England

The Grower

Yesterday morning we dropped into London Bridge’s Borough Market to pick up a few things for the weekend. The market has been gradually expanding into new areas as the local phase of the Crossrail project nears completion. It’s become such a beautiful market, each stall now finally has the space to display their products without compromise. While Borough Market has become quite touristy and, some say, overpriced over the years, it’s still one of the most enjoyable food markets in London.

We ate delicious garlic prawn wraps from Appleby’s fish restaurant and filled our bag with Chorizo sausage, strawberries, raspberries and avocados. My own favourite purchase was refillable bottles of red from Borough Wines. They have a fantastic concept where you buy the empty bottle for £2.50 and fill or refill it yourself for £5 a time. I’m no expert, but this wine tastes far better than anything I buy at Sainsbury’s for the same price; so fresh and so fruity, it’s like blackcurrant jam! Borough Market is full of people passionate about a specialist niche of produce. Fitz for example is where you can find the most incredible French pate and terrines from France but actually Noel Fitzjohn himself makes the most beautiful mustards. And if the season is right I can definitely recommend his beautiful, fresh homegrown horseradish sauce.

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Travel

Crystal Clear

There’s an awful lot going on for us right now; not least of which is that we have found a new flat to move into, which is keeping us busy in terms of preparation etc. It’s not so far away but a little bit bigger and slightly more modern and we can’t wait to move over there now, I’ve already started sketching ideas of things we want to make and modify…

Another thing dramatic changing currently is work, maybe more about that another time. I was in Stockholm for a whole 24 hours yesterday and although a super-fast trip (where we saw nothing of the actual city); the hotel we stayed in, the food and views across the icy water made it an extremely inspirational visit. The light had an unusually pure quality that I would have loved to capture with my real camera but this time again, you’ll have to make do with my iPhone shots from Instagram I’m afraid…

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Japan, Travel

やきいか

It wasn’t hard to decide what to eat, or where. The local speciality was yaki ika grilled squid, and the tough old ladies running the car-park where we left the car ran a small stall, which we were expected to stay loyal to. It’s a straightforward dish, fresh squid simply barbecued on an open fire, with a special spicy and fruity sauce. Once cooked and curled, cut roughly with scissors and served in a plastic bag, it was completely fantastic.

There should have been shots of us eating it here but it was just too delicious and capturing the moment went out of my mind completely…

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Japan, Travel

三人で

Just a 10 minutes drive from our place in Shimane is Tamazukuri Onsen, said to be the oldest onsen area in Japan. Although close to home, this time we stayed one night in a hotel so we could relax in the hot springs and have dinner with Atsuko’s sister. I really do enjoy onsen in Japan, I like the routine of washing on small wooden stools before the bath and I love the outside gardens the most. It is strange at first to be naked outside but it’s really nice to lie in naturally hot water watching the stars and while you sometimes have to share the large baths with others, it’s usually quite empty when we go. The waters contain healing minerals so regular visits to onsen really have a physical effect as well as emotional.

The following morning we climbed the steps to pay our respects at Tamazukuri Jinja. It’s a beautiful shrine but sadly the shimenawa rope has fallen victim to a relatively new tradition of people pushing coins between the straws to make their wishes. I personally don’t much like this and actually Izumo Taisha has prevented people doing this with netting. Before we left that morning, we sat at the river and ate a very modern and delicious version of mochi-ice-cream! Mochi is sticky rice cake (here) but these were balls of ice cream covered in sticky rice and topped with brown sugar crunch. I had mango and vanilla and the girls had orange, raspberry and green tea, it was amazing. A rare opportunity when I put my camera down was snapped up by Atsuko so there are even some rare pictures of me in this post!

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Japan, Travel

Oharai Machi

It might sound peculiar to some, but shrines and food are inseparable. In fact, most Japanese shrines have food stalls near the entrance gate, especially at festive seasons. After visiting the sacred space to make your wish and reflect your own past, people frequently enjoy warm tasty food on the street. It does add the great feeling of appreciation for life; with warm food inside, you are ready to take a new step forwards.

Traditionally in Japanese, ‘trip’ meant visiting Ise Jingu. Ise Jingu is where the God is, where Emperor’s ancestor Amaterasu no Omikami resides. It was the ultimate destination that people used to plan as their ‘once in a lifetime’ pilgrimage. Even now, despite bullet trains and great local transport, it’s not straightforward to get to Ise Jingu directly, you must plan a trip especially for it. This is another reason why food stalls have been around shrines; people need to gain strength to continue their, often long, journey home. At Ise Jingu, food stalls occupy a whole street near-by, from famous Ise Udon to Takoyaki, all the familiar comfort foods are sold with lively patter from the sellers.

We sat down to have nice warm Ise Udon and realised a picture-card-show was just about to start in front of us. The story-teller was so good that we unexpectedly sat through the whole thing. The story was about a very loving old couple who lived in country side that owned a dog whom they raised as their child. They were working hard to save money to visit to Ise Jingu, but by the time they saved enough, they were too old to travel. After seeing the couple’s disappointment, the dog decided to visit the shrine instead… The story ended where the dog got slightly lost on the street… We wonder about the rest of the story…!

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Japan, Travel

390 Metres

You don’t necessarily think of Japan as a place with a particularly abundant market culture. Of course there are the big operational fish markets but I mean like London’s historic food markets, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar or Malaysia’s big night markets packed with hawker stalls and so on. Japan does of course have incredible fresh food and a real variety of delicate and distinctive flavours; flavours that we miss terribly while we’re in London.

For over 700 hundred years, Kyoto’s Nishiki Koji, a covered street lined with specialist food shops and stalls, has been a bustling centre for fresh local ingredients and delicious cuisine. Atsuko especially couldn’t wait to wander the street and try some of the foods. It was a place that, despite extreme cold, had a warm sense of community and I enjoyed watching the people as much as I loved exploring produce, seafood and pickles. We particularly loved the supremely narrow egg shop and were fascinated by a man slicing eels that he had pinned to his board.

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Japan, Travel

Okayama Hakkei

I am sure I have mentioned to you all, the nicest thing about being back in Shimane and neighbouring prefecture Okayama, is that there is an abundance of onsen (hot springs). We’re able to go almost daily to the ones near Atsuko’s house and we never feel so clean as we do on these trips back home. Being frequent onsen visitors, the nakedness has obviously become completely normal but nevertheless, we were still quite shocked when we arrived at a small onsen village in Okayama. We have been to mixed baths before, at KDa we even designed one, but the openness of the baths in Hakkei was unbelievable.

Walking along the river, even from a great distance we could already see the naked guys lying around on the rocks, sunning themselves. These hot springs, right next to the river had no cover at all and so even from the road, you could see everything. It was quite funny and perhaps more surprising was that from our dinner and breakfast table, we could get the exact same view. Of course I don’t have too many pictures, but look closely at the last photograph here… : )

We didn’t feel quite brave enough to use that one, but the ryokan where we stayed had 4 different baths to chose from and even though we stayed only one night, we managed to try them all. The food was incredible and the service the best I’ve ever experienced. And in Japan, that’s saying something.

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