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prasantrin

Christmas in Japan

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My mother is visiting from Canada, enroute to the Philippines, and I was going to volunteer myself to do a foodblog while she's here, but I'm still not eating enough or cooking enough to post anything interesting every day for a week.

So. . . because I'm a sharing, caring SIT grad (if you knew me at all, you'd know just how funny that statement is :biggrin: ), I thought I'd just post a few of our more interesting food-related outings here.

I've already mentioned elsewhere that we lunched at Kimukatsu. To me, Kimukatsu isn't really tonkatsu, but it's quite good katsu. I didn't have my camera or my cell phone that day, so I didn't take any pictures, but I would highly recommend going for lunch rather than dinner. Most of the dinner options are also available at lunch, plus you can order some very reasonably priced sets at lunch (but not at dinner), and more importantly, the Genkatsudon is only available at lunch. It's awesome!

Today is the end of many of the "winter light" shows, so we took in a couple this weekend.

Kobe is home to Luminarie, a huge light spectacle that commemorates the Great Hanshin Earthquake. It started in December 1995, and was meant to give hope and encouragement to the people of Kobe. I think the lights were donated by the goverment of Italy, and the themes always have Italian names (the theme and the display changes every year).

You have to walk a long long way to get to the lights, because the organizers put up barriers so you can only walk down a particular route to get to them. I think we walked for about 10 minutes until we finally got to the start of the lights. When you finally do get to them, you walk through them...

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. . .before getting to the main part--we didn't go into the main area because there were too many people.

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It was a bit cold that night, so before we went out to see the lights we fortified ourselves with some hot chocolate and sweets from La Pierre Blanche.

Mom had the Eclair Set--she chose a coffee-flavoured eclair and chocolat chaud as her beverage. The sorbet was raspberry mint (very delicious and refreshing), and her little cake was a dark chocolate cake soaked with maybe kirsch. She found it to be too bitter, so she let me have it. I really liked it! :wub:

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I had the cake set--I can't remember what the cake was, but it had some kind of flavour I didn't particularly care for. Maybe it was apricot jam between the layers? I got a little profiterole filled with pistachio pastry cream. My mother liked it more than I did.

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I really like the design of the space of this chocolatier. Everything is brown--walls, ceiling, furnishings, etc., and during the day, the brown tiled walls remind me of a chocolate fountain. It isn't really a place where you can linger, though, because there are few tables (I think maybe 8), and the atmosphere isn't really comforting or relaxing (in my opinion). But if you're ever smack in the middle of Sannomiya and want some hot chocolate, it's a good place to go.

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Keeping in line with the Christmas theme, we traveled to Kyoto to see the night lights at Arashiyama. At this time of year, they open the temples at night to allow for night viewing, and they also light up different areas, including the bamboo forest. We love bamboo, so we went specifically to see forest. Painted lanterns lit our way. . .

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. . .to the forest

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It kind of sucked. There were a few floodlights here and there, but only one side of the forest was lit (in the advertisements for the event, both sides were lit), and it was quite crowded. So crowded, that some a-hole kept stepping on the heels of my shoes while we were walking through, then laughed about stepping on the heels of my shoes. Word to the unwise--just because I'm a foreigner doesn't mean I don't understand what you're saying.

But there were two saving graces that night. The first were these:

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On the left are kurogoma (black sesame) yatsuhashi. Nothing really special, since you can find them all over the place now. But on the right you have "Kurosha". These are kurogoma langues de chat. Mmmmmmm...

And even if you don't like kurogoma or langues de chat, how can you not love the packaging?

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The second good thing were these:

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Freshly made sembei. We watched him squirt the batter onto a heavy iron (think sandwich press), then top it with beans. The he pressed the top part down and cooked them for a bit. They were awesome fresh off the grill. We bought one bag of the peanut ones, and two bags of karinto (black sugar and some other sugar type).

We went to downtown Kyoto for dinner. Could someone explain to me why depachika are so wonderful, but department store restaurant floors almost always suck? We went to a "famous" soba restaurant located on the restaurant floor of Takashimaya, but we didn't think it was particularly good. Oh well. The restrooms on that floor were really nice, and I saw the sleekest toilet remote I've ever seen.

