $4.35.


Alan said...

That looked like a fun trip to eat on.

It's probably not as good as Asian food in Asia, but next time you're in Pittsburgh you should check out Lulu's Noodles in Oakland, if you haven't been there before. It sounds basically like the noodle shop you're looking for, and it serves dishes that look just like the one you pictured.

Barbara said...

You are fun to travel with! I laughed that the food was too hot for YOU to eat. I wonder how the Chinese eat it.

I think Elly took me to Lulu's Noodles the first time I went.