Monday, January 23, 2017

Our Fukuoka Christmas 7 - Toruku Rice at Primrose, beside the Meganebashi in Nagasaki

Moon bridges are highly arched stone walkways that are found in many Japanese gardens and parks.  
When seen over water, the reflection looks a like a perfectly round full moon.   
In Nagasaki, the most well known stone bridge is not a moon bridge but a double arched structure known as Meganebashi or Spectacles Bridge.  
It's one of the most famous stone bridges not just in Nagasaki but in the whole of Japan.

The Meganebashi spans a narrow part of the Nakashima River.  Built in the 1600s,  our Tours by Locals guide Miyuki san said that it is the oldest stone bridge in Japan.  
A few centuries ago, the  Nakashima had many stone bridges crossing it, each one leading to one of the city's famous chinese temples in the Teramachi district.  This map in blue tile shows how this area looked like many years ago.

The best view of Meganebashi is from a hundred meters away, from another stone bridge directly across it.  Doesn't it really look like a pair of old fashioned round spectacles?  I suddenly remembered 
John Lennon's face with his famous owlish eyeglasses. 

The visit to Meganebashi coincided with lunchtime.  I had requested Miyuki san to let us try 
a local and traditional Nagasaki specialty -- toruku rice or turkish rice.  
Toruku rice is made up of a pork cutlet with gravy served with tomato based spaghetti and rice.  
Yes, it's a double carb meal!  I couldn't wait to try it.
While we were taking photos and admiring the views, Miyuki san was busy on the phone making reservations at her favourite lunch place which incidentally, was just across the road.

The restaurant is incongruously called "Primrose".  It's on the second floor, you walk up a narrow 
and steep staircase.  There is no sign except for a small bulletin board with a photo of the house specialty -- toruku rice.   This is definitely a place that only locals would know about.

If you're lucky enough to sit by the window, you get a good view of the Meganebashi across the road.

The menu is in Japanese, sorry but Primrose does not have an english menu.

But you don't really need one because the photo speaks a thousand calories.  There are just a few items -- it's basically toruku rice as the star dish with a few yoshoku style dishes like a cheese casserole,  pasta and  beef stew.

And here is toruku rice, in all its mouthwatering glory.   I get hungry just seeing this photo again. 
Primrose's toruku rice is awe inspiring ... there is so much food on the plate!
For 1,000 yen,  I got a gigantic pork cutlet liberally doused with gravy,  a ton of rice smothered 
with a sweet and spicy Japanese curry sauce,  and a heap of spaghetti hiding under the pork.  
Fresh greens with a tart dressing complete my crowded plate.
Miyuki san said that this dish was "invented" in Nagasaki and blends Portuguese and Japanese culinary traditions. 
It may look like a mishmash of flavours -- curry/gravy/spaghetti sauce and I was surprised that it all worked well together.  A triumph for culinary multi-culturalism!

For those with daintier appetites, there is the "Ladies' Dish" which is a smaller portion of pork but with one piece of fried prawn to compensate.  Of course this being Japan, they did have the requisite Kiddie Meal which Martina enjoyed.

From where we sat,  I could see into Primrose's small open kitchen.  The chef is busy at the stove 
and has just one girl to help him serve the food, wash the dishes and yes -- act as the cashier.   
What an efficient operation --  it's certainly an advantage when you just have a few choices on your menu.

This is Miyuki san, our Tours by Locals guide.  She is an excellent resource of anything that you may want to know about Nagasaki and will definitely help you maximise your time in the city.
Thank you, Miyuki san for taking us to your  favourite lunchtime place and for letting us taste the fusion fabulousness of toruku rice!


On our way out  Miyuki san, who knows about my penchant for shotengai, took us on a quick visit to Hamanmachi -- Nagasaki's very own covered shopping arcade.  There are more than 700 shops in a warren of streets! I barely saw a fraction of them.  Zannen desu ne!

 Nagasaki, I shall return!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Our Fukuoka Christmas 6 - Nagasaki Redux : Urakami Cathedral, the 26 Martyrs Memorial, Oura Church and Kotai-ji Temple

Most tourists come to Nagasaki for its history -- on August 9, 1945  the second atomic bomb exploded over the city. 
But there's more to Nagasaki than just the atomic bomb -- it is where Christianity, more specifically Catholicism, was introduced to Japan as early as the 16th century.
Nagasaki was also where Christians were persecuted upon orders of the shogun
Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  Despite this,  pockets of resistance from "hidden Christians" kept the faith alive.

