temple We took the Bullet Train from Tokyo down to Kyoto, for a change of scenery and a bit of more traditional culture. Kyoto, which means “capital,” was indeed the capital of Japan until 1868.


Since it survived World War II relatively unscathed from the wide-spread American bombing, it has many more old buildings and temples than Tokyo. 

Our first outing was to the Kiyomizu Temple, a Buddhist temple founded in 798. It’s a large complex, with many little temples and a waterfall with holy water, which comes down in three streams and which you can drink for wisdom, health, and longevity. That’s the idea, anyway, and I was happy enough to give it a try.

I also visited the Kyoto National Museum, where they had a few beautiful paintings, exhibitions on court culture, and an exhibition on the Japanese film industry (many of the early films were made in Kyoto).    

We stayed at Ryokan Kazuki, and took the waters there before dinner, enjoying a traditional Japanese bath. It’s quite relaxing, and it helps get in the mood for an evening in of eating (see below). 

Dinner was a formal Kaiseki meal at the ryokan. There was no shortage of food. Here’s an idea of the courses, courtesy of Wikipedia, and it sounds about right:

Sakizuke: an appetizer similar to the French amuse-bouche.


Hassun: the second course, which sets the seasonal theme. Typically one kind of sushi and several smaller side dishes.

Mukozuke: a sliced dish of seasonal sashimi.

Takiawase: vegetables served with meat, fish or tofu; the ingredients are simmered separately.

Futamono: a “lidded dish”; typically a soup.

Yakimono: Broiled seasonal fish.

Su-zakana: a small dish used to clean the palate, such as vegetables in vinegar.

Hiyashi-bachi: served only in summer; chilled, lightly-cooked vegetables.

Naka-choko: another palate-cleanser; may be a light, acidic soup.

Shiizakana: a substantial dish, such as a hot pot.

Gohan: a rice dish made with seasonal ingredients.


Ko no mono: seasonal pickled vegetables.

Tome-wan: a miso-based or vegetable soup served with rice.

Mizumono: a seasonal dessert; may be fruit, confection, ice cream, or cake.

I can’t believe how much I’ve eaten on this trip, and how much I have liked it!

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Fish, Food and Ice Cream

tsukiji2 Our days have been so packed here, it’s hard to cover things in any kind of detail. Yesterday, we started at the Tsukiji Fish Market, which they say is the largest in the world. It’s a great experience, although it’s such a hive of activity, it’s hard not to feel in the way! There’s row upon row of fish stalls, and a huge fruit and vegetable section as well. I’ll be back later in the trip for some sushi…

oucaWe had lunch in a neighbouring hotel as part of the Irish trade delegation, and then, in the afternoon – ice cream! We went to Ouca, a shop with fairly wild flavours from a western perspective – a seasonal pumpkin, black sesame ice cream, salty soy ice cream lotus blossom ice cream, red bean (azuki) ice cream, etc. 

The flavours were fun, but I think it was an Italian pre-fabricated base, if I’m not wrong. An interesting concoction that they served had agar-agar cubes with ice cream and red beans, topped with a sugar sauce. 

kacyoFor dinner, we went to Kacyo, a Ryotei with private rooms that used to be a private men-only place for closing business deals.

The nine course dinner was great, with the sashimi served with edible shiso flowers and the lobster tempura being two of the highlights for me.

We staggered back to the hotel, stunned.

groupThis morning, we had breakfast at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant in the hotel with the Minister for Agriculture

We then headed to some of the posh department stores including Takashimaya and Mid Town in Shinjuku, to check out the food halls.

The presentation and variety on offer was truly astonishing. If we had the former in Ireland, I would be in serious trouble.

aokiWe had lunch in Mid Town at Yamanoue Tempura, and the shopping centre contained a beautiful branch of Sadaharu Aoki, a patisserier I first discovered in Paris, and Toraya for traditional Japanese sweets.

I have bags full of chocolates and confections, which hopefully will make it back to Ireland if I can exercise control. 

Tonight there’s an embassy reception with the Taoiseach, but I’d rather keep eating and walking. Tokyo is far more relaxed and enjoyable than I would have imagined. It’s been a brilliant trip so far. 

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Kore ni shimasu

inakaya2 I arrived safely in Tokyo, and although exhausted from lack of sleep and the long flight, I’m delighted to be here. 

conradNot only am I in the extremely comfortable environs of the Conrad Hotel in terms of lodgings, but we visited a few food shops and had a great meal out tonight courtesy of Bord Bia

We went to Inakaya in Roppongi, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a Robata Yaki restaurant, which basically means they cook fresh ingredients on a grill in front of you and do a lot of shouting (adds a lively vibe).

We were served an insane amount of courses, including grilled shitake mushrooms, grilled fish, a bit of sushi, grilled asparagus, more grilled fish, etc. etc. 


For those of you in New York, you can get a taste at home – Inakaya opened a branch last year at 620 8th Ave (on the ground floor of the New York Times building). 

I’m tired, stuffed and off to bed early. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow, with lots more eating. Poor me.

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Travel Fever

corkairporthotel Acting on a tip from Mr. Mulley, I booked into the Cork International Airport Hotel since I’m off to Japan early tomorrow morning. It’s astonishing value for money at the moment (parking is also half the long-term airport parking price), and whatever some might think about the decor, it sure is fun.

Dinner was had at Cafe Paradiso, and once again it didn’t disappoint. Denis Cotter still has the best restaurant in Cork in my opinion,  and it made me happy to see it packed and buzzing. Anyone wanting to eat there should know they have cut back their lunch service in an effort to streamline. I hope that’s a temporary thing, since one would certainly hope that such quality is rewarded, no matter the economic climate. 

Next post from Tokyo!

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Don’t Forget Chocolate!

chocwine If reducing your chocolate intake was part of your New Year’s Resolutions (ah, horror!), you might think again.

Two recent studies add to the numerous benefits found from this miraculous substance. The first, from Oxford University, found that dark chocolate (along with tea and red wine) boosts memory. In fact, the three taken together had the most pronounced effect. You can read more about it here, and it might set a new culinary trend. Chocolate and red wine tastings have become increasingly common, but adding tea into the mix certainly could make things interesting.

The second study, researched by the University of Copenhagen, found that dark chocolate reduces appetite (at least compared to milk chocolate) to the tune of a 15% calorie reduction. It seems that you can have your dark chocolate and eat it too.

So, there are two more reasons for me to make 2009 the Year of Chocolate (like 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, etc. etc.). Things are looking up already.

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CNN Boosts Dingle

 I keep hearing that CNN gave Dingle a good boost and found the story here, although I couldn’t find any video. They say it’s a good winter destination with mild (relatively) temperatures and avoidance of the summer crowds. Now I wouldn’t argue with that, although they didn’t mention the ice cream!

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