Matsushima, 2006

DIY

Last day of our Hokkaido trip! Very chill itinerary. We were taken to a small village–the name of which I’m not sure–full of cute DIY stores. From the windows, we could watch little Japanese grandmas firing iron teapots, making pottery, shaving down and hand-painting wooden horses and dolls, and teaching tourists how to back peanut crackers.

Since we didn’t have time to do the DIY options in each store, my mom and I chose to spend it baking crackers. They made the process very simple: get the batter, sprinkle in as many peanuts as you wanted, grab one of the iron paddles, put in the batter, and let it bake. The baking process and equipment was styled like a conveyor belt, which made it really efficient because 10 of us could be baking at one station at the same time.

diycookie

When you felt like your cracker was ready, you turned it over with large iron tongs. Then one of the grandmas would come over and help you take it out. And yay! You have a freshly-baked, crunchy peanut cracker. 🙂 When our time in the crafts village was up, we munched and lunched. It’s always daunting to have an enormous tray set down in front of you and then for a large pot to be put on your side. But the thing about Japanese meal sets is that they’re like French bistro food or Spanish tapas: a bunch of tiny, one-bite dishes. 

One of my favorite this is the tofu sachet: fried tofu skin that has been sweetened in sugar and tied together with a bow made from gobo ribbons to look like a small gift pouch. Maybe that sounds strange if you’re not a tofu person, but oooh is it delicious to me. And while the little rolls may look like sushi, they weren’t. I can’t remember what they were, but they were delicious…and not sushi. Always a clutch dish is the udon–ah! Perfect noodles, every meal, without fail.

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Our bellies were full by now, but our mouths were still ready to go. We were taken to a house on the sea, near where we would later be taking our sightseeing cruise. It was an elegantly simple house of soft tatami, golden doors, and large, open spaces where the air, fresh with the smell of pines and oak flowed freely in.

diymochi

There we learned the traditional method of making matcha ‘抹茶’, or powdered green tea. Required tools are the bamboo whisk (chasen), bowl (cahwan) and spoon (chashaku)–and just a quick FYI, ‘cha’ means tea. There are two types of matcha: thick, koicha, and thin, usucha. We had koicha. First, the tea is sieved, scooped into a bowl, and then filled with hot water. The chasen is then used so that no lumps are left in the liquid and no ground tea remains on the sides of the bowl. Since matcha is usually quite bitter, we were served wagashi: a sweet snack to balance the bitterness. In our case, it was fresh mochi. Still hot, super soft and chewy. Mmm.

There is also a particular way to drink the matcha too; I don’t remember it exactly, but it is something along the lines of holding the bowl with your left palm and using your right hand to turn it twice clockwise before taking a sip. Once you have sipped the matcha, you turn it back once counterclockwise and finish the bowl. Of course, given my poor memory, that technique could be completely wrong. It was very frothy and indeed, very bitter. Should’ve saved a piece of mochi for last!

matsushimaOur boat ride didn’t provide any particularly spectacular views, but it did provide quite the experience. There was a custom of feeding the flock of few hundred seagulls that lived on the island in the middle of the bay. When they saw our boat coming, the entire swarm circled our boat in hopes of some tasty treats: shrimp crackers. Each of us were handing 2-3 small bags of shrimp crackers, so we could feed the seagulls. It sounds corny, but it’s really fun! You could make the seagulls do some small spins and dives, depending on how you pitched the crackers to them.

Once we disembarked, we checked in to the wonderfully spacious Hotel Taikanso. From our room, we had a panoramic view of the harbor and its islands. Beautiful! Dinner was magical. Amazing buffet food. The head chef was out working hard to make everything tasted great. One of the most memorable moments of the dinner was when the chefs brought out the 6-ft bluefin tuna: the centerpiece of the buffet. Everyone had been waiting for this moment because the most prized and expensive part of tuna was about to be served. Toro. Within a maximum of 3 minutes, all of it was gone. I wasn’t surprised; it’s rare to see such fresh and quality meat. the otoro  大とろ was of the deepest, velvet hues.

Being vegetarians, we couldn’t partake in the tuna feeding frenzy. But there was something better–at least in my opinion. The ramen. Best soup ramen I’ve ever had. Ever. I can’t even put into words why the noodles were as delicious as they are. You’ll just have to take my word for it. My mom and I had maybe 5 bowls between the two of us. It was the easiest dish: noodles with some mushrooms, seaweed, and scallions. Done. Yet nothing gets me salivating more quickly than the thought of those noodles, even today.

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