Today started with an early dash to the station to catch the 8:39 Shinkansen to Hiroshima. We had breakfast at the station–seriously, there’s good restaurants at train stations here–and then got on the train.
Continued under the cut: food report and a quintessential Japanese okonomiyaki experience!
So this was breakfast. Not pictured: Toby doing his Steve Jobs impression.
Mine was salad, ham, scrambled eggs, some sort of tomato thing with bits of eggplant in it (just tasted like tomato sauce), and a very cute wee baked potato. And huge honking pieces of toast. (It seemed like a Japanese take on a British fry-up.) Toby’s was some sort of corn soup, salad, and toast. He also fell on the coffee with “Aarrggh!” When the server brought it out, which made the server smile and nod.
For you non-Texans, Texas toast is made almost identically to this: giant pieces of thickly sliced white bread toasted to a golden brown. If the Union ever falls apart the Texas-Japan Toast Axis might come in handy.
Once we got to Hiroshima, it was too early to check in so we stashed our bags in coin lockers at the station and hopped a train for Fukuyama to check out the castle. But before we did that we had lunch at a tonkatsu place at the station:
OH MY GOD THE SHEER AMOUNT OF FOOD. There’s a pile of shredded cabbage in the middle meant to be shared–we use the red-handled chopsticks to transfer some to the plates to our right and then put a yuzu-based dressing on it. The small bowls with what looks like salt and pepper are actually small mortars that they bring out with pestles. They,re filled with black and white sesame seeds and we grind them ourselves to get that fresh sesame flavor. We were not entirely sure where we were supposed to put the ground seeds, but decided that the cabbage was good enough and sure enough it tasted yummy with that. We were not the only people mystified by the mortar and pestle at first–the table next to us had the waiter explain it to them. I got a fried pork cutlet with fried oysters. Toby had a fried pork cutlet with fried cheese cutlets. It was all good. (and I even forgot to mention the miso soup and rice that came with it.)
Once we got to Fukuyama we wandered around the castle grounds for a while, until I got to feeling sort of ill (I’m assuming jet lag) and we wandered back to the station and sat and talked until the next train back to Hiroshima showed up. We checked in and hung out for a while until hunger–yes hunger after all that lunch!–drove us out into the streets, or at least into the lobby where we asked one of the hotel staff where we could find a good okonomiyaki place.
I’ll direct you to the Wikipedia article on it rather than explain what okonomiyaki is myself: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okonomiyaki
Anyway, as we heard it was a regional specialty, we wanted to try it. The hotel staff guy pointed us to a place just around the corner. It turned out to be tiny and packed, but the server who got to us first as we were standing there asked if we’d mind waiting and asked for a phone number. We gave him Toby’s number, then headed out to poke around the neighborhood. The street that the hotel is on had a bunch of decorative lights set up, so we went and took photos of them for a while, then got cold and sat In the hotel lobby until we got the call.
Showing back up at the place, they seated us at the counter, which means we got to watch the cooks make the okonomiyaki. I should probably attempt to explain the atmosphere of this place. In Japan, many casual restaurants have the staff yell out the equivalent of “Welcome!” when anyone walks in the door and “thank you!” when anyone walks out. Start with that: the constant flow of greetings and thanks. Then, as this is also a drinking establishment and they,re trying very hard to keep energy up, the servers are yelling orders at the cooks and the cooks are yelling back at the servers when something’s done and they’re also horsing around while working (but still working very hard…at least, most of them!) and talking to customers and such. It’s loud and upbeat and electrifying.
We ended up with two okonomiyaki because we couldn’t get the server taking our order to understand that we wanted to share one (note to self: look up the Japanese for “we’re going to share it”), one advertised as the special, which contained pretty much everything, and one with beef. They both had a noodle base–we picked crispy noodles of the options they gave us, and I think that was the right choice as it added texture–layered with a thin batter, a fried egg, a pile of cabbage and topped with a pile of spring onions. The special had thin strips of pork belly and cuttlefish and, I think, a couple of other things I’ve forgotten in it, and the beef has beef. And possibly some other things, but it’s been a while. They also both had the okonomiyaki sauce mentioned in the Wikipedia article.
You then top it with mayonnaise to your liking (Japanese mayonnaise is slightly different than US mayo, and is sweeter), then dig in. As we were sitting at the counter, they just placed the okonomiyaki on the teppan (grill) right in front of us and we cut it up and ate from there, spooning pieces to small plates in front of us as we liked.
The cook in front of us asked “Good?” We smiled and gave him the thumbs-up after which he said “Hiroshima Number One!!” We agreed, and Toby, added “Hiroshima Ichiban!” and he agreed with that, too. Sadly, we left a little less than half of the beef and a few bites of the special okonomiyaki uneaten – it was just too much food. If the cooks took this as a slight, they hid it well. The one that made our meals even asked us how long we were staying in Hiroshima, and was pleased when we told him we’d be there over new year’s.
For those in Japan, the okonomiyaki place is part of a chain – chinchikurin.com We went to the one around the corner from the Oriental Hotel Hiroshima.
Here’s a few pictures. The cook on the right was the one talking to us, and when I pulled out Toby’s phone and asked to take a picture, he and the other guy started hamming it up.
Here’s the remains of our meal–I didn’t think about the camera until we were done. 🙂
Here’s the third cook, a woman. Note that the woman is the one getting the job done while the men stand around and do nothing. (Actually, she seemed to be the most junior cook and was doing all the basic okonomiyaki while the guys were working on the specialty ones, and giving her instruction occasionally.)