Linkskey! 2/7/2014 – 2/22/2014

The internet is grain information and too sour for a discerning palette. Let us distill some of it into a nice glass of linkskey (links + whiskey).

We here at Easy Distance are purveyors of only the finest distilled internet. Cave Twitter aged in Facebook Charred Oak, bottle conditioned with Instagram filters into premium Vimeo bottles and shipped right to your reader, inbox or RSS feed, even Linkedin. We Stumbleupon only the finest ingredients to make Easy Distance Linkskey including: Bloglovin, Google Search,  Wordpress reader and even regular news sites as well. We take our internet seriously at Easy Distance and today we have brought the very best that your time can buy. Easy Distance Linkskey is best served with one ice cube and a splash of fresh spring water served in a crystal Tumblr. Now sit back, bask in the fine distilled internet aroma, and enjoy the easy taste of Easy Distance.

Travel

Japan

Another shot of Yotei-san from the summit.

Another shot of Yotei-san from the summit.

We definitely brought some Tokyo flavor with Reverse Cinderella – Shoe Shopping in Japan and Tokyo Adventures 2: Tokyo: Past and Present.

It may seem like we are posting a lot about snowboarding because we are. Here is my trip to Niseko and the most complete lists of Tohoku area snow resorts (in English).

Tohoku is really getting some great articles on japantravel.com. There are snowball fights in Miyagi, a paper balloon festival in Akita, a write up of Zuigan-ji in Matsushima, a visit to the Matsuo Basho Memorial Hall in Yamadera and a cuteness’plosion in Zao at the Zao Fox Village.

Not Japan

General: Some how we were not recognized as top bloggers for 2014, but the year is young, there is still time…

India: A fellow ALT posted this experience recently about some time she spent in the Indian countryside.

America: Seneca Rocks, Monongahela National Forest from Wandering Westy. Some awesome views and pics from a gem in West Virginia.

America:  @BeyondMyDoor on twitter and from his blog a cool view of Shenandoah Valley which is near and dear to my heart.

Canada: Also in North America Hecktic Travels are exploring some of the finer elements of winter in Alberta. @HeckticTravels. That’s ok with me. SNOW ON!

Spain: A peek at Costa Brava from Go See Write.

ESL teaching

I came across this cool little website packed with free English teaching tests that you can adapt for ESL. As always double check free content for accuracy before you put it in front of students.

Cooking in the shower

Yakisoba Deluxe is the recipe of the week here at Easy Distance. Give it a shot and let us know what you think.

Humor and Cool Stuff

liebsterWe were given a Liebster Award this month by Introvert Japan. You can check out our answers to his questions here, and his Liebster award post here.

Here is an awesome compilation of Okinawan music from Elisa at Audiographer whom I awarded the aforementioned Liebster award to as well.

Why you should date a girl who travels. Sorry fellas, but this one is off the market.

Uncovering Japan wants you to experience wearing a kimono.

Lines of Control Episode 2 is out! Check it out on Epic TV or on the SoulRyders page.

Lastly, in case you are unaware, this little guy is the worlds cutest pomeranian.

Tokyo Adventures 2: Japanese culture past and present

Recently Tokyo was listed as the world’s largest Mega-city. I don’t think it takes a special list to understand that Tokyo is massive. One trip to the Skytree, the Tokyo Metro Government Building, the Daiba waterfront or the Mori Art Musuem sky deck and Tokyo’s size will become startlingly clear. This sprawling metropolis is a playground for the gastro-brave, the weird, the culture buff and the shop-a-holic. Tokyo is so massive that many of our trips there have been between other business so they don’t make for good chronological reading. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have anything worth sharing.

The crowd on a quiet day at Senso-ji

The crowd on a quiet day at Senso-ji

In the first Tokyo Adventures post I talked about finding western food and shopping for crafts and cosplay items. This set of adventures highlights the interesting dichotomy between Japan’s traditional culture and it’s backwards march in to the future.

Senso-ji & Skytree

Asakusa is by far one of the top tourist destinations in Tokyo. I won’t be able to share anything with you that isn’t already covered ad nauseum somewhere else. It’s no surprise that one of the top tourist destinations in the most populated city in the world is a little crowded. I was there on New Year’s Eve during the day which is supposedly off peak. I would hate to see what it’s like when it is peak season.

