Saturday, June 13, 2020

Sprummer (Virtual) Vacacay: Japan!

Tanya really likes fancy lettering
So. Many. Things. To. Learn. And. Sample. About. Japan.

Alright, now that that's out of the way, know that this entry will only begin to scratch the surface of all of the things into which you can delve when investigating Japan. I know this because when I was researching things for us to watch, all five of the top hits were great candidates. And that was with a simple search like "best documentary japan" or somesuch. Imagine if I'd done a targeted search of some kind.

The truth is that there are LOTS of great resources with which to learn about Japan because a) Japan is EXTREMELY interesting given practically ANY aspect of life on which you'd like to focus, and b) people are becoming more and more aware of this. In the same way that Japanese culture has been strongly influenced by outsiders since the mid-19th century, Japan has influenced those intersecting cultures in return.

Luckily for us, we learned quite a bit about Japan from both the videos we watched at the food we prepared and ate. We'll start with the videos.


This... didn't go as planned. Our goal in these viewings is to get something informative, but also something from a layperson's perspective. I didn't mention it in the Ireland entry, but we actually watched two shows there: the one mentioned (Ireland with Simon Reeve), and another called My First Trip to Ireland, which followed a couple on their honeymoon as they traveled around southern Ireland. The second video was good; the production quality is quite high, with some really terrific shots from a fantastically-controlled drone. It was also more tourist-y, which is what you would expect given the title.

We intended to start our Japanese excursion with something in a similarly informal vein: A Journey In Japan, which would follow a backpacking trip through four weeks between Tokyo and Kyoto, then Osaka to Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, I'm fighting through a bout of lightheaded dizziness, the after-effects of a severe vertigo episode I "enjoyed" a month ago. The camera work in the above series was just too unsteady for me, so we punted on that one, switching to another BBC production: The Art of Japanese Life.

That... was a good move.

Once again, BBC comes through with a fantastic series. This one is done in three parts: Nature, Cities, and Home. They are all led by Dr. James Fox, and while there's a slight emphasis on art in and of itself, quite a lot of the series is designed to inform the viewer about Japan in general -- its geography, geology, flora, history, and overall way of life as it progressed from one epoch to another.

The "Nature" episode was probably the most moving for me, unsurprisingly. If you've only got an hour, I strongly suggest you watch that one. However, I don't want to sell the others short: THEY ARE ALL WORTH WATCHING AND YOU SHOULD WATCH THEM ALL. They touch on *so* many of the things that make Japan intriguing to me, but probably nothing as much as the overall attitude toward and embracing of transience. Japanese people know that nothing is permanent and build that sentiment into every part of their existence. Their uncanny ability to be in a moment, to focus on what they're doing, paying attention to each and every detail, no matter how small, is a result of their reverence for the fragility of the the state of everything around them, and their own state within those contexts. Cherry blossoms are celebrated not only for their beauty, but their blooming brevity. In fact, it is that brevity that makes them all the more beautiful and precious. This seems like a fact that we should all embrace, yet so few people realize, much less acknowledge, that we and everyone we have ever known will only be here for a relatively short time.

Whew, that was heavy. Luckily for you, we *also* watched some Miyazaki (of course). Ponyo won out over Spirited Away, although it was a close vote. In the end, we wanted something that appealed to the basic goodness in all of us, and although there is an indictment of humanity in general in Ponyo, every individual character turns out to be a good person. I needed that. :)


So. Much. Food.

This was entirely our own fault, of course. Tanya likened it to needing to replace a single piece of flooring in one room and building an entire house around it instead. We had originally planned to do traditional ramen, and that's what we wound up doing. However, the way we eventually did it was... involved.


I hinted in the last blog post that it took us three full days to prepare the ramen. That is true, mainly because we also prepared chashu (braised pork).

Ingredients for chashu.
Preparing chashu also required viewing videos. The one that was most beneficial, and that Tanya mostly followed, is here:

For those that would like to see it in print, a written recipe is here:

However, if you know Tanya, you know that the recipe had some customization and substitution. :-)

Into the sous vide!

The chashu went into the sous vide, which ran for 24 hours at ~158F. I know that's pretty short for a lot of folks that regularly sous vide, but it was a very long session for us.


Eggs are a traditional part of ramen, and their preparation is slightly involved. The first attempt we made was using the sous vide. This turned out to be our first out-and-out failure. The eggs are supposed to be soft boiled, almost poached, but these were only slightly gelled. We reverted to a normal boiling for 7 minutes, and that worked out magnificently.

The eggs then needed to marinate in the chashu sauce for a while, so into the sauce they went, and the whole batch into the refrigerator.


With the chashu and eggs done (and note there was a two day lag in between), it was time to actually prepare the ramen. The recipe/guideline Tanya followed is here:

That... is a lot of mushrooms.
As it turns out, we didn't have bowls large enough to properly hold traditional ramen. A trip to Bed Bath & Beyond fixed that, though, and now we have bowls fit for a proper serving of ice cream as well!

The ramen was finally ready. Have a look at the finished product!

So, SO TASTY! And yes, three types of sake, with a fourth not shown.
If you want a fantastic series on ramen, check this one out!


Although you CAN eat ramen without sake, why would you? :-)

The sakes we included were:
  • Sho Chiku Bai Organic Sake: we used this one mainly for cooking, although there was enough left over to sip. Pretty tasty! 
  • Hakushika Junmai Daiginjo: a sweet sake, but something about it was off-putting for us. Maybe too abruptly bitter? It has a very strong flavor, in any case, which when compared to the others wasn't quite what we desired.
  • Shimizu No Mai Pure Dusk: another sweet one. Very light and tasty!
  • Shirakabe Gura Mio Sparkling Sake: by far, our favorite. It's pretty common as well, probably available in all of your local Japanese restaurants (not that you should be dining out yet).

Everything listed above was all consumed on the first day of our virtual Japan visit. We had so much food left over that we were able to make a proper chashu fried rice the next day, although we neglected to take a picture of it. You'll have to assume we're telling the truth here, but I can have Garrett vouch for us. He said it was probably the best fried rice he'd ever had.


One thing we definitely did NOT neglect: the necessity of mochi for dessert.

Roasting the mochi over a campfire is NOT traditional.
Central Market actually has a pretty wide selection of good mochi. The ones pictured above are Apple Pie and Passion Fruit. Both were delicious; the Apple Pie was quite sweet, and the Passion Fruit tangy, but each was individually perfect and worked very well as counterbalances when consumed in a single sitting.


I almost forgot to include green tea! In between sessions of The Art of Japanese Life, we took breaks to sip green tea.

Green tea, gray tea towel, green table cloth, white serving set... wait, we're not just listing the colors of everything?
Note that we did NOT conduct a formal tea ceremony. We did, however, contemplate many things as we drank the tea. I should probably make a habit of having tea and contemplating things. It's very zen, and I definitely need more of that in my life.

To Sum Up:

I don't think I can sum up Japan, honestly. Given the little bit of exposure we've had, our best estimate is that you'd need at least a month to get a good trip through the country. And even though quite a lot of the country is urban, you should try to get out into the country itself, as some of the most beautiful experiences are there. We spent two virtual days traveling through Japan, and, like with Ireland, are left wanted much, much more. It is definitely in our top three list of places to travel in real life when we can do so again.

Tomorrow's excursion will be our final one for this expedition, and we expect it will also be quite a bit more laid back. I'm struggling to give a hint as to the destination that wouldn't immediately give it away to my fantasy nerd friends. In fact, maybe that's all I need to say: fantasy nerd friends, prepare yourself for tomorrow. :)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.