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From right to left on top, you see an assortment of little buttons--"lift lid and seat" (the accompanying picture was cut off), "lift lid only", "close lid (and seat)", I don't remember the next two, then "massage", "move", "little flush" and "big flush". The big buttons are the usual (left to right) "off", "butt wash", "yawarakai" (what's that one? Gentle wash?"), "bidet" (which in Japanese means specifically "front wash for women"), and the other two were, I think, for adjusting temperature and strength. I couldn't read the kanji, and I didn't want to test them out (I've had bad experiences "testing" bidet buttons).

We did stop by the depachika before heading home. I tasted the lightest cheese bread I've ever had at Fauchon. I was going to buy a loaf, but decided against it. We're headed back to Kyoto on Friday, so I might give in to my cravings then.


Edited by prasantrin (log)

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Love your candid travelogue, Rona! LOL, thanks for the toilet buttons pix....my girls loved the bidet etc...functions in the regular ones...wait'll they see this. And, I know what you mean by crowd. We were at Tokyo Disneyland during a national holiday. Eeek!

I also love the part where you and your mom seem to like the items which the other didn't at your sweet stop...nothing left unappreciated there. Sigh....the packaging are indeed so beautiful (eclectic artistry) it's almost sacrilegious to rip at it to get to the contents. My eldest has her heart all set at studying in Japan. :rolleyes:

Thanks for sharing.


Edited by Tepee (log)

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I can't wait to see more pictures Rona!

I completely agree with you about department stores. I am consistently disappointed by the mediocre food on the restaurant floors. While none of the the meals have been really bad I can't think of even one restaurant that I have been back to twice..

The basements on the other hand are a completely different store. If I had the money I would shop there much more often.

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My mother is visiting from Canada, enroute to the Philippines, and I was going to volunteer myself to do a foodblog while she's here,

Oh, it's a shame! I wanted to read your foodblog!

I totally agree with your comments about department store restaurant floors. I have never had luck there myself.

"yawarakai" (what's that one? Gentle wash?"),

Yes, yawaraka (without the final i, to be exact).

You must be the first one that has shown a photo of a washlet here on eGullet! :biggrin:

I'm glad that I can see your pretty mom. Do post a photo of yourself in your next post!

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See, this is why I've never volunteered to do a real foodblog. I'm really bad with follow-through! I also scored very high on an "Are You a Procrastinator" quiz once--like 21/22 points.

The day after we went to Arashiyama, we went to see Kodo. If you've never seen them live, you really must. I know they'll be touring Europe at the beginning of 2008 (England, Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland), so if you happen to live or be travelling in those areas, do try to go. It was so good, my mother didn't even nod off once! And that's saying something!

But before we went to the concert, I wanted to try another chocolate shop that was sort of in the area. I had wanted to visit Ek Chuah for quite some time, and it was well worth the wait. We both had the cake set (Y1050). I had the Theo Abroma, and my mother had the Fromage Mousse--cream cheese mousse on a base of cherry mousse, served with cherry compote. Both were excellent. And we both had the dark chocolate drink to accompany our cakes. It was very creamy and rich--much better than the Pierre Blanche version (which is good in its own right, but different).

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What we really liked were the cups the hot chocolate was served in. No two were alike, and they were so delicate. Really beautiful work. The saucer had this little basket-like thing attached (permanently) which held the cup in place. We were very curious about them, so we checked the bottoms for the maker. They were labelled "Ek Chuah", so we asked the waitstaff about them. The cups are custom-made made for the shop, and if a customer really wants, s/he can order some for the low low price of Y20 000 per set! And by set I mean one cup and one saucer! Well, I may never own my own set, but I can at least go to Ek Chuah and dream! :wub:

The skin is the best part. :wub:

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My eldest has her heart all set at studying in Japan.

When she's of high school age, she can come to the school where I work as an exchange student through YFU or AFS! She'd love it, I'm sure! I was the exchange student counsellor a couple of years ago (and will be again next year), and I think the students we host have really great experiences. I'm sure most students who do exchanges have great experiences, though.

