About This… Japanese Food?

Japanese Food?

When we arrived in Japan almost three years ago I just knew it would be an amazing experience. After hearing about Japanese food from many friends over the years, my family and I were ready for what was to come… or were we? Sushi and ramen certainly lived up to the hype, so much that we’re already looking for places to hopefully get our favorite dishes after we move to El Paso. While everyone in our family loves ramen, one of our daughters isn’t crazy about sushi, and I’m the only one who likes eel. Other than that, we never have a problem eating Japanese food, it’s always fresh, almost alway healthy, and tastee. However, what we weren’t ready for was the variety of international cuisine that the Japanese embrace. My first outing in Japan on New Years Eve, we went to a little park and there was everything from from curry, hamburgers, German sausages, to Shish kebabs. The Japanese have the ability to cook these foreign dishes to almost perfection, and the SWEET S. Huh? Yup sweets, you read that right! All in all, eating in Japan has been nothing short of amazing.

First, the sweets, and yes the Japanese have a sweet tooth, with a bit of a twist. Upon arriving a friend told us, “you have to try Japanese pastries.” Ok… something you don’t typically think of about the Japanese. But it’s true and you’ll find it all here; cakes, pies, cream puffs, ice cream, sundaes, chocolate, caramel, cookies, you name it and it’s probably a Japanese favorite! Yes, it’s all amazing, and you’ll find Americans really like the Japanese sweets too! So what is the twist or catch to it? Very simply put, they use less sugar and the emphasis (in my opinion) is on the flavor of the food and not the sweetness of it. The first time I ate a cream puff the taste of the cream was out of this world and the pastry itself had, well…. flavor! Sundaes are incredibly tasty too, again, not as sweet but every bit as chocolatey and tastee! Also, the Japanese exercise portion control, something not seen in ‘Merika since the seventies. After my doctor got on my case about not meeting her weight expectations for me, but actually exceeding them, I’ve found it easier to satisfy a sweet tooth and keep it healthier in Japan than anywhere I’ve live in my life. Japanese pastries are a definite treat and the perfect end to an evening or for something worth a family trip. My daughter, not the neatest eater on plante Earth, love ice cream but you’d better have lots of wipes. Here, she eats ice cream served from a foil package similar to a juice pack. It’s delicious ice cream and no mess, something my wife and I love! Japanese chocolate is another area where the Japanese excel, and by the same formula of apparently toning down the sugar a bit. When I write “less sugar” please don’t think it’s not as good. Most people arriving from the US upon trying Japanese chocolates and sweets wonder why we can’t have the same thing at home?

Having Italian food, in Italy, is about as good as it gets! Pizza, something of a work of art there, is amazing every time, and there is also nothing like it the variety of pastas! God knows that I’ve eaten my share of it while living in Naples. I never imagined Italian food would be so authenitic here and much better than most of the Italian food I’ve had in any ‘Little Italy’ across the US. Most of those ‘traditional’ places cater toward American tastes, not so in Japan. I’m not sure where they learned to make pizza but they learned it the right way, and the same for the pasta! Overcooked pasta is something most American-Italian restaurants specialize in, that’s not a good thing. Don’t even get me started on Olive Garden. Focus Bill, focus!! Pasta in Japan is cooked al dente just like Italy and it doesn’t break apart when you try to eat it. While pizza and pasta are done right the flavor is sometimes limited by those ingrediants only available in Italy, such as fresh mozzerella cheese. Again, the only catch with this in Japan is that, once again, portions are smaller. Seeing a theme here? Absolutely delicious but just smaller servings! I haven’t had the Japanese wine yet but the beer is very good. Japan is incredibly strict when it comes to drinking alcohol and driving, 0.03 BAC is considered drunk driving. It’s not worth chancing as one drink could spell disaster, even other adults in the car may be held liable for allowing the person to drive in Japan. When we go out to eat I drink nonalcoholic beer and I have to say that Japanese nonalcoholic beer has more flavor and body than Michelob Untra (again, just my opinion), I know that doesn’t say much… It comes down to this, I’m a pretty happy camper if I can find good Italian food and Japan does not disappoint.

Lastly, walking in to a bakery in Tokyo makes you honestly think you’re somewhere else! France… the US maybe… or even Italy, but not Japan. The scene inside Japanese bakeries is one from a magazine, bread and pastries lined up in a presentation all bakeries should strive for, it makes you wonder again, where did they learn? how did they? Just shutup and eat!! Seriously, Japanese bakeries are up there with the best of them and it may be possible to gain weight from the smell along! We bought some and took it to our hotel room and it didn’t last long at all. It comes down to this, whether you’re eating at a nice Japanese restaurant, Denny’s, or even 7-11 for that matter, the food is high end. Did I just say Denny’s and 7-11 were “high end”? Yup, not a typo. You can always find delicious and healthy food choices at even these establishments. Plus, I can find coffee 24/7 within minutes from my house but that’s a whole nother blog post! When Americans return to the US you’ll always here them talk about Georgia Coffee, and with good reason, it’s very good. But I personally feel there has been some sort of US business or diplomatic failing because it’s made by Coca-Cola, so should be readily avaible in the US too? Not so…

Now I finally see what the talk was about, Japan is a culinary wonder every time we head out the door. While I had been to Japan several times in the 90’s, I had never lived here till 2018 and it’s been eye opening! When the Japanese do something, they do it right. 7-11, Denny’s, Georgia Coffee, Italian food, and bakeries will floor you, they seem to have it all! As our time here winds down, the list of things we’ll miss as a family continues to grow, starting with the food. It’s been the journey of a lifetime.