The main temple in Asakusa is called Sensō-ji and its large pagoda tower and main temple building are impressive and well maintained. Throwing a 5円 coin is considered very auspicious but all I had were 10’s. One throw for my wife and me! The immensely crowded thunder gate, which just got a new lantern, is at the entrance to Sensō-ji. If you were hoping to take that perfect picture of the bright red lantern looking all serene, you can pretty much throw that thought away now or show up at 5AM. On the bright side you will have many random Japanese people in your pictures and you can make up stories about them…

Asakusa is lauded as being one of the better preserved wards from older eras of Tokyo but for my money it just looked like Japan. Not to mention from Asakusa you can see the Asahi building, with its “golden flame” on top (we thought it looked like a golden flaming poo) and the Tokyo Skytree, which are both ultra-modern. The Sky tree costs a whopping 3,000円 to get to the top although it is the tallest tower in the world at 637 meters. We skipped it since the TMGB is free.

Not too far from Asakusa is Ryogoku. Right outside the station there are many Chankonabe restaurants. Chankonabe is basically “sumo food.” It’s a special kind of hot pot recipe that is basically a light stew. You can check out our Cooking in the shower recipe for Nabe here. To the immediate north of the station is Ryogoku Kokugikan and the Edo-Tokyo Museum. The Kokugikan is still a functioning sumo arena as well as a museum of sumo wrestling. We stopped here for the Edo-Tokyo museum and a special exhibition of ukiyo-e artwork.

The Edo-Tokyo museum has a strange a ultra modern appearance but was designed to resemble old kurazukuri store houses from Edo period Tokyo. I thought it resembled a star destroyer. Anyways, the museum in and of itself was interesting as a survey of Japanese history. A majority of the display space is centered around Tokyo after the capital changed from Kyoto to Edo in the early 17th century. Attention is paid in the museum to just about every influence that shaped Edo into Tokyo from kabuki to rice production in the Kanto region.

We attended for a special exhibit of ukiyo-e 浮世絵 (pronounced: ooo-key-yo-eh) which translates to “Pictures of the floating world.” Ukiyo-e is more commonly referred to as “Japanese wood block prints.” The Edo-Tokyo museum had gathered together an entire retrospective of famous ukiyo-e from around the world and put it all in one chronologically ordered display. Hiroshige and Hokusai are easily the most famous of the artists but they were active in the mid 19th century. The floating world has been captured in Japanese art with roots all way back in the Heian period. The time line of ukiyo-e acts as a window to the development of Japanese culture, as the themes and subjects change based on the economic and social influences around them. The British Museum, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Boston Museum of Fine Art and the National Library of France all have massive collections of ukiyo-e. In Japan, the largest collections are at the Ukiyo-e Museum of Nagano and the National Museum of Modern Art – Tokyo. What made the Edo-Tokyo museum’s display so impressive is that they had gathered the signature works from all of these museums and many more and put them all in one exhibit. We were truly blown away by  the comprehensive collection of the “floating world.”

The Great Wave off Kanagawa is one of the most famous examples of ukiyo-e

Spending the day in the past made us forget about modern Tokyo even though the building we were in looks like a spaceship from the outside. That same evening we spent some time Harajuku and the experience, while still amazing, couldn’t have been more opposite. Harajuku is the heartbeat of fashion culture in Tokyo and the bleeding edge of Japanese trends. Ultimately, Harajuku has become ultra popular with westerners, cosplay enthusiasts, fashionistas and artists because of the everything but the kitchen sink mentality of the district. The standard fare in fashion are there with Zara, H&M, Uniqlo and then there are stores that sell hoodies with faces on them, a t-shirt that just says, “Locality” and costume stores where you can get just about any female anime character pre-made, wig and all. Check out the Harajuku Tokyo fashion blog on Tumblr for a glimpse at some of the outfits you’ll see walking around. Also near Harajuku is Meijingu, or the Meiji Shrine which contrasts so heavily with the hustle and wild freedom of Harajuku, but remains just as much a part of Japanese culture.

