The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Friday, 19 January 2007

Hiroshima eats

Much to the delight of the foodie in me, one of the food specialty in Hiroshima is oysters. And winter is the best time to eat oysters. As the Japanese would say - "Rucky!" (aka 'lucky'). In fact, Hiroshima is the largest and most famous oyster cultivating prefecture in Japan, with Hiroshima's oyster production accounting for over 70% of the national oyster production. For me, the best way to enjoy oysters is au naturel. You'd think that eating oysters sashimi style would be normal in Japan, but strangely I did not once encounter a place that served raw oysters. I read somewhere that raw oysters can only be legally served if the water that the oysters were cultivated in are very clean. Fair enough - after all, I don't want to contract the norovirus, the common source of which are eating raw shellfish with double shells (shellfish absorb ocean water to feed, and human sewage is dumped into the ocean).

Suishin honten

According to the Lonely Planet Guide, Suishin is a good place to try kamameishi, which is rice mixed with kaki (oysters), ebi (prawns) or anago (eel). Of course we went for the kaki kamameishi. There are two places with the same name (Suishin) in the same area but one has a sushi bar and this one was just a casual restaurant. Service was good, and the food was great! English-speaking ability is somewhat limited, but we didn't have any trouble with ordering and paying.

You could just have the kamameishi rice for around 800 yen (you get a tiny plate of veges), or you can get the setto (set) for around 3000 yen. The set includes seven or eight other dishes, including kaki furai (fried oysters), sashimi, chawan mushi (steamed egg dish), fish, chicken and vegetables. It was so yummy! The dishes for the set came out in groups (some individually) and the waitress pointed to the menu to let us know which dish she'd just served. Unfortunately for us, we couldn't read a lot of the Japanese kanji characters on the menu but we were happy with guesswork. The food was very flavoursome, and I really liked the rice.

Dishes included in the set (anyone care to help with translation of the kanji/Chinese characters?):

The dishes:

Suishin (the other one with sushi bar)

We came back to the first Suishin because we saw a couple of things we wanted to try. Well, actually I think Rob only wanted to have o-toro (fattiest part of the tuna belly) sushi again. Myself, I wanted to try the kakinodote nabemono (oyster hotpot). We'd done a huge hike down Mt. Misen in Miyajima and a nourishing hotpot meal was what I needed. There are two sizes available, the lunch-size (probably enough only for one) was 1000yen (~AU$11) and the large size for around 2000yen. We went for the large one to share.

The kakinodote on stove in the middle of the table; and my bowl:

This diner had a sushi bar similar to the one we went to on our first trip to Osaka, where you can watch the chef make the sushi. I don't recall there being an English menu for the sushi, but we had fun reading the hiragana and katakana and going from there. Rob ordered what he thought was crab (because the name had the hiragana for kani, Japanese for crab, plus a few other kanji characters which we did not know) but it was grey colour and tasted more like the innards of crab - it wasn't unpleasant though. In general, the sushi were quite pricey - one piece of o-toro sushi was a whopping 525yen (~AU$6)!! But, they were fresh and well-prepared.

A selection of sushi (clockwise from top left) - kani (the innards?), uni (sea urchin roe), sake (salmon), unagi (broiled eel), and o-toro (tuna belly):

Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

Hiroshima-yaki, as it is known, is quite different to the usual okonomiyaki we are used to (i.e. Kansai-style). Now, I would consider us to be somewhat knowledgeable on what good okonomiyaki should taste like, having eaten the dish in several cities including Kanazawa, Suzu, and the city where okonomiyaki was said to have originated from: Osaka itself. The biggest difference between the Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style would be the addition of soba and udon noodles. And the ingredients are layered rather than mixed all together. Plus, it's not a do-it-yourself affair, since it's not just a simple matter of mixing all the ingredients and chucking on the hotplate.

In Hiroshima, there is an area called Okonomimura, which literally means Okonomiyaki village. Lots of stalls and diners serving okonomiyaki, and we did not know where to start looking. Being in a bit of a hurry (did not want to miss our shinkansen to Osaka), we took the stairs of the first building we came to. That didn't help much to narrow the choice, because once inside, there were lots to choose from, so we just plonked ourselves down at the inner-most stall. And it was a good choice.

Sign above road indicating that you've entered okonomiyaki land; and being overwhelmed by the choices:

We both went for seafood, one with soba and the other with udon. This included pork, egg and a lot of cabbage, each for around 1300yen (~AU$14.50). I took lots of photos, so one can compare how Hiroshima-style differs from the Kansai-style. The only part that contained the flour batter was the base (plenty of carbs provided by the noodles). It was very filling, even for Rob.

At the beginning of the cooking process (note - the cook was not the epitome of 'Service with a smile'); putting ingredients on top:

With most of the ingredients piled on; flipped over, cooking noodles:

Placing the piles on top of its respective noodle pile; the eggs were first cooked on the hotplate and then placed on top, then generous amount of seasoning was brushed on:

Finished product:

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