Kitsune Udon at Umeda Station

Kitsune Udon at Umeda Station

After a busy afternoon tasting hojicha and matcha in Uji, I spent the following morning relaxing among the cherry blossoms at Osaka Castle Park. The area was beautiful with plenty to see. Last time I visited the park, I went straight to the castle. However, this time I wanted to explore the quieter spots by the river.

Kitsune Udon at Umeda Station

As part of the Japanese tradition of hanami, everyone was quietly adoring the blooms. Then as soon as it got windy, people rushed to capture the petals falling to the ground known as hanafubuki.

Kitsune Udon at Umeda Station

At lunch time I made my way to Umeda district. The giant station and surrounding malls offered a variety of food options. Even with the wide selection, it was tough to find something plant-based. Since I was craving noodles, I came up with the idea of ordering Kitsune Udon without the dashi broth. I explained the reason to ensure they wouldn’t worry about my enjoyment of the dish and they kindly accommodated me. The Kitsune Udon came with udon noodles topped with flavourful deep-fried tofu, a sprinkle of seaweed shreds, and sliced green onion. Even though I’m sure other people thought it was crazy to be eating noodles without the broth, the noodles tasted amazing with a drizzle of soy sauce.

Kitsune Udon at Umeda Station

Just to be sure I wouldn’t leave hungry, I also ordered the Inari sushi. This type of sushi is usually vegan by default as it is simply rice stuffed in the same deep-fried sushi pocket that comes with Kitsune Udon. After this filling and delicious lunch, I was ready to go looking for dessert.

If you’re interested in tasting my favourite hojicha from Japan, join the Hōjicha Co. newsletter to receive a subscriber exclusive discount this Friday! 

My first visit to Kyoto

My first visit to Kyoto

After months of searching for the best hojicha Kyoto has to offer, I’ve finally found hojicha worth sharing and have officially launched Hōjicha Co. Japan Today kindly featured the exciting news, including more about the origin of Hōjicha Co. and our future plans. If you’d like to celebrate the launch and taste my new favourite tea, use code: DANIELLE10 to get 10% off any of our products (yes, even the Hojicha Launch Pack).

If you have no idea what hojicha is, you’re not alone. Although it was invented nearly 100 years ago in Kyoto, hojicha is only now beginning to gain popularity outside of Japan. Hojicha is a roasted green tea that has zero bitterness and is reddish-brown in colour. I only discovered the naturally sweet tea last March in Osaka.

During that trip to Osaka, I also visited Kyoto for the first time. After wanting to experience the modern urban vibes of Tokyo on an earlier trip to Japan, I was now ready to slow down and explore nature. Kyoto was always described to me as a peaceful hiking destination. That is why I was utterly shocked when I arrived at a bustling shopping district.

My first visit to Kyoto

As I tried to navigate through the crowded streets, I double-checked that Maruyama Park was in fact nearby. The cherry blossom season started early this year, and I didn’t want to miss out on the blooms near Yasaka Shrine. When I arrived at the park, I walked towards the cherry blossom viewing spot Google Maps had suggested. However, I was once again caught off guard as the spot turned out to be a festival area full of food stands. I continued to venture deeper into the park, determined to find a quiet spot.

My first visit to Kyoto

A few moments later, I was surrounded by nature. On my stroll I came across ancient shrines, beautiful buddhist temples, serene ponds, and colourful cherry blossoms. It dawned on me that there was much to see in Kyoto, and it was best experienced first hand with an open mind. A realization I hope to remember throughout all of my travels.

My first visit to Kyoto

 

First taste of matcha in Shinsaibashi

First taste of matcha in Shinsaibashi

Prior to travelling to Japan, I had done some research into the best places to buy and sip on ceremonial grade matcha in Uji and Osaka.

The first place I visited was Uji-en (Uji Garden) in Shinsaibashi. The tea shop is located near the end of a covered street in the shopping district, which feels like a large yet crowded hallway. Since there were two tea shops on the same area, I checked out the merchandise to try and figure out if I was in the right place. Taking the time to look around, also helped me spot the tea drinking area. Even though I knew Noren were traditionally draped at the entrance of restaurants, I thought the fabric might be concealing a stock room. Luckily, I got a brief glimpse into the back of the tea shop as another customer exited. It felt impolite to walk in, and so I asked another shopkeeper if I could enter while miming drinking matcha by holding my two hands up and tilting an imaginary matcha bowl to my mouth. The shopkeeper understood I wanted to drink matcha, not just buy a tin of tea, and enthusiastically invited me in.

There were plenty of seats, but I decided to sit by the counter to get a better view of the matcha preparation. Before placing my order, I was given a small cup with a deep caramel liquid. The drink was cold, and had a rich earthy aroma and subtle sweetness. It didn’t have the strong bitter aftertaste of green or black tea. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my first taste of roasted green tea also known as Hojicha.

When my matcha was served, it came with yet another small cup. This time the small cup contained a hot bright green liquid. After enjoying the hojicha, I bravely took a sip of the unknown tea. As soon as I caught a whiff of the tea, I knew I wouldn’t like the flavour. It smelled and tasted exactly like vegetable broth. I was convinced it was vegetable soup, but later found out it was sencha. Apparently most people preferred the taste of sencha over matcha, and so it is served to clear the palate.    

After tasting one of the best and worst teas I’ve ever had, it was time for the main event. I won’t leave you in suspense any longer, except to say that this trip has completely changed the way I drink matcha. The first sip was so exceptional that I had to pause in appreciation before taking another. The matcha tasted incredible, and was obviously very fresh and of high quality. However, the skilled preparation took it to the next level. The delicate foam, the fully dissolved powder, and the perfectly warm water were all signs of an expertly made matcha.

Paying attention to details not only pays off in terms of flavour, but it also makes you appreciate matcha more than you would if you had in a plastic to-go cup while rushing to a meeting. It reminds me of a quote by the monk Jeong Kwan, who said on Chef’s Table: “I make food as a meditation.” Both the quote and this tea experience have had a huge impact on the way I prepare matcha and food in general.

If you are curious, here’s how I prepare my matcha.

  1. Boil filtered water and let stand overnight. Japanese tea tastes best in soft water.
  2. Boil water again once you are ready to drink matcha.
  3. Pour the boiling water into your matcha bowl, and let stand for a minute or so.
  4. Transfer the water into another vessel. This helps warm the bowl, and then cools down the water to 80°C to avoid burning the matcha.
  5. Sift two scoops of matcha into the bowl to prevent clumps.
  6. Add a little bit of the warm water into the matcha bowl.
  7. Whisk quickly in a zig-zag shape for approximately 30 seconds. Once foam appears, slow down and get rid of any air bubbles.
  8. Add the rest of the water. If you’d like to prepare a latte instead, then add half of the remaining warm water along with non-dairy milk.