Today was a lazy day as we continue to recover from jet lag and our own preexisting physical and mental exhaustion. Spent the morning strolling around one of the larger temples in our neighborhood, the Shorenin temple, built in the Heian period (which evidently could mean anything from the 8th to the 12th Century). The first thing that is striking about the grounds are the HUMONGOUS trees! These photos do not do them justice!
Shorenin's major claim to fame is its garden. There is a covered tatami-matted terrace overlooking the main part. EVERYONE who entered the terrace while we were there did the same thing--sat down and silently admired it. You could feel your blood pressure and heart rate go down almost instantly. Shorenin, according to our guidebook, rarely has the big crowds that most of the other major temples do, so it is a very tranquil place.
The temple also has some lovely artwork.
Yesterday we went to a much smaller temple, also in our neighborhood. The friendly priest there encouraged us to go to the basement of the temple, where he directed us to find our way along a wall in a room that was pitch black. If we found the lock in the wall (strategically placed under the main Buddha on the first floor, or so we were told), we'd be on our way to eternal bliss! We each found the lock, so eternal bliss, here we come! For obvious reasons, we have no photos to prove it! We, and you, will just have to wait, watch, and see.
Also at this temple was a maiko (geisha in training) on a photo shoot. Dick had to maneuver around her photographer to get these shots!
For those of you who are interested in food (and that's one of the big reasons to come to Japan!), one of the bonuses of our new location is that it's closer to a lot of good but reasonably priced restaurants. For lunch yesterday, we went to a new restaurant (at least it wasn't there the last time we were here in 2012) next to our favorite izakaya. It's two young men behind a counter that seats around 13 or 14: they're the chefs, servers, cashiers, and dishwashers. For lunch they serve upgraded standard modern Japanese lunch fare: hambaagaa staku (you can figure this one out, can't you?) and ebi (shrimp) fry, among other things. There's a decent wine list (not to mention a humongous Monte Nevado serrano dried ham, including the leg and the hoof, sitting on the counter!). My ebi fry was superb: 2 6-inch long super fresh prawns, coated in what was probably panko and perfectly deep fried, served with a good tartar sauce and a wonderful tossed salad with a tangy dressing of what was probably sesame oil, rice vinegar and a bit of miso. Choice of rice or bread (we both opted for rice). Gratis was a cup of the best cold potato soup I'd ever had. Dick's hambaagaa staku with demi-glace sauce was good, but the ebi fry and silky smooth potato soup were the stars of the day. (Our friend, Jeff, is laughing and saying, "I told you so", since he accused us of wanting to eat only food that dead Japanese have eaten, or something to that effect.)
For dinner we went to an exquisitely appointed restaurant near the Heian Shrine torii gate, what must be the biggest torii gate in town. Japanese modern minimalist at its best: light colored wood, flower arrangements, etc. You'd expect an expensive place based on the furnishings, but it wasn't. It sold various kinds of noodles: your choice of soba, udon, or Chinese noodles with different accompaniments. The noodles tasted like plain old packaged noodles, but the fish stock (dashi) was very good as were the toppings (Japanese omelet, various kinds of veggies, what looked and tasted like a wheat gluten puff, kamaboko (fish cake). It was kind of a chilly day so the piping hot soup hit the spot. Served gratis here were a couple of slices of lightly cooked daikon radish, sitting in a small amount of dashi and topped with a tiny sliver of lemon peel, a teeny piece of crab and some kind of herb. Delicious! It's amazing how the small garnishes can add so much flavor!
One of my goals on this trip has been to eat a different Japanese sweet every day. On our first day in Kyoto, I had warabi mochi from the sweets shop at the start of our lane (I think it's the proprietor's house and the shop is in the front). Those of you who are familiar with mochi know that it hardens like a rock after a while. This mochi is ultra soft and stays that way. It's cut into strips or cubes and heavily dusted with sweetened roasted soybean flour (kinako). The bizarre thing is that instead of being made from rice, like regular mochi, this is made from a flour that comes from some kind of bracken fern! You can't get real warabi mochi in the States, so far as I know. My Seattle friend, Setsuko, has taught me how to make a "fake" warabi mochi with tapioca flour, but the real thing is even more delicate.
Day two, we ran into a sweets shop across the street from Shorenin. This time I got a a very thin and delicate pancake wrapped around fresh sweetened bean paste (an), much more delicate than the robust ones (dorayaki) that you usually see in Seattle.
For dinner, we were tired, so went back to the place where we'd had the tasty lunch of ebi fry and hambaagaa staku. We live just a couple blocks away. The two chefs really outdid themselves. The gratis dish was some kind of fish tartare served with a tomato mousse. The menu included fish carpaccio; trout meuniere , nicely sauteed and served over a couple of sticks of fried curried risotto with sauteed potatoes, sugar snap peas, and red pepper, the whole thing drizzled with soy sauce; and perhaps the most interesting, a saffron tomato risotto made with dashi instead of chicken broth, parmesan and Japanese short grain rice instead of arborio. It worked!
Dick here: Despite the quantity of verbiage dedicated to what we eat, the nature of our diet here, even the "fusion" cuisines, leaves us a bit hungry much of the time -- perhaps not enough fats or heavy carbs. Pam says this gives us the happy excuse to eat a lot more than we usually would.