Modern Japan is also closely associated with electronics, state of the art trains and robots. The Toshima ward which houses Ikebukuro and the flagship stores of Yamada Denki and Bic Camera is no stranger to technology. Toshima is also one of the most international areas of Tokyo with a high concentration of foreign born residents and the first ward to elect an openly gay assembly member. If two massive electronics stores weren’t enough, you can take the train to Shinjuku or Akihabara and see pretty much all the same stuff. In an area about 1/10th the size of Disney World in Orlando there are more than 260,000 people living and at peak hours more that 400,000 in the Toshima area.

Visiting Ikebukuro and the Toshima ward offers a little slice of everything from from modern art at the Tokyo Metro Art Space to Cafe Du Monde’s beignets to stores where normal size women can shop for shoes to the largest selection of laptops I have ever seen. I previously mentioned Sunshine city but Ikebukuro is so much more than that if you need to do some shopping in Tokyo. Although it isn’t as popular as Akihabara, Shibuya or Shinjuku, that you will still  have many intimate moments with store staff as you are forced to touch crotches to let other people by in the aisle.

Tokyo’s modern culture and history clash all over the city, the above is only a small sampling. A place where there are lines around the block on New Year’s Day at the shrine to burn offerings and where two eight story electronics stores next to each other didn’t stop a third store from going up across the street. A place where carrying a flip phone and a smart phone is no big deal. A place where repressed cultural norms lead to covering up the top half of your body, but still wearing the shortest skirts imaginable. The list of examples could go on and on as a very traditional society adapts, fights, struggles and moves forward in the largest megacity in the world.

Modern Tradition.

Modern Tradition.

Matsushima Oyster Festival

oyster festivalThe first Sunday in February every year since 1978 is the Matsushima Oyster Festival or Kaki Matsuri. Not to be confused with the persimmon festival which is also Kaki Matsuri but isn’t held in Matsushima or in February. Matsushima is one of the top three most scenic places in Japan according to the list of Japanese unnecessary but thorough lists of things. For reference you can see 100 best waters of Japan and 100 best soundscapes of Japan.

The Oyster Festival is a celebration in the peak of oyster season of the delicious little bivalve. The oyster can be consumed in numerous ways. In Matsuhima the preference for eating oysters is grilled. Japanese oysters can be quite massive and on the half shell can be a real choking hazard. If you brave the cold you can stand in a massive line for one free grilled oyster. A free oyster for as many times as you can make it through. However, you get more oysters (three or four) for your time from the kakinabe line. Nabe is a stock soup that can be customized with different ingredients. At the oyster festival they give out free bowls of oyster soup to those patient enough to make it through the long wait. I recommend the kakinabe, it’s worth the wait.

Besides free grilled oysters and free oyster soup, there are both paid for and complimentary grill stations where you can set down with your group of friends and family and grill out in the cold February air of coastal Miyagi. Many of the food stalls will have deals on bulk seafood and meat for your grilling pleasure as well as single pre-cooked portions for the impatient or grill handicapped. Not to mention if you don’t get there early, there will be a long wait for a grill since the festival is very popular. Our group did not indulge in the grill area as we were feeling a bit lazy and wanted the food cooked for us.

Free OYSTERS!!

Free OYSTERS!!

There was a fantastic crab soup, grilled scallops, grilled oysters, tsubu (a conch shell), abalone, squid, octopus, as well as numerous desert stands selling crepes and chocolate dipped bananas. The cold weather made a cold beer unappealing but there was also hot sake available to warm you from within. My favorite besides the kakinabe was the grilled pork stand, for 400円 you got a cup o’ pork which, included sausages, bacon and a good cut of ham. The best value was probably the 5 fried oysters for 350円, they were very tasty and a real bargain.

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Outside of stuffing your face, there was very little do at the festival that wasn’t geared towards entertaining younger children. Although interestingly enough, we did meet Jenny the PR dog from New Horizon 2 Unit 1. There was a military display of the Japanese Self Defense Force and some nihon-shu retailers were giving out free samples of sake on the street. So we definitely stopped there.