The basements on the other hand are a completely different store. If I had the money I would shop there much more often.

Me, too! I'd probably shop there even though I don't have the money, though. I'm just lucky there isn't one nearby, or I'd be in big trouble! Funny thing about restaurants, at Daimaru in Kyoto, I remember that even the little restaurants that were in the basement were better than the ones on the restaurant floor. There used to be a really great Italian place that had the best tiramisu I'd ever had, and another little dim sum place. I had lunch at either of those two places every week, since I worked just a couple of blocks away. But then they closed all those little restaurant-type places (I think), and expanded the ready-to-eat food section. I really miss that Italian restaurant!

Yes, yawaraka (without the final i, to be exact).

You must be the first one that has shown a photo of a washlet here on eGullet! 

I'm glad that I can see your pretty mom. Do post a photo of yourself in your next post!

I actually wanted to post a picture of the nozzle thing sticking out, but I couldn't figure out which button was the "clean" button. Plus I'm always afraid I might get sprayed by the thing! :biggrin: You know, even though I read "yawarka" whenever I look at the buttons, in my mind it always says "yawarakai". Odd, isn't it? I need to get my mind to think Japanese and less beginner-learner-of-Japanese, I think!

And I told my mother what you wrote and she said, "Oh my god! Tell him to tell the truth!" :laugh: But she's flattered, and thanks you for the compliment! I will post a picture of myself in the next post or the post after, and then you will see why I haven't posted a picture of myself, yet!

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I should have posted these pictures first, but since they had nothing to do with food, I resisted. But I like them so much, I'm going to add them, anyway.

Although my mother arrived in Japan on December 7, it was still sort of autumn in my area. As proof, here's a picture of some maple leaves on the campus of where I work.

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Just three days after my mother arrived, we went on a bus tour of Nara. We went to Horyuji (the world's oldest surviving wooden structure, and one of the oldest temples in Japan).

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There we saw the old and the new.

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It was a beautiful day for a tour.

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Great blog, Rona. I'm glad you decided to post it. :smile:

What are sembei? They look a bit like peanut brittle, but could you describe them a bit more?

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Yes, yawaraka (without the final i, to be exact).

You must be the first one that has shown a photo of a washlet here on eGullet! 

I actually wanted to post a picture of the nozzle thing sticking out, but I couldn't figure out which button was the "clean" button. Plus I'm always afraid I might get sprayed by the thing! :biggrin: You know, even though I read "yawarka" whenever I look at the buttons, in my mind it always says "yawarakai". Odd, isn't it? I need to get my mind to think Japanese and less beginner-learner-of-Japanese, I think!

coincidently, I just posted abt how to use the washlet in my blog too, :laugh:

tokyo hotel

thanks for posting this. helps to bring back the happy memories of a great time in Japan.

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Great blog, Rona. I'm glad you decided to post it.  :smile:

What are sembei? They look a bit like peanut brittle, but could you describe them a bit more?

These weren't technically "sembei", I think, because I don't think they were made with rice flour at all, and "sembei" are usually translated as "rice crackers", but I didn't know what else to call them.

These were more like hard cookies made with a batter, with chunks of peanuts (or soy beans) in them. It's not like peanut brittle at all, but if you're familiar with Arrowroot Cookies (just a very plain cookie), they taste a bit like those. I'll post a picture of the peanut ones we bought once I find them again. I haven't seen them since we got back, which makes me wonder if my mother has been partaking while I've been at work!

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Rona, your mother looks like one of my aunts! :biggrin: I am truly enjoying your posts, please do continue (and more pics too!).

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Needing more lights, we went to Germany last week.

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Nothing says Christmas in Japan like a German Christmas Market! Before browsing around the market, we headed up to the rooftop garden of the Umeda Sky Building. It's a looooong way up!

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Osaka is actually quite lovely at night. And note that my mother can finally do the "peace sign" properly! (In the picture from Arashiyama, she just raised her hand and sort of waved.)

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And we all need a bit of love at Christmas, and a skimpy Charlie Brown Christmas tree, too!

