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My culinary tour of Japan: sushi, puffer fish and bullet trains

‘Kanpai!’ The cry echoed around the hotel dining room. It was the fifth ‘Kanpai!’ of the evening in our trip to Japan, and wouldn’t be last. At this rallying cry, the Japanese equivalent of ‘Cheers!’, we all had to stand up and down a shot of sake – the clear but potent Japanese rice wine.

Japan food tour
The fish dish was laid out to represent a wintry scene; with a snowy topping to represent a farmer’s house in winter time, a pine-cone shaped sea cucumber, and herring wrapped with kelp

After emptying our glasses (which were quickly refilled) we sat down to enjoy the rest of our 15-course meal, each course a delicately crafted work of art.

We were in the fishing village of Toba, around 200 miles west of Toyko, and staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan where the bed was a rolled mat on the floor.

Japan food tour
A traditional Japanese-style ryokan hotel

However the food was anything but basic: the first dish alone was the most intricate I’ve ever seen, laid out to represent a wintry scene: there was a snowy topping to represent a peasant’s hut, a ‘devil-faced carrot’ to ward off evil, pearl oyster shellfish, pine-cone shaped sea cucumber, herring wrapped with kelp, peony-shaped salmon – and that was just the first course.

japan food tour
A ‘devil-faced carrot’ was carved to look like the devil in a bid to ward off any evil

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