Unless there was a recent snow, winter is not the best time visit Matsushima as all the trees are bare and missing their spring flowers, summer greens or autumn fire. If there has been a recent massive snow fall before the festival, dress warm, and take a walk out to Fukuurajima while you’re there and check out the beautiful island covered in snow. There is the Zuigan-ji museum which is pretty cool and it’s indoors so you’ll have a chance to warm up. Also at Zuigan-ji is a special exhibition of statues that normally aren’t available for public viewing but because the main temple is under renovation, the statues are on display.

finished

finished

Overall I think once at this festival is enough. In Japan there is always an excuse to have a festival. I mean, there is a snow festival and a fire festival as well. Oysters are great but I prefer mine overpriced and in a classy restaurant. If you do end up heading there next year getting to Matsushima is very easy from JR Sendai Station as the Senseki line (tracks 9 and 10) goes directly to Matsushima Kaigan station twice an hour during peak times. Matsushima Kaigan is about a 10 minute walk from the festival area if you move slowly. Make sure you don’t go to Matsushima Station on the Tohoku line, it is much further away and not nearly as nice of a walk.

Niseko – A pinnacle of powder

I’ll admit it. I’m a little arrogant when it comes to ski resorts. I grew up near Lake Tahoe, CA and my father got me started at age 6 on a pair of rental skis. My spur of the moment ski trips were to places like Heavenly, Squaw Valley and Kirkwood. Lake Tahoe doesn’t have the world’s greatest snow or most vertical feet, but its steep, deep and full of variety.  I’ve skied at Mt. Baker, Snowbird, Mt. Bachelor and Happo-one as well (read about my Hakuba trip herehere and here). I thought I was pretty spoiled.

Then, I went to Niseko. Now I am really spoiled.

Niseko

you can't tell but there is a huge smile on my face

you can’t tell but there is a huge smile on my face

The snow in Niseko, as any ski travel site will tell you, is absolutely legendary. I read once that a lot of foreigners think that the Japanese word for powder snow is, “niseko,” because the resort has become synonymous with great snow. It’s not likely I can add anything to the conversation by telling you about how the Gobi Desert and the Sea of Japan make freaky weather-love and science together to create soft dry fluffy powder that falls at world record rates. I won’t tell you that boarding through Niseko snow is like flying, even when it’s tracked out. I’m not going to tell you about any of that.

I spent nearly two full days there and I can say it was some of the best boarding in my life. It wasn’t simply the snow, it was more than that. The variety at Niseko (if you buy the more expensive all resort pass, WHICH I DID) is awesome. There is so much to do, plenty of reasonably steep runs but more over any of the diamond runs that run from the uppermost lifts allow you to get pretty much anywhere on the mountain. There are banked gully runs (like a natural half pipe with TREES!), wide open bowls, tree runs, groomed runs, trick parks, and so much intermediate and easy stuff that I don’t think you could ski the whole place in three full days. And that’s not even counting back country.

It's always in your field of vision, when you can see it.

It’s always in your field of vision, when you can see it.

The view on a sunny day at Niseko is absolutely incredible as well. Yotei-san, which is affectionately referred to as “Kita-Fuji” (North Fuji), is a slightly smaller version of the famous Fuji-san, a perfectly conical volcano that basically fills your entire field of vision. It reminded me of old school racing arcade games like, Cruisin U.S.A., where the background is static and never changes. Sadly I was still having issues with my Contour camera because Apple hates backwards compatibility on non-Apple peripherals. So, I don’t have any awesome powder videos with Yotei in the background. You’ll have to take my word for it.

(watch the clouds, they never move – that’s what Yotei-san is like as you go down the mountain)

But like I said earlier, it wasn’t the snow, the variety, or the view that made Niseko so mind-blowingly awesome. I loved it because it was quiet. For being the most popular mountain in Hokkaido and maybe in Japan, and the dearth of Aussies that take over the town at night not-with-standing, the mountain itself was peaceful. For a solitary skier or boarder it made the experience that much more memorable.

Despite being a holiday weekend, I only had to wait in line once. Once. I can’t remember ever not waiting in a line at Northstar on a holiday weekend. Off the lift there were groups of people picking their lines but there are so many runs, I just had to pick the one they didn’t. Finally to really get your money’s worth, being able to get right back on lift after a run is great, provided you aren’t marooned in shoulder deep powder somewhere. I was struck constantly by being alone on the hill even though I knew the place was crowded. I could see other skiers and boarders but they might as well have been on another planet. There is a lot of space to spread out and make the most of the fresh pow, the stunning view, and the variety of Niseko.

Another shot of Yotei-san from the summit.

Another shot of Yotei-san from the summit.