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The picture of me is a wee bit blurry, but it was the best of the lot. This is why you won't see too many more (if any) pictures of me. My mother is a bit of a technophobe, and she takes lousy pictures! (She once managed to cut the head off every single person in a group shot of about 10 or more people!)

Now back to food, if you're ever in the Umeda Sky Building, you can pick up some souvenirs for the folks back home.

Sazae fan, anyone?

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For the teenaged boy in your life (it comes in packs of two, of course, just in case you're worried about lop-sidedness),

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Not quite as nice, but for the woman in your life,

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We took the long trip down

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and they thanked us heartily for parting with Y1000 each for a 10-minute visit (Y500 for seniors!).

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We had a nice time up there, but it wasn't that nice! I swear! :blink:


Edited by prasantrin (log)

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They had a pretty big Christmas tree there. I asked my mother if she wanted me to take her picture in front of it, and she gave me a look, which I interpreted as, "Are you kidding? How many pictures of me are you going to take?:angry: " But then she walked to the tree, turned around, and posed. Apparently her look meant, "Are you kidding? How many more pictures of me are you going to take?:cool: "

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The market was actually kind of pitiful. They had maybe a dozen food stalls, but some were duplicates, and maybe a dozen stalls selling other goods, not all of which were German (do they sell pipes of pan from Guatemala at real German Christmas markets?).

This guy was making "German potatoes", which from what I could tell, were just potatoes cooked with "butter" and onions.

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The candied nuts were tasty, but expensive. Y1000 for 220g of candied almonds?

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This stall had German candies of all sorts, and decorated gingerbread cookies. At the bottom far right, they had long coloured candies. I didn't know what they were, but they looked like wax.

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It was family night, so all food was 10% off! Lucky us! For Y450, we shared an herb sausage. It wasn't very good, and tasted like Japanese sausage to me. But maybe German sausage is more similar to Japanese sausage?

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Then for another Y450, we shared a Nutella crepe.

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Not a good shot, but it looks like it's sticking it's tongue out!

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Santa Claus plays the harp!

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Look how happy my mother is with some Glühwein and crepe! The Glühwein was actually mine--Y800, but it included a souvenir cup! I could have returned the cup and gotten Y300 back, but I kind of liked it.

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Edited by prasantrin (log)

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and they thanked us heartily for parting with Y1000 each for a 10-minute visit (Y500 for seniors!).

Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip to Osaka. I don't know much about Osaka, so I had to google to find out what German Christmas Market. :sad:

You have to pay to go to the "Floating Garden Observatory", right? According to their official site, the admission fee is 700 yen for adults and 500 yen for seniors. Did you actually pay 1000 yen?

And, thanks for posting a photo of yourself! :biggrin:

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I am enjoying your blog. I lived in Mikage from 1963-66 and went to Canadian Academy when it was still up on the hill.

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and they thanked us heartily for parting with Y1000 each for a 10-minute visit (Y500 for seniors!).

Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip to Osaka. I don't know much about Osaka, so I had to google to find out what German Christmas Market. :sad:

You have to pay to go to the "Floating Garden Observatory", right? According to their official site, the admission fee is 700 yen for adults and 500 yen for seniors. Did you actually pay 1000 yen?

And, thanks for posting a photo of yourself! :biggrin:

They seem to have all kinds of festivals at the sky building. I went to a Hawaiian one and the food was pretty good. My friend also went to this one but I couldn't understand what she was talking about when she said guruu wain. We looked it up on wikipedia, I had never heard of it before.

The only time I went to the sky building I paid 1300¥ I think. Just a heads up for tourists, there is no garden, it's an observation deck.

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and they thanked us heartily for parting with Y1000 each for a 10-minute visit (Y500 for seniors!).

Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip to Osaka. I don't know much about Osaka, so I had to google to find out what German Christmas Market. :sad:

You have to pay to go to the "Floating Garden Observatory", right? According to their official site, the admission fee is 700 yen for adults and 500 yen for seniors. Did you actually pay 1000 yen?

