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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Great Food Raid in Nagoya and its Surrounding Prefecture

The country of Japan always ranks high among the best food destinations in the world. Even prior to setting foot in this land of the rising sun, every time I see myself circling buffet tables I always dive first on the Japanese food section, filling my plate with all sorts of Maki rolls and sashimi. When the Ramen craze hit town, I made it a point to try out one Japanese restaurant each week and order a different ramen flavor. Even though I am hundred thousands of miles away from the real thing, my worship of Japanese cuisine mirrors cult-like proportion.

Asari Kamamabushi Gozen Meal
Imagine my euphoria when I found myself stepping into the soil of Japan for the first time. As part of Cebu Pacific’s Travel Bloggers Familiarity tour of Nagoya and its surrounding Prefectures, I finally experienced my first authentic Japanese food crawl. On our last day, an officer from the Nagoya tourism confessed to us “I forgot to include Ramen places in your food itinerary – you should have tried the Ramen in Nagoya” while shaking his head in regret. Little did he know even without sampling the Ramen of Nagoya, the series of meals we had savoring each bite of genuine cuisines served in front of us, more than make up our wonderful collective experience in Japan. We assured him not to worry about it as our food experience were more than satisfying already. 

The case of the mysterious tin foil covered ‘snack’ in Nagoya

After alighting from our plane and checking in at Hotel Toyoko Inn, our host from the Tourism office of Nagoya handed us something wrapped in a tin foil hidden inside a small Japanese paper bag, “a snack” he told us. As my own version of the old adage “do not judge a wrapped food by its cover” goes, the content I found inside exceeded my expectations, as I dug my fingers and chowed down in succession; the six-piece rice balls that comes with tempura prawn fillings. Partnering it with a Japanese Yebisi Premium beer straight from the vendo machine elevated this ‘snack’ to a perfect first meal in Japan.  

Rice Balls with Prawns
Then Came the Asari Kamamabushi Gozen Meal out of the famed Bento Box 

Bento Box meals is widely popular in Japan. You just need to order which type and you will be served with a tray consisting of everything that goes with a particular dish. In our case, we had the Asari Kamamabushi Gozen meal. Opening the bento box contents is like being a kid unboxing Christmas presents. First, I opened the twin bowls filled with fresh clams-seasoned rice and a steaming soup with Udon noodles. Afterwards, I slowly opened up the two boxes on top of one another and revealed the flavorful sidings consisting of; a seasonal fish called Sanma Kabayaki broiled in sweet soy sauce, vegetable tempura, eggplant miso and roe of sardines.

The Usual Suspects; Sushi and Tempura

Sushi and Tempura won’t go missing in action in any gastronomical exploration of Japanese food. During another dinner, we were served each a sushi box containing six varieties of salmon sushi, pink shrimp (amaebi), mackerel (saba), squid (ika), tuna (maguro) and halibut (hirame nigari). I partnered it with a Kirin beer and a plate of Tempura to complete our hearty dinner that memorable night. 

Tempura
Holy Sushi!
‘An easy sit down grilling thin slices of meat and vegetables’ kind of lunch

Hidden beneath the towering pine and cherry trees surrounding Otaki Caves in the Gifu Prefecture, a traditional thatched roofed restaurant served us one of the best meals I had in Japan. Thin slices of raw meat, eggplants, onions and other vegetables were laid down in front of us – over a short standing table armed with a grilling apparatus. Cross-legged in an Indian sitting position, we took turns turning the meat into medium rare and the vegetables into a perfect brown-colored crisp. Dipping it after, into a small saucer filled with peanut sauce – as the juices secretes out of the thin cuts of meat and a white fume of smoke trails it, a delicious fusion of tastes lingered inside my mouth and lasted long after I devoured each bite.

Grilled to a Thrill!
These thin slices instantaneously melts in your mouth
A Plate of Hilda Beef

I’ve heard a lot about Wagyu beef and wondered how different it is from the others – until I tried it myself when we were served a high grade Wagyu beef from cows slaughtered in a cattle ranch in Gifu Prefecture. Upon rolling a piece of it on my chopsticks and delivering it inside my mouth, I instantly felt the beef’s tenderness and traced it with my tongue; its abundant flavors and the essences it stashes. If I would master the art of eating, I have achieved it during this meal. 

In my excitement to devour my plate I forgot to take a photograph of it. 

Miso Katsu and other Buffet Meal experience

Another memorable Japanese dish we tried was the Miso Katsu. Nagoya has its own distinct tonkatsu and through the Miso Katsu, I wolfed a deep fried pork covered in crumbs dipped in steamy miso sauce. The accompaniment of rice, shredded cabbage sidings and a small bowl of noodles completed this loaded meal.

Miso Katsu
Solo Trip to Tokyo Downing Rice Bowls and Ramen
Since I extended my trip to be able to travel to Tokyo by myself, I had the opportunity of trying out various types of Japanese Ramen. An added thrill was using the vendo machine when ordering. It is a foreign concept to me albeit a regular practice in Japan already. I had loads of fun selecting and punching the picture icon of the ramen I wanted to try, getting the ticket stub and handing it to the smiling cook. Most of the time, I just pressed in whatever that caught my fancy. Later on I discovered that – a red looking Ramen soup means super spicy, the white colored ones tasted creamy and so on. I also tried out rice bowls with rich toppings of shredded beef, noodles, vegetables and semi boiled egg.

Dried Ramen
Creamy Ramen

Soba Noodles in Narra

After taking a two-hour train ride from Tokyo, I reached the World Heritage Site of Nikko. Adjacent to one of its main attractions; the Toshugo Shrine situates a small stall that serves Soba Noodles. A long line of locals that drew my attention. After queuing for 15 minutes I was rewarded with a plateful of Soba Noodles that comes with rolled yuba, wasabi, soy sauce and shredded onions. Served cold, the plain noodles made from buckwheat powder smoothly entered my mouth in satisfying fashion thus curving my hunger in an instant. 

Soba Noodles
Yoshinoya Bento Box Meal
Definitely Returning for More

It is impossible for such a short time spanning 12 days to discover all of Japanese rich cuisines. After trying out a few, I definitely look forward to returning to Japan and getting my hand on a plateful of other local dishes that epitomizes the best of Japanese gastronomes.  

                                           
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Cebu Pacific Air, the leading airline in the Philippines, flies between Manila and Nagoya (Chubu Centrair International Airport) every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Ongoing all-in seat sale fares start from P6,388. Book your flights through the CebuPacificAir.com. For updates and seat sale announcements, check out www.facebook.com/cebupacificair.





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