On our second visit to Nagasaki this December, we combined both experiences, a bit of history with
a bit of religion.
With our excellent Tours by Locals guide  Miyuki san, we took a short taxi ride from the Atomic Bomb Museum to the top of the hill to visit the famous Urakami Cathedral which was  situated a mere 500 meters from the bomb's hypocenter.  While the Cathedral is not too far from the Museum,
it is a steep uphill climb so a taxi is the easier way to go.

The Cathedral, which used to be the largest Catholic church in Japan, was originally built in the 1890s.  After the blast it was almost completely levelled except for a few pillars and statues that survived.  You can see some of these in the Atomic Bomb Museum and some within the church grounds.  The biggest pillar that remained relatively intact has been placed beside the Memorial for survivors in Peace Park, on the exact spot over which the bomb exploded.

Photos are not allowed inside so I can only share the few I took of the church facade and exteriors.
This bas relief on the front of the church shows  the "kakure kirishitan" or hidden Christians who
had to conceal their faith to avoid being exiled, tortured or killed.  The Cathedral was built to give these faithful a place of worship after the many years of persecution.

From the front of the church, you can see the the mountains and hills that surround Nagasaki
This type of  terrain helped protect the city from more destruction as the hills helped contain the bomb blast on the northern side. 

It was another short taxi ride to the 26 Martyrs Memorial.  Located on top of Nishizaka Hill,
the Memorial is dedicated to the 26 Japanese who were crucified here in 1597 upon orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
This horrible act marked the start of the cruel and avid persecution of Christians which would last throughout the Tokugawa era, well until the end of the 1800s.
The simple but moving bronze monument shows St. Paul Miki, a Jesuit and one of the first Japanese saints, along with his companion martyrs, their eyes raised, at the point where it seems their souls go up to heaven.

There is a Museum behind the monument and in front of it is a statue of our very own
San Lorenzo Ruiz,  who was also martyred in Nagasaki although not alongside the 26 Martyrs.
San Lorenzo is held in high esteem and revered by the Christians of Nagasaki and this small garden
in front of the Museum is dedicated to him.

Right beside the Memorial you can see the  Gaudi inspired twin spires of St. Philip's Church.
The church is where the bones of St. Paul Miki and St. John Goto are interred. 
Nagasaki has more than 100 churches -- more than enough for a pilgrimage.
Miyuki san mentioned that pilgrimages to Nagasaki are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among  Filipino tourists.

By shifting my view from the spires of the church, I saw this gigantic statue of the Kannon Buddha on the hillside.  Miyuki san said that it was situated in one of the Buddhist cemeteries nearby.
As you can see, it dwarfs the houses beside it.  It's standing on top of an equally huge turtle.

If you have just one day in Nagasaki and you want to do a mini-pilgrimage, the other must see is
on the south side of the city.  Oura Church now the Minor Basilica of Oura,  is the oldest  church
in Japan and pre-dates Urakami Cathedral by more than twenty years.
Unlike Urakami which did not survive the blast, Oura was located on the safe side of Nagasaki and thus escaped damage and destruction.
It was built in 1865 by a French priest,  Fr. Petitjean who aided the "hidden Christians" by giving them a  safe and secure place to worship.
Today, to help preserve the centuries old structure with its beautiful wooden interiors,  it is no longer used except for very special occasions.  A more modern church has been built nearby where masses are regularly held.
Oura Church has been designated as a Cultural Treasure by the Japanese government and as a Minor Basilica by the Vatican.

As in Urakami Cathedral, photos are not allowed inside the church.  This graceful marble statue 
of Our Lady is a replica of the original which is inside the church and came all the way from France.  

The stained glass rose windows are also from France, brought over when the church was being built.

This serene garden in front of the church has a statue of Fr. Petitjean along with a bust of  Pope John Paul II who visited Nagasaki as a pilgrim in 1981

When you visit Oura, do not fail to go to the small but excellent museum right behind the church.   Built by Fr. Petitjean, the building now houses photos, artefacts and other memorabilia from the time the church was built.  The most interesting for me were examples of the fumi-e -- these were small images of Jesus or Mary that  suspected Christians were made to step or trample on. If they refused, they would be found out as "hidden Christians" and severely punished by torture or even death.