Canon Pancake Lens

ef-40mm-f2.8-stm-3q-675x450

In my opinion, when it comes to lenses, there’s practically no better bang for the buck than Canon’s  EF 40mm f/2.8 STM, better known as the “pancake” lens.  Are there better lenses?  Sure, so what’s so good about this one?  Well, for roughly $149 or less you’ll get a quality lens that is extremely small for when you don’t want to lug around the big lens or want to be discreet and blend in.  Sure, it’s not a zoom lens but you can go manual zoom and use your two feet for that. If you’re a photography newbie, or on a budget, this is a bargain!  Even though I own better lenses, my pancake lens takes up so little space that it’s always tucked away in my bag as another tool in the toolbox.  It’s perfect for shooting on the street or in tight spaces, I’ve even shot sunrises to see if it could handle it!  The above image is from the Canon website where you can also see the technical specs of this lens.  All of the below photos were taken with the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake lens.

Cappuccino?

I always mention that I lived in Italy for many years, the reality is that it’s a big part of me and I miss it.  At the time, there was so much to photograph around me that I almost forgot how lucky I was to just be there.  While the food lived up to its reputation and the people were amazing, the other experience I loved from day one was the coffee!  This photo, Cappuccino?, is the the norm for Italy. Coffee isn’t some fad, novelty, or trend; it’s always been a part of daily life in Italy and taken seriously.  Italian bars, very different from American bars, are where Italians meet on the way to and from work, where they socialize, conduct business; you name it and it happens in the bar.  Italians serve real coffee, not the S*******s cup of ‘God knows what’s in it’ stuff we get in ‘Merica.  There aren’t a bunch of flavors either, just a simple cafe of a few varieties depending on how strong your want it or if you’d like it with milk; then there’s the ever popular cappuccino. Made of simply coffee, milk, sugar, and a little coco on top, the cappuccino isn’t complicated and appears pretty much the same all over Italy!  I love the USA, but if any county can complicate something and distort it so far from it’s origins, it’s us.  Man, I miss that Italian simplicity…  This black and white photo, Cappuccino?, was shot with a Canon 7D, at f/2.8, 1/1600 sec, ISO 100.  Can you tell I miss Italy yet?

Special RatesSometimes, as a traveler, I try to find things that are routine to the locals and often overlooked by those of us visiting.  Recently, a photographer mentor of mine gave me the most incredible advice, he said I should constantly ask myself, “what am I not seeing here?” (thanks EM).  It sounds simple in concept, but if I actually ask this question to myself I begin spotting things and shoot subjects I would have previously overlooked.  I doubt this old room and board sign hanging on a motel wall in Balmorhea, Texas draws much attention to the folks who live there but it did make for a nice photo and memory for me.  I was putting our luggage back in the car and spotted this sign.  I call this photo Special Rates, it was shot with a Canon 6D, at f/4.5, 1/250 sec, and ISO 100.  The sun had been up for about an hour and was casting some nice shadows.  This little pancake lens did a pretty good job grabbing the details in the wood too.

The AmaliThis pretty red flower was sitting next to a parking lot in Vietri sul mare, Italy on the Amalfi Coast.  I wanted to see if the colors of the flower became washed out but the pancake seems to have done just fine.  This photo, The Amalfi, was taken with a Canon 7D, at f/11, 1/80 sec, and ISO 100.  There is so much beauty in Italy at every turn of the road that it’s mind boggling. This little pancake lens was very handy when out walking about and really not on a mission to photograph anything in particular.  However, once when I was out shooting a Neapolitan sunrise and I thought I’d test my pancake.  The photo at the bottom, Red Skies, was shot with a Canon Rebel T3i, at f/9, 30.0 sec, and ISO 100. The pancake lens performed well, even on a 30 second exposure!

Brand spankin’ new this lens sells for $149 and I don’t know of a better lens for that price. Sure, it has limitations like any lens and as I mentioned earlier it is not a zoom and it probably wouldn’t fair well for macro work, shooting sports, or action shots.  However, for most other situations this lens does a capable job and much better than some other lenses I’ve owned.  Lastly, I would offer this, if you’re considering shelling out the bucks for a 50mm prime lens, consider this first to see if shooting without a zoom lens suits you.  At $149 you can’t go wrong and might even find this lens a lot of fun as I have!

Red Skies