Japan trip, day 9 – cooking Kyoto style

I was up pretty early on Thursday morning – first of all it was my sister’s birthday, so I wanted to make sure I got in early to text her, and secondly I wanted to do a bit of exploring around Kyoto station before I headed to an appointment I had at 1pm.

First stop was Starbucks to type yesterday’s blog entry. Weirdly they had one English Muffin with Sausage left, but when I got it, it didn’t have sausage on it at all – it was ham. Cheat! Obviously I ate it anyway.

Then I went and kind of went around in circles at Kyoto station, looking for a shopping mall I’d read about. I think I found it, it just wasn’t very big. Before I knew it, 1pm was fast approaching, so I headed to my meeting point – just beside Nishiki tenmangu shrine on one of Kyoto’s main shopping streets. I was there to meet Taro – whose cookery class is the second highest rated thing to do in Kyoto on Trip Advisor!

There were five of us in all plus Taro. Me, a Swedish couple, and an Australian woman and her son. The start of the class would take us through Kyoto’s famous Nishiki market. Taro was brilliant at answering questions and explaining what everything was – and the market was amazing – a real feast of the senses.

There were pickled vegetables, dried vegetables, fresh fish and meat, dried fish (lots of that), fresh fruit and vegetables, spice shops, sweet shops, tea shops – really everything a typical Japanese family would need for cooking.

Stall holders let us sample their food, and it was great to ask Taro what unrecognisable foods were and how they were used in cooking. He also took us into a shop that has been making knives for centuries, but more about that tomorrow!

We then hopped on a bus back to Taro’s really nice house and met his wife Yoshiko and his really cute four year old daughter Haruko. An Irish girl (living in Sydney) also joined us at this point.

One of things I’ve always wanted to know how to make properly is miso soup. At home I make it with instant powder, but if you’re making it properly, you’d always make your own dashi or Japanese stock. And that’s what Taro started with – he showed us how to make dashi using kombu seaweed and bonito- which is smoked and dried fish shavings.

Next was learning how to make Kinpira (pan fried root vegeables) and a pickled cucumber salad, and tamagoyaki (Japanese omlette) which I’ve made before but requires a technique, so I watched Taro very carefully at this point! The class was really interactive, with Taro explaining things as he went along, and also letting us have a go.

As he went, Taro explained how different ingredients work together, and I felt I had a much better understanding of something I’d experimented with quite a lot at home. Finally, Taro cooked up some Kobe beef for us.

Kobe beef is amongst the best in the world – it’s highly marbled, and that was kind of all I knew about it. Taro explained that beef classified as Kobe only comes from a couple of thousand cows a year, and also that if you see it in a restaurant in the US or UK it’s not the real deal, as at the moment Kobe beef is only exported to Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau.

After class, it was time to sit down an enjoy the meal. The beef was absolutely amazing. Taro had cooked it to perfection and it really just melted in my mouth.

I noted a couple of utensils I wanted to get while I’m over here, and made a lot of notes on the recipe sheet we were given – I didn’t want to not be able to remember any of this when I got home!

I’ve noticed that my local Asian supermarket in Belfast has started stocking kombu seaweed and bonito flakes, so I’m looking forward to making miso soup when I get home. It’s so simple, but just heartening.

After Taro and Haruko both presented us with a little present, it was time to leave – we’d been with Taro for six and a half hours, but it honestly was so enjoyable it just went by in a flash.

We all caught the bus back to Kyoto station, and after saying goodbyes I headed to a large nearby electronics store… nothing really caught my eye which is probably a good thing! Although they did have amazing 4K televisions (the new HD) which were enormous. Can’t see me getting one of those home in the suitcase though!

If you ever find yourself in Kyoto, check out Taro’s cooking class – it really is brilliant!