Something else occurred to me, do I like boarding with others or can I do board all by myself? I’m still not sure. Sometimes when you do really awesome stuff you want to make sure others saw it because, “That was awesome, did you see that!?” When you board on your own there is never any arguing about what run to take and wasting time not boarding. Plus singles get through the lines faster. Experiences are sometimes better when you share them with others and in general I prefer company to being alone but with snowboarding, I haven’t made up my mind.

Enough philosolophisizing, the G2 gate to the summit of An’nupuri-Niseko ranks at least in the top three runs of my life; along with conquering, “The Wall” at Kirkwood and doing the summit run at Mt. Bachelor. It starts with an “easy” 20 minute hike to the summit and then you drop into a powder filled bowl that funnels you into a 2 to 3km gully which then spits you out through a birch and cedar forest that could a set piece from Game of Thrones, eventually shooting out near the Nook restaurant at the base of the An’nupuri Resort.

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Speaking of restaurants, my only complaint about Niseko, and it’s a minor one, is that the food was too expensive. At least at the Nook it was. That was the only place I ate at (on the mountain). I had become accustomed to the great value offered by the restaurants in Japanese ski resorts but the Nook was more like American ski resort pricing. Hot tea was 400円 and my small beef bowl was 1,000円. Big beers were 1,050円. The food prices were a minor inconvenience for such an awesome place to snowboard.

This hot dog stand was great and inexpensive compared to the Nook, but its not on the mountain.

Hokkai-dog was great and inexpensive compared to the Nook, but its not on the mountain. +1 for the pun.

Getting to Niseko is actually easier than it looks considering its relative distance from Sapporo. There are four main bus companies that all operate daily service from both Sapporo Station and from New Chitose Airport. Some bus packages include round trip and your lift ticket. During the busy season they can get booked up so definitely make reservations if you can. If not you can check out my review of Chuo Bus here for more details (Coming Soon).

Niseko is a fantastic place to spend a week or more going up to the top of the mountain and back down again but it will be expensive. Accomodations and food in the area are not cheap. Is it worth it? If you love skiing or snowboarding, totally. I will have to find my way back eventually. Save your coin and get up to Hokkaido for some of the best boarding in the world.

Reverse Cinderella – Shoe Shopping in Japan

When I left for Japan, I had all my belongings in a backpack and two suitcases. That didn’t leave a lot of room for frivolities, so things like my “action” figure of Jane Austen, Shakespeare shot glasses, and discography of The Monkees had to stay behind. I also decided not to pack a pair of high heels. Why waste room on torture devices? Unfortunately, every once in a blue moon there is an occasion that calls for heels. About eight months into my life here, I decided I ought to buy some just in case.

At least my large shoes can serve as weapons if the need arises

Little did I know, this decision would send me on a proverbial wild goose chase. I actually believe catching a wild goose blindfolded would have been far easier. I was suddenly part of a perverse fairytale in which I was Cinderella, scowering the kingdom for the shoe that fit the foot. “But Shana, how can this be?” you say. “There are literally millions of high heels sold in Japan.” Yes, true, but almost none for any foot above a size 8.5.

In America, I’m average. Average height, average feet. Depending on the shoe brand, I can range from 8 1/2 to 9 1/2, but in Japan a whopping 26 centimeters is enough to get you laughed right out of the shoe store. And I was. At least ten times. I wanted to give up after the second store, but Andrew persisted, since men are the only ones who get to enjoy the sadistic thing we call women’s fashion anyway. At first, I thought that all the large shoes had been purchased by “fashionable” young Japanese girls. The current style in Japan is to hobble atop tall high heels two sizes too large and walk pigeon-toed in an attempt to look like a sexy toddler. Not only is this sadistic, but just plain dangerous. I imagine that the practitioners of whatever medical discipline that repairs broken ankles must be well-off here.

I imagine it’s difficult to find appropriate sized shoes as a professional clown in Japan

While this craze is disturbing, it is not the reason for the large shoe mass extinction. Shoe shops simply don’t stock anything above a 24.5, and even with the “short Asian” stereotypes, I find this hard to swallow. I don’t see many Japanese women that are much shorter that I am, ok that’s a lie. Yes, I do, but I also see plenty of natives who are much taller. For some baffling evolutionary reason that I won’t pretend to understand, they grow smaller feet. Like Barbie, they have adapted a way to walk without falling over due to disproportionate measurements. That was also the first and last time that Asian women have been compared to Barbie, you’re welcome.

