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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Sukiyaki with the Yakitori lady

Chawan Mushi - the special bonus course our yakitori lady suddenly produced from behind her little bench

Well, yes, it's cold here in Osaka, but our welcome has been warm and we're trying as much Japanese food as possible. After our first full day we were taken to Lucas's favourite local streetside yakitori bar, where he's become friends with the owner and one of the locals. Until now they've only been known to us as "Yakitori Lady" and "Mr Okinawa Man", so we were determined to find out their names.

I'm not quite sure what I was expecting by the actual yakitori bar. Lucas had told us it only seated 6 people, but I guess I was thinking of the little cafes in Melbourne's laneways which seat less than 10 people - at tables, with room for a waiter to approach. But this place was so small we had to stand on the street to take off our coats! There was literally no room to do anything inside. The space between the eating bench and the sliding door to the street was about 50cm, and we sat with our bums virtually on the footpath! Lucas said he started turning up often when he realised nobody there spoke any English, so it was a good place to practice his Japanese. Local dining at its finest. To go to the toilet you had to slide off your seat and extricate yourself through the door onto the street and walk to a door nest door, which opened out onto the street. We soon realised it was a good idea when you finished to open it slowly just in case you decapitated any passing cyclist. Bike riders all over the footpaths here!

Our Teriyaki Lady, whose name we discovered is Yuriko, had planned to make Osaka-style sukiyaki for us. You can see the Aussie flag we brought along as a present. She treats Lucas very well, making all kinds of different Japanese foods for him to try. Sukiyaki is not on her regualar menu, but for us she went all out. Our New Years Eve dinner with her included enough fresh crab for 10 people, but that's another post.

This sukiyaki we had was a large bowl of soup stock, which had a slightly sweet flavour, and packed with paper-thin slices of beef, leeks, onion, shiitake mushrooms, silken tofu, konnyaku noodles (translucent noodles made from a yam-like plant) and fu, a glutinous rice dumpling that I have to admit none of us really took to. It had a disturbing texture like chewing on a soggy pillow. I guess they're like a Japanese version of a crouton.
As we took each piece of filling from the bowl we dipped it in a bowl of beaten whole egg, which allegedly was lightly cooked by the heat of the meat or vegetable or whatever you'd taken. I say allegedly because I really didn't see any cooking going on. Luckily I like runny egg yolk, so I took it in my stride, but I imagine the more squeamish might not cope so well.
It was a very filling meal, but as we were eating Yuriko mentioned that with the stock left after we'd eaten the fillings she would beat a few eggs into the soup and fill it up with cooked udon noodles. Cos we weren't already full or anything. Also, it was very hot and smoky in her little bar, and we were drinking a fair bit of chu-hai; a mixed drink like a vodka and lime, but made with shochu - a potently strong rice spirit. Plus a few Kirin beers.....so our increasingly frequent trips out onto the footpath to go to the toilet were well appreciated!

Between finishing the sukiyaki fillings and having the bowl returned full of noodles Yuriko presented us with small, lidded bowls of chawan-mushi, a delicate, stock-enriched, nonsweet egg custard containing prawns, ginko nuts and fish cake. The custard sat on, with the seafood-rich stock underneath. The green strips on top are yuzu - a Japanese citrus fruit, used to flavour sweets in summer. The scent was similar to mandarin. I loved the lightness of the custard and the strong seafood flavours. For me it was the best part of the meal. (see photo above)

Above is the bowl returned to us with a egg beaten into the stock and a rather large amount of udon noodles added. Needless to say we couldn't finish all she gave us!

Yuriko and Matayoshi getting into their song....

After we finished dinner, Mr Okinawa Man, aka Matayoshi-san, who had turned up for his daily sashimi, decided he would take us to karaoke, which was quite an experience. Most places here have private rooms you rent for a couple of hours to sing away to your drunken heart's content, but the place we found ourselves in seemed like some old couple's private loungeroom! We came blowing in and fell onto their couches, to sing 3 hours of baaaad 80s rock songs. So much fun! The only other customer was a really old bloke who was there to sing Enka, old-fashioned Japanese easy listening music that nobody much listens to nowdays but old people and Lucas. Now, I'm very open to different cultural musical experiences, but this man was pretty woeful. However, he looked so damn cute up there getting right into his songs, emoting away, that we couldn't help but applaud and shake our tambourines whenever he hit a really high note, his lips quivering and neck straining. Lucas reckons he wants to be just like that old man when he gets old. :-)
All up, a thoroughly enjoyable night of good food and great karaoke.

Mr Enka Man. Fabulous!!!


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