Dinner at Ar’s of Shiodome, Tokyo


“All four elements were happening in equal measure – the cuisine, the wine, the service, and the overall ambiance. It taught me that dining could happen at a spiritual level.” ~Charlie Trotter, American chef and restaurateur

Modern Shiodome City District

Modern Shiodome City District

Shiodome (汐留) is a district in Tokyo recently developed at the turn of this century, redeveloped and remade into an attractive, somewhat upscale area full of shops, eateries, and businesses.  Its spectacular skyscrapers are the home of the headquarters of Nippon Television, but more importantly for tourists to the city, a large variety of cafes, theaters, hotels and the subject of this blog – “Sky-View” restaurants.

Shiodome (pronounced shee-oh-dome-eh, meaning “halt the tides”) was originally a tidal marsh sitting between the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Bay.  During the Edo Period in Japan (1603-1867), the marshes were dried up and reclaimed as land for the then many feudal lords hungry for space.

Redevelopment and Revitalization of Shiodome

Redevelopment and Revitalization of Shiodome

In 1872, Shiodome was chosen as the site of the Shimbashi rail station, originally the Tokyo terminal of Japan’s first railway line.  When the modern site of Tokyo station was developed as Tokyo and rail in Japan grew, Shiodome was basically converted into a train freight yard, a state and function in which it remained well into the 1980s.  Today the district is unrecognizable, featuring all the modern aspects of city planning with motorized pedestrian traffic, elevated walkways, and underground passages that connect most of the densely packed buildings in the area.

ars-2

Ar’s Italian Cuisine, one of the Sky View restaurants located in Shiodome, was recommended to us by our hotel’s very helpful concierge.  A short but cold walk away, our journey was made easier by the pedestrian ways connecting all the buildings in the area.

ars

tokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-dinner-with-jody-and-a-viewshiodome-sky-viewAr’s is located in a modern skyscraper above the 40th floor, providing amazing views of Tokyo and the famed Tokyo Tower from a warm and tastefully decorated space.  But there is a much richer experience to be had here than just enjoying the view.  Ar’s is an upscale eatery, and although there were only a couple of other groups there upon our arrival at about 2000, everyone was dressed in business formal, all men wearing coat and tie and ladies in dresses and heels.

Jody with Our Sky View

Jody with Our Sky View

tokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-dinner-with-a-viewtokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-delicious-kobe-beef-with-a-fancy-knifeOur wait staff was headed by a man who spoke actually very good English.  Tatsuhiko Tochimoto, the establishment’s Assistant Manager and true professional in terms of service, acted as our interface to the rest of the facility, providing detailed explanations of our menu in terms of ingredients and preparation.  We had reserved a table by the windows, not realizing that almost every table had a fabulous view.  Jody and I both ordered full course meals (see their menu for more) and a bottle of wine, and while the food was absolutely delicious and presented as creative works of art, what will stay with us for the rest of our lives is not the food but the way we were treated.

Appetizers

Appetizers

tokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-conger-eel-souptokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-baked-fishThe service at Ar’s was outstanding and very attentive.  It seems that there was a staff to customer ratio of about 1 to 1, which meant that we never asked for anything.  Water and wine was poured as if on que, and Tochimoto-san stopped by often between courses to chat, and with each course to explain our food in great detail.  While at time I would find this overbearing, especially being during date-night with my lovely wife, Tochimoto-san made us feel warmly welcome, much like family would.

Fabulous Friends & Food

Fabulous Friends & Food

tokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-seafood-pastatokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-picture-souvenior-with-dessertAt one point he came up with a camera, and asked if he could take our photo.  “Sure,” we said, somewhat confused.  What does he want with our photo?  He mentioned something about taking pictures of their special guests….  An hour later, delivered with our courses of sweets and dessert, was a small framed photo of me and Jody there at dinner; the staff had printed and framed the photo as part of our dinner!  Such a uniquely fabulous touch to an already first-rate dinner.

