Day 25: Yamanashi houtou

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I’ve been waiting for this day for this whole trip. Before then, even, for it’s been years since I’ve been to my old home Yamanashi, years since I last tasted houtou, the uniquely Yamanashi dish of thick, flat noodles simmered with meat and vegetables in a hearty miso broth. And it’s been a really long time – ten years, perhaps – since I last had houtou at the best time of year, autumn and winter, when it’s cold outside and the pumpkin is especially sweet.

After a frantic rush to get to Fukuoka airport after sleeping through my alarm (though it was a marvel that in such a metropolis I could get from my city-centre hotel room to the airplane, seatbelt fastened, in less than an hour), a flight, a two-hour wait in Narita airport and a four-hour bus ride to Kofu, the day was nearly over, it was dark and cold and I was hungry.

The families who hosted me as an exchange student ten years ago had gathered at a new restaurant, one I didn’t recognise from before, but, my host mother assured me, their houtou was good. So it was.

Each person got an individual tetsu-nabe pot filled to the brim with the heartiest-looking houtou I had seen in a while: noodles, chunks of pumpkin, pork mince, mushrooms and eggplant and sweet potato.

You know how sometimes when you haven’t had something in a long time you elevate its deliciousness in your memory so much that when you finally have it you can only be disappointed? Not this dish. I had worked myself up quite a bit, and was worried I’d expected too much, but on the contrary, it was even more delicious than I recalled. The noodles were hand-cut, slippery and soft and toothsome all at once. The miso broth was rich and comforting, the faintly sweet pumpkin almost demurely melting into the soup, the eggplant bursting with juices.

I realised then that after weeks of travelling, and despite being in a city I hadn’t lived in in a decade, I finally I felt at home. Familiar faces, familiar noodles. They’ll do that to you. Very good.
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Day 27: Spaghetti

Oops. I’ve been a little slack at uploading the last few posts – I have them typed up on my phone, just need to load them here! So, you know, technically I didn’t fail at the daily blogging thing… oh, who am I kidding!! Anyway, here’s what I wrote about spaghetti.

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One of the things I like a lot about Japan and Japanese cuisine in particular is the way they’ve adopted non-Japanese things as their own: hambaagu, for example, which bears little resemblance to what you or I would think of a hamburger, or kasutera (castella, a type of sponge cake that has its origins in sixteenth-century Portugal), or the ubiquitous Japanese karē-raisuwhich is about as far removed from Indian curry as you can get. This is yōshokuWestern-style Japanese food. If you’re not already familiar with it, you’ll surely be hearing more about it in the future. Get excited.

Since we’re talking noodles on this blog, today we’re talking spaghetti. Spaghetti in Japan is as old as – oh I don’t know. We’re probably talking sometime in the twentieth century (so maybe not that old). But the Japanese have taken spaghetti and given it a distinctly Japanese twist, with flavours such as mentaiko,  misonori, natto, shiso, shiitake, abura-age, negi, and so on. Japanese spaghetti can be a lot more sappari than some of its Western counterparts (though there are always exceptions) – lighter, cleaner flavours for the most part.

I was out with some old high school friends at a yōshoku restaurant in Kofu. It was very high-school-reunion-esque; I hadn’t seen any of these guys for nearly a decade. One’s a violin-maker now (didn’t see that coming at all!), another’s got two kids (ridiculously adorable), another’s working at this yōshoku restaurant, and so we met up there.

We each ordered our own thing, but got some Japanese-style spaghetti to share.

So. Here we’ve got spaghetti, which is Italian, with olive oil, also along the Italian theme, plus slippery little shimeji mushrooms, flecks of intensely salty-sour umeboshi (pickled plum, one of my favourite things in the world), spring onions, and a very light but satisfying buttery sauce. Or perhaps the sauce was olive oil. I was too busy talking to pay much attention. But I can say it was subtle, but delicious, and coated each strand of spaghetti making it ideal for slurping.

And oh yeah, and here we’ve also got Kraft grated parmesan and Tabasco, because, why not?

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