To see Part One, click here.
OK, I admit it; when it was time to eat breakfast in Japan, we totally cheated. The idea of having rice and miso soup (not to mention all the things we didn’t recognize) first thing in the morning just didn’t cut it. Luckily, there is no shortage of French bakeries, so we were able to find croissants easily. This was a typical breakfast for us in Kyoto (that’s yogurt, by the way):
During our stay in Kyoto, we decided to have lunch at Izusen, a famous shojin-ryori (Zen Buddhist monk cuisine) restaurant, located on the grounds of Daitoku-ji, a sprawling Zen temple complex. Talk about complex: we got lost trying to find the restaurant. We were *this* close too, when we turned around to try a different direction! Eventually we asked someone for help. One thing I will say about people in Japan is that they are extremely helpful! There were a few people who bolted away from us as quickly as they could, presumably because they spoke no English, or we were really scary looking. But for the most part, people went out of their way to help us.
We arrived at the restaurant, and there were plenty of tables outside, in a beautiful garden. When we stepped into the restaurant, one of the women working there ran over and, with a worried look on her face, said “Japanese restaurant!!!!” We tried to explain that we were aware, and we wanted to eat. When she asked, “Inside/outside?”, I don’t think she meant it as a question, because when we said outside, she kept saying, “Inside/outside!!!” Eventually I said, “Inside,” hoping it would calm her down, and we could proceed to lunch. Then J.P. stood on the wooden platform with his shoes, which was a big no-no, and she freaked out a bit. After removing our shoes, we were seated. On to the meal…
We were seated on the floor in a tatami-mat dining room with sliding doors: exactly how I pictured restaurants in Japan (although it’s the only one we went to that was like that!) An elderly woman brought us English menus, but the only English on the menus was the word, “vegetarian”. Good thing too, because I’m not sure I’d be so adventurous if I knew there could be strange body parts involved.
After we ordered (set menu – no idea what was coming), the first couple bowls started to arrive. There was this gelatinous stuff, with a powdered coating and a toothpick. I found it odd, and difficult to put in my mouth politely, but strangely addictive. J.P. couldn’t stand the wiggly texture.
Some plum liqueur (umeshu) was served, and a few more bowls of food. At that point, the server laid the bill on the table and we assumed that meant we were done. Um, still hungry here!! I told J.P. not to worry, that if this was indeed the end of the meal, we could still hit the French bakery outside the grounds of the complex. Thankfully, that was not the end. In fact, there was plenty of food, some recognizable, like the tempura and miso soup, but most of it strange, beautiful, and tasty (except for the green gelatinous thing – different from the gelatinous thing at the beginning of the meal!) Almost everything I ate that I didn’t recognize tasted different, or had a different texture, from what I expected. It was a fun meal.
When our meal was done, the bowls all stacked nicely into each other (which we found out by watching a couple next to us)! How perfect!
There is still more… much more. To be continued!