Soba On A Saturday Night
I have spent the last couple of days flicking through photos from last week. Japan had long been at the top of my wish list and, while some longed-for destinations can't help but disappoint, Japan exceeded every expectation.
Since landing back at Heathrow last Sunday, I've been thinking where to start in terms of posts. And, five days later, I'm still scratching my head. There is so much to cover, so many incredible dishes to talk about, so many unique experiences to try and make sense of... I could probably spend the next month or more blogging about just four remarkable, densely packed days and barely dent the surface. I've then got to condense that down to 1200 words for a feature. If that sounds like a very middle class moan, you've probably got a point: it is undoubtedly a wonderful dilemma to be facing.
So, while I beat myself up in a middle class fashion (a T M Lewin hair shirt, perhaps?), I reckon the place to start is not with one of the six kaiseki (multiple course) meals we (mostly) enjoyed or with the eye-popping sights and sounds of Tsukiji, Tokyo's remarkable fish market, but with the final - and simplest - meal of the trip. Our last night was spent wandering "Yakitori Alley", a hotchpotch of stalls and shops offering bowls of noodles, grilled meats and assorted odd things (well, by Western standards) on skewers. The place has remarkable energy, thanks to a mix of tourists, locals and some remarkably drunk men, and the smells Oh, the smells! Smoke and steam billow from holes in the wall, hot coals glow, and the sweet, enticing aroma of hot fat teases and excites.
For me, after one circuit, there was only one possible destination: the little corner stall, where a ridiculous 380 Yen (about £3.50) would get you a bowl of steaming broth, noodles, a tempura vegetable fritter and a soft-boiled egg. Staff fried, steamed, scooped and served with easy grace in the small space, customers went shoulder to shoulder on the tiny stools outside. It was food that takes a minute to prepare, five minutes to eat and a lifetime to forget.