This was not seen as campy in Japan, but as an actual horror movie

Walking from store to store, being rejected, in a strange way I felt…special. Well, especially motivated to kick over their display cases with my oversized feet. It’s not enough to have the curse of blonde hair, I now have this to deal with?! I suppose the upside is the next time a passerby isn’t looking where they’re walking because they are too busy staring at my “not black” hair, I can just stick out a gargantuan toe and trip them…Yeah, or I could just learn to say “Staring is rude” in Japanese…

Is there a silver lining here, anywhere? Fortunately yes, this story has a “happy” ending. I am lucky to have a Japanese friend living in Tokyo who speaks perfect English. She can search all the Japanese websites for the “size plus” stores (actual name) that cater to those of us tragically born with the condition known as “not Japanese-sized.” These stores serve lots of actual Japanese clients with this same condition. She found a store in Ikebukuro called Ladies’ Kid. I found the name obvious (who else’s kid could it be?) but the store was fantastic and the proprieter was beyond helpful.

With my gracious friend as translator, I picked out a nice pair of black heels, which the salesman proceeded to custom fit to the millimeter each shoe seperately, since he knew that all feet slightly vary between our left and right. He shaved and trimmed special inserts which he manuevered into just the right spaces for a perfect fit. All became right in the fairytale world as I was truly Cinderella this time. He even made me extra sets of inserts for my other shoes, and told me I was normal. Japanese Prince Charming, he has a very lucky girlfriend who has the same size feet as me.

Do I relish the idea of having to do all my shoe shopping in Tokyo? No, but at least it’s an excuse to see my friend!

Success at last

Success at last

Ski and Snowboard Resort List – Tohoku

It has been difficult for me to find a comprehensive list of ski resorts in Japan, in English, with functioning links.

Until now…

Well, for Tohoku at least. I have finished a massive project, organizing all of my snowboarding research into 6 spreadsheets (SPREADSHEETS ARE SO INTERESTING) that you can sort with links to all the active websites I could find (websites which, unfortunately, are mostly in Japanese).

Zao Eboshi

If you have solid Japanese skills or the patience to use your web browser’s translate function you can use Snoway.com, my most frequented source for information but Snoway is still incomplete. Also, before you hop in a car or on a train, I would verify directly with the ski resort that they are actually still in business. Post 2011, many of these places have had trouble getting skis and boards on the mountain and tourism in general is depressed all around Tohoku, particularly in Miyagi and Fukushima.

Spring Valley - IzumiThese lists are not complete. Many of the ski resorts in Japan are small municipal parks with or family owned. My research method consisted of cross referencing wikipedia.jp, snoway.com, snowjapan.comskijapan.com and area searches on google maps. It is likely that I missed a small resort or two. If you know of any that aren’t on the list that are cool and worth checking out please send them along or leave the info in the comments. More over, I have included ski trail map links to the larger places.

All that being said, this is likely the most comprehensive list you will find in English.

MIYAGI – You can check out my in depth reviews of Zao Eboshi Zao Sumikawa and Spring Valley.

Trail Maps: Zao EboshiZao SumikawaZao ShiroishiZao ShichikashukuSpring Valley

YAMAGATA

Trail Maps: Zao OnsenYonezawa – RitsukoTengendaiAsahigatakeJangle Jungle

IWATE

Trail Maps: Appi-KogenShizukuishiHachimantaiGeto8OkunakayamaAmari OnsenIwate KogenHiraniwa

AKITA

Trail Maps: Tazawako – JeunesseOpas TaiheizanDaisen Odai

AOMORI

Trail Maps: Naqua ShirokamiOwaniMoya Hills – Hakkouda

FUKUSHIMA

Trail Maps: Alts Bandai – Inawashiro – Takatsue – Numajiri – Hatoriko – Daikura – Minowa – Nekoma – Takahata – Nango – Grand Sunpia – Adatarakogen

There you go. I hope you get out on the mountain and shred some serious pow!