Our Framed Keep-Sake with Dinner

Our Framed Keep-Sake with Dinner

tokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-kiss-in-the-wedding-chapeltokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-fancy-dessertsThen, after we finished dinner, Tochimoto-san asked if we had a few moments.  Again, “sure” we said, this time with some eager expectation.  He brought us to an area down the hall from the restaurant, into a wedding chapel that they work in combination with.  This chapel is “special” we were told, because it overlooks both the Tokyo Tower AND the newer, taller landmark, Tokyo’s SkyTree.  He offered to take photos of our quickie wedding ceremony over the city lights of Tokyo.  His business card states “A to Z Dining,” and that is no exaggeration.  Such a fabulous night in Tokyo for us both!

Wedding Chapel with a View

Wedding Chapel with a View

Full disclosure:  this level of service and quality of food does not come cheap in Japan.  And while we spent a relatively enormous sum eating dinner at Ar’s, both Jody and I will tell you, without hesitation, that our experience there was worth every single dollar.  And email Tochimoto-san directly at “tochi0905@gmail.com” to reserve your own unforgettable spiritual dining experience.

tokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-sky-view-dining-in-the-sky-in-shiodome

Ar’s Italian Cuisine & Sky Bar SPADE

Lunch starting @ 3,000 JPY, Dinner @ 10,000 JPY

03-5537-6431 (+81-3-5537-6431)

Dinner 17:30-23:30 (last order 22:30) and Lunch 11:30-15:30 (last order 14:30)

Rail:  Toei Oedo Line to Shiodome Station, take Exit 4-minute walk

Address:  41F, 1-5-2, Higashishinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 105-7102

http://ars-dining.com/

Where’s the Beef? At Maru’s in Ishigaki


If you’ve ever had true Japanese beef, just watching – or even listening to a few seconds of the video above will make your mouth water! Like Pavlov’s dogs, it simply can’t be helped. The beef is every bit that good. Sure Kobe beef is a household name known around the world, but what is it about Japanese beef that makes it so expensive…and so damn tasty?

Club Med Ishigaki 2015, Maru Anniversary Dinner, tabletop feast WM

We recently had the pleasure of stuffing ourselves silly with Ishigaki beef for our 4th wedding anniversary, celebrated during a stay at Club Med on that Ryukyuan island. Taking a long and expensive taxi ride into town to a restaurant we ate at during a previous visit in 2014, Maru is a place that you can smell long before you see. Walking through the front door, we were greeted loudly by an obnoxious “mooooooooooooooooo,” broadcast in concert to the closing of the door. Checking in for our reservation, we proceeded to order a full sampling of the moo-cow’s finer cuts, with vegetables, rice and a large salad to serve as sides.

ishigaki-maru_213_1

Wagyu, as Japanese beef cattle are called, is a compound word made up of wa (“Japan”) and gyu (“cow”). Although most Americans know Kobe in terms of beef, what you may not realize is that Kobe is only one type of wagyu found throughout Japan. And most of the others are every bit as tasty, some much less expensive.

But what makes Japanese beef so dang delicious? It’s due in large part to the white marbled fat in the meat known as sashi in Japanese, the beef’s most prized aspect. In fact, cattle farmers spare no expense to help create intense patterns of fat that make the meat literally melt in your mouth. In Japan, wagyu beef is graded based almost entirely on the dispersion and amount of sashi present.

maru steak

As a point of comparison, what sets Japanese beef apart from that found in American is the amount of fat found in the meat. For example, prime beef in the United States only needs 6-8% fat to qualify for the highest USDA grade possible. In Japan, however, in order to be graded the highest quality ranking for wagyu (which is “A5”), the meat must have at least 25% marbled fat! And guess what? The sashi found in Japanese beef is primarily the monounsaturated kind, a “good” kind of fat which can actually lower “bad” levels of cholesterol in human blood. So eating Japanese beef is not just delectable, it can actually be…healthy (wink). The marbled fat results in a tenderness that, when cooked, is much like butter, resulting in an amazing flavor and mouthfeel like no other form of beef. The fat literally melts in the heat of the mouth and doesn’t linger. And even though it’s the most tender form of beef on the planet, wagyu retains a rich, meaty mouth feel.

