When In Roam

Carl Chu's Food & Travel Blog

Friday, April 22, 2005

A Picnic On the Shinkansen

On the last day of my stay in Kyoto, I woke up very early so that I could get some sightseeing done. From the Westin Miyako at the eastern edge of the city, I took a winding walk through several beautiful temples in the vicinity. In the cool spring air and the absence of tourist crowds, tranquility took on a spiritual meaning. Not only was it refreshing to escape from the hectic pace of modern Japan, but just the chance to be alone was also cleansing to my soul.

But zen-like moments like this could only last so long. By late morning the day had warmed and the crowds arrived. It was turning into another touristy day in Kyoto. So I left. Besides, I had a Shinkansen train to catch at noon to get to Tokyo.

Before heading back, I assembled together a few things to eat for lunch on the train. At Hisago Sushi, a popular oshizushi shop in town, I bought a combination box of horse mackerel (aji) and conger eel (anago) (¥1,300). At a fruit stand, I bought a Fuji apple (¥200). At a 7-Eleven, I bought a green tea sponge cake (¥80) along with a cute can of Asahi “Super Dry” beer (¥250). And back in my room, I swiped off a hand towel, a tea cup, and a drinking glass. Throwing them all into the bag, my lunch was complete—well, nearly complete. I checked out of the hotel and took a cab to the train station. Then, on the track platform just as the Tokyo-bound Nozomi pulled in, I dropped a ¥100 coin into the “hot drinks” machine, and out came a warm bottle of green tea. Now I was ready for my lunch on the Shinkansen.

Oshizushi is a popular style of sushi in western Japan. Compared to Tokyo’s famous nigiri sushi, oshizushi has more history and is actually the more traditional of the two forms. It is made by pressing rice and fish together in a wooden mold, and then cut into rectangular pieces. Whereas nigiri sushi is famous for containing raw fish, oshizushi uses mainly cooked and marinated fish, as exemplified by the horse mackerel and conger eel I bought—horse mackerel is lightly cured in a salt and vinegar brine, and conger eel is cooked in sweet soy sauce. Also, nigiri sushi is typically served with soy sauce and wasabi as condiments, whereas the ingredients in the oshizushi are already seasoned well enough so that you don’t need to add anything else. In fact, my order did not come with either soy sauce or wasabi.

It turned out that I had more than enough food; I could not finish the entire meal laid out in front of me. A man walking by the aisle saw my setup and joked that it looked as if I were having a picnic. And I smiled back because he was right.

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