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Winnipeg Free Press

Travel & Leisure

Adventure on the plate Japan’s cuisine entices daring visitors

By Carolyne Parent

TOKYO -- For food-loving adventure tourists, and others not so fluent in sushi-ese, Japan’s culinary offering is in itself an enticing reason to pay the country a visit. Unusual flavours, textures, and esthetics make the Japanese dining experience truly memorable. For sure, an open mind, a zen-adjusted attitude, and a willingness to surrender to bewildered, unilingual waiters often guarantees an extraordinary meal. (Of course, there are food models in most Japanese restaurants, but what sort of foodie would want to point to a plastic pizza in Tokyo?) There are more than 300,000 restaurants in the metropolis, including street stalls, inexpensive kaiten-zushi shops, popular “all you can drink” pub-style isakaya, and some of the world’s most exclusive places like Joël Robuchon’s L’Atelier, in Roppongi Hills, or Alain Ducasse’s and Chanel’s Beige, in Ginza. That figure also comprises -- or does it? -Nonbei Yokocho, Drunkards’ Alley, which runs alongside the tracks near Shibuya Station. This is a fun red-lantern night spot, lined with wood-paneled restaurants, each with a seating capacity of about eight. “Let’s have Japanese tapas,” he suggested. We chose a shoe-box of a place at random, sat thigh to thigh on the last free stools, and ordered Asahi beer and whatever was on the other diners’ plates. In a mini kitchen behind the counter a comedian of a cook prepared us grilled yakitori (barbecued chicken marinated in soy sauce) and fried oysters and lotus roots. What a show ! And the meal was delicious, too. Found all over Japan, the kaiten-zushi (literally “revolving sushi”) shop is another fuss-free fun place. Parading on a conveyor belt, anago (cooked eel with sweet, thick sauce), ebi (cooked shrimp), uni (sea urchin roe) and the like are freely picked by customers sitting around the circular counter. Plates differ in colour, each one being associated with a price. At the end, an attendant counts the plates to calculate the bill. Jet-lagged sashimi lovers may prefer to be sleepless in Tsukiji than lost in a Park Hyatt’s bar. Located in Tokyo Bay, Tsukiji is probably the world’s largest fish market and every day (except Sunday), at 5:30 a.m., huge tuna fish are auctioned off to jobbers, some for the price of a Honda car. After witnessing this intense trading, a breakfast of noodles in a fish-based broth can be slurped down in the company of salarymen in food stalls nearby the market. In most countries around the world, museum restaurants are usually fine options for lunch, and Japan is no exception. Inuyama, a small castle town near Nagoya, is home to Meiji-Mura, an open-air architecture museum. In Beppu, on Kyushu island, hot spring steam is used to cook eggs and vegetables, and bake puddings on the streets. Its centrepiece is Frank Lloyd Wright’s lobby of the Imperial Hotel, a palace built initially in Ginza and demolished in the 1960s. “Honeymooning with Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe ordered so many bowls of French onion soup during their stay that she’s credited with popularizing the dish in Japan,” said guide Makiko Kumazawa, before taking me to Ohi Butcher Shop, a restaurant on the premises where we were served the most tender Kobe beef. “Can you guess what cows are fed to increase the quality of their meat,” she asked. No, not French onion soup, but beer, and they are massaged, too. Another museum, this one in Seto, also near Nagoya, is well worth both a visit and drink. In an area where pottery production is still thriving, the Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum exhibits some of the world’s most ancient wares such as 13,000-year old vessels. It also presents classic pieces by celebrated warrior and tea master Oribe Furuta as