Most well visited tourist spots in Japan have "shopping streets" attached to them.  Oura Church is not an exception.  The uphill path leading to the church is lined with shops selling local souvenirs and 
specialty foods and small cafes where one can have a drink and a snack. 

My delicious discovery of the day came from one of the shops along this road -- Iwasaki Honpo 
is the famous brand of steamed pork kakuni buns, a Nagasaki specialty.  
These buns are like our local cuapao but without any pickled mustard or chopped peanuts -- nothing but a meltingly tender braised piece of pork belly encased in a soft bun.  What an amazing find!  
I bought a pack of frozen kakuni buns back to the apartment in Fukuoka where we enjoyed it again a few nights after.

Those of you who have read other posts on this blog know that when in Japan, I try to go to as many temples and shrines that I can.  After visiting the churches, I asked Miyuki san to take me to at least one temple so I could have a seal for my shuin-cho or temple seal book.  We headed off to the Teramachi area where most of the Buddhist temples are. 

The Jesuits were the first Christians to discover Nagasaki in the 16th century.  They were followed by the Chinese who set up Buddhist temples in the area.   Thus,  the more well known temples in Nagasaki are heavy in Chinese influence in both style and architecture. 
I asked Miyuki san if she could bring me to the temple that looked most "Japanese" so she brought
me to Kotai-ji, a temple that belongs to the Soto-zen sect of Buddhism.

When you enter the temple gates, you will find the Daibutsu-den or Great Buddha Hall waiting for you at the top of the stone steps.  Miyuki san told me that Kotai-ji hosts zazen sessions every month and that she has attended at least once. 

Inside the Daibutsu-den is this peaceful and calm figure of the Buddha Vairochana.  It stands over three meters tall and sits atop a lotus flower.  I found out later from the monk who stamped my 
shuin-cho that this statue is over three hundred years old.

As we head out of Kotai-ji, we met this very fat and friendly temple cat who just didn't seem to want to let us go.

He even lay down right by my feet, purring in contentment as I rubbed his thick, clean fur.

But we had a train to catch to take us back to Fukuoka and I think the monks would have missed him terribly if I had "cat-napped" him.  See you again, Neko chan -- maybe in one of your next nine lives or perhaps on my next visit to Nagasaki. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Our Fukuoka Christmas 5 - A Salaryman's Lunch at Enya in Tenjin

The salaryman is the everyman in Japan.  Having worked for so long in a Japanese company, I know just who he is -- I worked with many of them for years.  Salarymen are hardworking, loyal to the company and very dependable.  They work from morning till night, taking only a quick break in the middle of the day.  So -- they also know the fastest, cheapest and tastiest places to grab a quick lunch.

I always like to eat in these small lunch places.  The food is always good and affordable.  
You can find the salaryman's lunch places in busy commercial areas, amidst office and shopping districts.  On this visit to Fukuoka, I found one in an intersection along Tenjin district.
This narrow building had restaurants from the ground to the top floor.

These lunch places have no english menus since they cater primarily to locals.  But who needs 
one when a picture menu is more than enough -- this appetising poster on the ground floor was for 
a restaurant on the third.  With a number of meals to choose from and none that cost over 1,000 yen, this was a salaryman's ideal lunch place indeed.

The tiny elevator stopped at the third floor and this door with the green noren  marked the entrance 
to En-ya -- how did I know the name?  Simple, I asked the waitress!

We got the last remaining seats at the counter, where I had a worm's eye view of the dishes and the two cooks busy in the kitchen.  Liquor bottles on the cabinet meant that the lunch regulars would normally have drinks here after office hours.  Most places like these turn into izakayas or casual bars in the evening.

As you can see, the restaurant is rather cramped -- there are a few tables for four plus counter seating for six.  Everyone eats a quick lunch then heads back to work so even if the space is small, turn over is quick and they can do several seatings for lunch.

Our orders came after a five minute wait.  The grilled saba  had been filleted and deboned and had a nice smoky taste.  The setto (set) includes refillable rice, tsukemono or pickles, a small salad and of course the ubiquitous miso soup.  

