Thursday, 16 February 2012

Kakiyaki: "a bit of shrapnel never hurt anyone"

There are a lot of jokes you could make about the title of this post. But don’t, because I, like the Japanese, take food very seriously. The title of this post could also have been, as Henry-sama suggested, “the Eikster does it again” because it was Eiko-san who provided us with this gastronomical, sunny Sunday.

Kakiyaki” is Japanese for grilled oysters, and the northern Kyushu coast is famous (and I use the word in the Japanese sense, of everywhere being famous for something) for them. In winter, greenhouse-like tents spring up along the seashore where the very freshest in sea life can be roasted alive and devoured. Last weekend, a group of around eight of us –Ina-chan, Henry-sama, Eiko-san and a few students – drove up to Itoshima, west of Fukuoka, in glorious sunshine, to try it out. In advance, Henry-sama and I had already bought some questionable white wine to accompany the shellfish.
When we arrived, the tent was already crowded, but Eiko being Eiko, everything was already arranged, and we were led to the back of the tent to sit around a gently purring barbecue. We were soon presented with a three or four buckets full of snapping, wriggling shells: oysters, scallops and turban-shells. We whacked them on the heat and watched the life writhe out of them.
Soon, however, they got their revenge. The gang of drunk of Japanese people at the next table was withstanding a blitz of exploding crustaceans, shell-shrapnel and accompanying scolding liquid. We were next. Fortunately I was wearing glasses, but a couple of the chans bore the brunt of some serious exoskeletal explosions. Ouch!
The meal was utterly utterly delicious (a match for the incredible seafood I had in Hong Kong the first time I went), but we came out into the fresh air covered in ash, and stinking of food and smoke. Worth it though.

We then went for a drive, found a German bakery, found a Hokkaiddan ice-creamery, and then went to an onsen.
As I understand it, this was quite a swanky place, given the price and the poshness of the building. There were a couple of indoor pools, a salt-sauna, a steam room and an ice cold bath. Outside though, there were many pools of differing temperatures; some were extremely hot. There was also a natural waterfall that you could sit under to have your shoulders pummeled. I ended up talking to a couple of old blokes who loved England and couldn’t get over how London taxi drivers knew so much about the place, without Satnav! They were Boy Scout leaders, too. The joy, they said, of travelling to different countries with their boys was that – to paraphrase – no matter where you go, every one enjoys a bit of banter. And so true. We also talked about Barrow-in-Furness of all places, which one of the guys had visited as a teenager because a lot of the Japanese Navy had been built there (or something along those lines). I wonder how many times Barrow has been a topic of conversation in northern Kyushu without me as one of the interlocutors.
I was quite pleased with myself at being able to maintain this conversation in Japanese, and left the onsen with a warm glow (and smooth skin!)

Huge thanks to Eiko-san who continues to show us the Japan we wanted to see. 

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