well as vases by contemporary ceramic artist Takuo Kato, himself designated as a National Treasure. Feeling thirsty? Chanoyu, one of Japan’s best known traditional arts, is also performed in the museum’s tea house. This tea ceremony is fascinating. It begins with guests being offered a sweet that will counterbalance matcha’s (powdered green tea) bitterness. (Japanese refinement is such that, last spring, our treat was decorated with a bean-paste narcissus.) The tea is then whisked and served in bowls that have been donated by famous pottery artists. Each guest is invited to admire his bowl before picking it up and rotating it in the palm of his -left- hand for all to see its front. When he’s finished sipping his tea, he is expected to place the bowl exactly where it was, and admire it some more. “It’s a question of showing your host an appreciation for the chosen utensils,” explains the tea house guide. It’s also a matter of honoring an art form that was perfected some 400 years ago. From the tea ceremony developed kaiseki or formal Japanese cuisine. Varying according to season, with an emphasis on freshness and artful presentation, a kaiseki meal consists in bite-size dishes, composing up to fifteen courses, including sashimi, grilled fish or meat, steamed vegetables, a vinegared dish, a clear broth to cleanse the palate and fried food, such as tempura, with rice, all beautifully served in lacquered bowls and ceramic plates, much like diamonds on a purple pillow. In Kyoto, I treated myself to a kaiseki meal at a ryokan, a traditional inn, called Kinmata. I chose Kyoto because the city that served as the country’s capital for 1,100 years is still considered the center of Japanese culture and its ryokan are most authentic. I dined on a low table, sitting on a tatami. An open shoji led to a pocket zen garden, lit by a full moon, serenaded by a stone fountain. A feast for the eyes. I sat there for three hours while hostesses in swishing kimonos presented me with their precious offerings. A feast for the palate. What did I eat ? Don’t ask me. Strange and beautiful foodstuffs that plastic could never replicate, but gaijin, was it ever Japanese.

Carolyne Parent is a Montreal-based travel writer.

Visiting Japan Getting there The most convenient route to reach Tokyo from Winnipeg, valid between April and the end of October, is a morning Vancouver-bound flight with either Westjet or Air Canada, followed by Japan Airlines flight to Narita Airport outside Tokyo. Getting by If kampai, cheers, and arigato, thank you, are useful words to know, you would truly impress your Japanese hosts were you to say itadakimasu at the beginning of the meal and go chi sosama deshita at the end. Both phrases are formal expressions of gratitude. Also, remember that when you’re not using your chopsticks, you should lean them on the chopsticks rest, not across your plate, and do not ever stick them in your food. If you can’t manage chopsticks, ask for fooku, a fork. Most restaurants have them. More information www.jnto.go.jp www.japanair.com


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Blood Orange and Lemon Mousse

It’s a little late in the season, but I have seen a few blood oranges still kicking around, and they give this airy dessert a lovely, delicate pink hue. If you can’t find a blood orange, a regular one will do; in either case, remember to scrub your citrus very well before zesting. Better still, use organic. 3 extra large eggs, separated 310 ml (1 1/4 cups) sugar Grated zest of 1 blood orange Grated zest of 1 lemon 60 ml (1/4 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice 20 ml (4 tsp) freshly squeezed blood orange juice Pinch salt • In the top of a double boiler, combine egg yolks, sugar, blood orange zest, lemon zest, lemon juice, and blood orange juice. Place over simmering water and whisk constantly, until thick and creamy, about 5 minutes. • Using a rubber spatula, scrape mixture into a large mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool. • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine egg whites and salt. Beat on mediumhigh speed until stiff peaks form. • Gently fold egg whites into citrus cream in three additions to make a light mousse, mixing gently until eggs whites are fully incorporated and no white streaks remain. • Spoon into four dessert cups; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 4.

Salmon with Fennel and Lavender

This won’t be the first time I’ve extolled the virtues of this risotto-like classic Italian dish for spring. In an ideal world, it would be made with freshly shelled, just-picked green peas; but failing that, I find that frozen summer-sweet baby peas do very nicely. 2 l (8 cups) chicken broth 60 ml (1/4 cup) butter 100 g (4 oz) pancetta, finely chopped 1 small onion, finely diced 500 ml (2 cups) frozen baby peas (not thawed) 30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil 330 ml (1 1/3 cups) arborio rice Salt and freshly ground pepper 125 ml (1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano • Place broth in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce heat to low. • In a large, heavy saut? pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add pancetta and onion and cook, stirring, until onion is golden. Add peas and 1/2 cup hot broth. Cover and cook until peas are just tender, 3-4 minutes. • Uncover and increase heat to medium high. Cook, shaking the pan, until most of the liquid has evaporated; add olive oil to pan. • When oil is hot, add rice and stir well: rice should be glistening and coated with oil. Add 125 ml (1/2 cup) hot broth and cook, stirring, until broth is largely absorbed. Add another 125 ml of broth and repeat; continue repeating, adding 125 ml broth at a time once the previous addition has been absorbed, until rice is al dente and you have about a cup of broth left. • Remove from heat and taste for salt and pepper.Add seasoning as desired. • With pot still off the heat, stir in remaining broth and half of the grated cheese. Cover and let stand a minute or two before serving; the resulting dish should resemble a slightly soupy risotto. Pass remaining cheese at the table. Serves 4.