Club Med Ishigaki 2015, Maru Anniversary Dinner, happy couple WM

We got lucky this time at Maru, at least after politely rejecting our initial waiter who was rather curt and spoke little English. Fortunately, there was another man who both spoke good English and was entirely personable, two qualities needed for an enjoyable anniversary dinner. Although the restaurant was sold out of a number of cuts and menu items, on our waiter’s recommendation, the food and beer started flowing.

Club Med Ishigaki 2015, Maru Anniversary Dinner, signage WM

Japanese cattle farmers take great care of their animals. Their cows are fed only the highest quality grains, mixed and blended with additives that each farmer holds as a close trade secret. The animals usually only drink local mineral water, all to help ensure the best quality meat results. Farmers are known to feed their cattle beer and sometimes sake to help fatten them up, and also brush and rub sake on their cows by hand in order to better distribute marbling and keep lice and ticks away.

Mura, a corner restaurant hidden away in a residential neighborhood

Mura, a corner restaurant hidden away in a residential neighborhood

Kobe beef comes from cows raised, fed, and slaughtered in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture, where Kobe City is located. In America we now have “Kobe-style” beef, meat which comes from wagyu cattle transplanted and raised in the US. While much more inexpensive than that found in Japan, it is much higher in quality than say, American Angus beef, but it doesn’t even begin to compare with the real Far East thang. Why? Shortcuts are taken in American to help contain cost. As you might imagine, the cattle feed in America is of much lower quality, and the personalized attention for individual cows just doesn’t happen under corporate farming in America.

But some of the Kobe beef actually comes from Okinawa Prefecture, at least indirectly. In the southern stretches of the Ryukyu Islands lies Ishigaki Island, where Ishigaki gyu (“beef”) originates. On the island at any one time are about 35,000 head of Japanese “Black Cattle.” Ishigaki, with a year-round warm climate, provides an expansive and always lush grassland perfect for breeding and raising wagyu. Calves born and raised there are often exported throughout Japan, where they mature and become each area’s prized beef, such as that found in Kobe. In fact, only a limited amount of calves (~20%) are kept on Ishigaki to be matured, making Ishigaki beef somewhat rare and high-priced.

Club Med Ishigaki 2015, Maru Anniversary Dinner, contemporary interior WM

Maru is, from just about what everyone says, one of the best places to find Ishigaki gyu. The popular and locally famous eatery serves up delectable beef that you cook at your table yakiniku (“grilled meat”) style, with a little help from their friendly staff. Using a mini gas-fired barbeque grill in the center of the table, fresh cuts of meat and crispy vegetables are all cooked exactly to order, by you! One problem with East meets West at Maru is that the menu is not available in English, and very few of the waiters speak English.

Today's Specials!

Today’s Specials!

The prime cuts of Ishigaki beef take center stage at Maru, but there many other choices available. Since the servings are generally small, multiple items can be ordered and shared tapas style. Fillets, rib and sirloin cuts of meat top the menu in price, but diners can also sample beef tongue, beef shoulder, offal, beef sashimi, and yukke – raw beef topped with egg yolk. Maru also has a popular nabe (Japanese hotpot), a soup-like mixture of vegetables, tofu, beef broth and some meat.

Club Med Ishigaki 2015, Maru Anniversary Dinner, peaceful couple WM

Maru’s interior is eclectic, to say the least. Brightly colored art, featuring deep reds and dark blacks adorns the walls, giving the place a very contemporary feel. One of the best parts of any visit is the “Mooooooooo” cow call which greets each diner as they open the front door! Located only about a five-minute walk from downtown makes it a popular place for a meal, even if it can be hard to find. Maru is so fashionable, though, that any taxi driver will know its location.

Capture

Maru is ever bit worth a visit. Hard on your wallet but easy on your taste buds, Japanese beef must be sampled to be truly appreciated. A map to the restaurant can come in handy, and their website is available, if only in Japanese. Likewise, they have an active presence on Facebook, in Japanese as well. Find them at 26-4 Tonoshiro, Ishigaki 907-0004, Okinawa Prefecture, and ring them at +81 980-82-0030.

