I’m back in the US of A! It’s certainly good to be home. Comforting, even. I’m excited to sleep in my own bed, drink strong American coffee and to catch up on hours of my favorite television shows. Having said that, I desperately miss Japan. I fell in love with it, as I was told I would and sort of thought I wouldn’t, because really, people seem to romanticize the hell out of Tokyo so I figured I’d like it well enough but not fall head over heels like I ended up doing. It’s just the best place in the world, I have to say. The people are amazing, the food is unspeakably good, and sweet lord the subways are so efficient and clean (so were Taipei’s, but that’s for another post). I. Love. Tokyo. I already want to go back, but not in the same way that you want to go back when you come home from most vacations. We weren’t really ~relaxing~ in Tokyo. It’s not that kind of a place, but that’s what I adored. It didn’t make me feel wishful, it just felt normal. That’s what’s so exciting about it. It seemed like a place I could actually live, not in a “I wish I were still on the beach” way, but in a way where you start to think about how much stuff of yours you could sell on Craigslist before you’d be able to move into a small Japanese apartment. It’s a little hectic, sure, but you do find moments of tranquility as you speed through the stalls in the markets and the hoards of people in the streets. There are places of refuge, like the temples on the outskirts of the cities, or the quiet restaurants where people slurp up his or her ramen quickly and disperse without uttering so many words. It’s much like New York in so many ways, and then again, it’s the complete opposite, despite being a bustling metropolitan city. I thought that I’d be overwhelmed with Tokyo. People kept telling me that it was “insane”, and not in a fun way, more in a chaotic way, but I didn’t find that at all. It reminded me a lot of home, but with a few differences that make it a city unlike any other. I felt totally comfortable and happy in Tokyo. Sure, it’s busy, but it didn’t feel any more busy than NYC, and hey, everyone there STANDS IN LINE for the (albeit incredibly crowded) subway, so there’s already one victory point checked in the Tokyo column in my brain. You can also get really good food in the subway, and did I mention that the stations are so. freaking. clean. Kramer and I were very subway-focused on this trip, probably just because we were absolutely amazed at its condition. New Yorkers, get your shit together. Visit Tokyo and see what your daily commute could be like if we all stopped eating on the subway and threw our trash away in the proper receptacles. It’s possible to not live like a bunch of dirt bags! Mine eyes hath been opened.
Aside from the immaculate subway system (that, to New York’s credit, does not run 24 hours a day), Tokyo had a lot to offer. We arrived super late the first day, a little after midnight, so Kramer and I dropped off our stuff at our Airbnb in Shibuya, then immediately found a bar to grab a beer and some grilled meats in. Then a second bar, where we had offal skewers of liver, heart, chicken tail and more, alongside fried octopus balls (takoyaki), beer and sake. We slept in as best as we could the next morning, then grabbed some delicious, porky ramen, walked around the Akihabara neighborhood, then made our way to the Tokyo National Museum. We headed home for a quick nap, then met up with our friends will and Minaë, who took us to their friend’s amazing restaurant, where we feasted like locals. We had whole fresh scallop on shiso leaves, scallop tartar with nori that we ate like tacos, fluke sashimi, cod liver with pickled plum, grated yam with raw oyster and uni, seaweed shabu-shabu, then that same shabu-shabu broth served with egg and rice, plum sorbet and so much more that my jet-lagged brain cannot currently recall. It was d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s. and I am so grateful that they took us there. After a street beer (or streeties, as Will says he calls them, because you can just buy a beer at a deli and walk around with it in the street and subway – amazing), we stopped at Minaë’s friend’s bar, Bubbles, before calling it a night. The next day, we bravely woke up early to catch a train to Kyoto, grabbing bento boxes per Will and Minaë’s instructions to eat on the train. The shumai and rice really helped absorb the previous night’s alcohol, along with a little catnap. We got to Kyoto around 11am and just started wandering. We walked through the Kyoto Imperial Palace, then ate our way through Nishiki Market, where we had skewered smoked scallops, eel onigiri, scallion fish cakes and sausage wrapped in rice dough, and did a little shopping. Still hungry, we stopped at a casual sushi place for a little nigiri, then hopped on a bus to Kiyomizu-dera, a temple just outside of the main city. It started to rain just a little, but it lightened up and when the sun came out, it was absolutely beautiful. Kramer and I couldn’t believe that something so perfect was hidden so far up on the top of a mountain. As we explored, a group of school children stopped Kramer and wanted to interview him about why he was visiting Kyoto and where he was from, then they had their teacher take a photo of them with him. It was adorable. On our way back down the mountain, we stopped for some warm sake, then ate soba at Sobanomi Yoshimura, where we watched talented chefs make noodles right in front of us. Exhausted, we got back on the train and slept the whole way back to Tokyo, where plans to grab a nightcap faded as we could barely keep our eyes open after our long day. Not to worry – there’s always tomorrow!
