Japan, Day 2: Ramen at Shin-Osaka station, Oyster hotpot in Hiroshima
After a quick day in Tokyo, it was off to Hiroshima to visit more family. We boarded the shinkansen bullet train early and we were in Osaka for a little more than an hour just around lunchtime. This was just enough time to make seat reservations for the connecting train to Hiroshima and get a quick bite somewhere in the station. We decided to get ramen again, since it was one of the quick and easy choices. We ate at the ramen shop just outside the central exit. Avoid the shoyu ramen. It's as tasteless as I've experienced with ramen. The shio ramen is a better choice and the broth had a decent flavor, though far from spectacular. The surprise of the meal was the mabo-tofu. It was as close to true szechwan mapo tofu as you can get in Japan without the mouth scorching heat. And it did contain the mouth-numbing szechwan peppercorns as well, but only slightly, which was just enough to stay within the limits of a Japanese style mabo tofu.
When in Hiroshima during the cold months, Hiroshima is synonymous with oysters. So we sought out a place for kaki-nabe (oyster hot-pot) without breaking the bank. I found a place called Kodani in my Tabearuki gourmet guide for Hiroshima. We got the 3360yen 5-course dinner which included a kaki-nabe. I was impressed with the first couple courses of kaki-shiokara (raw oysters marinated with its innards and sake), kaki-tsukudani (oysters simmered with soy, mirin, sake), grilled oysters, and then the kaki-nabe. The kaki shiokara was a first for me. I've always had the squid version, as is traditional in Japanese cooking, but the shiokara marinade was the perfect foil for oysters as it goes so well with the taste and texture of oysters. I'll have to try this at home. The tsukudani was also quite nice. It was a very mature taste of someone who is an expert at making tsukudani. The grilled oysters were simple as it can be with just a squeeze of lemon. They were grilled just enough to heat the oysters, without really cooking them. The kaki-nabe was a first for me. Kaki-nabe is traditionally made in a thick dark miso sauce. The miso in the hotpot looks like a murky gray ink. As it heats up, you add the vegetables that come with the nabe, first the harder vegetables then the stalks of the napa cabbage, and mushrooms, then the leafy parts, the chrysanthemum leaves, and finally the oysters. As the liquids are released from the vegetables and the oysters, it dilutes and flavors the miso sauce, and it's pretty delicious. Just the perfect thing for a cold autumn night. When it's not oyster season, Kodani is well known for their eel and suppon (sea turtle) dishes as well.