Sunday, January 24, 2016

Walking and Eating with All Star Osaka Walk -- Part 1 : A 5-star gourmet treat at Tsuruhashi Market

I love Tokyo but I love Osaka more.  The buzz,  the friendly people, the casual vibe and the fantastic food are more than enough reasons for me to keep going back (and back and back ...)  That plus the uniquely Osakan concept of kuidaore which literally translates to "eating oneself to ruin".  A most worthwhile endeavour for this pork in the road.
And when you want to kuidaore in Osaka, you will have no better guide than All Star Osaka Walk.  This tour company does regular walking tours of Osaka but you really must try them for their unique and fun customised private tours.  

We always base ourselves in Kyoto but it's easy to travel to and from Osaka --  and since we discovered the Direct Q Express of the Keihan Bus Company, it's become even easier.  Now, we
don't have to suffer through rush hour on the train -- we just board the bus which whisks us in comfort, straight from Kyoto Station to OCAT or the Osaka City Air Terminal in the Namba area.  

In OCAT,  we met up with Minako san, owner of All Star Osaka Walk.  We boarded the subway and got off at Tsuruhashi Station.

This is Minako san,  energetic, passionate and very enthusiastic owner of All Star Osaka Walk.  
I've done many tours with her and she always comes up with something new and interesting 
about Osaka,  the culture,  the history and yes, the food.  Today, we will attempt once again to kuidaore and our first stop is Tsuruhashi Market.

Martina stops to pose by this cutout board that shows traditional Korean costumes.  Tsurahashi Market is right in the centre of Koreatown where many Korean Japanese live.

I passed by the dry goods section and just had to stop when I saw this bright display of
colourful traditional Korean blankets.

In the wet market section, stalls sell cooked Korean food like my favourite pajeon or pancakes.

And naturally,  you can find all kinds of kimchi being sold in Tsuruhashi Market.

Many of the Koreans who live in Koreatown are second and even third generation Korean-Japanese.  So it's not all kimchi and banchan, you'll also find pickled Japanese vegetables.

Tsuruhashi is also a fish market where you can get the fresh catch of the day.

 Fat and large oysters are so enticing,  I want to sit down and douse them with spicy 
pinakurat (coconut vinegar).

For carnivores, there are cuts of pork, beef and yes, organ meat or horumon which has become 
popular lately, specially among young Japanese ladies, Minako san tells me.

It was just a few days to shogatsu or the New Year, a very important occasion for the Japanese.  Christmas is nothing at all compared to this almost week long holiday. The market was full of shoppers buying what they needed for the celebration.

I saw these shogatsu wreaths that the Japanese decorate their homes with.  These are made of 
rice straw,  pine leaves and mandarin oranges or daidai.  Apparently the name of these 
oranges also translates to "generation after generation" which makes them auspicious symbols 
for the New Year.

Minako san points out these large carrots that are not coloured orange but are a deep dark red.  Because red is a lucky colour,  these carrots are included in the osechi ryori or the traditional New Year dishes.

The Japanese take great care in preparing for shogetsu by cooking osechi ryori -- 
different small dishes placed in gorgeous lacquer boxes that are eaten on New Year's day.  
Minako san tells me that osechi ryori can now be bought cooked or ordered from restaurants, 
a big help for those women who do not have the time to make all the dishes from scratch.  

These are herring roe called kazunoko and the millions of tiny eggs packed tightly together means many descendants for the family.   And of course, gold is a most fortuitous colour.

After walking  through the market, we arrive at a little corner amidst the fishmongers' stalls  
with a few chairs and small tables.  Minako san tells us that this section has been  exclusively 
set up for her All Star Osaka Walk clients.

Thanks to Minako san, we are able to taste a few of the dishes that make up osechi ryori. 
She gave us each a plate of small bites  and explained their meaning while we ate.
The deep black glossy soy beans called kuromame are symbols of good health and hard work 
while the large white beans are called hanamame or flower beans.  
Both are boiled in a sweet sauce and are soft but slightly chewy and so good.  
On a side note -- kuromame are very expensive as I found out myself when I tried to buy some uncooked, from the supermarket.  
There are stewed lotus roots or renkon which are considered lucky because of their "holes" through which you can see ahead to the future.  
Long and sturdy burdock root or gobo is a wish for a longevity and a stable life.  
Kohaku namasu is vinegared radish and red carrots that symbolise good fortune.
My favourite konnyaku along with other stewed vegetables like bamboo shoots, mushrooms, 
tofu are collectively called nishime and symbolise family well being (perhaps because they all blend and complement each other).
It's all so informative and yes, everything is delicious. I eat up every little bit on my plate -- now I 
am sure to have a lucky and happy new year.

After that osechi ryori "degustacion",  Minako san brings us lightly simmered tako or octopus.
Even the fat tentacles are so tender that the toothpick pierces the meat easily.  It reminds me 
of pulpo gallego that I enjoyed so much along the Camino.  The octopus comes with a sweetish 
dipping sauce.

Next up is maguro sashimi taken from various parts of the fish.  Each bite sized morsel
delivers  a different texture and taste.

I must have been the only one (aside from Minako san of course) who truly enjoyed this pack
of shirasu sashimi.
Shirasu  (whitebait) are tiny almost translucent fish -- these were so fresh that I think some of them were still moving.   They were cool and smooth and slid down my throat without any effort.  
Minako san said that fresh raw shirasu was a rare treat since the fish does not keep and is usually cooked or seasoned immediately.
I have eaten whitebait before but always dried,  vinegared or fried.
You will not find fresh shirasu in any supermarket but only in fish markets and only when they are in season.  

This very friendly young lady joined us at our table. Together with her mother,  she works
 in their fish stall across the way.  Minako san called her "Miss Tsuruhashi" perhaps because
she was such a hospitable "host" making us feel completely at ease.  She is the typical Osakan --
open, friendly and with a ready smile and laugh.
With wonderfully fresh food and such warm hospitality,  Minako san and All Star Osaka Walk's little corner of Tsurahashi Market made for a truly 5 star gourmet experience.

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