Monday, November 24, 2014

Kabocha and Pork Belly

In my kabocha eating quest, I received this recipe from Friend E, for a Filipino dish of pork belly, green beans, and of course, Kabocha!

It's super delicious, so I do recommend it!


1 lb of pork belly, cubed
1 Tbsp or so of garlic, diced
1 roma tomato, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 large handful of Chinese string beans, cut to ~2 inch pieces
1/4 kabocha squash, cubed
1 Tbsp Filipino shrimp paste
1 cup water
It took me a while to find the super-pink shrimp paste, which Friend E insisted there is absolutely no substitute for. >.>"  I eventually found it in the fridge section of Ranch 99 though. Check your local Asian grocer!

Dice veggies.

Brown the cubed pork belly with the garlic, and a little salt or oil.
To be honest this step took me a long time because I didn't have the heat up high enough. I was scared of flying grease! And it did fly towards the end, so be careful!  Drain the excess fat, but leave enough to coat the pan.

Add in the tomato and onion next, and sautee until it resembles a beautiful mush.
Then add the kabocha and string beans.
Finally add the cup of water with the shrimp paste (there are eyeballs swimmin' around in there, lol).
Bring to a boil, cover and then let simmer until the kabocha becomes soft.

Serve over rice, and enjoy!

Seriously, this is some tasty stuff.  Though, it's pork belly! How can it not be delicious??

Thanks Friend E!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Shrine

v Fushimi Inari taisha
· Head Shinto shrine of Inari (god of rice/business), founded 711 AD.  The shrine’s romon (entrance torii) was donated in 1589 by Hideyoshi.  Businesses donate torii gates for luck.  Each torii has the business’ name and date inscribed on it.  
· Kitsune land!  Kitsune foxes are known as messengers/familiars for gods, and hold a key to the rice ‘silos’ in their mouths.  Kitsune are supposed to be intelligent creatures with magical abilities to increase their age and wisdom.  They can also take human form.  Some say they use this to trick people, others say it is so they can be faithful guardians.  Kitsune may have nine tails, the number of tails corresponding to the fox’s age and power.  When it gets its 9th tail, the fur changes to white or gold. 
§ If you are possessed by a kitsune, afterwards you will never be able to eat tofu again. Fox possession was a common diagnosis for mental illness until the 20th century.

§ Kitsunebi is fox fire, which the kitsune carries in its mouth or on its tail.

Quite possibly one of the coolest shrines in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is decked out in hundreds of torii gates that snake up the hill.

It's also the main setting for the anime Inari, Kon Kon, Koi Iroha - which is a fantastic manga/anime that you should definitely check out. It's fantasy/romance (but not shoujo), and Sak and I have total crushes on Uka and Touka, respectively. Fufufu. Chuuni boy.

Unfortunately could not find any kon plushies in any of the local shops! :(
Anyway, Fushimi Inari is awesome because it is free, and always open.  I suppose coming here at night would be a real treat if its all lit up!

There are foxes all over.

And everything is painted a fantastic vermillion red! I love it!

Sak picked up his shuin at the bottom of the shrine.

And then we walked up and up through the torii gates, looking for uncrowded opportunities in which to take a picture. Even on a weekday morning it was quite crowded!

Though beware - this place is in a wooded area, and there are spiders that hang out on top the gates.  If you're tall, make sure you look where you're going.

Would you like to have your own torii gate?  Here's the donation prices, kinda pricey!

Gotta tell the dogs not to pee on them though. I'd imagine it ruins the paint!

The top was the best though! Fox shaped ema plaques!  Clearly there is an otaku community visiting this place!

Bottom right. Best face ever.
 Fushimi Inari should be on the short list for anyone planning a visit to Kyoto. Make sure you grab some inarizushi on your way out too!

It is, afterall, rated #1 on Trip Advisor for foreign tourists! Haha!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kabocha Salad

So, Japan is really into using seasonal foods.  Much like we associate pumpkin pie and turkey with fall, Japan has their own autumnal favorites.

One of those is the kabocha, a green skinned pumpkin/squash which is quite delicious (especially in Thai curry, mmm).

While shopping for dinner in a department store basement one night (because that's where the food is), I found an interesting dish - kabocha salad.  Like potato salad, but with kabocha.

I bought it,  ate it, and liked it enough to want to try any make my own at home.
Look at me getting all fancy with the cucumber.

Want to try? It's easy!

