Saturday, June 19, 2010

Beer Girls

Baseball games in Japan are a trip. It's like going to a baseball game in your dreams. You are totally aware of what is going on - the game they play is exactly the same as the MLB, but they use funny Japanized baseball terms. Common things you will hear at a baseball game:

  • "Fine Play!" = Nice play!
  • "Getsu" = Get two, or what it's REALLY called, a double play
  • "Chansu!" = Chance. I think it means that you have baserunners in scoring position.
  • A lot of organized chanting and singing from the outfield = This isn't something that a lot of people are used to, but I'm an A's fan, so this is totally normal to me. However, I have to say, Japanese baseball fans put the A's guys to shame. Their songs are super elaborate and sung right on cue and in unison. They have a pretty good sense of humor too. For the Canadian player Aaron Guiel, they sing "Oh, Canada"
Other things that are awesome at Japanese baseball games? No cutoff on beer sales, the end of inning trash collector and of course, the adorable draft beer girls. These gals (and guys) probably have a better workout during the game than the players on the field. They climb up and down the stadium non-stop with a keg strapped to their backs - all while looking cute and smiling. Now that is commitment.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Surviving Saitama

I mentioned earlier that I went to Saitama this weekend and it was a lot of fun. People in Tokyo like to rag on Saitama. They jokingly refer to it as Dasai-tama. (Dasai means lame in Japanese) Sure, maybe you wouldn't want to live there if you're young and like to party but the area has a lot to offer in terms of weekend excursions, nature and history. I've never been to an onsen, or Japanese hot spring, so my friend offered to take me.

I started off the day taking the Shonan-Shinjuku line from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo to Omiya Station, the biggest hub in Saitama. It took 30 minutes and couldn't be easier. From there, I met my two Japanese friends and headed to a rental car dealer to pick up the pink Toyota Fritz above. If you've ever wondered what the majority of people in Japan drive, it looks a lot like a Fritz.

Cute car...but it's just not that cute when you have a semi-nervous/rusty driver at the wheel. Aside from showing me how great onsens are, the other reason for this trip was for my Japanese girlfriend to dust off her driving skills. I really didn't think twice about this, but got dicey here and there. A few things I learned in the car:

  1. Freeways are expensive in Japan. We drove for about 20 minutes on the freeway and had to pay about $20. Ouch. 
  2. If you slow down on the freeway for traffic, you turn on your warning signal. Safety first! 
  3. When you rent a car that cost $22 a day, don't be surprised of the rearview mirror falls off the window. 

 First stop, Nagatoro for a boat ride down the Arakawa River. This was pretty fun and an unexpected addition to the trip. It turned out to be a really nice day to float down the river. Parts of the ride were a little bumpy, but the combination of smogless air and lush green mountains put me in a state of chill.

Next up? Off to Chichibu for lunch and some hot baths. We arrived at a small ryokan tucked away in the mountains of Chichibu. At first, things looked a little grim as we walked up to a run down building, cobweb covered building. But hiding right behind it was a charming little inn that served up one of the most satisfyingly delicious meal I've had in Japan thus far. Whoa. 

Why so yummy? Everything tasted really good, but beyond that, it was the perfect snapshot of what makes Japanese food so good. It was light but filling and had balance. The meal started off with hot green tea and grilled fish caught in the local river. Then fresh soba, a local specialty, with fresh mountain veggie tempura. We got 3 kinds of sauce for the soba. The dark sauce in the bottom right is regular mentsuyu sauce. To the right is a special local sauce made from walnuts. Aove these two is ground Japanese Mountain Yam, torojiru. This was new to me. I've seen it used on TV shows, but this was my first shot at eating it. It doesn't taste like much, but the texture is unlike anything I've eaten before. It's super gooey and slides right down your throat. The way to eat it is to pour (not easy) some into the dipping sauce, then dip your noodles and eat. It was also nice to eat tempura that went beyond plain onions, green beans and yams. Half of the fried veggies were unrecognizable to me and my friends, but they all tasted great. 