And, thanks for posting a photo of yourself! :biggrin:

Hmmmm....now I'm thinking, maybe it was Y700. I only remember thinking it was a lot of money given we weren't planning to stay very long, and it was more expensive than what I read it would be. But maybe I read it would be Y500 and Y300, but then it was Y700 and Y500??

It was nice, though. We tried to make it up to the top before the sun set (it was still light out when we entered the building), but by the time we got to the top the sun had just about set. At least we got a taste of the sunset!

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The market was actually kind of pitiful.  They had maybe a dozen food stalls, but some were duplicates, and maybe a dozen stalls selling other goods, not all of which were German (do they sell pipes of pan from Guatemala at real German Christmas markets?). 

In my experience, this wouldn't be terribly surprising... there are some standard things at every Christmas market, along with many stalls selling random stuff as impulse buys. I'd bet you'd find some guy selling Russian wooden chicken-pecking-board toys and plastic toys from China at many German Christmas markets.

This guy was making "German potatoes", which from what I could tell, were just potatoes cooked with "butter" and onions.

I'd be holding out hope for Kartoffelpuffer (a sort of hash-brown) with Grüne Soße (Green sauce, basically mixed herbs sauce) or Apfelmus (apple sauce) at a street market, but that dish, while not particularly German, isn't particularly un-German.

The candied nuts were tasty, but expensive.  Y1000 for 220g of candied almonds?

Somehow less shocking in Japan than it might be elsewhere... I'd expect to pay $5-8 in Seattle for 220g (1/2 lb) of freshly candied nuts other than, perhaps, peanuts.


Edited by JasonTrue (log)

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I lived in Mikage from 1963-66 and went to Canadian Academy when it was still up on the hill.

Mikage! That's practically in my 'hood! Well, not quite, but it's only a 25 minute train ride from my place. A lot of great restaurants in that area, I hear, but I have yet to make it out there to try any of them.

They seem to have all kinds of festivals at the sky building. I went to a Hawaiian one and the food was pretty good.

I've always wanted to go to the Mexican one they have there. Maybe next summer!

Somehow less shocking in Japan than it might be elsewhere... I'd expect to pay $5-8 in Seattle for 220g (1/2 lb) of freshly candied nuts other than, perhaps, peanuts

True, and these were very freshly candied (we watched the guy making them), but since I usually get my nuts at Costco, sticker shock set in quickly!

Just in case y'all think I never cook,

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Grilled cheese (cheddar and pepper jack) with thrice-cooked fries made for a very late lunch. I was so full after that I couldn't go to yoga class three hours later.

To let you know how far behind I am, the Christmas market was on the 18th, and the grilled cheese was from the 19th. I'll get to the end eventually!

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I'm enjoying the vicarious trip to Osaka as well as the food pix. I forgot about sometimes being able to enjoy red leaves well into December!

So did you go anywhere else in Osaka after the German Christmas market at Umeda?

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I'm enjoying the vicarious trip to Osaka as well as the food pix. I forgot about sometimes being able to enjoy red leaves well into December!

So did you go anywhere else in Osaka after the German Christmas market at Umeda?

Does the depachika at Hankyu Department Store count? :unsure: We just went to pick up dinner, and then went home. We were going to have sushi at my favourite sushi place, but decided not to. My mother gets tired easily, so we tend not to stay out too late (I get tired easily, too, but it's easier to blame early nights on a 71-year old!).

But I'm sure we'll get back out to Osaka at least once more before she leaves on the 7th!

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On the 17th, my mother and I made an impulse decision to have dinner at a new Italian restaurant near my apartment. We didn't take any pictures of the food that night, since I didn't have my camera with me (or the batteries were dead), but we had some really wonderful food. We started with ouefs en cocotte, which of course aren't called that at this restaurant, but the Italian name wasn't given, just the Japanese (of which I could only read part). Words cannot express how wonderful we found this dish. I've had ouefs en cocotte before, but the flavours of this version were so simple, yet so very delicious. Out only complaint was that it didn't come with bread, so we lingered while eating the last of it, and then when our pizza arrived, we tore off parts of the crust and used them to wipe the cocotte clean. It was a bit embarrassing--how clean our cocotte was--but at least they knew we enjoyed it!

