A very important part of Japanese culture is its food and cuisine. Japanese people are very proud of their cuisine and are really happy to share it and try to explain it: We are willing learners! Japanese cuisine is delicate and delicious, and always visually appealing and beautifully presented—often a work of art on a plate.
In Hokkaido we’ve had many opportunities to savor some of the best and most loved or famous dishes. For many Japanese people—particularly when they have visitors—the day is structured around the meals, especially lunch and dinner, and there will be serious discussions as to what kind of food and restaurant, and where. Often (mostly) they make a reservation, to make sure of getting a table because many of the good eating places are quite small.
On our recent visit we were in Hokkaido for a week, 5 nights in Sapporo the capital, and two nights on a road trip. We were treated twice to a Hokkaido speciality, called Ghengis Khan Grilled Lamb, for dinner and to wonderful seafood places twice for dinner by hosts Dr. Kobayashi, Satoshi and Max. There’s always lots of discussion about the menu, and what dishes to choose, all with the aim of having us try new and/or special things. If the host knows that we like something in particular, they will always try to order that too.
Traditional style zashiki seating on the floor can be done two ways: sit at a low table with legs crossed on the floor; or sit at a low table with a sunken floor for your legs. As westerners used to sitting up at a table, we tend to find the second way a little easier, so our hosts would try to find that for us. For any zashiki seating, all guests remove their shoes first.
One evening all lab members arranged a BBQ party at the lab, which was also an amazing feast of fish, vegetables and slices of meat. It was doubly memorable, as the evening started out with light rain and the students were valiantly cooking on the open grill with umbrellas! Luckily, the rain did stop.
Our other 2 nights in Hokkaido were on a road trip with Satoshi and Max, and each evening they cooked up a storm in our chalet in the hilly countryside, with the same careful attention to detail and the same careful choice of ingredients and dishes. We are truly honored and very lucky. More about the road trip later.
Lunch is often soba, or ramen, or okonomyaki (Japanese-style pancake), also done with the same discussions and careful choice. Rod and I have declared to Max and Satoshi that our Hokkaido tradition must now always include soba noodles, and hokke (a fish, smoked Atka mackerel) and that’s made them very happy.
I will write about Ghengis Khan Grilled Lamb, soba, and okonomyaki separately, as well as the road trip, but here are some pictures from the one evening at a great seafood restaurant in the maze of underground “streets” in the JR complex, and some from the lab BBQ, which was a lot of fun.
Itadakimasu, or Bon Appetit!
Itadakimasu is often said with one’s hands put together under the chin and with a slight bow—-this is from the Buddhist origins of giving thanks, so some people liken it to a simple grace.