January 10, 2014
Photo set on Flickr (Part of Eating in Japan set)
Besides the beautiful winter scenery, snow crab (松葉蟹) is another good reason to travel to Kinosaki Onsen during winter time. The crab is only in season from November to March. It goes without saying this local delicacy was prominently featured on Nishimuraya Shogetsu’s kaiseki (懐石; multi-course meal) menu.
The meal was served in our room, beginning with appetizer, cooked crab and sashimi.
Appetizer consisted of marinated seaweed, arrowhead mushroom (慈菇), squid-wrapped fish roe, mandarin orange with fish roe, chicken liver and cooked yellowtail. Everything was good and I especially liked the mandarin orange.
I am not a big fan of crab, but I now can see why the Japanese is so fond of the snow crab. The meat was firm and had a very sweet flavor with a hint of sea water. But the best part was the crab roe. I painstakingly picked out every ounce of meat I could see from the shell, and by the time I was done an hour had passed and our table was full of other dishes. My wife, who didn’t see the need to put so much effort into picking out the tiniest pieces of meat, breezed through her dishes and started playing with her smartphone while I was still working on one of the crab legs.
I should have eaten the sashimi first before I worked on the crab. Alas the sashimi was already on the table for an hour by the time I laid my chopsticks on them. The four types of seafood were spot shrimp (牡丹海老), greater amberjack (間八), tai (鯛) and of course snow crab.
This was my first time having raw crab. Unlike the crispy texture of raw shrimp or lobster, the raw crab had a slimy texture. It was fine but I preferred the cooked version more. The amberjack and tai were great; the shrimp so-so.
Next up was Tajima beef (但馬牛). Everyone knows about Kobe beef. Heck, a guy liked the meat so much he even named his kid after it. But to clarify, just like Champagne is a region where the bubbly drink is cultivated, you can think of Kobe as a brand. The beef itself comes from a strain of black cattle called Tajima, mostly born and raised in Hyōgo Prefecture where both Kobe and Kinosaki Onsen are located. The beef is one of the world’s most expensive food ingredient, comparable to the likes of white truffle and Beluga caviar.
We each had three tiny pieces. The cooking method was simply; we put the meat on a grill for 20 seconds each side. It was very tender and had a strong flavor. The impression was fleeting though – I think it is a bit pretentious to treat beef like how we would normally consume sashimi. I know Tajima beef is expensive, so I would rather have something else on the menu (lobster?) or better yet just charge me less. But I digress.
Again, the beef was good.
This was the part of the marathon meal when I had to force food into my mouth in order to catch up with my wife, who was a few dishes ahead. The soup served as the base to hold up the main focus of this dish – a greater burdock (牛蒡) dumpling. Greater burdock is one of my favorites and acted as a good change of pace from all the seafood.
Abalone is not an easy ingredient to handle. This one was tender and the sauce didn’t overwhelm the taste of the shellfish.
I wasn’t too thrilled when I saw the hot pot. The snow crab was tasty; I just didn’t want to spend another hour picking out its meat. But I couldn’t help myself. By the time I was done at ten, our server, who was meticulous in her service throughout the night, couldn’t help but let out a hearty laugh when she entered our room for the second time after my wife was done with her dessert and finally saw that I was done with my pot of crab.
If I were to rank the three dishes of crab, it would be cooked crab > hot pot > sashimi.
The rice had gone completely cold when I got around to it. I didn’t bother to ask for a reheat and I finished it anyway.
The melon and strawberry capped a good ending to my three-hour meal. The mango pudding was too sweet for my taste and was the only thing I didn’t finish on the night.