Friday, February 26, 2016

Foodie Friday: Japanese Temple Food

Ninin and I quickly realized one thing in Japan, if something is important, it's on a hilltop. Castles, shrines and monuments, all on top of a hill. Unlike the castles, which were built for security and to isolate and protect royalty, the temples were always surrounded by markets that date back as far as the temple and developed with it. These markets are full of small stores and stalls that sell everything from kimonos, to hand crafted ceramics to food. I would call the food stands and stalls in the temple markets the Japanese version of street food. It is food that is relatively cheap, portable, easy to eat while standing and last but not least, very tasty.

Ninin and I had our fair share of Temple food at a couple of the larger shrines in Kyoto, at Fushimi Inari and Kiyomizu-dera temple. We arrived at Fushimi Inari hungry with full intentions of eating our way up the slope.  Our plans changed with how busy it was and the changing weather (incoming rain), so we changed the plan a bit and rushed up to the top to get the best pictures we could before the weather changed then ate our way down the slope as we headed back to the station.

The first stop on the way down the slope as the rain began was grilled mochi.  They have the mochis prepared on a stick and you have the choice between the normal and green tea one which they then proceed to grill in front of you before they slather it in sauce and hand it to you for your enjoyment. You can see it at the beginning of the video below put together by Ninin.

NinJay eats from Ninin Sampiano on Vimeo.

Next was the karaage (Japanese boneless fried chicken) for me, the carnivore. It was cooked fresh right in front of me and handed over in a paper container with a large toothpick for enjoyment. The chicken was so juicy and I could definitely eat that as an entree and not just as street food. Ninin and I decided to get something sweet next and kamaboko hit the spot. It's a fish shaped cake that can have different fillings, with the 2 most popular being cream and red bean. The stall we visited was making them fresh with the cook taking up customers as he made them. They seemed really popular as we had to wait a while because the previous batch was reserved by customer who paid then walked away. Our last stop for the day was the giant imitation grilled crab leg which you could top with a variety of shake on toppings like sea weed or a spicy pepper topping.

But during our first day of temple food-ing, our main goal eluded us, sake ice cream. We had to wait a day but Ninin and I managed to get some at Kiyomizu-dera temple. The ice cream comes out of a put that they put into an ice cream machine and press down and the ice cream of your desired flavor comes out (imagine a coffee pod machine, except much bigger and it makes ice cream). I got the sake and Ninin got the matcha (green tea) ice cream. The sake flavor was very gentle and it was mixed with vanilla which almost overpowered it. The matcha ice cream was also rather gentle (but still strong for me because I'm not the biggest fan of green tea ice cream) but it had the distinct matcha taste. Ninin and I were so determined to get our ice cream that the gloomy and cold conditions didn't stop us from enjoying! (see pictures below...haha)

Japanese temple food is definitely an experience that should be included in every trip to Japan. It enhances the temple visits and lets you immerse yourself in the culture and food of the temple and Japan itself. If you don't know what it is, ask, the Japanese are so polite and caring that they will try to help you as much as they can even with the language barrier. Even if you're iffy, try it anyways (barring food allergies and dietary restrictions). The worst case is that you don't like it and come away with an interesting story and some funny pictures (hopefully) and if you do like it, you discovered something new! Until next time, good eating fellow foodies!

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