- Mar 29, 2005
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Interestingly, the author, Kariya Tetsu, has lived in Sydney for quite a few years.Oshinbo is amazing but will 10x your rice and sake bills...
I absolutely love the Oishinbo story where Yamaoka takes Kyogoku Mantaro (a very wealthy businessman) to Okaboshi, Yamaoka's favourite restaurant. He's asked Okaboshi (the owner-chef of the eponymous restaurant) to prepare a very simple meal of some rice, soup and fish, based on the food that Kyogoku ate when he was young and poor, before he made his fortune. However, although the meal was extremely simple, the quality of the chosen ingredients was excellent and they were exquisitely prepared.
On a related note, when I was at university in Tokyo, I remember watching a Japanese TV program where a few celebrities took a walk around their favourite part of Tokyo and talked to each other and to the camera about their favourite places (shops, cafes etc). In the course of the program, they walked past a "komeya" (rice shop) and, at the front of the shop were three rice cookers, each cooking precisely the same *subspecies* of short-grain rice, but grown in a different geographical region of Japan (somewhere in Kyushu, Niigata and one other place, from memory). The celebrities each sampled a little bit of the rice and exclaimed about the difference in flavour between the three different helpings of the same subspecies of rice. Meanwhile, I was sitting there thinking, "Um, it's... rice. Just rice".
Some years later, I mentioned this to the lady who is now my wife and she looked at me as though I was an idiot. Of *course* the precise same subspecies of short-grain rice tastes different depending on where it's grown. Rice from the same bag can taste different, depending on who cooks it. For many years, my wife refused to eat at a particular restaurant near us, simply because she didn't like the way they cooked the rice!
@Coxsackie - Anyway, to reiterate what I said earlier, so much of the food in Japan is great. Yes, it's fantastic to have a special experience by going to a "ryotei" (high-end, kaiseki ryori restaurant) when you happen to be in Tokyo, but you could also just step out of your hotel, flip a coin to decide whether to turn left or right, then get lost in a warren of little streets, pick a restaurant and it will still be great and you'll have a lovely meal.
As an example, my wife's parents live in an untrendy area on the fringes of the old "shitamachi" (downtown) area where the commoners traditionally lived in Tokyo. Despite that, there are plenty of great places to eat dotted around the place. During our last visit a couple of weeks ago, I was walking along a narrow street near the train station a little before 11:00am, when I noticed five or six people sitting on a bench outside a small, inconspicuous ramen shop, with a further twenty or so people waiting in a line snaking down the road. The shop wasn't even due to open for another half-an-hour! When I got back to my parents-in-law's house, I looked up the location and discovered that it's widely regarded as Tokyo's best tsukemen shop (ramen noodles served on a plate, with a bowl of dipping sauce). Depending on what you want to eat, the price varies from JPY650 (AUD$8.50) to JPY1150 (AUD$15.30) for a serve of noodles, broth and other ingredients such as "ontama" (onsen tamago - soft-boiled egg), menma (young bamboo shoots) and chashu (char siu - Chinese barbeque pork).
Meanwhile, about ten minutes' walk down the road is a soba noodle restaurant that has a "bib gourmand" in the Michelin guide (ie highly recommended but just below a star). When I arrived for a meal, the chef was sitting in the little entrance area of the restaurant with a small, stone flour mill between his legs, grinding buckwheat into flour so that he could then use the flour to make his own soba noodles, which he then cut up by hand. I had tamago-yaki (Japanese omelette) and a serve of the inakaya-zenro soba noodles and paid about JPY2000 (about AUD$26).