Our pizza was small, and when I saw the crust my heart sank. It looked like supermarket crust from the refrigerated section, sold parbaked. "What a let-down from our cocotte," I thought. Our pizza had black olives, anchovies, and capers, I think. Then I tried it. Wow! Like the cocotte, the flavours were fresh and simple, but this was really delicious. And the crust was no supermarket crust. It wasn't the kind of crust you can get from a wood-burning oven, but for what it was, it was light yet chewy.

We also ordered spaghetti bolognese. It was also very very good. I'm not sure what was different from my own version (which I quite like), but it was unlike the bolognese I've had at many other Italian restaurants in Japan. It wasn't too sweet, and I could actually taste the meat in the dish. Often, bolognese mostly tastes of sweetness and tomato, but this was so perfectly balanced that no one flavour outshone the others. We also had a lemon cake (similar to a chiffon cake, but with pudding blended into the batter) for dessert.

This was the one restaurant we've been to (in Japan) to which my mother has wanted to return. So we did, for lunch three days later, this time armed with my camera.

We both ordered lunch specials, which came with bread, salad, and coffee or tea. My mother had some kind of pasta with clams. This was very very good. When she had finished all her pasta, I used some of my bread to soak up the delicious broth at the bottom. She was embarrassed, but I didn't care. It had just a hint of spice and white wine, but neither was overpowering.

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I had the linguine with anchovies and eggplant. I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting what I got. This, too, was delicious, and different from anything I had ever had at an Italian restaurant (I've never been to Italy, though).

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No dessert this time, as we were stuffed and my mother had a shiatsu appointment a few hours later.

Trattoria Ihatovo has only been open since July, and they don't seem to have much business, yet (I pass by every day on my bike, as it's on my way to and from work). The first time we ate there, we arrived at 6:30 (they open at 5:30, I think), and we left after 8:00 (last order is 9:00), and we were the only ones in the place. They were a little busier at lunch (4 other customers), but still not near what they should be, given the quality of the food. The prices are not bad, either. Most pizzas and pastas are about Y900, meat and fish dishes are probably around Y1500, desserts are Y400 (they usually only have one or two desserts available), and my mother's lunch set was Y1000 while mine was Y1200. Very reasonably priced, I think.

So if you're ever in my neighbourhood (near Mondoyakujin Station in Nishinomiya), I encourage you to eat at Trattoria Ihatovo. They're open for lunch and dinner, but are closed Wednesdays.


Edited by prasantrin (log)

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Of course the depachika at Hankyu counts! I'm so enjoying your talk of Osaka and Kobe. There were a lot of attractive tiny restaurants around the suburban areas of Kobe back when I used to go there for Kyogen lessons, but they looked forbiddingly expensive when I was a student

I have many memories of that place...my former father in law used to love it. He still found it amazing that there could be a place with so much food of so many types on sale, and often used to tell me that he knew of only one thing in the whole wide world that wasn't available at the Hankyu depachika..."something they don't have"!

In his book, every kind of occasion required a trip to Hankyu. On special occasions he always proudly led the entire family to his favorite tempura restaurant there, and his daily commute to work was always broken to make a circuit round the depachika, picking up Kobeya bread and little packages of all kinds of unrelated foods, to my mother-in-law's despair - her nicely planned meal would be inundated by little plastic containers of wasabi pickles, Kyoto sweets, a few fresh prawns....

When my sister, who is only cautiously adventurous where food is concerned, came to Japan, he took great pleasure in combing the depachika for obscure delicacies he was sure foreigners couldn't eat, and watching her gamely try them all. "Sea slug! I know you can't eat it! It's impossible! Here, have a bite!"

Italian food in Japan - most of my Italian recipe books are in Japanese. Hope your local restaurant thrives.

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This was the one restaurant we've been to (in Japan) to which my mother has wanted to return.  So we did, for lunch three days later, this time armed with my camera.

What I want to know is your and your mother's usual food preferences. Do you two usually go for Italian food? What kind of food do you usually have back home?

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