Maru Map

“Live Fish Bowl Prime:” Gourmet Food at a Japanese Ryokan


Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, live fish bowl prime WM

“Live Fish Bowl Prime.” Sure, it sounds like an obscure faddish cartoon shown on Adult Swim back in the 1990s. Or at least it should’ve been.  But it turned out to be a machine translation (Google Translate via iPhone) of an item on Jody’s Japanese menu during dinner our first night at a high-end ryokan on Miyajima.

This is What it Meant!

This is What it Meant!

“What on earth does that mean?!” I asked Jody, laughing at how much technology fails a simple translation. “Who knows!” she responded with an anticipating smile, staring at her phone.

Individualized Menus, for Him and Her

Individualized Menus, for Him and Her

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, personalized menu 2 WMOur menu was personalized each night, it’s approval demonstrated by the han-stamp of the resident chef of the ryokan. The dinners were all served as 12-course meals, each choice indicated on the menu with a distinct line of Japanese. We attempted to translate each one, course by course. But as you might guess, something often gets lost in translation. Some of our favorite translations, besides “live fish bowl prime,” include “Hiroshima cow” and “fried bird”….  Or the one shown below.

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, the problem with machine translation WM

Concrete Soup. Yummy. Luckily it was MUCH better than it sounded…at least in English.

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, afternoon tea in our tatami room WMA ryokan (旅館) or “inn” is a type of traditional Japanese lodge that originated beginning back in the 17th century, maturing as today’s concept in the late 19th century. Originally serving travelers along Japan’s foot and horse paths, they now serve modern tourists at major sites throughout Japan. Typical features include tatami-matted rooms, communal hot spring baths, in-room personalized dining, and public areas where visitors may relax and socialize.

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, welcome to Miyajima

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, outdoor private onsen bath WMWe stayed in a ridiculously priced ryokan, the Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto in the resort location of Miyajima, a famous island retreat on the outskirts of Hiroshima. We were there celebrating, although at the time, we still didn’t know what we were celebrating. You can read more about that rather confusing situation is Commander, United States Navy, Arriving!  But in short, we booked one of the most expensive rooms in an already expensive lodge in honor of either Jody’s retirement, or her promotion.  Neither had happened yet.

Our Main Tatami Room, set for Tea

Our Main Tatami Room, set for Tea

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, flirting with the floating Torii WMRyokan are becoming more difficult to find within Japanese urban centers as mainstream and modern hotels are offering more at a much more affordable price-point. They have, however, have found their modern niche by catering to tourists with deep pockets, and are usually concentrated in scenic areas, exactly like Miyajima where we vacationed prior to moving on to Hiroshima proper.

View of the Setting Sun and Floating Torii from our Room

View of the Setting Sun and Floating Torii from our Room

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, sunset from our room 4 WMMiyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine,_6894Ryokan guest rooms are styled in traditional Japanese: tatami floors, sliding wooden doors, and rice-paper accented privacy screens. Most ryokan feature common bathing areas segregated by gender, using the water from a nearby hot spring (onsen). Higher-end inns provide private bathing facilities. These Japanese inns also provide yukata for guests to wear, and geta (wooden sandals) are available at exits for strolls outside.

Our Private Outdoor Onsen-Fed Soaking Tub

Our Private Outdoor Onsen-Fed Soaking Tub

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Kevin playing the Japanese part 2Based on a number of reviews, we selected room 502 of the Arimoto Hotel, a very large corner room on the top floor of the ryokan, featuring sunset views of Miyajima’s famous “floating Torii,” as well as private outdoor hot-spring fed bathing and personalized in-room dining.  Check out the hotel’s website; our room is featured as the inn’s “Guest of Honor” billeting, and is also featured in a bridal shoot.  I must admit that it does serve as a fabulous setting to accent the beauty of a beaming bride, certainly more so than it does for my cheesy Japanese peace pose below.