I had my favourite karaage -- hot, crisp and tender with a slight gingery tang.  This very generous serving of five large chicken pieces (all thigh fillets, more expensive in Japan than breast fillets) 
cost just 750 yen.   What a great deal!

If you're taking a break from shopping in the Tenjin area, try a salaryman's lunch at Enya or any of the similar lunch places.  The specials will leave you with more yen in your wallet for more shopping after.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Our Fukuoka Christmas 4 - The friendly Fukuokans at Yanagibashi Market

If Tokyo has Tsukiji and Kyoto has Nishiki,  Fukuoka has Yanagibashi Market.  All are known as 
their respective cities' "kitchens" -- sources of the freshest seafood, meats and produce. 

Yanagibashi is right along the main avenue, Sumiyoshi dori.  When you reach the bridge that crosses the Nakagawa, the market is waiting at the other end.

The entrance to  Yanagibashi is marked by a mosaic of fish.  As you walk through, you will see other mosaics of the other things sold in the market like vegetables and fruits. 

Unlike Nishiki which stretches out for more than four blocks, Yanagibashi is quite compact.  The market's entire length must be two hundred meters or so and there are just about 50 stores.  But 
what the market lacks for in size,  they make up for in smiles  -- the vendors are the 
friendliest and most helpful that I have ever encountered.

Both home cooks and chefs will find the the best seafood in the market -- clams and other shellfish are kept alive for maximum freshness.

These fish seem surprised that they were caught! 

Because we are nearing the end of the year,  kazunoko or golden herring roe is prominently displayed.  This is one of the traditional good luck foods for oshogatsu or the Japanese New Year.

Do you see the  packaged dried fish hanging from the shop ceiling? That is yaki ago,  dried flying 
fish  used to make dashi, which is the base for many soup stocks.  Yaki ago is used in ozoni, a soup that is served during the New Year.  

Even if the market is abuzz with people, the vendors are never too busy to stop and say hello or even answer questions about what they're selling.  Photographs are allowed and they'll even hold up their produce for you to take a close up shot.   Most of them will even stop and have their picture taken!

 Mentaiko or seasoned fish roe is a Fukuoka specialty and you can definitely find it at Yanagibashi.  These are fresh, premium quality mentaiko, much better than the frozen ones sold at the airport.  

One of my discoveries at Yanagibashi is mentaiko mayonnaise.  It works deliciously as a spread, a dip or even as a salad dressing.  Only one store in the market sells it -- and they make it themselves.  You can get a commercial brand at the supermarket and even at the airport but it isn't half as good.

No matter which stall you go to, the shopkeepers have a ready smile and are always happy to chat.
And even with my limited Nihongo we are able to carry on a conversation. 

This is a very popular stall that sells processed fish products in different forms and varieties.  Some are ready to eat,  while some are used as toppings or ingredients in dishes like nabe, shabu shabu or even in ramen.

One store in the market doubles as a restaurant.  The chiller has various sashimi cuts which they 
can prepare for you or you can buy a pack to take home.    Since we had just had breakfast, it was 
too soon to think about lunch.  

At the end of the market is an old time bakery -- selling breads, cookies, crackers, traditional sweets and candies.

It may be too early for lunch but a mid morning pastry seems doable.  There are soft buns filled with custard cream or sweet red beans, fried donuts, plain breads -- baking must be done right on premise because appetising smells waft all over the store.

Right across the bakery is Manu Coffee, a local, independent coffee house.  
It's a modern take on the kissaten -- the old fashioned Japanese coffee cum tea house.  
They have many varieties of coffee beans from all over the world that they sell and use in their 
coffee.  A wooden menu board shows all  kinds of hot and cold drinks that you can order.

We bring our pastries from the bakery -- this shop highly encourages BYOB+++  or 
bring-your-own-bread-from-our-neighbor-the-bakery.  We take our coffee upstairs and sit by the window to enjoy the view of the Nakagawa.  

The baristas at Manu, just like everyone we had met at Yanagibashi Market, are smiling and 
good natured.   If you come to Fukuoka, come and say hello to everyone and feel the true essence 
of the Fukuoka spirit, right here at Yanagibashi Market.