As you can see, we did a lot of eating in Japan. Obviously. That’s half of the reason that we went! I’m not ready to fully get back into the swing of things quite yet (I still need pizza, after all), but when I am, this cauliflower soup is going to be back on our weekly menu. I love winter vegetable soups, but sometimes I do not feel like roasting them in the oven, then grabbing a bowl, pureeing everything, then heating it up – that’s two or three cooking vessels and a lot more dishes than I’m ready to handle right now. That’s why this soup from Clean Slate is so awesome – just simmer everything in a pot for around 20 minutes, puree and eat! For a little texture, you can certainly crisp up some cauliflower leaves, which I didn’t know was possible but plan to do again because it’s just so damn pretty, but that’s for those of you who have the time and energy. Otherwise, the soup will keep you plenty happy, especially when you consider that each serving only has 80 calories and 1 gram of fat, yet still packs in 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. That will definitely help make up for all of the takoyaki I ate in Japan. And while I was lucky enough to be gifted a set of these gorgeous Martha Stewart white dishes from Macy’s, you have the chance to get more recipes like these, as explained in my previous post, by winning a copy of Clean Slate! To enter, simply comment here and tell me about your upcoming travel plans for 2015, or Tweet or Instagram a photo of this soup or salmon with the hashtag #cleanslate! I’m extending the giveaway until Saturday, March 1st, so be sure to enter! I love this book and I know you will, too.
First order of business in Japan: get ramen. Dipping ramen, at that, called tsukemen, with lots of pork.
Kramer being cute as we took a break walking around the Tokyo National Museum.
The next day we went to Kyoto and wandered the grounds of the Imperial Palace.
Then we made our way to Nishiki Market.
And finally, to Kiyomizu-dera, a temple on the outskirts of Kyoto.
It was stunning, even despite a little rain.
Well, let’s get back to reality, shall we? A good place to start is with this cauliflower soup.
All you have to do is pile your cauliflower florets, and maybe a little garlic, in a pot, add chicken stock, and simmer until tender.
Be sure to save some of the leaves from the head of cauliflower to roast for a crispy garnish.
Garnish with the crispy leaves after you puree the soup, and add a bit of freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
- 2½ cups chicken or vegetable stock, plus more as needed (I used about ¾ cup additional stock in my soup)
- 1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets, plus 8 small leaves for garnish, set aside
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled (optional)
- coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- ¼ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a medium sized saucepan, combine the stock, cauliflower and garlic cloves, if using. Season everything with a pinch of salt and pepper, then bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook until the cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes.
- Once tender, puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth, or puree in batches in a food processor or blender, then return to your original pot, adding more stock as needed to reach the consistency you desire. Reheat the soup over medium-low heat, taste and then season with salt and pepper.
- While your soup cooks, toss your cauliflower leaves with a little oil, salt and pepper. Roast until browned, about 5-6 minutes.
- Divide your soup into bowls and garnish with some of the cauliflower leaves, fresh pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.