The spice rub for this dish is adapted from one in the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook. I’ve also used it to great effect on duck legs, which would pair nicely with the baked fennel as well, come to think of it. 2-3 bulbs fresh fennel, thinly sliced 75 ml (5 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil 15 ml plus 5 ml (1 tbsp plus 1 tsp) coarse sea salt 15 ml (1 tbsp) black peppercorns 15 ml (1 tbsp) fennel seeds 15 ml (1 tbsp) lavender flowers 700 g (1 1/2 lbs) skin-on fresh salmon filet, cut into four equal portions Preheat oven to 160 C (325 F). • In a large mixing bowl, combine fennel slices with 3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp coarse salt. Toss well. Pour fennel into a deep, oven-proof dish large enough to hold salmon filets in one layer. Bake until fennel is just tender, about 15 minutes. • Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, combine remaining salt and peppercorns and grind until peppercorns are crushed. Add fennel seeds, then lavender, grinding until mixture is fragrant but still coarse. • Brush salmon filets with remaining olive oil. Pat spice mixture onto top and sides of filets. • When fennel is just tender, remove from oven. Arrange salmon filets, skin sides down, on top of fennel. Return baking dish to oven and cook until fennel is well cooked and salmon is still pink in the centre, 20-25 minutes. Serves 4

annie.buckland@freepress.mb.ca

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Not all seats are created Equal WE have all sat in a rather small airline seat coveting life beyond the curtain, and wishing we had been given a First or Business Class upgrade. Life in the back can be cramped, if not downright uncomfortable as airlines try to squeeze every last drop of revenue from their reluctant clients. It is, after all, a game of real estate; the airlines play a constant game in finding the elusive balance between comfort, or lack thereof, and passenger willingness to sit on the seats. This does not matter much on a short flight within Canada, but once the aircraft is launched to Europe, or more vitally to Asia or the South Pacific, space becomes more important. The good news is that not all seats are created equal, and there are ways to prise a few additional square centimetres to call your own. First, of course, there are the exit rows or the bulkheads. The difficulty here is that airlines rarely assign exit rows prior to departure because they can’t see if you belong to one of their restricted categories; the good news is that if you check in early, you have as much chance as the next passenger of getting one if you ask. Bulkheads are double-edged swords though, as the additional legroom is counteracted by a fixed armrest between you and your neighbour, and a rather tiny table. One can, of course aim at new aircraft. When airlines buy new equipment, the seats get better and the entertainment more sophisticated. After eight hours on an elderly B767 there will be little spring in your step compared to those who have just emerged from a new B777 or A330. Ask your travel agent which plane is on offer and pick the newest. Then there are some real tricks. Boeing 747s have a unique characteristic that plays to your advantage. Right at the back, a place that few choose to sit for some reason, the aircraft tapers. This means the last three rows on the window sides have only two seats instead of three. This offers much more space beside you, and a little more privacy. Climbing on board an Air New Zealand 747 for the long haul from Los Angeles to Sydney, I had been assigned a seat in the second last row. I passed through the absolutely full forward economy cabin. By the time I reached my row, I found I was the only passenger in it. I had the luxury of stretching out over four seats and sleeping most of the way down to Australia. The lesson? Simply that most folks want to be near the front: if there are seats left over, they are most likely to be at the back. Nobody will ever make a 10-hour, economy-class flight comfortable, although I have to say that United Airline’s B777s flying between Chicago and London are really good. You can increase the odds of an extra square foot or so by checking in early and insisting that your travel agent (your only real friend in this exercise) gets you the best seat in the house that is available when you book. Airline tickets are not just about price, they are also about real estate; and we all know the most important aspects of real estate are “Location, Location and Location”!

Max Johnson is the president of the Great Canadian Travel Company


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