If you want to the whole list in in excel format: Tohoku Snow Project

Cooking in the shower – Yakisoba Deluxe

yakisobaI feel like every time I add a new recipe here, it’s some kind of wonderful Japanese dish that I never got to try in the states. There are so many facets of Japanese cuisine, I discover something new every month. Since I moved here in March, I have been enamored of yakisoba, a Japanese-style chow mein that is available in every market and convenience store. It is also a staple at any festival or street market. My favorite breakfast while traveling in Japan is a plate of cold yakisoba from 7-11.

Why am I cooking in the shower? It’s not for the flavor…

My first attempt to cook this at home was a sticky failure. For one, I didn’t have the right sauce, and for two, I assumed that because “soba” was in the name, I could use soba noodles in the dish. Wrong. Do not use soba or other buckwheat pasta. Soba can easily become gluey, which is exactly how my mangled clumps of noodles turned out.

Easy yakisoba from the grocery store

Easy yakisoba from the grocery store

Frustrated, I gave up on them. Since it’s so easy to find yakisoba in Japan, I simply bought some when the craving appeared. But a few weeks ago, I spent an amazing weekend with some friends in Tokyo. One night we stayed in, and some Japanese friends made fresh yakisoba. Combined with the cheerful company and the Japanese ume-shu, our communion of this homemade yakisoba made it taste a million times more delicious.

While I unfortunately cannot always replicate these conditions in my apartment, I decided to make it again (correctly) and just think about my good friends while I ate it. It turned out fantastic! If you have never tried it, you must make some! Once you have the right ingredients, it’s as simple as… well, I was going to say pie, but pie is an art-form and definitely not simple. Why do we say this, as well as “piece of cake”? All baking in general is detailed and precise. Perhaps it is meant to be sarcastic, like “Clear as mud.” Or “Easy-peasy Japanese-y,” because Japanese is in no sense of the word easy. Sorry, I digress…

Here’s what you need:yakisoba

Ingredients:
Chukamen noodles: also called egg noodles, they are similar to ramen noodles but noticeably more yellow. In Japan, and any good Asian market, you can buy these fresh in vacuum sealed packs. In Japan, they usually say “yakisoba” 焼きそば on them. Fresh is best.

Sauce: Also in Japan, yakisoba sauce is sold at any market, labeled: ソース 焼きそば (sauce, yakisoba) and usually in yellow packaging with a yellow squeeze-top. If you can’t find this, you can make your own. One cook recommends oyster sauce mixed with tonkatsu sauce (a thick sauce used for breaded pork) but that still requires a trip to the Asian market. Other cooks state that you can use a mix of ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire, mirin and Tabasco. Basically you want a dark, slightly thick sauce with a flavor you like.

Cabbage: chopped roughly

Carrot: thinly sliced or peeled

Yellow or white onion: thinly sliced

Toppings (optional): 
Katsuobushi: (dried bonita flake)

Aonori: (powered seaweed)

Beni shoga: pickled ginger. This is a different type of pickled ginger than you usually see accompanying your sushi. It is cut into matchsticks, is bright pink and tastes more pungent because it is pickled in the same liquid used in ume-boshi, a very tart pickled plum. I don’t particularly love this stuff, so I skip it altogether.

Extras: I also added some sliced green onion and enoki mushrooms because I had them lying around. “Traditional” yakisoba doesn’t include this, but it tasted nice, so why not?

How to:

Heat a pan medium-high, add a little vegetable oil and sauté your veggies for a couple minutes until softened. Add your desired amount of noodles. You don’t need specific measurements for this recipe, just buy as many noodles as you want and chop veggies for around a 50/50 ratio, equal veggie to noodle.sauted veg

Then add your sauce, enough to coat the noodles. If you are worried about overdoing it here, just start small and taste as you go. Use two pasta spoons, or tongs, to toss the noodles and coat them more effectively. Turn the heat up to high for a minute to heat through. I add a dash of soy sauce at the end to give them nice dark color, but it’s not necessary.

Once plated, sprinkle a little of each topping and enjoy. Make sure to cook extra so you can have some for breakfast, hot or cold they are delicious! This is the basic vegetarian version, but feel free to add some meat of your preference. Thin sliced pork, chicken, beef or shrimp are a great addition. I hope you enjoy one of my favorite Japanese street foods!

いただきます – Itadakemasu