Before saying goodbye to Mr. Hidenori, he introduced me to his favorite restaurant called "Hitachi," which is ran by a lovely jukujo ' momma class' woman who was born and homegrown right in Chiba. She's married and a mother of one fully grown son, and together all three of them run the restaurant.
One of the great charms upon being greeted by her was her lovely smile and tender eyes. Her lips were full and covered in expensive deep red lipstick; you know, the kind that doesn't come off easily when kissing and eating. She's also semi-fluent in English, which was great because she was able to explain everything she served to me in English. I was treated like royalty, literally! I haven't felt this kind of hospitality since my Hanamaki days up in Tohoku.
The restaurant itself was old and traditional looking. Everything inside was clean and the whole atmosphere was homely and warm, and most of all, I didn't feel like I was out of place as a lone traveling foreigner at all. Of course coming here, it's a good idea to brush up on your kanji since the menu is full of old and difficult to understand characters. I knew exactly what I wanted though, so I had no problem ordering things. The first thing I ordered was the Bonito sashimi ( かつお）, since this is the season when they are the fattest and tastiest.
The second thing was the pacific saury sashimi (sanma), which is also in season this time of year, too. And then, how could I forget. I ordered sake. The sake of choice is called Choushi-no- Homare, a locally brewed sake that almost nobody has ever heard of. It tasted very local to me, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. When I mean ‘local taste’ I mean there was no noticeable flavor characteristics, just light rice flavored sake brew. It was the sashimi that was awesome, and this is what made up for the sake. Chiba prefecture is also known for having its own soy sauce brands: Yamasa on the left and Kikkomon on the right.
A good thing to pay attention to when visiting these old restaurants is that food is made and prepared to order; in other words, there is no ready made food served unless it's pickled vegetables. In the Western world we would call this method slow food, which literally means that the restaurant grows and harvests its own food products then cooks them when ordered. For example, when I ordered the pacific saury, they run to the back and snatch a live one from the tank and cut it open while it's still a live, that way when they bring it to the table it's still moving on the plate. That's slow food at it's finest. Of course this notion of ‘slow food’ has been around in Asia for centuries, long before the Italians first pioneered the term itself.
In the Western world, there are certain taboos against this kind of killing and eating straight away. There are places in Australia, for example, that have ordinances that make it illegal to kill and eat fish the Japanese way. Often times the chef's have to allow fresh catches to completely die first before cutting them open. Another thing, when eating sashimi in Japan the fish is at almost room temperature whereas in , say, places like Los Angeles they tend to over chill the sashimi which can make it dry and in turn make it difficult to enjoy the protein flavor that you get when eating something freshly cut open, and this is especially true in tuna also.
In these small rural mom & pop restaurants one can get a since of how sashimi is supposed to taste, along with the convivial atmosphere that comes along with it. They really made me feel like I was at home and welcome, which is something I rarely pay attention to. I ate and ate to my hearts content. I ordered another tokuri( carafe ) of sake and my final bill came out to 2800 yen!($30).
I remember during the course of the meal Akemiさん would bring a free dish or two to my table. Unfortunately, she brought me two of my least favorite dishes, squid guts or innards called (shiokara) in Japanese. One was salted and fermented, and the other was marinated in shoyu( soy sauce), they are repulsive. As a courtesy I did try one small tiny little innard then quickly washed it down with some nihonshu.
As I was packing up my stuff and getting ready to leave the restaurant Akemi asked me where I was going? I said Inubo! Her face lit up and she ran back behind the counter and brought me back a coupon for a day use onsen at a very nice hotel in Inubo of which I will post about next.