Our packed train from Nakamura finally made it to Okayama, and not a moment too soon.
I fell asleep and sat funny, got a throbbing headache, and it's like someone decided to drop some arctic weather at the place. Never mind that we're at about the same latitude that we were just a few hours earlier.
The Okayama Business Hotel - our digs for the night - is just shy of depressing. The room's tiny but serviceable, the bathroom's microscopic but, again, serviceable, and BY GOLLY! There's internet! For free! Just ask for a CAT-5 cable at the front desk. w00t!
But this is no time to mess around online. Although I just wanted to take it easy, I wanted to do so in front of a big, steaming bowl of deliciousness. What sort, I don't know - but we just had to get out there.
We walked down the main street, Momotaro-Odori, called such because this is the birthplace of Momotaro-san. Actually, his birthplace is the middle of a peach. Huh!? Ok, Momotaro is a Japanese legend about a boy who was born - honest to god - from inside a peach. ("Momo" is Japanese for peach.) He grew up to be a brave warrior, and his tale has been told to Japanese (and half Japanese/half Iranian) kids across ages. The tale originated here in Okayama, known for its delicious white peaches.
Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, we walked down Momotaro-Odori, checking out the bright lights and big buildings of what was once no more than a middling town - now it's becoming downright urban, and with a population over 700,000, it's catching up with San Francisco in size. This isn't the quaint little transit town I imagined.
We got sidetracked from our quest for food when we went into a shopping arcade that had to be at least a mile long. Or so it felt. Block after block after block of shops selling, food, clothes, and anything remotely cute. If there's one word to describe things in Japan, it's "cute." The puppies, kittens, pot-bellied pigs, and ferrets at one pet store were no exception from that rule. I swear, they even make the puppies cuter here than anywhere else. Despite our growing hunger, the charm of all these stores was too irresistible. Of course, there wasn't really anything worth buying - at least, that's legal to bring back into the states. Until I found a camera shop. They didn't have the Nikon speedlight I wanted, and most of their stuff seemed overpriced anyway... and then I saw it. A shiny new 4GB high-speed SD card for my camera. For one third of the price back home. Cha-ching! I plonked down the cash and walked out of the store, and then it hit me - other than food, all I've bought on this trip has been camera gear for myself.
God, I've been selfish. Here I am in a place where there's a multitude of cutesy, non-sensical, amusing crap I could be buying for my friends back home, and I've been spending my money lavishly on myself and my camera.
Of course, then I realized I share my pictures with all of you, so that's gift enough.
Aren't I good at rationalizing?
Then another thing hit me. The smell of yakitori. Who can resist the allure of flame-broiled chicken skewers? Not I. Nor my mom. We headed into the izakaya (pub/grub place) from which the seducitve scent was emanating. And in it we found heaven.
Now izakaya's not some culinary masterpiece of any sort. But it's a hell of a good substitute. You sit down, order some beer or shochu or sake, and start ordering snacky food as you would at a tapas bar in Spain. First round: Three types of yakitori: breast, skin, and gizzards. Believe it or not, the breast was the weakest link in that chain o' chicken. Next up: kushikatsu better known to you and me as fried meat on a stick. That with a side of fried local fish sort of like sardines. Another giant beer, and then on to kaki-fry or fried oysters. Good lord, these things were HUGE! And tender! The oysters here are so huge that when you deep fry them, the centers don't cook up and shrink like they do at home, so you get a gigantic, moist, tender oyster in each nugget. Then there was the ebi-fry, the same deal with shrimp. I think we had a few other items but the food coma must've atrophied the part of the brain that would remember.
Mom and I walked outside full. Uncomfortably so. But the cold was harsh, cutting through all our layers. So five minutes later, we were talking about how good a hot bowl of noodles sounded... in theory, of course. Definitely not in practice.
Until we came upon a shop window where fresh udon noodles were being pulled by hand. We looked at each other and said, "Yeah, I guess I could eat that." We each ordered the simplest bowls available. Her the kitsune ("fox") with a slice of fried tofu on top, and me the tanuki ("racoon") with bits of fried tempura batter. Forget all the fancy sides. We were just interested in trying the handmade noodles.
My reaction: Ho hum. "Mmm, this is good."
Wait, what? I just spent that time writing and putting up a picture of noodles to which my reaction was so mundane, ordinary, and, well, not worth writing about?
No... it's just that it's really really really difficult to have an orgasm in front of your parents, ok? Had I reacted how I really felt about these ridiculously fresh, tender, delicious, non-pareil noodles, it would've been a recreation of that restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally.
And really, nobody wants to see that.
Especially not my mom.
So, suffice it to say that the udon was good.