Cakes, Travel

Michelin Meal in Japan II

Michelin Star Restaurants

Most of us are familiar with ‘Michelin stars – the rating system for high-class restaurants the world over. Those highly sought after Michelin stars are indicative of excellence in consistency, presentation of food and mastery of technique.

What would you do if you were presented with a Michelin meal you couldn’t eat? Read the first part of a Michelin Meal in Japan.

Eleven Course Meal

My stay at a traditional Ryokan, or ‘Old World’ Inn, complete with Tatami mats and sliding paper walls in Kyoto, Japan, included an evening meal, which was served to us in our very own private dining room that comprised part of the sleeping quarters. A fantastic arrangement! Yes, well not necessarily.

japan

It meant not eating the meal was never going to be an option, as we couldn’t leave the restaurant and go home. This was in our home, albeit our room, even if it was only for a short time.

Unfortunately, my daughter a.k.a. Miss Teen now ‘Adult,’ refused to eat any of Michelin Courses #1,#2 and #3 out of 11 courses. And this entire menu was all about seafood.

From Crab to Squid, Sea Urchin to Tilefish, (whatever that is), the menu lurched from one sea creature to another form of oceanic life. [With one token course that constituted a beef dish].

Me? I love seafood of all kinds. If it came from the sea, and is edible, I will eat it.

Miss Teen now an ‘Adult,’ on the other hand, would have none of it. She cannot eat seafood, or rather will not eat seafood. There was no forewarning of the menu contents, when we booked in at this Ryokan, so this was all a complete surprise.

On reading the menu, Daughter dear declared,

“Oh! I will just eat the rice!”

I dutifully opted for eating her untouched courses #1-3, but on re-examining the menu, I quickly realized I couldn’t possibly consume each and every part of the full eleven courses, for both of us.

I had to think. Which of the following options could I take for the rest of the meal?

  1. Send her meal portions back uneaten
  2. Tell the staff my teen is ill and can’t eat it
  3. Apologise profusely and possibly insult the chef
  4. Leave the Ryokan for other accommodation

None of those options sounded palatable, (no pun intended), and there were so many courses! To insult the chef would be rude, culturally insensitive and ungrateful. I also had to bear in mind, the Chef was to serve the rest of MY meal, which I was looking forward to eating.

What was I to do?

Michelin Food Disposal

I looked at the small bin provided in our room.

It would only handle paper and dry contents. I could not leave uneaten seafood portions there.

We were to catch an airport taxi and a 10-hour flight home to Australia the next day, so hiding it in my luggage would result in me smelling like a fish tank! Not the sweetest perfume de toilet!

I devised a plan. After the gentile kimono-clad room attendant/waitress, served up the next culinary marine delight and had left the room, I found a zip lock bag in my luggage.

It was similar to the ones they give you at the airport for storing toiletries, but that was all I had. Surreptitiously, I emptied the uneaten portions of daughter’s courses, within. It wasn’t easy. Those bags are meant for lip gloss and small hand creams. Not five courses from a traditional Japanese degustation style menu!

My subterfuge was very nearly discovered when the Japanese waiter returned, shortly after serving through the seventh course. Thank goodness she knocked on the door first. I would have had to fez up to ditching the food and how would that have looked?

Japanese Rice

Meanwhile Miss Teen Now an ‘Adult’ was by now, really hungry and looking forward to eating the course of rice. She suggested she might eat both our serves, as she was hungry. “Of course you can,” I reassured her.

Just before the rice was served, we were to be served tea. Green tea. At the mere mention of Green tea by the waiter, Miss Teen Now an Adult, shook her head vigorously to indicate ‘no,’ and eagerly awaited her bowl of rice.

The course of rice was then served – but to her dismay, one bowl not two, arrived, and was served to me only!

Miss Teen Now an ‘Adult,’ was completely forlorn. First all these serves of seafood and now no rice! The poor room attendant clearly had not understood. As soon as our door was closed again, I pushed the rice bowl towards her explaining I had more than enough to eat with all the sea urchins etc. and that she should have the rice.

