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Monday, July 23, 2012

Geisha Hunting in Kyoto

Geisha Hunting in Kyoto

It was around sunset on a Monday evening in Kyoto.  We went for a stroll through the quiet streets in the Gion district. From what I hear, Gion is the most famous district for spotting geisha in Kyoto. We hung around for some time, strolling back and forth through the quiet streets with discreet teahouses on every corner. After observing traffic for a while, I became aware that I was not the only American around. In fact, I came to find that it’s the traditional looking wooden townhouses called machiya that bring in a lot of tourists. These homes are extensive behind a small, misleading façade. Built narrow in the front, they extend back about 65 feet. This kind of architecture dates so far back, it existed even before the year 1000. 
 We spotted our first geisha. Two of them strolled down the eerily quiet street. Their hair was in the traditional shimada style, brushed back with a bun on top, their makeup was chalky white with red pursed lips, and they wore colorful kimonos. I wondered where they were off to. Later, we spotted a taxi with men in suits exiting, followed by a geisha. We did some research, and found out that geisha literally translates to artist. These women entertain groups of men usually with a form of controlled dance, musical instruments such as the shamisen that is similar to a banjo, and some even perform poetry. The common misconception is that geisha are prostitutes. Although light conversation and flirting is common between geisha and their clients, nothing more is expected.
Another cool sighting to cross off my bucket list! See a real geisha live in person, CHECK!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Yakitori in Kyoto, Japan

Everything But The Head & Feet
With only 24 hours in Japan, we decided a yakitori dinner would be the perfect traditional meal to experiment with in Kyoto. We started with a Kirin draft beer, and browsed the menu full of chicken bits on a stick. We placed an order for just about the whole chicken except the head and feet.  I am the least brave of the friends I am with, but I am willing to try it all. I suddenly got flashbacks to my first time in Tokyo 6 months ago, when I almost heaved after swallowing a whole piece of raw squid at Sushi Dai. (Reference: One Bite, No Soy Sauce...) I’m trying to be more adventurous, but for me it’s baby steps to achieving my Andrew Zimmern-strength palate. 

First, they presented to us an appetizer of pate and crackers. It was rich and delicious. Then it began. Each tiny plate with two skewers of chicken bits came out one by one to our table...

Pate and crackers.
Fried tofu with scallions. An easy start to the meal.
Skewered veggies started to arrive. This one in particular had bonito flakes on top. The dried, smoked fish flakes rapidly warped on top of the hot skewers, appearing like it was alive. 
No, this isn't a cherry tomato skewer. It's chicken ovaries! Unsure of what texture to expect, I cut one open to find a think yellow liquid oozing from inside. It tasted like the yolk of an egg, and sure enough, once we googled it we found out that essentially it is a yolk. 
BARF!  See? It's not that creepy when you think about it...
Chicken cartilage of knee. The white parts looked like fat, but they were crunchy cartilage. Naturally, I wanted to reject the boney parts but I kept on crunching like everyone else. It sounded like we were all chomping on ice cubes. The flavor was good but I could never get used to the crunch!
Chicken gizzards! Apparently this organ in the digestive track is made of muscular walls that helps to digest the food. So I guess my gizzards got to work on a piece of this chickens gizzards that night. On first bite I noticed an unwanted texture, like when biting into a nerve in a piece of meat. I enjoyed the flavor, but the texture will have to be an acquired taste for me!
Chicken tail. Eight little chicken butts were sacrificed for the sake of our yakitori dinner. Each piece of meat being sourced from the tip of the tail with just a bit of skin on the edges were skewered and served to us nice and crispy.
Some of the more conventional skewers for my culture-shocked palate. We had mushrooms, mushrooms wrapped in bacon, zucchini, and ramen.
Tea and mochi for dessert. A sweet ending.