12 October 2007

Breakfast in Japan

Last week I spent five wonderful days in Japan. The weather was unexpectedly brilliant. I was warm, several days were sunny, and I never needed my umbrella. It doesn’t get much better than that! I spent three days in Tokyo and a day and a half in Nara. It was spectacular!

One of the best things about traveling in Japan is the morning. Though dead tired from the journey the night before, and after falling into bed and fast asleep around 10 pm, I woke up in the morning very early, while it was dark and still outside my room.

There is a certain magic in coming to consciousness at 3 am in a distant land, wide awake, with thoughts swimming in your head. The clock by my bed told me that there was plenty of time to sleep but my internal clock told me that I was ready to get started with my day. Certainly it was early but the day stretched out before me, a blank canvas waiting to be painted. What a wonderful feeling!

There were so many fine choices. I could stay in bed and enjoy the softness of the down comforter on top of me, the unusual pellet filled pillow under my head, the sensations of restful comfort after a long journey. Or, in this space, far across the world from my home, I could use my morning to read, or write, or carefully plan my day. There was an opportunity to do some inner housekeeping while the world around me slept, and to watch the darkness outside my window slowly fade into a steel gray morning unveiling the harbor in the distance. There is such a peace to time unwinding before you, when you are alert and outside your normal routine. Everything seems possible.

I finally got up to make tea in the lovely little teapot provided, poured it from the spout on the side into two low, covered teacups with lids and dark saucers. It was a joy to hold the hot tea, to feel the comforting sensation of warmth against my hand and to taste the slight bitterness of the fragrant liquid with the heightened awareness of a traveler enjoying luxuries that a host has so thoughtfully provided.

Yet soon enough my stomach began to intrude upon my peace. I began to feel hungry and wonder what there was to eat. I had a coupon for breakfast at the restaurant downstairs and by 7am I was there to see what was available. I found a buffet of hot and cold breakfast items, both Japanese and western style. It was a fabulous spread! There were a variety of fruit juices, coffee and tea, a selection of fruit and pastries, as well as potatoes, sausage, bacon and eggs. There were also traditional Japanese breakfast favorites such as salad, miso soup, fish, pickles and rice with nori strips to wrap the rice in. I tried the rice and broiled fish with dried nori, a small portion of Japanese omelette along with miso soup and a few pickled vegetables. I also had a small chocolate filled roll and a boiled egg. As it turned out, morning was the perfect time to explore some of the exotic differences between Japanese and western cuisine.

In case a Japanese breakfast doesn't sound appealing, a traveler has no trouble finding a more western style alternative. It is easy enough to find a good cup of coffee and fresh baked goods in any number of restaurants or coffee shops.

On my second morning in Japan I did just that. I was eager to explore the difference between a breakfast of baked goods at home and one in Japan. I walked from the hotel toward the train station and quickly found a small bakery. It offered a variety of breads and rolls that were selected from baskets with tongs and placed on a tray. I chose a scone with sugar sprinkled on top, a small roll with a sausage inside and a chocolate croissant. I also ordered coffee and picked up a boiled egg. The cashier put the rolls in a cute basket and poured my coffee and I found a table outside on the sidewalk.

Despite the sugar on top, the scone was less sweet than I would usually expect to find in the US. On the other hand the chocolate croissant was even more buttery and the chocolate was dark and flavorful. Better yet, it was still warm from the oven. The cool air, the warm croissant oozing rich dark chocolate, the strong hot coffee savored to the exotic hum of conversations in an unfamiliar language and the almost familiar but slightly different sounds of the city and its traffic wove a rich and satisfying texture through my senses in the morning light. When I finished breakfast I felt full and satisfied and I happily rolled my suitcase on toward the train station to ride the shinkansen south.

The next morning I woke up in Nara and tried another hotel breakfast buffet. This one was less elaborate but still offered a wide variety of both Japanese and western style food choices. I ate rice, pickles, fish and miso soup in a quiet dining room oddly adorned with Halloween decorations. Once again the breakfast was a pleasant cultural adventure.

Friday morning found me in Tokyo again. At the small hotel in Hamamatsucho I enjoyed a different style of Japanese buffet breakfast that offered salad, boiled eggs and toasted rolls. While less adventurous than some of my other morning meals it was fresh, convenient and provided a nutritious start to the day.

On my last morning in Japan I walked and shopped in search of something different. Finally I settled on a Japanese coffee house that offered a set breakfast of coffee, banana juice and an egg sandwich for a reasonable price. They upgraded the coffee to a latte for only 50 yen.

The egg sandwich was a bit different than expected. It was more like egg salad served with slices of mild ham on a hot dog bun than the scrambled eggs I had imagined from the picture. And the 'banana juice' turned out to be a frothy fruit smoothie served over ice. The lattes they made were exquisite with a lovely heart and leaf drawn into the foam on the top. It was a fun, pretty meal, enjoyed at a large comfortable table as I reviewed my adventure and made plans for the journey home.

Despite warnings in one of my travel books claiming that a traditional Japanese breakfast is one meal that foreigners are not likely to enjoy, as the dense volume of rice will make you want to go back to bed, I found that a breakfast built around a dish of rice was filling and a great way to start a busy day of traveling and sightseeing. And, of course, if you don't want rice for breakfast, there are many other choices. Simple or fancy, I found that breakfast was the meal I most looked forward to in Japan. Because of the difference in time zones and routines I felt hungry in the mornings as well as energetic and adventurous. My Japanese breakfasts were mostly delicious and without exception a great start to a busy day. And so I collected some fabulous breakfast memories in Japan and brought home some interesting ideas and a new perspective on the morning meal.

1 comment:

Alanna said...

So there you are!