Monday, May 11, 2009


ALERT: unseemly amounts of photos of strange food ahead. If you're not excited about baby raw squid served in their own ink, you might want to skip this one.

Do you recognize these people?

Ian and Tiara, founders of Farang Industries, and their honored guests, Steve and Barbara.

Committed to bringing you the best reporting possible, these brave gourmands traveled into the heart of Ohara, Japan, and donned robes to endure two days of soaking in hot springs, reading quietly by the garden, and partaking in never-ending kaiseki meals. We had two dinners and two breakfasts during our stay. The breakfasts generally involved salmon, rice, pickles, miso soup, and several forms of bean curds. They were delicious, and though I said at the time that I prefer my Western breakfasts, I have been craving miso, rice, and pickles like a madwoman for the past few weeks. Japan, we miss you....

Dinner is a real event, served in your room (or in our case, in mom and dad's room) by your own personal attendants. The entire meal is designed to reflect the season, and each course is exquisitely presented on flatware specifically chosen for that dish. It's like eating art, though generally it tastes better. Most of the courses were winners, and all of them were interesting. The following photos are of our dinner the first night of our stay. Our menu was in Japanese so we really don't know everything we ate, but here is my attempt to recreate the meal in roughly the order it was served.

An appropriately strange and colorful start. Soft pink tofu with broccoli, a green veggie and wasabi sauce, and raw little fishies. Not bad flavor-wise, and pretty cool texturally.

From left to right: raw octopus tentacles, radishes, bamboo shoots, butterfly-shaped radish, mochi, shrimp head, and broccoli.

Yuba. This stuff is weird but delicious. Soy milk is boiled and forms a skin, which is removed and eaten. Boiling and skin eating continues until all the milk is gone. We got a nice ponzo-esque dipping sauce for the skin.

Vegetable stock with some green veggies and this pretty package containing various forms of bean curd, including a red one that mom won't be wanting again, thank you very much.

Mmmm....sashimi. Mmmm some more.

Fried little fishies, lotus root, and some bean curds and sauces that I really don't remember. These fish were better than the ones that I got by surprise at a bar when I thought I had ordered salmon.

A sweet, eggy, creamy soup with some leafy greens. Also, adorable heart-shaped radishes.

Whole, raw baby squid served in their own ink. See below.

I feel really bad about this one. I was the first among the four of us to pop one of these little guys in my mouth, and I just could not hide the look that came over my face when I tried to swallow it. I managed to get it and another one down, but this was the one plate I didn't finish. I'm not much for squid sushi anyway, and the guts and ink just didn't improve the experience for me. Ian was a star and ate them all. Now that he's had rat soup in Laos, he's reaching Anthony Bourdain levels of food tolerance.

Various bean curds and root vegetables. Not bad. Not great.

Pickles! These were served with steamed rice, which didn't really merit a picture. I don't think either of these pickles are the kind offered to me by a man in Ohara, who opened with the line: "Are you famous?" Tiara: "Umm, no." Pickle man: "These pickles are famous!"

Miso soup. I wish every meal began and/or ended with miso.

Yummy black sesame pudding with kiwi and STRAWBERRIES! Given the cost of fruit in Japan, I see now why our stay at the ryokan was so expensive. Seriously, it's wild. Someday I'll show you a picture of a $100 cantaloupe.

This meal was truly special and I feel so fortunate that we were able to partake in the kaiseki tradition. Our dinner the second night was equally, if not more, delicious, but actually featured a number of more familiar foods. Thanks, mom and dad, for treating us so well!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Our first forray into scatological humor

We here at Farang Industries think of ourselves as "high society" people, exemplars of taste and discernment. Tiara quaffs only Hennessy Beauté du Siècle, Ian won't turn the ignition of any lesser vehicle than his Rolls Phantom Silver, and Charlie... well, Charlie's learning.

(On the subject of learning, a quick aside to Farang's new Chief of Staff Preston Vanderbilt Esquire: The Remy XO is only to be served to the canines of visiting guests; the Jaguar is only to be used for picking up dogfood like Remy XO. One more mistake and you're out on the street like Dillinger Carnegie.)

You are probably wondering why I bring all this up; surely our credentials are unimpeachable, and the 'Farang' name is synonymous with refinement and class. Well, dear reader, it is with heavy heart that I confide that the roar from the financial meltdown has sent echoes even into the upper echelons of society. Ad contracts are expiring, sponsorship is down, and readership is dropping off as more of our loyal devotees turn their attention to finding new employment instead of reading our blog at their (now empty) mahogany desks. In these troubled times we at Farang are trying to grow our readership by courting the... how to say? peasantry. So here now, we extend a foul smelling olive branch, a small gastrointestinal gesture of good will: a "poop" joke, which our consultants have assured us is something that you people enjoy.

Editors advice: Skip the fudge

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

9 Pictures of Kyoto

Kyoto has an unimaginable wealth of stunning gardens and temples. We spent four days there and probably saw less than a third of the recommended attractions. What we did see, though, was absolutely beautiful. Most Japanese gardens don't photograph well, because they're meant to be an immersive experience where every corner you turn opens up a whole new view. I actually found that our photos were really not a good representation of what it felt like to be in these places. We tried, though, so here are some images of a few of my Kyoto highlights. For a while I was doing really well remembering the names of all the gardens, but then I entered my Italy-induced gelato coma and now all I can remember is that my favorite Grom flavor is Cassata Siciliana. I'll be counting on mom to fill in the gaps for me.

I think Fushimi Inari was my favorite place in Kyoto. Tens of thousands of red torii gates wind their way through forested mountain paths. The temple is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and sake. Each gate is donated by a Japanese business, wishing for prosperity in the coming year.

Prayers, wishes, and cranes at Fushimi Inari.

