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 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.
Hákarl, Iceland’s notorious rotten shark. We wanted to try it but the timing was never right. Toted as one of the worst things in the world to eat, it took more nerve than my stomach could manage on this trip. Next time, putrified shark, I’m coming for you!
Reykjavik was a wonderland of charming oddities – from some of the cuisine to the names of bars, our four days there barely seemed like enough time to soak it all up.
Here’s some of the fun things we enjoyed:
A bike recycled as part of a fence on one of the main pedestrian streets
Party snacks by candlelight – is there anything better?
There’s a song my husband plays sometimes that echos the refrain “There will be snacks.” Sometimes we sing it to each other even when the music isn’t playing.
And while the song seems to be about the end of days, mentioning survival kits and crumbled financial institutions, it still seems to imply that even the apocalypse can be made better by snacks.
Which is an idea I can totally get behind.
There’s just something about snacks that make me happy. Perhaps because making them (and eating them) suggests that friends, laughter, a nice glass of wine and plenty of fun are in my near future. Or maybe it reminds me of sitting exhausted on my couch, after the last guest has gone home, and being left alone to finish off the last odds and ends from the plates.
Whatever the reason, out of all the meals or menus I plan or partake in, it’s always the snacks that I love the most.
Sweet & Salty Caramel Corn, otherwise known as evil incarnate
I have pretty decent willpower when it comes to food — with a few notable exceptions. At the top of that list resides the Jalapeño Cheeto (not to be confused with Flaming Hot Cheetos whose only redeeming quality is this excellent video). I don’t know what magic took place to make Jalapeno Cheetos even more delicious than the original flavor, but it worked. These things are the straight-up definition of addictive and I am absolutely powerless against them.
My initial encounter was a few years ago when my husband left a small bag open on the kitchen counter before he left for work. I came home early and poured out a few nibbles before folding up the bag and putting it away. Those few bites was all it took. I kept creeping back into the kitchen and sneaking handfuls until the bag was (shamefully) empty.
When my husband came home, I told him he was forbidden from bringing them into our house ever again. While he hasn’t completely complied with that request, they are thankfully a rare indulgence.
I mention this story because I have recently discovered — thanks yet again to my husband, bearer of evil temptations — something just as hauntingly addictive as those spicy, cheesy morsels.
Lemons to lemonade…The standby cliché that has encouraged optimism for years is certainly a useful one to keep in mind in the kitchen.
Even though I’m pretty confident in my culinary prowess, every so often my cooking projects don’t turn out the way I expect them to. Occasionally, no matter how determined I am in conquering certain recipes or ingredients, they remain untamed and I am forced to dine on humble pie instead.
This is where some culinary finesse comes in handy — if you’ve spent enough time in a kitchen, shouldn’t you be able to take a problematic dish and turn it into a delicious success?
I’ll say with total and utter assurance…sometimes.
One of the more frustrating food failures I’ve experienced was a few years ago, involving a chicken leg, sweat and tears. The picture in the magazine was of a perfectly lacquered piece of poultry, whereas mine (even after plenty of last-ditch efforts) remained lackluster and insipid. It was edible, sure, but I didn’t enjoy eating it. The taste of disappointment was too strong.
My most recent foray into the land of food flops came with a slightly ironic twist. Back in 2007, I ripped out a recipe for a Crisp Salami Cocktail Mix from the December issue of Food & Wine. I don’t know what about it intrigued me so much, but it seared itself in my brain. I wasn’t sure when I would make it, but I knew it would happen.
You should all know me well enough by now that I don’t need to explain why I spent a few days creating a recipe for a hot buttered rum Jello shot. In posts past I’ve cemented my love for jiggly alcohol, so instead we can move on to the good stuff.
Hot buttered rum always makes me think of my life-long best friend Nikki Sea. Growing up, her family would make a big batch every December to serve at their annual Christmas boat parade party. There was always some left over which, post-party, would find itself in a most unorthodox place — as part of a peanut butter sandwich.
I should mention, lest you think poorly of us, that the sandwiches were booze free. It was simply the base for the hot buttered rum, made from blending melted vanilla ice cream with sugar, vanilla and butter. Trust me, peanut butter and jelly didn’t stand a chance, that sandwich was like crack.