About Jessamine in PDX

I live in Portland,OR with my husband and 3 cats, who are alternately sweet and evil. I love to cook/bake. I also like to drink, craft and be merry.

Tokyo’s UNU Farmer’s Market: Bringing Portland to Japan

Portland Tokyo Fest 2015

Portland Tokyo Fest 2015

Over the past few weeks I have been writing about the adventures my husband and I had in Japan last month, but have yet to elaborate on the reason we were there in the first place: the Portland Tokyo Fest. We helped comprise the Portland element of the festival, along with two other local chefs (one who also runs several farms in Portland), a winemaker, a coffee roaster and a brewer.

The focus of the event was to highlight urban farming and the farm-to-table cooking that is so common in Portland. In order to do this we had two cooking demonstrations at the United Nations University Farmer’s Market in Shibuya and we also hosted a dinner party for 100 guests, where each chef served several snacks to be paired with Portland wine, beer and cocktails.

To prepare for these events, we spent our third day in Japan touring local urban farms. A bus took our group from the bustling Tokyo to the much quieter area of Narita, about an hour away, where there are many small, family run farms. Besides getting to see the properties and talk to the farmers, we were also shopping for the produce we would use at the upcoming events.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when we got to our first stop, the Chef’s Garden Farm, but it certainly wasn’t the small, white-haired Japanese man sporting a hat with a skull on it and a massive belt buckle who greeted us. He spoke very little English but happily pulled up all kinds of vegetables for us to inspect. I can honestly say our entire group was stunned by his farm — he had the usual suspects (carrots, radishes) but also yuzu, peanuts, and wasabi. At the request a local chef, he even grows saffron.

This guy was awesome!

This guy was awesome!

Harvesting saffron

Harvesting saffron

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Tokyo, Day 2: Shibuya, Harajuku & late-night yakitori

Chicken skin skewer at Toritake in Shibuya

Chicken skin skewer at Toritake in Shibuya

One of the things I liked best about our trip to Tokyo was wandering through the city’s intricate web of side-streets and alleyways, finding unique sights and enjoying the different culture.

Our second day in the country was spent getting familiar with the streets of Shibuya and Harajuku, the two districts where we would spend most of our time. Along with the rest of our Portland posse, we followed our Japanese guides as they led us from the UNU farmers market (where we would be giving cooking demos) to Iki-ba (the event space for our big dinner) and on to Grain (our commissary kitchen) and back again. We walked the route so many times that my feet were aching and I’m pretty sure that even now, more than a month later, I could find my way from Grain to Iki-ba in my sleep.

But with the crazy traffic, walking was truly the best option, and exploring by foot allowed us to really get a feel for the area. And while it was awesome to be in the hustle and bustle of the city, it was all of the small whimsical touches (from business logos to street art) that won my heart.

It took me two days to figure out this is the logo for a carrier company. As a cat lady, I approve.

It took me two days to figure out this is the logo for a carrier company. As a cat lady, I approve.

Maneki-neko (beckoning cat) statue in Shibuya

Maneki-neko (beckoning cat) statue in Shibuya

Akita dogs getting to know each other. Art by the famouse Hachikō statue at Shibuya Station.

Akita dogs getting to know each other. Art work near the Hachikō statue at Shibuya Station.

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From Tongue to Tail: Midnight snacks in Shibuya, Tokyo

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Japanese beef ready for the grill. Late night bites at a yakiniku restaurant in Tokyo.

*  If you missed the first installment (where we dined on our first bowl of Japanese ramen at 9am), click here to catch up!  *

Our second evening in Tokyo ended on a serious high note. Koji, a friend of a friend and a native to the city, took us to his favorite late-night spot, a small yakiniku restaurant near the Shibuya Station.

Yakiniku is the Japanese term for grilled meats, and refers to the tabletop grills that many of these restaurants sport. The customer is basically the cook; servers pass off plates of raw meat and patrons are in charge of cooking it to their liking. Each table gets a few pairs of tongs so guests can take turns flipping meat.

Our table top grill. We also each had plates with various dipping sauces to dress the beef. Though most of it went unused as it nearly seemed blasphemous.

Our tabletop grill. We also each had plates with various dipping sauces to dress the cooked beef, though most of it went unused as it seemed nearly blasphemous with such beautiful meat.

Given that we were in a group with several chefs, two things were immediately clear: we were going to eat A LOT of meat and it was all going to be cooked impeccably.