Me Modeling (poorly) Japanese Yukata

Me Modeling (poorly) Japanese Yukata

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, Jody's fish bowl WMYukata (浴衣 literal “bath clothes”), are casual Japanese garments, sometimes referred to as a summer kimono, worn by men and women. Designed for hot weather, they are unlined and often made of cotton. As with kimono, the general rule is that younger women (and kids) wear bright, vivid colors and bold patterns, while older people wear dark, matured colors and dull patterns. Men in general wear solid dark colors. Yukata are staple wear during a stay at ryokan, commonly seen throughout the establishments. I rather enjoyed my own interpretation of their wear!

Yukata Ready-to-Wear and Me Ready for Dinner

Yukata Ready-to-Wear and Me Ready for Dinner

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, fresh fish WMI initially wore the yukata to and from our private balcony bath fed by the resort’s on-site hot-spring. The deep-soak tub was set to offer 180 degree views of the setting sun over Miyajima’s western shore. But since there was really no way for anyone to be a voyeur of our bathing habits, I quickly did away with any clothing at all. The yukata was, however, very comfortable to wear for dinner after a long afternoon soak to soothe achy muscles from the day’s adventures.

Our Dining Room

Our Dining Room

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Jody and her Live Fishbowl Prime!The main tatami room serves three important functions: dining, tea and for sleep. Breakfast and dinner are served there, with tea service in the afternoon. But at night, tables and floor chairs and hidden away and lush futon bedding is spread out directly on the tatami floor, where ample pillows, sheets and blankets are provided for a deep, restful sleep after a day of hiking around Miyajima.

Our Bedroom (yes it is the same room)

Our Bedroom (yes it is the same room)

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, tabletop shabu-shabu WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Japanese place setting WMRyokan stays include dinner and breakfast, and most guests take their meals in their room. Meals are central to a ryokan stay: the price and ratings of inns are heavily based on the quality of their food. Traditional Japanese cuisine called kaiseki, a meal consisting of a number of small, varied dishes, is featured, which includes seasonal and regional specialties. The meals are tailored and cooked to order, and service times are selected by the guests daily.

Can you Spot the Fried Lotus - YUMMY!

Can you Spot the Fried Lotus – YUMMY!

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, meat and veg WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, beautiful salad WMWhile we got off to a rough start with the ryokan staff, due mainly to some of our specific dietary requests and the lack of English-speaking staff, we came to thoroughly enjoy our in-room meal service. Dinner was unrushed and personal, served by a private waitress, course by course, and lasted anywhere from two to three hours. We had the opportunity to enjoy some local Hiroshima wine while Jody tried quite a few new fish dishes, as I focused my meals more and more on the local high-quality and perfectly delicious Hiroshima beef…with some pork and chicken thrown in as well.  Lucky for us, after the first night of only machine translation of our meal, a waitress called “Emmy” was placed with us, who having spent 8 years in England spoke quite good English, even if it was more aligned to the Queen’s.  She actually stayed an extra day to help us in our culinary adventures as she was moving on to a 9-monht contract job on an Italian cruise ship as a hairdresser.

Stone-Grilling Fresh Hiroshima Beef - the BEST!

Stone-Grilling Fresh Hiroshima Beef – the BEST!

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Hiroshima mussels on hot stones WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, appetizer Hiroshima beef mock sushi WMHiroshima specializes in farm-raised oysters, which were served fresh and in a multitude of ways. One of the more surprising items that Jody enjoyed was fresh stonefish, and not only was she served the delicate and sometimes poisonous meal (if prepared wrong), the fish itself took center stage in her dinner’s presentation! I can’t say it’s appearance is all that…appetizing.

Stonefish: it's a Good Thing we don't eat their Faces!

Stonefish: it’s a Good Thing we don’t eat their Faces!

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, personal fish soup composite WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, Conger Eel and dipping sauces WMBut the most surprising course was a small covered dish of fresh seafood destined to be steamed tableside during dinner. Just after being placed on the table, the dish made a loud knocking sound, quite to our collective surprise. Our waitress, as curious as we were about the sound’s source, innocently lifted the dish’s top. And out flopped a large, live shrimp! We jumped back a bit as the crustacean made good attempt to escape, which our waitress was all too happy to block. Trapped back in its ceramic cell, the dish was placed on a flame for steaming, and no other sound was heard…until Jody’s coos upon eating the poor crustacean.

