I have to admit that I’m slowly adjusting to Japan and all its oddities. I no longer dance to the train station “theme” tunes that play when you board or get off a train. I don’t stop to laugh at politicians waving in white gloves out of vans. I no longer get creeped out by the eerie robotic voices from the advertising vans or the eerie tunes from the rubbish truck. I take my shoes off without thinking. I no longer have the urge to stare at perfectly made-up women sporting white face masks (although I did stare at the leather-bondage themed one. That was too much to ask. Incidentally, you can buy one here.)
However, today was an all new experience. I think I saw a constellation of a man clubbing a monkey to death.
The story begins, unromantically, with housework. The kitchen floor needed to be mopped. So the logical solution was to mop myself and Calle out the front door and not come back until it was dry. This meant we had to go out for lunch. What a shame.
It was a Sunday and past 2pm and so our options weren’t great. We walked down to Daimaru department store in Yamashina and went for “Italian”.
Of course, you don’t get ham and cabbage pizza at a real Italian. The cabbage seriously didn’t help things but it wasn’t bad. I tend to find pizza is nearly always edible – never great, never atrocious. It’s a boring but safe option.
But we didn’t decide to go to the Italian place for the pizza. We went because of the salad bar. The salad bar wasn’t some tired lettuce but a whole array of cress, broccoli, tomatoes, ratatouille-style pumpkin, baby corn, sweetcorn, green beans, carrot, chick peas, kidney beans, pasta salad and potato salad. Tomatoes and chickpeas are really expensive in Japan so they were, in effect, a luxury.
We left with near-bursting stomachs and were casually groaning our way down the stairs, when the shopping centre erupted into music. Organ music.
The grand atrium contains a giant organ on the third floor level. The organ is not real – or if it is, no-one was actually playing it. Fake organ music streamed through the shopping centre and the ceiling lit up to reveal some constellations and shooting stars.
I guess the shopping experience is managed very differently in Japan. The 4pm Organ and Constellation Time really increases sales. I suppose.
However, I tried zooming in on the constellation to work out exactly what it is. But it looks like a man clubbing a monkey to death. Which one is it? Ideas please?
I am convinced that France and Japan should never collaborate… when it comes to cuisine.
Fortunately, I think things might be going my way. Japan has now overtaken France as the country with the most three-star Michelin restaurants. This is bound to generate some (un)healthy rivalry. Chefs across both countries must be whipping up a storm of nationalism-infused dishes, harking back to traditional dishes and giving them that modern twist, which makes critics melt over them. Whatever does happen, I’m hoping it might reduce the number of places that think they’re serving French cuisine in Japan.
Disturbingly, it was at the Kansai French-Japanese Institute where I was traumatised by a Japanese rendition of French cuisine. Perhaps more disturbingly, French people actually frequent this place and its restaurant. In fact, as we entered the building a Frenchman called out bonjour to us as we passed him. (If only he’d known I was British – the greeting may have been more along the lines of “Cameron, shut eeeet!” and “Join ze Euro!”)
The traumatic event involved this:
That is a ~1500円 confit de canard. It’s a sorry excuse for confit de canard (duck confit). I am more than familiar with the French way of cooking meat (ie. as little as possible) but confit is a preservation process and the meat should therefore be cooked. When a duck is well cooked, it falls off the bone. Let’s refer to theoracle Wikipedia on exactly how a confit de canard should be done: “The meat is slowly poached at least until cooked, or until meltingly tender, generally four to ten hours.” All recipes online for this dish mention how the meat should be tender.
Then why was I struggling to tear it off the bone?
I left in a very bad mood, partially because I should have known better. What was I doing eating French in Japan? I wouldn’t eat sushi in France! Yet I’m still drawn to international cuisine….
Coming up on the blog:
A Quest for Bread: The Japanese Bakery Saga
A Tale of Two Indians: The Good and the Ugly
And….does this look good? In-depth deliciousness will be posted here soon!
So I finally got round to blogging about my favourite izakaya, Sumika, and the delicious things that it serves.
Well last night, I went back AGAIN because it happened to be just around the corner from PechaKucha night, an arty kind of speech evening, where we saw some amazing West African dancing.
The waiter from last time remembered us, greeting me with “Hisashiburi desu ne!” (Long time, no see!) and the staff proceeded to give us lots of smiles and attention. Sumika has a one-drink policy, which I only discovered when I tried to order water, but fortunately Calle quickly resolved it: “OK, I’ll have two beers, but please bring me one later!”
Fortunately for me, they had my favourite dish which had sold out last time : aparagus wrapped in bacon dish, with a strong Japanese mustard sauce. The combination of flavours is spot on.
Also fortunately for me, Sumika have a rotating menu, which included these beef “tacos” with avocado and lemon zest dressing. At only 250円, they’re a bargain.
