Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Back in Japan (Iga - June 2013)...Special Donabe Night in Iga

(Sunday, June 2)

My trip to Iga & Kyoto started today.

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To go to Iga from Tokyo, first I took Shinkansen (bullet train) "Nozomi" from Tokyo Station to Nagoya Station. I picked up yuba (tofu skin) & long hijiki seaweed salad, and "katsu sando" (pork filet cutlet sandwich) to eat in the train for lunch. This very simple "katsu sando" by Maisen has been a popular take out sandwich for more than 4 decades and always has a soft spot in me. Oishii~. Once I got to Nagoya Station, I walked to a express bus terminal and took a bus to Iga.

In Iga, I met Kyle, who just flew from New York to Osaka yesterday and took a morning bus to Iga today. He has been a great friend of mine since I moved to LA 12 years ago. He is a super talented and internationally respected chef. Our special visit to Nagatani-en in Iga was going to begin.

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Here we are. We arrived at historic Nagatani-en, home of the most authentic Iga-yaki donabe. It's been almost 2 years since my last visit, and I was so excited to see the family. For Kyle, it was his very first time to come here, so his excitement was sky high!

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No matter how many times I come here, it makes me feel like I time travelled to a sacred place in a historic time. The view, smell, and all the nature surrounding Nagatani-en's property is so precious and timeless.

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The entire Nagatani family welcomed us...It was so wonderful to be back and see them again! They are like my second family. The chairman, Mr. Yuji Nagatani, and his wife, Takako, looked great and even younger than 2 years ago. The family invited us to a family-style donabe dinner at their 200-year-old "Omoya" house.

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Dinner was made mostly with local ingredients. The first course included squid and ikura with okra salad, and donabe-smoked Iga pork. Sizzling tagine-style donabe, "Fukkura-san", was big clams, seasoned with sake.

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Kenken Katsuo (bonito) sashimi came straight from Kishu, Wakayama. Super fresh and tender.

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With donabe steamer, "Mushi Nabe", seasonal pike eel ("hamo") was steamed along with local sweet onion, Kyoto carrot and cabbage.

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With Iga-yaki grill, "Yaki Yaki San", we grilled Iga of my local favorites! What's so special about Iga Beef is it's so tender and perfectly marbled with so much flavor, while it's not too fatty.

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Iga Rice, cooked in double-lid donabe rice cooker, "Kamado-san". Two kinds of rice was was plain, and the other was cooked with green myoga, chicken, and abura-age. The rice was just perfectly cooked and each grain was so shiny and so perfect. The rice course was served with clam miso soup, made in soup & stew donabe, "Miso-shiru Nabe", and light pickles. I forgot to take a picture of the miso soup! It was so good that I had a second serving of it. The rice course was followed by seasonal cherries and loquat.

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We also shared a surprise dessert, which Kyle brought all the way from New York. It was a beautiful chocolate in a shape of whole yuzu. Inside was yuzu cream. Everybody gathered around Kyle and watched him doing the slicing with curiosity and excitement.

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The most amazing, and true Iga-style "omotenashi" donabe dinner. It's all about sharing. We were so honored to be there to spend time with Nagatani family.

Extremely happy donabe life.