The Offending Prawn, Embarrassed about it's Behavior and Turned Red

The Offending Prawn, Embarrassed about it’s Behavior and Turned Red

But was it worth truly worth the expense? In terms of such an important celebration, sure it was! Spending money on treasured experiences is never a bad thing. Enjoying “live fish bowl prime,” the premium fresh seafood served to us during our ryokan stay:  priceless!

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, peaceful day on the waterfront WM

See Miyjima Grand Arimoto Ryokan for more photos of our stay!

 

Dim Sum: Dinner and then Some


 Kuruma_Fuji_full_699193“Nothing can be more delicious than Jiaozi, as nothing can be more comfortable than lying down to sleep.” ~Chinese proverb

 “Dumpling means, in essence, ‘reunion’,” our Chinese guide “Jason” explained as we were seated for a traditional Chinese dim sum dumpling meal during our stay in Xi’an, China. “And the dumpling banquet means generally the same thing.”

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, bronze relief of dumpling making of the past 3

Chinese dumplings, particularly Jiaozi (餃子/饺子), are the traditional dish eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve and at special family reunions. During these reunions, extended family members from afar may gather together to make dumplings. They are eaten again as a farewell feast to family members or friends who may not be seen for some time.

Other legendary mutant barbarians...who LOVE dumplings.

Other legendary mutant barbarians…who LOVE dumplings.

 

It seems that dumplings and China share a flavorful history together. A common legend goes that dumplings were first invented out of necessity in China during the era of the Three Kingdoms, around 225 AD. In this tale, a play on words is made between early mantou, a Chinese steamed bun and type of dumpling, and the homophonous word mántóu, meaning “barbarian’s head.”

Barbarian's head:  not so delicious.

Barbarian’s head: not so delicious.

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, dumpling making tools of the trade WMrestaurant-2011-07-13-16-00-Leongs-LegendGeneral Zhuge Liang, a military leader and minister of the times, found his army’s advance blocked by a swift-moving and unfordable river after subduing a barbarian king and his unruly henchmen. A local barbarian lord informed spoke of times past when the barbarians would sacrifice 49 men and throw their heads into the river to appease the river spirit, which would allow passage as the heads would effectively dam the raging waters. Liang, however, did not want to cause unnecessary bloodshed, and instead killed cows and horses and used their meat to fill buns shaped roughly like human heads. After throwing these surrogate tops into the river’s flow, the river spirit allowed him and his army to cross. To honor the event, Liang named the buns “barbarian’s head,” mántóu (蠻頭), which evolved into the present day’s more appetizing but perhaps less buoyant dumplings referred to as mantou (饅頭).

A variety of dumplings for dinner.

A variety of dumplings for dinner.

Guess what the filling is??

Guess what the filling is??

Duck-filled and fun.

Duck-filled and fun.

Dumplings are considered a special food in the Spring Festival, or Chinese (Lunar) New Year to which people are deeply and emotionally attached. On the eve of the New Year, dumplings become the centerpiece in any celebratory banquet. Eating dumplings at the New Year is a way of marking the occasion with wishes and prayers for happiness, fortune, and wealth. The dumplings’ very shape resembles an old Chinese currency called ingot (元宝), and the word jiǎozi shares the same pronunciation with 角子 (jiǎozi), which was a small jiao coin used in antiquity. Thus consuming these little delicacies has come to be associated with luck and fortune. For us, some of the shapes our dumplings came in reflected their fillings, particularly in terms of duck and pork. Yep, there were little piggies and majestic ducks staring us in the face! No translation needed there. In another humorous twist, when the dumplings are made on the eve of the Spring Festival, the Chinese will place a coin secretly into one. The person who finds it will likely have good fortune in the New Year, even if he or she has to spend it on tooth repairs….

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, bronze relief of dumpling making of the past 3

Making dumplings is a community affair.

