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October 27, 2017

EATING LOCAL IN TOKYO

My SLOW FOOD counterparts in Tokyo again surprised me with another rare find. Though I have been to Fukuoka for a Cherry Blossom watch two years ago, I never heard of Kurume, also a city in Kyushu island but with only 300,000 residents and a lot of tradition to offer. So why would our itinerary for our only available dinner meet up be an antenna shop?

That is what they call a representative shop of a region, a city or town faraway from Tokyo but is represented in the Japanese capital through a collection of crafts, food, and this time, craft beer and rice wine or sake.

I went around and checked out rice, millet (another forgotten grain) and not just one kind of millet but 5, 8 and even 12 kinds or varieties of millet all in one bag—good for maybe one or two cooking portions. What a treat, I thought, and something I could show Slow Food Manila, and maybe replicate it with our different varieties of heirloom rice or our different beans like kadyos, bukel, and munggo.

Next, I went through many packs of Nori seaweed—which I learned comes from the ARIAKE Sea of Japan, famous for this seaweed and proud to be the most expensive kind. I felt proud having chosen to get a pack to take home. I love dried seaweed, cut in strips over rice, as a wrapper for sushi, or just as a snack with Bibimpap or any rice dish. You also see seaweed being wrapped on rice crackers and served as appetizers called otsumame along with peanuts.

Toshiya, our friend and guide, also showed me a weird-looking scary dried fish aptly called “Alien Fish”—another species that is only found in the ARIAKE Sea.

And along with different alien fish in various lengths like eel, food processors already made an Alien Ramen—dried instant noodles flavored with this peculiar fish variety.

The treat for the evening is at the antenna shop’s second level where two café tables were available for our Craft Beer and Sake tasting with some “small eats” as they call appetizers like fish cakes cooked country style.

The lady brought out a bottle of handcrafted local beer which Toshiya and I shared while Noriko had fresh carrot juice as she is a teetotaler. The local Kurume beer was good to whet our appetites for the main event which was a set of three different Sake brands from Kurume and Fukuoka—varying in taste maybe because of the rice, the micro climate and the soil and water the rice grew on. This reminds me of my conversation with Mr. Ken Alonso of Proudly Promdi who sells and uses Tapuy or rice wine from Adams, Ilocos Norte for his PP cocktails. He also says the wine has distinct flavors depending on variety and location it grows in, just like wine from grapes and coffee.

We had a sip of each kind in between small bites of the fish cakes. Before we knew it, the three shot glasses were finished. Our tab for all of those sake shots, beer, juice and fish cakes—just JPY3900 (approx. USD39 ) which is also the price of just one serving of A5 Wagyu sirloin 150 grams. I could not believe the price of that Sake set for a Tokyo treat.

And so we looked around and checked out the textiles, crafts, and even woodwork from Kurume. I found a brochure to guide me when I next visit Fukuoka and the Ariake Sea and Kurume, of course.

To get to our main course, Toshi brings us to what he calls New Wave Soba. Buckwheat noodles topped with slivers of pork, sesame seeds, and Nori strips.

Another bowl has a dipping sauce that looks a bit spicy but served cold. And I was wondering why there were raw eggs in a basket on our table.

You break an egg into the dipping sauce which I gamely did. You then get some soba and dip it in the now eggy-spicy sauce and eat away. But wait, to finish the meal, after all the noodles are gone, you add hot soup (the soup where the soba was boiled in) into the dipping sauce bowl. Mix and finish the soup. That is filling. Very filling.

To cap our local dinner experience, we head to an old café at a prominent corner of Sotoburi-doburi called Miyakoshiya (a 30-year-old company) for our hand ground, hand dripped Mild coffee blend from Tanzania (Japan does not grow coffee). It is prepared by a lady barista who weighs the coffee for our three cups, grinds, it, takes a cloth strainer filter with a handle, puts the weighed coffee in it, gets water off the boil and slowly pours water in a circular fashion to make the coffee “bloom” and drip into a pot.

She uses three different sets of cups and saucers which we peeked were all English Bone China marked Wedgwood. It feels very luxe as the hot coffee touches our lips. We felt like royalty.

What a night! A three-hour tour of Japan’s local spots to celebrate our “Eating Local” challenge. It’s all part of Slow Food’s Menu for Change campaign which launched October 16 and goes on until November 5, 2017.

Thanks, Toshiya and Noriko. Eating local has never been so affordable, unique and absolutely memorable.

 

 

Photos by Chit Juan

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