See mom, I ate it all! For dessert? A piping hot bath outdoors with natural spring water. Different onsens claim that their water has a special healing power. Our bath water was supposedly good for whitening your skin. Aside from being completely naked (no bathing suits allowed) in front of my friends, it was very relaxing and I look forward to trying out other onsens in the area. A few notes about public bath houses in Japan: 
  1. If you're modest about nudity, onsens may not be for you. 
  2. Baths in Japan, even at home, are not about cleaning yourself. It's about relaxation and is a very big part of Japanese life. Even at home, you shower first, then get into the bath. Bath water is often shared between family members and roommates. 
  3. You must strip down to your birthday suit and bath yourself thoroughly before entering the baths. Nooks, crannies, the works. The bath area is in front of the bath so everyone can see how well you cleanse. 
  4. Never dunk your head below the water. 
  5. A lot of guidebooks will tell you that you cannot go to bath houses if you have tattoos. That is a slightly outdated rule. This was a roundabout way for bath owners to turn away yakuza members without actually having to say it was because they were gang members. 
  6. Bring a small towel with you to help wipe away sweat and cool yourself off. It can also help shield your bits from the other bathers.  

Soba Squidward Style

This weekend, I spent a day with some girlfriends in Saitama, the suburbs of Tokyo. The area we traveled to was known to have really good soba, so I picked up some fresh noodles as a souvenir. Souvenirs you can eat are pretty much the only kind you should ever both with.

Squidward doesn't cook much. The kitchen is my domain with the exception of PBJ sandwiches on Fitness Bread and the occasional fried egg. No complaints, that's just how things shake out in this house. But every chef, professional and amateur, has a signiture dish and soba noodles with bean sprouts and a fried egg is Squidward's. Simple and delicious, I was treated to this masterpiece on the first day of the rainy season in Japan. This, coupled with a Japan winning their World Cup opener made for a lovely evening.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


My beautiful, silly and talented friend introduced me to Recipe Look. It's an adorable site that posts drawings of recipes. The majority of the recipes are sent in by readers and I was so smitten by the idea that I decided to try drawing out on of my favorite recipes of late, Kimchi Yakiudon.

I quite enjoy doodling. And as this blog shows, I also enjoy food. So...what happened when the two made sweet sweet love at my dining room table this evening? 

Presenting my very first foodle: 

Doodling foodstuffs is way hard yo! The easiest thing for me to doodle was the pig face because I've been doing that since I was a super wee one. (Because I was born in the year of the pig -- I will tell you a great pig story one day...) The hardest? The bean sprouts and the finished product which I didn't even try to put to paper. As tasty as kimchi yakiudon is, it kind of looks like red puke. Sorry. 

Anyhooooodle (ha!) I did send this to Recipe Look and I hope they like it! Even if they don't, I won't cry because it was super fun to do and I suggest everyone give it a try. Now put down your laptop and go foodle yourself. 

Breaking:: Bentos Are Not Cheap

I have been shaken to the core by this new revelation. Making your own bento (or at least the way I do it) does not save you money. When I lived in New York, bringing my lunch to work saved me at least $10 a day. New York delis are making a killing on pay by the pound salads. When I got into the habit of packing bentos, not only did I save $50 a week, I also had a lot of fun and was eating much healthier.

Fast forward to today. I always just assumed that packing a bento for work saved me money. I never really thought about it, but it just made sense. But then last week, I got a little lazy with cooking dinner which then meant no bento. My laziness is what lead me to discover that buying lunch in Japan is SUPER affordable and most of the times much cheaper than packing a bento. 

Here's a little bit of Five Footer Eater math: 

I bought a Hainan Chicken Bento that came with more rice than I would ever pack in my lunch, hot chicken curry, pickles and soup. This cost me 700 yen. (About $9...or something.) 

A six-inch turkey breast sandwich with sliced cheese (you have to pay extra for cheese in Japan - WHAT?) costs 420 yen. 

These two items are both more than enough food for me for lunch and probably double the amount of food I pack in my bentos. The portions are more than generous. 

My bentos on the other hand cost me on average 3,000 yen for groceries. Now, that does also include my dinner for the night, but sometimes I don't even have leftovers from dinner because a certain Squidward is very hungry and it is really hard to make American standard sized meals in Japan. There's no buying bulk and it seems as if everything is sold in a 1 serving size package. For example, chicken wings/drumsticks cost about 400 yen...but you get 4 pieces. FOUR DRUMSTICKS? That's not even enough for a dinner for one, let alone me plus a Squidward. And don't even get me started on asparagus. 3 measly sticks for 350 yen. Unacceptable. The point is, I gotta buy a lot of food and it adds up quick and don't last long. 

All this, in my head, somehow adds up to much more expensive than a fresh bento from a local restaurant. Add in all the adorable cute bento boxes and accessories I HAVE TO buy and it ain't even a competition. It's true, it's not as fun buying my lunch and my Google Reader time has been cut in half because I have to go out to grab my meal, but still. It just never occurred to me that my bentos may not be the most economic hobby. At least in Japan.