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, bronze relief of dumpling making of the pastChina 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, dumpling recipes and ingredients WMMaking dumplings is a labor of love requiring a fair amount of preparation. Thus, dumplings have come to symbolize reunions where there are many hands available to help in their crafting. As you might expect, many Chinese learn to make dumplings at a very young age, and enjoy a lifetime of reunions around a kitchen table, chattering and laughing while familial connections are assembled, much as the dumplings. In an analogous King Konnection, my mother would make chicken and dumplings fresh during our own family reunions, and lucky for me and my siblings, we did all enjoy in helping in her efforts. What is it exactly about the formality of making and consuming dumplings that crosses culture so well?

Dim Sum Dumpling Dinner

Dim Sum Dumpling Dinner

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, famous dumpling chain in ChinaChina 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, lazy susan family style dumpling dinnerDim sum (點心) is a style of Chinese food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions of food traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum is usually linked with the older tradition yum cha (tea tasting), which has its roots in travelers on the ancient Silk Road needing a place to rest and refresh. Teahouses were established along the roadside, and what started as a relaxing respite while traveling the road over the centuries has transformed into an often loud but fulfilling dining experience. While we arrived early at a famous dumpling restaurant chain in China, by the time of our departure the tables were filled to capacity and the rambunctious sounds of the diner’s laughter, the server’s questions, and the reverberations of serving carts and dishes melded into a cacophony of delight, filling the eatery much the way the dumplings were stuffed to capacity.

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, steaming dumplings being served

EVERYTHING goes on the Lazy Susan!

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, eating the last of the dumplings!China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, ready for our super yummy famous dumpling dinner in ChinaA traditional dim sum meal includes various types of steamed buns, dumplings, and rice noodle roles, all of which are stuffed with delicious mixtures of goodness, including beef, chicken, pork, prawns and various vegetables and spices. The serving sizes are usually small and normally served as three or four pieces in one dish. It is customary to order family style, sharing dishes among all members of the dining party, where, because of small portions, people can try a wide variety of food. In fact, many of our meals in China were served this way, where the table’s lazy Susan quickly became the best friend of the famished. Coordinating Susan’s movements to meet twelve diners’ demands, however, was downright comical!

Japanese yaki-gyoza.  YUM!

Japanese yaki-gyoza. YUM!

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One of the creepier Japanese mascots....

One of the creepier Japanese mascots….

Gyōza is the Japanese version of the Chinese dumpling jiaozi. The Japanese word gyōza is derived from the Chinese word jiaozi (餃子), and although it is written using the same Chinese characters, its pronunciation shifts using Japanese sounds. The most prominent and generalized differences between Japanese-style gyōza and Chinese-style jiaozi are a rich garlic flavor (less noticeable in China), the light seasoning of Japanese gyōza with salt and soy sauce, and the fact that gyōza wrappers are much thinner. Gyōza are also usually served with a soy-based sauce seasoned with rice vinegar and/or rāyu (chili oil), while the most common filling consists of a mixture of minced pork, cabbage, chives, and any combination of sesame oil, garlic and/or ginger. Jiaozi in China ae generally only steamed; if they are prepared by pan-frying and then steaming as most Japanese gyōza, they are more correctly known as goutie (pot stickers), a direct analogy to their Japanese cousins.

The Japanese Gyoza Association mascot.  Seriously.

The Japanese Gyoza Association mascot. Seriously.

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, enjoying our dumpling dinnerBe they pot stickers or gyōza, I’m just happy that I don’t have to deal in barbarians (or their heads, attached or detached) in order to eat such tasty treats. In fact, they are so tantalizingly good here on Okinawa that I just texted Jody to pick up some on her way home from work. SCORE! Not only do I NOT have to cook dinner (and skate on my domestic engineering responsibilities), but Jody and I will celebrate our reunion this evening over some beautifully fried and steam Japanese dumplings.

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, rubbing buddha's belly for good luck and long life

Now I completely understand why he’s so fat and jolly!

 After all, reunions should be celebrated, no matter how big or how small.