[blog]* Day 9 - an army base and lots of Chinese food... wait, what?
I visited a US military base! ...rather unexpectedly.
It's well known in Japan that the US naval base in Sasebo, Nagasaki was what gave rise to the legendary "Sasebo burger". So when I met some US soldiers earlier on in the week I pounced on the chance to visit their base in Zama, Kanagawa. I was curious to see if, like in Sasebo, the US presence had given rise to unexpected culinary - or other - developments.
So that was how I ended up in Zama. Zama is actually relatively close (38km) to Tokyo and getting there is just a matter of a short train ride to Tokyo via the Odakyu line, from Shinjuku.
Take a rapid or express train to Sagami-Ono, then change for a local train to Sobudaimae.
The entire journey takes about an hour from Shinjuku in Tokyo, allowing for transfers, and be sure to avoid rush hour unless you are a big fan of standing.
I'm still trying to work out how cities and towns are related to each other in Japan - I think Sobudai is technically a town within the area of the city of Zama.
Anyway, just look out for the stop where all the foreigners get off.
It's a sleepy, laid-back sort of place, with little winding side-streets between rows and rows of houses that stretch all the way up and down the hill.
There's nothing to "see" in the area per se and you'll never be able to get on base without an escort anyway, so I can't recommend this as a tourist attraction. But... I really like it.
I was also taken went to the nearby town of Machida, a few stops down, which is a popular destination for servicemen on base. This being a Saturday, the entire town was ringing arcade machines kaching-ing and people on phones and little children bouncing around everywhere.
As for that culinary influence I had been looking for? Quite definitely... none. A number of fast food chains and a supermarket all operate within Camp Zama, and as far as I could tell most soldiers rarely even ventured out, except to drink.
So much for my investigation, then. But what do I eat, then? At this point I had to fall back on the sheep rule.
The idea is, if stuck, to look for places with lots of people, and with a large menu - basically safety in numbers. Hence the "sheep rule". In America this would likely lead to Taco Bell, but in Japan it's probably - mostly - safe to use.
In this case, at any rate, it seemed to work OK...
My order was rice with kimchi and pork, with a half-raw egg on top and a side of gyoza. Wouldn't fly out to Japan for this, but it was surprisingly good, satisfying food. The kimchi provided a nice tangy spice and textural contrast that worked well with the rice and creamy egg yolk, and the gyoza plain but nicely pan-fried to crisp, juicy perfection. I loved it.
This technically falls under chuka ryori, which translates to "Chinese food" but is probably better described as a distinct style of Japanese food that draws heavily on Chinese influences. Okinawa is the proper origin for this style of cuisine, but it is now to be found pretty much throughout Japan.
When we got out, a matsuri float was making its way around town.
We had some time still until dinner, so we wandered around and hit a few arcades. The feel of the city was a little different from Tokyo - it's hard to describe, but it's more... homely? I felt like I'd been here for years.
This amused me no end. Well, it gets the point across, at least...
Still in the arcade - this was really cool, little plastic horses running around a racetrack. I wonder how it works - maybe magnets?
We ran into the matsuri float going around town again.
The thing that really gets me about Japan is how beautiful even the ordinary is. Walk down almost any street at night and it'll be an explosion of light and colour, like some little kid decided to paint over town with an oversized neon paintbrush.
Finally, time for dinner. I don't do this again on the trip - so forgive me - but for today I allowed myself to be escorted to a yakiniku restaurant.
Coals go in stone oven, rack goes on top of oven, food goes on top of rack... you get the idea.
Yakiniku is another Japanese-ish dish suffering an identity crisis. It literally means "grilled meat" and likely originates from neighbouring Korea, where Korean barbecue (gogi gui) remains a similar and popular dish. Yakiniku, though, is subtly different, with different marinades for the meat and different dips served afterwards, giving what I think is a much rounder, sweeter and more intense flavour.
Someday I'll collar someone more knowledgeable to clarify more definitively on the differences between yakiniku and gogi gui but, for now, just trust me when I say it's really, really good.
Results: Day 9
The List: #7 - Chuka-ryori (Japanese Chinese cuisine) :: #8 - Yakiniku (Japanese BBQ)
So that was that. Not quite what I'd hoped for, but how often do you get to stop by a military base? Plus, an interesting chance to try some of Japan's "adopted" cuisine. I still wish I could have unearthed something amazing, like Zama pasta or something, though...
This time, a question!
Can anyone advise on the difference between the Japanese and Korean variants of yakiniku? What's your favourite chuka ryori dish? Anyone stationed at Camp Zama? Send in an e-mail, comment below, or follow me on Twitter / twitter.com/foodjapan