If the truth be told, I’d have liked to try the rice as the Japanese are very particular about its quality. They do not like imported rice, and prefer the home-grown variety. Miss Teen Now an Adult, inhaled the whole bowl, before I had the chance to request even a small tasting portion. But that is okay.

Soup and Dessert

Strangely, a small bowl of miso soup course followed the rice – perhaps it aids digestion, or could it be that they think a person has consumed too much seafood, at that point? Remember there was now two bowls for me to drink, not one!

The Dessert course consisted of a Persimmon, times two, of course. I’d never eaten a persimmon before, so that was a novel experience and I confess to being quite partial to the sweet, delicate taste. I couldn’t get through the second one, so it also went into the baggie.

There was still my shady skulduggery of hiding food to address: about 5 courses of seafood and a half a persimmon sat in a zip lock baggie inside my handbag. It was 10 pm at night, I was in a Ryokan, in Japan and there was no rubbish bin in sight.

It was time to go out for a little walk.

Gion Bin Hunt and Geishas

Now in most countries, unless a G7 or Olympics were being held, it would not be too difficult to find a rubbish bin on the street, where I could discretely dispose of all aforementioned Michelin Chef scraps.

But this was Japan.

In Japan, each citizen is responsible for their own rubbish. Japanese people take home their used plastic drink bottles and empty food wrappers for recycling or dispose of them, to landfill. You must either pay for rubbish collections from your premises, or take it to the landfill, yourself. Thus, there are very few if any, public trash bins on the streets, in Japan.

It looked like we were in a long walk.

We walked the Gion with not a single bin, in sight. We passed several 7/11 stores along the way – no bins there either.

Around 10.30 pm we saw her.

A Geisha Girl in full attire.

Japanese Geishas

The genuine Geishas are notoriously secretive and seeing a working Geisha in real life, really did make the whole rubbish disposal expedition, totally worthwhile.

In my excitement of seeing her, I fumbled for my camera, its carry cord becoming tangled up in the zip of my handbag, where said seafood was hiding. For a minute, I was completely distracted by the thought of a full-to-bursting ‘zip lock bag,’ spilling its unwanted Michelin meal contents inside my handbag, which would no doubt lead to me smelling like a tile-fish or sea urchin, for the next 24 hours! Meanwhile the Geisha was getting further away Ah!

An American tourist shouted at me to ‘run’ after the geisha, in order to get the prized photo. You can see him in the foreground. The Geisha, by then, had got some distance away. It was amazing how fast she moved in those traditional wooden shoes and maintained her poise. I got the photo. It is grainy, but one grainy photo is better than none.

You are told not to stop or ask Geishas to pose for photographs as they are considered highly skilled working ladies, who entertain guests through performing the ancient traditions of art, dance and singing and are handsomely paid for their time. And she did seem to be in a dreadful hurry.

Suddenly the fact that we had to walk further to find a bin, didn’t bother us as much. We eventually found one at the large Yasaka-jinja Shrine at the Gion. And we could both sleep easier for the rest of the night.

Miss Teen Now an ‘Adult,’ was really keen for breakfast, the next morning, but understandably so, don’t you think?

I gave her all my serving.

Travel

Michelin Meals in Japan

Most of us have heard of Michelin stars. That system of rating restaurants according to the results of reviews on consistency and presentation of food, quality and mastery of technique.

But Michelin stars can be a fickle thing. They come and go, as a famous French restaurant, formerly run by Paul Bocuse, found out recently when they were downgraded to two stars by Michelin, after holding the rating without interuption since 1965. Even celebrity chef Marc Veyrat, recently sued the Michelin guide over a lost third Michelin star.

To me, it is mostly irrelevant and might mean an expensive price tag. I wouldn’t refer to Michelin stars, or lack thereof when choosing a location to eat.

