Had my soba making class today - wowee, how cool was that.
Spent the morning in Harajuku - a nice shopping district with a fair amount of western stores (designers, Banana Republic, Gap...) mixed in with the modernized Japanese places. It is very modern, clean, a wide boulevard with a beautiful park and shrine at the top. I went to the ukiyo-e museum which was I have to say, pretty mediocre. We get the honor of seeing a lot of the great woodblock prints in the states, so I think i'm a little spoiled. However, there was a great store in the basement selling furoshiki (fabric to wrap things in). Nice fabrics - spent some money in there! Then made my way over to Asakusa (across town) to take my soba making class with "sobaliers" (sort of like sommelier...) haha
But, on the way i had to eat something, so i stopped in a Ramen-ya and had the best pork ramen i have ever eaten. My translator (who i met up with a little later), told me that place is how they make ramen in the north of japan. Also, Ramen has a lot of fat (which you can tell by my pictures has started catching up with me). (sorry to bring that up again, but I am a little reality checked by viewing all my pics!!) The pork is practically like pork belly - which really isn't a problem for me at all, but would be a problem for a lot of Americans I think. Anyhoo, I chose the one with the pork and leeks on top. The leeks were tossed in a sesame soy
mixture before topping the soup which added a tasty element.
Anyhoo, after filling up on Ramen, I made my way around the block to the soba class at a very old soba restaurant called Soba Shonin. It was very interesting, as there were about 5 students of the soba class watching me. If i were shy, this would have been a problem. (good thing that ain't the case). Again, I was the only student. I felt so honored and it was very detailed in the way we rolled out the dough. The knife and technique for hand cutting the noodles is something I've never seen before. The knife was very heavy and involved a block of wood on top of the folded dough and a cutting and pushing back of the piece of wood motion to create a space to cut. Cutting soba is very specific, it is supposed to be exactly square. Each soba restaurant has its own specifications for the width. The width at soba shonin was 1.8 mm. (we didn't measure). The interesting thing is that the cutting is a very zen like movement. You could be very impatient (who, moi?) and it reminded me of when i took japanese woodworking and my instructor saying that sharpening your tools gets rid of the monkey mind (repetitive motion is head clearing and meditative at the same time) - if you know what you are doing... I got videos on my little digital camera to show the technique.
We then adjourned to lunch (geez', i know, it was about two hours after the ramen) and i have to say, i could barely eat anything. The instructor gave me two plates, one of his soba and one of mine (as we made them side by side). His was obviously more uniform but I thought i did a pretty damn good job!!! I love the tools. It was cold soba by the way which was told to me that after you dip and eat the soba, you pour the water it was cooked in (where all the nutrients have leached out) into the dipping bowl and then drink that. That was definitely new information. He then brought me out a bowl of hot soba noodles so i could see the difference (i really only took a few bites of this, as my appetite was just not happening). (it was good though, of course). Then, he asked us if we wanted his special chawanmushi!! Geez' we had to say yes because how could you not! For those of you who aren't familiar with this dish, chawanmushi is a savory egg custard made with broth and vegetables and usually a shrimp or two. This one was interesting because there were housemade fresh udon noodles in the bottom. Needless to say I may need to skip a few meals (maybe...). I wished my stomach was as endless as my appetite!
After class I decided to walk around a little, to the local shrine which they shut right before I got all the way up the steps (it had started to rain). I was late because i got caught up in a paper store that had very reasonably priced original woodblock prints (yes, i bought a few!!) I also stopped into a spa like place that did footbaths and massages. They were booked for massages but i had an awesome 20 minute footbath while sitting on a temperpedic seat pillow and inhaling oxygen which they bring right up to your face. i probably needed it! The girl was so nice that she offered me a energy drink called "fine" (the only english word). it was awesome tasting and is somewhat pharmaceutical. it is probably loaded with caffeine or something cuz' it did the job (although maybe b12 but who can read labels in kanji? - what i don't know won't hurt me).
I liked the stuff so much that i found some in my local hotel pharmacy and will be taking it with me tomorrow for my 5 hour train ride past Mt. Fuji (i hope so much that the rain clears the view) and up to Hida Takayama in the Japan Alps!!! Two days doing hot springs and staying at a traditional japanese ryokan (where they have hot springs, baths and serve you dinner in your room). It is called Ryokan Hiranoya you can check it out on the web. looks nice!!! i will probably not write again until i get to kyoto on tuesday.