It’s very rare in this day and age of television viewing that I actually have to wait a whole week to watch the follow-up programme of something I’m interested in but thats exactly what I had to do regarding the second Japan-based episode in this series which aired on BBC2 last Thursday. I was very keen to see what a non-Tokyo programme would involve given that the capital city has featured prominently in many programmes over the years.
You can watch the episode here
First to feature is Fuji Yoshida in Yamanashi-ken which is not exactly a huge distance from Tokyo but its still a couple of hours away. They visit the oldest noodle restaurant in the area and learn how to make udon (thick noodle) which starts off with Dave pounding the dough with his feet and brings to the proceedings a nice little reference to his time on ‘Celebrity Come Dancing‘ last year. The whole process really is a work of art and it brings it home how much time, effort, energy (and heart!) is put into each bowl of noodles.
Renowned for their cooking locations the guys make ramen noodles in the foothills of Fuji-san and they even make the pork broth part of it from scratch too. Those watching in the hope of seeing some weird Japanese inventions get their wish during this part as they have an egg contraption on hand which can shape the soft boiled eggs. I’m not sure how many British viewers watching will bother to follow suit but has that ever really happened on food television?! I, for one, enjoy watching such shows but have never really felt the urge to try and replicate such a dish.
Mount Fuji is the most climbed mountain in the world (one that I conquered back in 2007) and its peak is only really visible for 100 days a year which sadly doesn’t include their time in the vicinity but that doesn’t seem to bother them too much. Their eyes light up when they see the spiritual mountain and they giggle with excitement. The word “privilege” is used many times by Si throughout the programme and this was one such time.
Before leaving Fuji behind they take an onsen in a scene which does come with a warning that those of a nervous disposition may want to look away before their naked bottoms are seen on screen. Now, I’m no fan of hot spring baths but this setting does look wonderful and the kind of one I wouldn’t mind taking one day.
On reaching their destination of Kyoto they ride their bikes through the geisha district of Gion and on to the buddhist temple where they spend the night. The next morning they’re on breakfast duty and make tofu dumplings. Such cooking is labelled shojin ryori which loosely translates as cooking of the purified mind and their task shows the work and discipline involved in making tofu and indeed being a monk too!
Like Si, I have stated in the past that tofu is boring but recently I’ve started eating it far more regularly for breakfast and certainly when its mixed in with natto and okura its lovely. Similarly, the tofu they taste during their temple stay looked really nice.
Of course they couldn’t go to such a place without meditating and yet again they take it on and reflect on it in such a positive manner. Its just about being still and quiet which in the modern world is very difficult to do is how Si sums it up in a quick soundbite.
The pair know their audience and inform them where certain ingredients can be bought as well as suggesting alternatives too. At the buddhist temple they make tofu, aubergine and lotus roots stew for their monk and from that purity they then move on to okonomiyaki which has them drooling with excitement as they cook the pancake-style dish for a 5-a-side football team. I was a bit surprised to learn that this basic dish is the most popular fast-food in Japan despite the western invasion of burgers and so on. As I mentioned in my review of the Tokyo episode it is nice to see such people bumbling with enthusiasm and excited by food which I probably take for granted these days.
The merit of Anthony Bourdain’s programmes on the Travel Channel, and more recently CNN, is that he (mostly) sampled the everyday food of the regular person and that is what this duo did by including Japanese service stations in their adventure. Back home these places are hardly renowned for the quality of food and its debatable whether they are in Japan but one thing which I can be sure of is that every single service station has its own speciality snacks and this is the kind of thing that interests me. However, the duo, particularly Si, are not impressed by the melon buns which they have!
Before embarking on their trip to Japan the bearded men had a trilogy of quests; Tsukiji fish market, Fuji noodles and perhaps the defining moment of their trip was to try Kobe beef on its own turf. This kind of meat is said to be the finest in the world and boy are they excited to be there. No cows in the field there as the wagyu are treated so preciously that they’re not allowed outside. However, the idea that such Japanese cattle are fed beer, massaged, listen to opera and lie on straw beds are sadly a myth.
After using the Kobe beef in sukiyaki, cooked for the owner of the prized beef cows, the two down-to-earth northern lads return to Kyoto for a kaizaki banquet of 16 courses dating a long way back. This is all eaten in the company of an apprentice geisha known as maiko. Yet again their reaction to everything is refreshingly positive.
They compare the art of it all to being like theatre and the fan dance and games which follow, a world apart from playing darts down your local, are lapped up with relish. That was to be their final event in Japan and just goes to show that it can be a great place to visit for a trip. Progressing beyond being seen just as a visitor is a different kettle of fish altogether and can have its frustrating moments but watching this show can make one feel how lucky we are to live in such a country.
Having really enjoyed this series I may even take a dip into their back catalogue to see what they’ve done in the past. The series isn’t over yet and South Korea is still to come which doesn’t interest me quite as much as Hong Kong, Thailand and Japan but I’ll definitely be tuning in as its really nice to watch people who are passionate about their interests and that certainly includes these two humble, infectious hairy bikers.