Ryokan Kurashiki, Day One

May 7, 2013

On March 23, 2013 Linda and I left Tokyo on the fast Shinkansen train for Okayama, the stop before Hiroshima. For lunch on the train we bought bento boxes at the Tokyo Station.
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They looked good, but were quite disappointing.

On arrival we were met by a limousine and driver from a local taxi company. He took us to Okayama’s Koraku-en Garden, traditionally one the three most beautiful in Japan.
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We were surprised to discover that, although the cherry trees were in full bloom in Tokyo, they were not in Okayama. We walked around the garden and looked at the aviary of the red-crowned cranes being raised here. We then drove on to Kurashiki, twenty kilometers to the south. 

There was a warm welcome at the Ryokan Kurashiki.
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We went to the “coffee room” where we were served a candy with a cup of frothy whipped green tea while the genial general manager, Ritsuko Nakamura, described the Ryokan and asked about our preferences.

After dusk we walked in the old town; it was an illumination evening with candles along the riverbank and people carrying lighted Japanese lanterns for sale at a stall. 

Dinner was served to the two of us by charming, attentive Kiyoko in the living room of our traditional suite. The menu was called “Dishes for fragrant Kurashiki spring, in celebration of the Doll’s Festival.” A written menu in Japanese was presented. We also received what seemed to be a computer-aided translation into English. I have used it to help with the descriptions below, but much of it was hard to follow.

We were given three sampler glasses of sake to try and ordered the local sake, Kurashiki-Gawa Nagareru-Mamani, for the rest of the meal.
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It was served from a glass teapot with an ice insert.
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There was an apéritif in a small, shallow dish of sweet sake and plum liqueur with gold flakes.
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The “relish” course included a filled hollowed shell of a round zucchini, leeks with a sesame dressing, grilled sea cucumber roe and a piece of steamed fish topped with salmon roe.
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The “seasonal appetizer” course included many good tidbits, including a clam, squid, kinome and miso salad hiding in the figurine.
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The “clear soup” course included a big hard clam and an udo stalk.
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The “sashimi’ course was beautifully presented. It included stone fish, sayori or Japanese needlefish, spiral shell sea snail and shrimp. There were triangular radish slices.
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Ponzu and soy sauce were alongside for dipping. There were three aromatics for enlivening the ponzu.
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Kiyoko grated fresh wasabi for enhancing the soy sauce.
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The course tasted as good as it looked. The seafood was unusual, fresh and flavorful. One had to savor this course slowly.
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The “simmered dish” was a steamed cake of several layers of oysters. With it were peas with diced carrots and bamboo shoot. It was seasoned with finely cut yuzu rind. The little lily bulb on top is supposed to resemble a seasonal peach blossom.
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The oysters were well matched with the yuzu.

The “grilled dish” included Spanish mackerel seasoned with a sake lees sauce, a big “turban shell” sea snail, salted local shrimp and a nicely grilled chunk of delicious local beef sirloin.
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Everything in this course was well chosen for grilling.
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The “vinegary dish” included sake-steamed beka squid, Japanese ice fish and salt grilled sea eel.
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The vinegar was high quality and not overdone.
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“Cooked rice with seasonal vegetables” came next. The rice had been seasoned with miso, shiso, chives and ginger sprouts.  The toppings were sea bream, finely cut nori and tiny rice crackers. Tea-flavored broth was poured over at the end by Kiyoko, who prepared our bowls. Pickles were alongside.
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The “seasonal dessert” was setoka, a seedless, very sweet Japanese orange, buntan/pomelo and kiwi fruit.
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Finally, there was a cup of tea and sweet fruit jellies.
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The meal was an excellent exploration of Japanese flavors and techniques. The ingredients were high quality and frequently unusual, at least to us. This type of meal is traditional in this type of traditional inn. We were very happy to be there and were looking forward to the next day and another night in Kurashiki.

To see all three of our blogposts on Ryokan Kurashiki click here.

The Ryokan’s website:
http://www.ryokan-kurashiki.jp/en/tradition.php

 

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