Kokuu (穀雨) – crop rains

Now we are in the season when spring rains nourish the fields. True to form, we’ve had some drizzly days. And some of my favorite flowers, wisteria and irises, begin to bloom this season. (Addicted to purple.)

Just weeks ago the Ashiya River near my house was barren and dry, but look at it now:

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Let’s take a look at the best foods this time of year. First there’s the bamboo shoot (筍 takenoko), the king of springtime foods. This is a crunchy vegetable full of fiber that is best eaten hot off a barbeque grill. Then we have fuki (蕗) or “butterbur”, a mountain vegetable with a distinctive herbal aroma. Also there are tara-no-me (たらの芽) or “Japanese angelica tree”, whose shoots are eaten as tempura, and watercress, neither of which I am very familiar with. Finally there’s wakame (若布), the ubiquitous seaweed which is found in miso soup.

For fish, we have the delicious mebaru (眼張), or “Japanese rockfish”, with distinctively large eyes. A fish I am less familiar with is ainame (鮎魚女), or “fat greenling”. Next, there is yariika (鮎魚女), a type of squid. The last fish ikanago (玉筋魚) or “Japanese sand lance”, is dearly beloved by my husband and all other natives of Kobe. This tiny fish is simmered in soy sauce, sugar, and ginger until it is boiled down. This magically transforms it into a preserved dish which is taken as a flavorful accompaniment for rice and a drink. We have a giant tray of this in the freezer at all times, provided by my mother-in-law.

Today’s update is all about food. Let me share with you two wonderful meals we’ve been privileged to enjoy this season.

Two weeks ago we attended a friend’s wedding in Kyoto, and – can you believe it? – their wedding was on the exact date of our Kyoto wedding a year ago! That seems auspicious somehow.

Their reception was also at Takeshigero, a restaurant we looked at for our own wedding, so we were interested to see it again.

Two cranes at every place setting:

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Here’s a discreet photo of our friends bowing, so that I can hide their identities and show their costumes:

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Appetizers:

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If you want a real geisha dance performance, have your wedding in Kyoto:

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This soup with tai (snapper) was heavenly.

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The sashimi course:

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Red rice and ikura – both are auspicious symbols:

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Japanese beef is delectable:

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The tempura dish:

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Unagi on rice:

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And finally, the wedding cake! It was styled after Japanese sweets.

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Well, that was my idea of the perfect wedding! It was an honor to be invited and a treat to attend.

And then just last week, we had another wonderful meal in Kyoto, courtesy of my high school best friend’s parents, who were visiting Japan!

We had lunch at Gion Maruyama Kenninji, a traditional restaurant in the Gion district.

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I apologize for the cell phone pictures. Who forgets to bring her camera to a meal in Kyoto?

An appetizer with an honest-to-goodness cherry blossom leaf fried as tempura:

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Bamboo shoots topped with vegetables and fish! Remember our seasonal food list?

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The sashimi course. Note the accompanying sake:

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Soup with a soft dumpling (I can’t remember what this was made of) and my beloved yuba, or soy-milk skins:

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Delicious grilled fish with a yuan sauce:

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Three contrasting side dishes: beef, scallop, and vegetables:

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I can’t for the life of me find my photos of the rice and miso soup that rounded out the meal. (Life has not been organized lately.) The miso soup was especially heavenly. Why doesn’t miso soup turn out like that when I make it at home?

After our meal, we visited the nearby Zen temple of Kenninji:

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They stayed at a perfect little machiya townhouse nearby. I wish I had taken pictures so that I could recommend the place to all of you, but here’s a review: Gion House.

Most of all, I regret forgetting to take pictures with our friends. Come back to Japan soon!

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