Izunokuni, Izu (伊豆の国市) Day 2
I'm assuming there is some Shizuoka bureaucrat somewhere, smoking a cigarette, scratching his head with one of those accountant visors, has crunched some numbers to reveal a wonderful stingy shortcut like- instead of spending money to build a wider road, let's keep it narrow, winding, and forested and just install mirrors along the real scary parts.
And so there I was crooning my neck looking off a mounted roadway mirror around every hair raising bend in the road as we cruised the northwestern coast of Izu peninsula. The fishermen in those parts? They drive fast. And the old folk who live there? They seem to do two things well: preserve fish by drying it in the sun and the ability to amble blindly onto the roadways without dying. But I digress because all this driving and concentrating was making me hungry. And the more we wound our way through little fishing villages, the more we all in the car thought the same thing- we've got to stop in one for some sashimi lunch. We were looking for a place that wasn't quite a dirty fish shack but also wasn't too touristy. After a few disappointing winding kilometers, we finally found a nice looking place called Isoryouri Izukai. The menu was almost entirely sashimi. I ordered the house special kaisen donburi (seafood rice bowl). I was literally taken aback when a tray arrived with two separate bowls for my lunch. One of them contained ikura, madai, and a nice silver fish called kibinago. The other was tuna, squid, and a single amaebi shrimp. It was all very fresh and very tasty. I enjoyed the kibinago the best as it tasted fresh, clean, and like fish, though not in a fishy, stinky sort of way. As a group, we also partook in grilled prawns, the house special crab miso soup, small grilled sazae (turban shells) and a local delicacy- raw shirasu. I'm not sure how to translate shirasu. I've heard them called baby sardines, but they are really white fish. Usually cooked and added to rice or salad dishes, they have a nice fish taste. However when eaten raw, they are nearly tasteless. Translucent, with little black eyes, they have a pulpy watery bite to them and are quite refreshing as you pinch off a bunch with your chopsticks and drag them through some fresh ginger and soy sauce. All in all, it was quite a haul from the sea in just a 45 minute stop for lunch.
Later in the afternoon, driving around, we plugged into the car navigation the address for a place we found in a local brochure. It was called "Ichigo Plaza" (Strawberry Plaza) and it seemed to be a kitschy commercial take on the local berry growing industry with ichigo daifuku (strawberry rice cake treats) being featured prominently. Berries were out of season in the summer of course, but Japanese kitsch is a yearlong industry. And so Ichigo Plaza, was as I expected, merely a rest stop off the local highway. The Japanese equivalent, I suppose, of salt water taffy or homemade fudge places I remember from my youth along the east coast of the U.S. Anyway, we made a beeline for the daifuku shop. I picked up a strawberry, a blueberry, and a yuzu daifuku treat from the small cooler. The woman at the counter recommended eating them within a day or so. A man in the back was busy making more. I settled down to eat the strawberry one. It was a huge tart strawberry surrounded by a thin layer of bean paste, and covered in thick mochi. It was cold and tasty. The strawberry's tartness mixed well with the semi-sweet mochi exterior. And of course the flesh of the fruit, the pasty bean, and the gummy mochi gave the whole treat a pleasantly odd consistency. Two thumbs up. Later, I tried the other two. The blueberry was good. A few huge tart blueberries instead of a strawberry, though I felt they could have crammed in some more berries. One thumb up, one down. The yuzu one was a disappointment. Basically, yuzu zest and juice mixed with bean paste, coated with mochi. Two thumbs down. Meanwhile, back at Ichigo Plaza, we perused the funky gift shop. My favorite treat I picked up was a kinmedai ochazuke mix, with an insanely cool package. Also grabbed a few interesting dipping miso flavored packets, such as garlic and aburi.
When 6:00 rolled around at the ryokan, I don't think any of us could claim to be hungry after our lunch earlier in the day, but we rose to the occasion once we saw the nice spread again spread out before us. Day 2's dinner featured a more conventional grilled saba and again maguro sashimi. Slices of roast beef were provided for the meat course. I left these alone and focused on the delightful chilled chawanmushi (made with fresh ingredients), the large grilled prawn, and the very well executed tempura set- which was again, thoughtfully, brought up right out of the fryer. A few other items rounded out the meal. We took the whole meal informally within our group, as we exchanged items with each other based on our likes and dislikes. I was more than happy to part with a mucous like seaweed tororo concoction for someone's tempura shrimp. By the time I traded my roast beef for someone's grilled prawn, I had hoarded enough shrimp for the apocalypse.
Which was just as well, as shrimp wash down so nicely with iced shochu. And this left me all sated enough not to utter a single feather-ruffling patriotic word as the lady volleyballers of Japan struggled to match team USA for our evening's entertainment in the second day of the World Volleyball Gran Prix. I fell asleep blissfully, but awoke to find that on our trip, Japan was now 0-2- which at least a lot better than the local shrimp population can say.
Picture #1: Madai, kibinago, ikura donburi
Picture #2: Tuna, ika, ebi
Picture #3: Raw shirasu
Picture #4: Grilled sazae
Isoryouri Izukai website (in Japanese):