Ian on the Philosopher's Path during full cherry-blossom bloom. His mom took a similar picture when they were there almost ten years ago. What do you think, Debbie? Will this one go on the fridge too?

By the end of our time in Kyoto, the blossoms were just starting to fall, creating a light, fluttery pink snow. So surreal.

Golden Pavillion. We beat the tour buses here by about 45 seconds.

Temple, garden, and crane.

Garden view from a teahouse.

Pretty fountain.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Way Back Machine Goes to Nao-shima

A long, long time ago, we visited the island of Nao-shima in Japan's inland sea. The island has become a community for artists, and dozens of sculptures are scattered around the island. There are also a couple of world-class museums and some great pieces by James Turrell, but, sadly, we were unable to take photographs inside.

We spent two days visiting the island, riding bikes to visit the various sculptures and museums. There was a surreal air to the place - an island of full of obscure artworks that's completely off the international tourist trail. It has definitely become one of our favorite places we visited on this trip. The locals think that the island would be the perfect setting for an upcoming James Bond movie, and we have to agree. Join the movement to bring James Bond to Nao-shima!

I love this pumpkin.

Ian's the king of the world!

An installation called "Cultural Melting Bath," with a jacuzzi you can actually use.

Nao-shima is where we first had okonomiyaki, a savory pancake with cabbage, eggs, bacon, pickled ginger, and some other odds and ends, topped with a sweet sauce, mayonnaise, and some seaweed. This stuff is goooood.

Ian and Charlie wait for the ferry.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tokyo and the Tsukiji Fish Market

We were fortunate to visit Tokyo on three separate occasions during our five weeks in Japan. We loved the bright lights, people-watching, great architecture, cheap food, and strange happenings.

A tiny bit of the massive Tokyo skyline, as seen from the top of the Metropolitan Government Building.


Sure, why not?

Insane scramble crossing in Shibuya.

When my parents came to visit us, we all decided to wake up at 4am one morning to check out the tuna auction and the Tsukiji fish market. The auction was recently reopened after being closed to tourists for a long time. We can see way - this is a serious place of business, with trucks driving up narrow aisles and people carting fish worth $50,000 to restaurant owners. We were probably in the way, but we were really excited that we got to catch a glimpse of the action. Of course, we followed our fish market visit with a wonderfully fresh sushi breakfast.

Rows of really expensive tuna.

Tuna in transit.

Looking for fresh tako at the Tsukiji market.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ian!

Today is Ian's birthday. He is officially in his late-twenties. We will be spending the day in Venice, saying goodbye to our youth, but since our blog is living in the past, I'll commemorate this occasion by showing you two pictures from Kyoto. Here is Ian walking on his favorite stone steps while heeding the advice of this wonderful sign at the Heian Shrine:

Happy Birthday from the Farang Team! Charlie told me he hopes you get lots of chocolate and that you share it with him because he looooooooves it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hiroshima and Miyajima

Pardon our tardiness. We have been in a pasta-induced coma in Italy for the last two weeks and have been very bad about blogging. As we are now setting a record for being behind in our blog, I'm going to spend the next few posts dumping lots of pictures from Japan. For today, I'll show you a few from Hiroshima and Miyajima.

Visiting Hiroshima was powerful in a way that reading about it in a history text never could be. I read the story Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes with my 4th grade students, so visiting the children's memorial to Sadako was particularly moving for me. We were both surprised by the tone of Peace Park, casting no blame toward the United States and instead representing itself as a world city committed to peace and the abolishment of nuclear weapons. It was remarkable to see photos comparing Hiroshima the day after the bombing to the city today. I find it amazing to think about how the city was one of four possible targets, and was ultimately chosen for the bombing because there was good weather overhead that morning.

The A-Bomb Dome, restored to look exactly as it did immediately after the bombing, serves as a reminder of the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons.

The memorial to the children who died in the bombing and in the following decade as a result of radiation.

Cranes for Sadako.

The beautiful and iconic island of Miyajima, which we visited on a day trip from Hiroshima.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


We went to Miyajima several weeks ago, a fact you would never know from our once again woefully out of date blog. In addition to having its very famous orange tori gate in the water, it also has tame-ish deer.

Japan refuses to let natural selection run its course and has smattered the island with the following, very, very obvious warning sign:
The Kanji reads: "Especially be pleased to not forcefully examine the prostate of horned deers and so on"

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Take Me Out to the Baru Game

We had the good fortune of being in Osaka while the Hanshin Tigers (the local baseball team) were in season and at home. We also lucked out by couch-surfing into the home of Paul, who helped us buy tickets through an otherwise indecipherable vending machine. The results were fantastic.

Yes, the balloons are a little phallic

As far as I know (and I'm no expert on baseball), the game is played exactly the same as in the US. The fans, however, are much more animated. Every player has a theme song that plays when they come up to bet. For example, one of the few American players, 'Mench' (pronounced 'Menchi' by the locals) enters to a Metallica song. Japanese players tend to opt for either electronic music or more interactive intros. Star player Kanemoto features the '99/2000 Darude dance hit 'Sandstorm', while less famous Sekimoto features an American vocalist crooning "Everybody Saaaaay...." prompting the crowd to respond with an enthusiastic "SEKIMOTO!"

In addition to the theme songs, there are also general chants for all players, plus each player has an individual chant specific to them. These chants are only employed when the relevant player is at bat. Here's a clip:

Finally, and this is the clencher, the game we went to featured a massive whistling balloon launch. See those balloons in the still above? Everyone blew them up partway through the seventh inning, then released them when the Tigers finally got up to bat. Some cool Osaka fans even hooked Tiara and me up with balloons so we could participate. I shot a video without looking, so it's a tiny bit cruddy. I was having too much fun to be a cameraman.