Each of our three trips to Japan started and ended in Tokyo....naturally in Tokyo Station (actually Narita Airport, but you get the point). By now, we kind of had a habit when catching the Shinkansen to whatever our destination was. One of the items on that list....hit up an Ekiben stand.
This one was a special, to celebrate the one year anniversary of the Shinkansen line to Hokkaido. It was about ten bucks and yes, that's real crab. The oysters were decent; but it was the ikura that made this delicious. It's always fun to watch the Shinkansen go by and count how many people you see eating a bento. Well, when in Japan we're one of those.
Like any large city, it's also fun to people watch. We like to sit for a while in the seats across from the Shinkansen ticket machines. and while I missed taking a photo of the portly man wearing pink "Hello Kitty" sweats....I was basically in shock. I found this guy interesting as he carefully documented all his omiyage.
For some reason, I really noticed a lot of the signs, especially on trains and in train stations on this trip. I found them interesting and sometimes a bit humorous. Like this one titled "How to use a toilet".....just in case you've forgotten. Step 1 is the most important..... I'm always wondering, how many cases of what behavior inspired these posters.
While planning out this trip, I found that Nagoya fit perfectly in our plans. So while we'd made a quick dinner visit in the past, this time we'd be staying. Since we travel very light; we need to have facilities with a washer a few times during our visit. In Nagoya, this meant finding an AirBnB, which was super conveniently located, literally within two blocks from JR Nagoya Station. Though the downside was it being spartanly furnished (my original reservation for what looked like a larger, nicer unit was cancelled) and that it was literally next to the train tracks.
I was relieved that the noise at night didn't bother the Missus too much. And we were gone for most of the days in Nagoya.
One of the great thing about Japan is that every town or city seems to have its specialty....at least in the snack department. Nagoya has several special dishes that I wanted to try. Taka-san at Taisho said I really needed to have Hitsumabushi; Nagoya's version of Unadon. After doing quite a bit of walking already, we decided to stay close by for dinner. Right at the exit of the JR Nagoya Station are escalators leading down to ESCA Underground Shopping Center. Much like Tokyo Station "City", there's a couple of interconnected malls under Nagoya Station. In ESCA, I had mapped out Hitsumabushi Bincho, a Nagoya based chain well known for their Nagoya style Unagi bowl.
Here unagi is grilled over what is regarded as high quality binchotan. The place was pretty quiet when we arrived at about 5pm.
We decided to order the 1 1/2 order of Hitsumabushi to share and a couple of other dishes. And of course "nama biru"......
I was quite happy to see Unagi Hone-senbei on the menu.
I really enjoy fried fish bones....potato chips of the sea. Savory, lightly salted, fairly light and very crisp. Nice savory flavors...and heck, I get my calcium too! Did I mention that it goes great with beer?
We would find other versions that were much cheaper than this, but it was a nice start for me.
The Missus, curious about some of the dishes ordered the Grilled Eel Liver (kimoyaki).
I've had this before and warned the Missus about how bitter it can be. Actually, the tare used on this was just sweet enough to ward off some of the bitterness, though it still caught the Missus a bit off guard. The aroma of the caramelized tare was fantastic. Maybe the best version I've had of this dish.
She also ordered a version of Itawasa. This one was interesting.
The "kamaboko" was very nice, great balanced salty-savory flavors.....all I can say is "good surimi", something I'm not really used to here in the states. The wasabi dip was interesting. There was some minced vegetable in it; a mild bitter-pungent, and a strong fermented flavor; which is probably miso, but the texture was interesting, like perhaps fermented fish? It was quite lovely and a great pairing; the sweet-pungency of the wasabi based dip with the fish cake. I know, I've just written almost a hundred words about eating kamaboko.
And then the main dish....which was accompanied by an instruction card. This one in both Japanese and English.
Apparently, eating this dish the "Nagoya way" is serious business. According to the documentation, this is a three step process. Which we, of course followed.
The Eel itself is wonderfully textured. In the states, the skin is often chewy, here it isn't. The tare is quite complex, mild sweetness, deep interesting flavors. The flesh of the eel basically melts in your mouth, the fat content quite good.
The rice, in comparison to other places in Japan is ok, a bit too hard by my standards. The best combination is number 2, with wasabi; the floral-sweet-pungent tones and the green onion really brought out the best in the eel and added texture. The Chazuke just seemed to water down the flavors for us.
This was a nice and quite filling first meal in Nagoya for us. The service was very friendly and as with most places in Japan quite accommodating.
Hitsumabushi Bincho (ESCA Shop)
ESCA Underground Shopping Center (#45 on the directory)
Tsubakimachi 6 No. 9 Gosaki Esca
Tsubakicho, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya-shi, 453-0015
Open Daily 11am - 330pm and 5pm - 10pm
We took a walk around the area, stopped at the 7-11 to pick up a couple of beers, went back to the apartment to relax and celebrate the fact that we were back in Japan. Tomorrow, we'd be "hiking" (again, remember, I'm here with the Missus) part of the Nakasendō trail. I needed to rest up.
Thanks for reading!