- kabocha (I used 1/4 of the pumpkin but since it was small I should have used half or more)
- 1/8 to 1/4 an onion, depending how oniony you like things
- 1/2 a small Persian or Japanese cucumber..or whatever the small crispy kind are called
- Japanese mayo (kewpie or other brand) to taste

Dice up the veggies, and add a little salt to help draw out the moisture. You'll want them crunchy in your salad! Let sit while you deal with the kabocha, and later come back to dab/drain out the water.
Microwave the kabocha until it's soft, and then scoop it out and mash it up in a bowl.  Try not to mash it up too much if you want that chunky potato taste.  I pretty much creamed mine, which made the end texture a little too smooth for "potato" salad.
Add drained veggies and some mayo.  I added like, 4 tbsp, and it was way too much for the amount of kabocha I had.
I ended up needing more starch =_= So add the mayo slowly at a time until you find the consistency that you like.
Add some pepper if you like!
The flavor was really good, though next time I will add less-smashed kabocha and maybe cut back on the onions a bit..I had a big red onion and it was a little overpowering.

For comparison here's the kabocha salad I bought from the store in Japan:
I think it's the Japanese mayo that really makes the dish. I could eat that stuff straight, it's so good.

Kidding. I'm not going to eat spoonfuls of mayo straight up. That's gross. Though with a bit of vegetable matter mixed in it's totally okay though, right? Haha. >.>"

Also, if you don't like my made-up recipe, there's like a bajillion on the Japanese recipe site Cookpad. Don't worry, they have an english version. Just type in "kabocha salad" in the search and have at it!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Kyoto: Kurama and Kibune

v Kurama-dera
· Legend says it was founded by a Chinese Buddhist monk who saw a dream in 772 AD that Mt. Kurama had spiritual power.  It burned down many times, and switched between 3 different Buddhist sects.  Postwar, it split from Buddhism and started its own hybrid religion of Taoism, Shintoism and other mountain mysticism.  The enshrined was first just Bishamonten.  Now there are also Kannon (love god) and the defender lord (power god). 
· This is also Tengu land!   Tengu are bird/man hybrids, often with large noses or beaks, black feathers, and red faces.  They usually have feather fans which can stir up the wind.  Traditionally opponents of Buddhism, wrecking vandalism/theft in temples, possessing people, etc.  They are thought by some to be ghosts of nuns, priests, etc. who had too much pride.
§ There are three “greatest tengu” on different mountains, Sojobo being the daitengu of Kurama.
§ In the 18th/19th century, the Tengu’s image became more positive - a “vigilante of the forest”

v Kibune Jinja (“Kifune”)
· Legend says a goddess traveled in a yellow boat from Osaka, up the river, and the shrine was built where her journey came to an end.  Dedicated to the Shinto god of water and rain.

· Shrine is associated with ushi no toki mairi, the ritual of wearing candles on the head and laying a curse.  Famous through a noh play where Hashihime (princess of uji bridge) learns the curse (at Kibune) to turn herself into an oni to get revenge on her cheating lover.

So up the mountains a bit from Kyoto is a fairly popular hike - Kurama to Kibune temple.  I read a bunch of different blogs beforehand, trying to figure out which was the easiest route for novice hikers.  We decided to do the funicular up to Kurama, then the hike over to Kibune, and finally back down the road to the fork where the train was. It was a good decision, since I think it ended up being more downhill than uphill.

But let's back up a bit. To get to Kurama-dera, we first took a train from demachiyanagi station (the same place we were the day before for our anime pilgrimage).
Supposedly the train goes through a tunnel of lights, but I guess it's only at night? We didn't see it.
Once at the base of Kurama, we found a big tengu waiting for us!
Sak, wondering what he is waiting for exactly.
And also some friends from Eccentric Family!!

Gintaro and Kintaro, evil tanuki cousins!
What a more traditional tanuki statue looks like.

A short pass through the lower entrance, to board Japan's shortest funicular.  Isn't that a fun word? I like saying it. Funicular funicular!

I bet it's spectacular lit up at night!

Rainbowish lizard!

The temple was quite beautiful in its mountain setting, and because of the higher altitude the temperature was nice and cool.

I didn't use any of the spider-infested toilets along the way, but I thought it was funny they all had unique signs.
Sak picked up his shuincho and I found a stamp for my stamp book! woohoo!

Lovely resting area with tatami benches
stamp quest!!
After Kurama, we began our hike to Kibune. Walking through the forest was simply magical!

The path was fairly well marked, and wide enough to avoid any spider-infested brush. And the spiders in Japan were insane.  You know the skulltulas in Zelda? EXACTLY like that. Huge. Yellow. Pure evil.

Anyway, after a comfortable 3ish miles, we had worked up a healthy sweat.  We took a break at Kifune temple and ate onigiri.

For a donation you could take a bottle of their water!
This shrine is on social media!
Sak, shuin collector.  See the "EP" looking kanji on the sign? :3

After our break, we walked back down the mountain along the river.  The road is a little narrow, so watch out for flying buses.  Scary!

How cool is this? Riverside teahouses where you can sit on the river!
Though we did not see any real tengu flying around, I really enjoyed the temples and hike! Sak considers this day one of his top highlights, and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who would like a bit of exercise and a lot of nature!