A Japanese Menu, Part II - 'No Fish, No Life'

Miso-Marinated Black Cod

 

 

Earl Grey Ice Cream

 

 

A sashimi breakfast at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market sounded like a good idea. I’d get up early, wander the stands, take some pictures, generally work up an appetite, and then sit down to eat what may arguably be some of the very freshest sashimi on earth. But, as it turns out, a morning of looking at fish, breathing-in a miasma of fish, even being splashed unexpectedly with flying bits of fish, does not an appetite to eat that very same fish make!

In stark contrast to the gleaming clean of Tokyo’s streets, buildings, parks, and trains, Tsukiji is mayhem. A mayhem organised by its own principles perhaps, but to the uninitiated, remaining outside the path of a speeding fork lift, or free from flying fish juice is a full-time concern. Smack in the middle of the most sanitised and corporate part of Tokyo, the market offers a reminder of how it’s the cogs that turn largely out of sight that ensure the otherwise well-oiled city may run smoothly.

Processing over 2,000 tonnes of seafood every day, Tsukiji is the largest wholesale fish market in the world. Under threat of relocation for years, it seems that these threats are about to become a reality. Next year the market is reportedly moving from its historical central Tokyo position to the distant outskirts of the city.

I managed to avoid being run over, and hastily snapped some pictures before fleeing for the shower...

 

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A Japanese Menu, Part I - Lost in Translation

Beef Tataki with a Ponzu Dressing and Micro-Cress Salad

 

 

Light & Crispy Shrimp Tempura with Tentsuyu dipping Sauce

 

 

Chicken with a Miso & Ponzu Marinade, Namasu Salad & Wasabi Yuzu Kosho

 

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To say that things get ‘lost in translation’ in Japan is an understatement. And, more to the point, implies that there is an attempt at translation being made in the first place. Travelling in some of the lesser-touristed parts of Southern Japan for instance, where an English menu is just not on offer, and an English speaking restaurateur nowhere to be found, means sitting down to eat without any of the usual choices, expectations, descriptions, or explanations. Which, as it turns out, was actually quite enlightening. (Though I am not telling the entire truth here concerning translations, they were to be found very occasionally. One ‘English’ menu included, for instance, ‘Hail clothes deep frying of the Japanese icefish.’ Intriguing, but not necessarily helpful!).

Topping the list of things that this strange experience taught me, is that there may be some truth to idea that if you eat something you dislike repeatedly, you might actually come to like it. So far, I’ve only ever heard of this technique proving successful with fussy children, (fussy adults being a little bit more difficult to trick into repeatedly harassing their taste buds, although I have tried). But, after seven days of non-stop and unavoidable tofu, when it dawned on me that I was actually happily anticipating being presented with another primarily tofu-based meal, I realised there may be something to whole idea. Although it’s likely the effect is only a temporary one, as I can’t say I’ve touched tofu since. Let alone the bright pink ‘Sakura’ tofu ubiquitously trotted out in celebration of the cherry blossom season.

Which brings me onto a concept, that, while quintessentially Japanese, has a wider appeal perhaps, than pink tofu. The term ‘mono no aware’ refers to the particular beauty the Japanese identify in transience, in fleeting, impermanent things, exemplified by the delicate blossoming of the cherry trees that occurs in a south-north sweep, and heralds the beginning of spring. A slightly stiff breeze, or sudden rain shower is enough to send the petals fleeing from their branches, which, while resulting in a very momentarily beautiful snow of pink, can leave the trees sullenly bare again in a matter of moments.

The moral of the story being, although my love of tofu may have been fleeting, it was certainly beautiful while it lasted. Or, when things change, as they always do, its worth remembering that the beautiful moments might be thought of more beautifully for it…

 

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Snow & the Savoie

Tartiflette Savoie

 

Tarte aux Framboise

 

Grolle

 

I’ve seen more snow this year I think than ever before. Not just on the ground (though there has been a lot of that), but snow actually falling, great white wafts of the stuff thickening and brightening the air. Unluckily, this has not resulted in my having become snowed-in at any stage – which I’ve always thought sounds like quite a lot of fun. Instead, for the most part, it seems as though I’ve been in a car during most of these incredible snow falls, either driving or as a passenger, and that experience has led me to conclude a few things…

 

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Carnevale di Venezia

Homemade Gnocchi with Ragù Bianco

 

Frittelle con Zabaione

   

 

 

 

The noise is audible from inside the train carriage as we glide across the Ponte della Libertà and into Santa Lucia station. Whistles, horns, drums, occasional shouts, festive choruses, and bursts of laughter. With too much luggage in tow, I disembark the train. From the top of the station steps the scene below is arresting – a full-swing masquerade party is in motion on the streets. Women in curled white wigs and enormous bustles, men in every manner of decorative mask, and children decorously dressed as little barons and baronesses (or less decorously, and more frequently, as little superheroes!).

It is the central weekend of the Carnevale di Venezia, an unseasonably warm and bright day in February, and, I now realize, the entirely wrong day on which arrive needing to traverse Venice carrying three weeks worth of luggage. My plan had simply been to stride down the stairs, onto a waiting vaporetto, disembark at the Rialto, and be all settled into my temporary new home in the space of thirty minutes. With the normally efficient railway piazza transformed into an uncrossable terrain of revelry however, there is simply no option but for me and my baggage to join in the festive crush of human traffic, and get pushed where the flow is to take us…

 

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A Swiss Boxing Day Supper

Beef Consommé with Fino Sherry

 

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Tian of Braised Beef with Celeriac Purée and Marsala Jus

 

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We arrived in Zermatt on Christmas Eve just as twilight was giving way to night. High cloud and darkening skies obscured the towering Matterhorn from view, but, ‘tomorrow,’ we said, looking out the window, ‘we’ll be able see it then, just like on the Tolberone, rising there to the right, or is it maybe just to the left?’ ‘Well, we’ll see, tomorrow.’ And then the first flakes of snow started to fall…

On Christmas morning the valley was white and the sky thick with low cloud. The snow continued to pater down, gently at first, and then, just as we decided to venture up the slopes, a little more enthusiastically. There was nothing for it but to eat, and drink, and so first there was tuna carpaccio, and foie gras with brioche, and Valais meats, and cheeses, and white wine, and then red, with roast lamb, and pastas, and rösti and some more cheese (because it’s only polite), and then apfelstrudel and custard, and sachertorte and whipped cream, all finished off with a round of strong fruity Grog served in a circular vessel made from wood with four drinking spouts and the strict instruction that it be passed from person to person until finished without being put down if the coming year is to bring good luck.

But evidently the luck was to be some time away, as on Boxing Day the snow was heavier again. Great drifts had fallen overnight, blanketing the roofs and the trees like freshly whipped meringue, the air a zillion-flaked blur of white driven gently downwards by the wind. We Google-image search ‘the Matterhorn,’ click to enlarge, and prop the result up in what we think is the representative position in the window, ('to the left? No, to the right!')… ‘Maybe tomorrow,’ we repeat again, before bundling up in clothing and trundling up the mountain for another very long lunch of cheese and wine, but very little in the way of skiing.

That evening though, twinkling through a hole in the heightening cloud, a tiny first star, and then finally, the next morning, through the ice-tinged windows, the rosily sun-lit face of the Matterhorn – rising up to the right, (where I thought it was all along!).

 

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