Itadakimasu means “Let’s Eat.” And so we shall.
First of all, our stay at the Hakone Grand Villa was already a treat – being able to sleep on the floor traditional style but having the opportunity to have a traditional Japanese dinner just put the experience over the top.
I believe, that for most Ryokans, you would really have this traditional dinner experience as part of the package. I remember reading up on GQ Trippin’s experience with a traditional dinner at a ryokan. I looked forward to having a similar experience the moment I saw that we had a traditional ryokan in our itinerary.
Anyway, the dinner was all a mess. There was a lot of miscommunication happening because it turns out, the kid’s menu differed from the regular menu and that we had to search for a table that was just for the Happy Meal as opposed to just the servers giving Tonie one of the 5 kid meals in a group of 70-something people.
When finally things got sorted out and my Stepdad had a major meltdown with the frustration of beating down the language barrier, we were able to fully enjoy the experience. Even though there were 70 of us tourists going through bowls and plates and cups and saucers, I still felt an intimacy with the food that was laid out.
You can’t help but marvel at the many different kinds of food available and how they are all served differently.
Every time I picked up a bowl, I looked over at other people to see if what I was doing was right. Initially, I was very conscious at what you should do because I remember an episode of Anthony Bourdain where he was scolded by a Japanese man because he just attacked his table and did what was the equivalent of eating the ketchup of the French fries that was served. It wasn’t actually ketchup, but he ate, like, the pickled vegetables that were supposed to complement something and not to be eaten by itself. So I was wary of doing the same mistake. If anything, I didn’t want to disrespect them by doing something out of tradition but seeing that I wasn’t seated traditionally, I guess I might as well run with it.
Eating on the floor, in a yukata isn’t as comfortable as I thought. As ladies, youre so supposed to be timidly positioned so that your knees were bent and you sat on your legs – none of that barriotic indian-sit position. We all shifted from one position to another. From crossing our legs to putting both legs under the table, to playing footsie with the table in front of us, we tried them all.
MY ATTEMPT AT IDENTIFYING FOOD
Upper left corner is the soup. Notice that it comes in a beautiful cast iron baby pot and it sits on top of a tiny little fire. On the opposite side, on top of a hot plate, there are some nice beef cubes grilling in some nice sauce. I ended up dipping everything in that sauce. Between the two kept-warm bowls, you’ve got some vegetable tempura. Below the grilled beef, there’s the sashimi selection. There’s a nice piece of grilled fish that’s quite delicate and flavored delicately as well. There are a couple of covered bowls and honestly, one was a simple miso soup and the other was a hearty bowl of rice. And the other bowls had the different pickles and egg dish. The skewered green, white and pink balls were cute little mochi balls made of rice flour. Finally, the lovely small glass next to the water is a nice meal starter of sake. Oh yeeeaah, kampai!
KIDDIE MEAL: Their version of a kid’s meal was just something of lighter fare. They have a nice dessert custard that I ended up keeping from the Happy Meal . The main course for the kiddie meal was awesome too, I ended up eating that as well. The Happy Meal was bent on just having rice, soup and the beef bits so she that meant more sashimi for me!
Breakfast hit a little closer to the Filipino home. They had rice, which you eat with nori. There was fish and egg. Those alone rounds up a good Filipino meal. But of course, what is a good hearty meal without some taho. The lovely white soybean gunk that’s bubbling away thanks to the fire underneath is goes from silky smooth and creamy to clumped up tokwa-like but still very creamy.
After it all, we got up from our traditional Japanese dinner full but not as full as I thought I would be after having an entire table of food. Everything that was served was light and perfectly complemented each other. I had no need to unzip my pants and pass out on the nearest cushioned sofa or drown myself with tea to get that bloated and full feeling out of myself. I could not be happier.
Well, ice cream could’ve made me happier. Or more sake. Or both.