And they still had the ice-cream filled crepe topped with chocolate sauce and almonds, which I’ve included again as a gratuitous photo opportunity.
Sumika has delicious food at amazing prices with a cover charge of only 210円. If you haven’t read my full review, do so here. And if you’re in Kyoto, go there!
Yes, it’s time to introduce you to my favourite izakaya in Kyoto and to a casually racist costume.
The story starts in Osaka, where we had taken our friend Tom on a sightseeing trip. I crave the modern aesthetic Osaka exudes – at least in comparison to the Kyoto – and so we had to stop by the Umeda Sky Building, designed by Hiroshi Hara.
I would love to teeter my along those high elevated walkways but didn’t have the time nor money. Fortunately, Hiroshi designed the Kyoto Station building as well, where I can happily wander an elevated walkway for free, giving me a great view over Kyoto.
Let’s move on from architecture and arrive at…..party costumes. Yes, party costumes are a BIG thing in Japan, and you’ve probably come across blog posts mocking showcasing them before. To illustrate how culturally integrated costumes are, I’ll give you an example from two weeks ago. I was casually climbing the stairs in the Kyoto City International Foundation and noticed a wedding function in the restaurant. Then, two men appeared clad in red shiny bodysuits. Why was security not seizing them and throwing them out? Well, they were the wedding entertainment. They certainly entertained me.
However, I wasn’t quite sure about the following.
This is a “Lady Bodysuit”. The only thing that screams “lady” at me is the word “lady” on the packaging. Weirdest costume of the day award goes to the casually raciest “I’m a foreigner” face appendage set!
Big round of applause.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the true star of this blog post.
The place: Sumika
The food: Japanese izakaya style
We arrived at Sumika at 10.45pm. And we were ravenous. Having been to see the Hikari Renaissance lights and realising they were unspectacular, we found ourselves in an area with nowhere to eat, except Zawatami, and I wasn’t going there again. Thus, we hopped on the train and arrived in a state of desperation. But I’d been to Sumika before and I knew the food was amazing.
Sumika is on a basement floor and has a faux cave interior which makes it intimate and shadowy. It’s relaxed and always popular (at least, when I’ve visited on weekend nights).
We flung ourselves down at the counter, grabbed the menu and devoured it with our eyes. In the next hour, we proceeded to order seven dishes each.
Now, I should say that this isn’t fine dining – izakaya food rarely is unless you go up a price-notch and downsize the menu. But Sumika does good quality food that is simply delicious. I guess this makes the first photo rather ironic, as it’s just chips. But no izakaya trip is complete without an order of “potato fry” and the beer glass in the background perfectly captures the atmosphere. All I need is a photo of our hyperactive waiter with whom Tom developed an ongoing joke: they kept bowing and saluting and grunting niceties at each other, whilst the waiter cried with laughter. It was a refreshing change from the often impeccable yet impersonal service in Japan.
Below is the bacon and tofu salad and it is simply one of the most delicious salads I have ever had. The tofu melts in your mouth whilst the bacon provides a salty kick and substance. The dressing is fresh and light. The whole dish is addictive; we ordered at least two of these. I guarantee you don’t need to like tofu to order it. In fact, you don’t even need to like bacon either because it’s very easy to pick out (the veggie among us is well-practised at this).
Another star dish of the evening was the fried pumpkin with cream cheese. The combination of flavours was exquisite and at only 200円 a plate, I thought this was all too good to be true.
Below is a selection of the other dishes we enjoyed, including plenty of yakitori – grilled chicken on sticks.
Final mentions goes to the pudding. A giant crepe filled with ice-cream and covered in chocolate sauce. Could easily feed two. But I’m greedy so it only feeds me.
Give me more. Great food. Great service. Great atmosphere. Great for small parties, great for larger parties. Great for everything.
Food quality 4/5 – Delicious and well-thought out flavour combinations.
Value for money 4/5 – For the quality, it’s exceptional value. We paid ~3500円 each for seven dishes each and several drinks.
Atmosphere 5/5 – Intimate yet open; busy but not noisy.A place where you want to eat and drink FOREVER. Or at least to you’re on the uncomfortable side of full
Service 5/5 – A waiter that you can have a laugh with? It’s a winner!
How to find it:
Sumika is located on Kiyamachi, just south of Sanjo-dori.
Have you ever thought about how you read menus? I certainly will, after reading Oliver Thring’s Guardian blog post on The hidden messages in menus.Think carefully where your eye skips to first. Then look at the dishes in boxes/bold/starred. How are they drawing your attention to those “signature” dishes? Then look at the descriptions of the food. Have they bigged up the most expensive dish by lavishing it with luscious language? Have they talked down the cheaper dish by giving it a more bog-standard description?
I think the psychoanalysis of menus might be a new feature on the blog.,,