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Tokyo, the first 24 hours: Ramen, shrines & Portland beer

Straw-wrapped sake barrels in the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Shibuya, Tokyo.

Straw-wrapped sake barrels in the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Shibuya, Tokyo.

I got back from Japan just over a week ago and my body clock is finally back on track. Having to wake up at 8am for work has been pretty miserable but with every sad morning, I think —  I can’t believe I was in Tokyo!

Since I have been terrible about posting lately, I figured some Japanese adventure stories would be a great way to re-live the fun I had and get me back in the blogging saddle.

So, for the back story, my husband and I were part of a Portland group (he was one of three chefs, but we also had a brewer, a wine maker and a coffee guy with us) that traveled to Japan as part of a “PDX meets Tokyo” festival. The event was primarily sponsored by Columbia Sportswear, Airbnb and Travel Portland, which means I got a sweet new rain jacket and we had a free place to stay. Can’t beat that!

The whole trip was a lot of fun, but it was a good amount of work too: we sold Portland products at the UNU Farmer’s Market, the chefs each did two cooking demos, we toured three urban farms and catered a Seed-to-Table dinner for 100 people on Halloween night. While I’ll be posting about those adventures later, I’m going to backtrack to the very beginning — our 24 hours in the city.

Flying in to the Narita Airport

Flying in to the Narita Airport

My husband and I arrived in Tokyo on Monday, Oct. 25, around 7pm. We had been traveling for more than 14 hours, ten of which was the final flight. I love flying so it didn’t actually didn’t seem that long to me. My husband, on the other hand, is antsy by nature and was dying to get off the plane.

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Copenhagen: a canal tour and the first round of Danish dogs

Our first round of Danish dogs: I got a rød pølse, the classic red sausage, my husband got the spicy beef sausage, oksekrydder.

Our first round of Danish dogs: I got a rød pølse, the classic red sausage, my husband got the spicy beef sausage, oksekrydder.

We spent our second day in Copenhagen exploring the city in the best possible way — by boat.

While it’s impossible to pretend you’re anything other than a tourist when you take a canal tour, there’s nothing quite like seeing a city as colorful as Copenhagen from the water. Besides, with my Nikon strapped securely around my neck for our entire vacation, I don’t think we ever had a chance to pass as natives anyways.

The tour was wonderful – even better than I could have hoped. We used Netto, on the recommendation of travel guru Rick Steves, and it was shockingly inexpensive (around $7 a person) and very well done. Our guide spoke three languages and the tour lasted a little over an hour.

The spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Savior's Church) peeking out on the skyline.

The spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Savior’s Church) peeking out on the skyline.

Copenhagen Canal Tour

The tour boat took us to see some of the major historicalsights, including the famous Little Mermaid and past the royal palace, Amalieborg, but we also wove leisurely under bridges and through the port district of Christianshavn. Click on the photos to enlarge and read the details…

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Copenhagen, the first 6 hours: from sleep deprived to satisfied

Our first Danish sunset - I've never been so happy to see the sun set at 10pm.

Our first Danish sunset – I’ve never been so happy to see the sun set at 10pm.

When we left Iceland I was practically in tears. Not because I was sad to go — which I really was — but because I was so tired.

I’m not sure if it was vacation jitters or the very real midnight sun (it literally never got dark the whole time we were there) but the last two nights we were in Reykjavik, I didn’t fall asleep until after 6am. While the first morning I could sleep in, the second morning we had to be ready for our shuttle to the airport at 9am.

I think I clocked in 90 minutes of actual shut-eye before it was time to leave our apartment and lug our suitcases to the van. Sleep-deprived, my mood teetered from dazed and confused to frustrated and teary. If being hangry is a thing — and I believe it is — there must be a word for being so exhausted you’re just angry at the world. And particularly angry at all the well-rested people who had probably slept for a full 8 hours the night before. I hated those people.

After groggily making my way through customs and onto the plane, I collapsed in my window seat in sheer delight. I have never been so excited to sit on a plane in my life! Not even the exuberant Danish kids behind us could keep me from falling asleep before we even left the ground. It was magnificent.

And thankfully, upon waking up as we descended into Copenhagen, my feelings of anger had dissipated, leaving only excitement for the week to come, and especially for the evening ahead of us. To celebrate our first night in Denmark, my husband had made dinner reservations at Amass, number 66 on the list of the world’s best restaurants. A good reason for an attitude adjustment if there ever was one!

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