So imagine my surprise at the following events:-

Miss Teen, almost Adult, and I were on our final night of a 2 week trip to Japan. We had arranged to stay in a cozy and very traditional Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), in the Kyoto district before flying back to Australia.

In case you have not heard the term before, staying at a Ryokan means sleeping in traditional accommodation, on Tatami mats on the floor, bathing in a traditional Japanese tub and eating traditional Japanese food.

Dining room at a Ryokan in Kyoto

Staying at a Japanese Traditional Inn – Ryokan in Narita – 2008

Back in 2008, I stayed at an amazing Ryokan in Narita, which had been a former Shogun’s palace some 400 years before. Our accommodation included three emormous rooms plus a small toilet. The dining area was replete with Japanese style recessed dining table with comfy floor cushion and the sitting area overlooked a Carp fish pond and Japanese style garden courtyard set amongst topiary trees and bonsai. Idyllic. It was magical.

Japanese gardens

But no Michelin rated food was served at that ryokan. You see I’d ordered a Western Style breakfast which consisted of a lettuce leaf, (Japanese seem to be obsessed with the lettuce), a mandarin segment or two and a piece of onion. It was rather strange, but we dutifully ate it anyway, well one of the kids gnawed on the 1 slice of white bread that accompanied the salad breakfast of sorts, and the other reported that she wasn’t hungry… But it was still a great experience.

Japanese Ryokan – Kyoto

For this Japanese vacation, I wanted our last night in Japan to be rather special, so we booked a night at a traditional Ryokan, in Kyoto.

The location and decor really lived up to expectations. Shoes off and stored at the door, was a must. Upon check-in, there were lengthy instructions about how our night would go from the gentlemen dressed in a Yukata – a specific kimono worn in Ryokan, even when and, if, I should wear the Yukata.

I had, at this point, completely forgotten the accommodation booking included dinner.

Dinner will be served at 8pm,” I was then informed.

“Where shall I go for dinner?” I tentatively asked.

“That will be explained,” the Yukata, clad attendant, stoicly advised.

It wasn’t explained, at all.

The room at the Kyoto Ryokan

After showing us to our room, we decided to wait until 8pm and see what transpired. There seemed to be so many rules that I didn’t want to ask again! At precisely 8pm, there was a soft knock at the door.

Our meal was served in our room by a gorgeous Japanese lady, dressed Geisha-style, at the Japanese style dining table provided.

japan
No recesses for your legs at this dining table

Let me tell you sitting cross legged at a low dining table was less challenging for my knees, in 2008, than it was for the now age 50+ knees!

The presentation of the meal was glamorous. I was very impressed. This was our first course, and I was excited to taste it.

I didn’t know what it was and tasted it anyway. Miss Teen Now Adult simply played with the food. The second course was a delight for me, but the daughter was again unimpressed.

Again it was largely seafood. Prawn and Sea cucumber et.al.

Miss Teen Now Adult does not eat seafood – at all.

Incredible presentation

I had only given the menu a cursory glance, as it was delivered with the first course and I was simply too much in awe of the presentation, to read much of what was written there.

Dutifully, I ate Miss Teen Now Adult’s portion, as well as mine, for both the first, second course and the third courses. I wanted to show my appreciation for the care taken with the meal.

After the third course, I was tad concerned about what was to come and thus checked the menu again to see six of the 10 courses contained seafood. I suddenly realized I couldn’t eat all her serves, as well as mine. But I also didn’t want to be rude and refuse the food either.

With a rising sense of horror, I then read the information compendium in the room, wherein it mentioned that Chef Harada, was a celebrated Michelin 1 Star chef. Eeek!

Miss Teen Now Adult was refusing to eat a Michelin star meal!

So what did I do, then? I shall have to tell you that another time.

I can say though, that Miss Teen Now Adult, was happy with the breakfast served the following morning, and hungrily gobbled it all.

Even the lettuce!

Thank goodness breakfast was something for Miss Teen Now Adult to Ponder More About.

More Japanese food stories at Cook, Eat, Repeat, by Acacophonouslife.life