Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Great Ryokan Adventure

Next to Sumo, this is probably the experience that I was most excited for in Japan. A Ryokan is a traditional hotel complete with the communal bath house, tatami rooms and girls in kimonos that kneel and bow and avoid eye contact when entering your room. The way this all works is that when you arrive you trade in your shoes for indoor slippers and are escorted to your room, which is a compact affair of low furniture and carpeted in bamboo mats. You do your eating and sleeping in the same room, and the girls bring in a table that you kneel at for meals and then replace it with bedding when you are finished. Before the meal it is common to bathe; you go to the bathhouse, SIT and rinse off at one of the faucets and then relax in the Jacuzi/hot tub for a few minutes before showering again and donning your kimono or robe. Awesome, right? RIGHT!Being the Samurai-san that I am, I of course wore the available kimono to dinner, but left my sword at the door and then ordered the 5 cup Sake tasting before deciding on a bottle.
As said, we had our very own girls in Kimonos to serve us the traditional Japanese dinner, which was an epic spread of succeeding course, all beautifully arranged and all quite tasty. First there was a small plate of sashimi as well as pickles and small smoked fish, but the coolest part of the appetizer was the eel being boiled in little pots to which we added a beaten egg.
When the egg is done you scoop the soup into a bowl and enjoy the sweet eggy-eelness.
Next was an artful array of boiled vegetables including carrot, celery and pumpkin joined by cubes of sweet marinated beef that were somehow simultaneously dry and moist
and therefor awesome, and after thatcame an even cooler plate of pickles and a whole smoked fish garnished with a sprig of ginger.
Being a proper Samurai-san I ate the fish head and all, which was good because it sustained me through the next plate of noodles topped with a piece of fishy fish that I was not too keen on. As if we needed more out came a small cup of what was translated as "Tofu Jelly" topped with garlic and ginger, and finally a cup of miso soup with mushrooms and a bowl of rice.
The Japanese are not big on desserts, which is A OK with me given the elaborate hugeness of their meals, but they often serve fresh fruit or something like bean cakes. I am not exagerating when I tell you that at the Ryokan I ate the best grape of my life! I don't know what vine this thing stepped off of, but it was motherf***ing amazing.
And if you thought you might skip breakfast after a meal like that, no, you are wrong. As any proper Samurai you would visit the bathhouse, strap on your kimono, and wait for that shoji screen door to slide open so the girls in the kimonos can come layout yo
ur trays of breakfast. Although this wasn't a coursed meal, breakfast seemed
to contain just as much variety as dinner, and somehow fit all on one tray.
On one side we had little pots of boiling tofu which you scoop into a bowl of sweet soy sauce and top with scallions and ginger.
On the other side was a piece of salmon garnished with pick
led horseradish as well as a small cake of sweet fried tofu and beans topped with a boiled carrot. On the tray itself was a small cup of plum and rice porridge and
also a cup of miso soup, flanking a bowl of rice to be topped with a number of toppings from small bowls that included Yuba, small dried shrimps, pickles, seaweed and beans.
I don't know if this is the Japanese equivalent of "the workingman's breakfast" but it was quite a spread, and enough to fuel any Samurai for a full day or a full week of battle.
It was with great reluctance that I returned my kimono and put my real shoes back on and said goodbye to the kimono girls, but in truth I know that it's the Samurai heart, not the looks that count, and the battles must go on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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