Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Yes, yes, yes! Katz's Deli New York

Katz's Deli must be one of the most famous diners in New York. Granted the first thing that springs to mind for most people is probably Meg Ryan's virtuoso fake climax in When Harry Met Sally, or perhaps even the less well known appearance with Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco but Katz's is about so much more than that. Just as well known for the sheer size of its sandwiches and its fierce traditions, little has changed in the last century. Founded in 1888 (although the sign to the left seemed a little unsure about that) by the Iceland Brothers, Willy Katz came on board in 1903 changing the name to Iceland & Katz. Willy's cousin, Benny, joined in 1910 helping Willy to buy out the Iceland family resulting in the name that endures today.

Katz's began a campaign during the second world war to "Send a salami to your boy in the Army", a tradition which continues today and is promoted heavily in the store.

The original family link with Katz's died out in the mid 1980's when a local restaurateur, Martin Dell took over (his grandson Jake is the incumbent Pastrami King).   Despite the majority of the carvers now seeming to be more of Latin American descent, Katz's has maintained firm links to its Jewish immigrant history. Matzo balls, knishes, bagels, chopped liver & onions and bialys are all still on the menu but the bulk of the visitors are there for the sandwiches, as was I. 

So that's enough of a history lesson, what's it like now? We grabbed a yellow cab down to the Lower East Side fairly early on a Sunday morning in the hope that queues wouldn't have backed up too much. A massive, dripping meaticilous  sandwich isn't my usual breakfast but needs must, when in Rome etc etc. Turned out to be a good move as no queue greeted us, unlike half an hour later.  I would estimate the split of diners to be about 60% tourist to 40% local but for me that's still enough to suggest this place isn't only about its image but still heavily relies on quality and reputation. The locals are of every colour, creed and culture and between them and Katz's itself,  this place is classic New York distilled. Oozing nostalgia, it really doesn't feel like this place has changed in the last half century. It's best to know how things work at Katz's before you arrive. Noone explains things and there is a distinct protocol to follow.

On arrival you are presented with two tickets. You hold onto these come what may, penalty for loss being a hefty fine.  The left hand strip of tables have the benefit of a plethora of celebrity photos to browse as you munch. You will get waitress service but will lose out on the experience of interacting with the meat men and getting the tasty samples carved off whilst you wait for your sandwich. If you want to opt for a table on the right join one of the multi strand queues to get to the sandwich carving bay. There is very much a no nonsense approach to ordering, make sure you've decided what you want before it's your turn as if you snooze you lose (or at any rate get expressed to you in no uncertain terms quite how irritating your dallying is). Whichever option you go for, your server or carver will scribble on your ticket to indicate what you owe. Once you've finally reconciled yourself to the fact that you can't manage another mouthful, queue up to take your ticket to the till. No cards allowed so make sure you've got enough cash.

Enough scene setting. Let's get to what we're really here for. The Meat. It doesn't seem to be offered on the menu but I overhead a distinctive New Yoik local accent order a "half and half" just in front of me so decided to follow suit. This resulted in one slab of brisket and one of pastrami meaning my initial prevarication (see above re how to annoy the servers) resulted in getting the best of both worlds. I ordered a dose of American cheese on my brisket just because it would have seemed wrong not to (picture left).

Its entirely up to you whether you have mustard and how much but I'd recommend it, especially a little on the pastrami. The meat itself has a fabulous smoky, peppered flavour but the mustard just seems to enhance that beefy flavour a little bit more. The pastrami is incredible, a blackened outer crust (without any burnt taste) opens out to reveal a fantastic pink colour, if you didn't know better you'd question how something could naturally be that colour but this stuff is the best. Tender as can be, and really does flake apart. Each bite through the chewy bread, soaking up the oozing meant juice to the burn of mustard and peppering of your taste buds leaves you wanting to come back for more.

Each sandwich is accompanied by a plate of pickled vegetables that, whilst not the most attractive dish you'll ever see, do serve to cleanse the palate & add a texture of crunchy bite to proceedings. 

Katz's often cure their meat for up to 30 days resulting in a much more deep rooted, authentic flavour and succulent texture. It is surprising quite how moist the meat is considering that they pride themselves on not injecting brine as part of the curing process (as other delis are reputed to do). This does make me think that heavy basting takes place during the cooking process but this is no bad thing.

A opted for a Reuben. From the way she tucked in, I reckon she enjoyed it.... In hindsight, and having stolen a bite,  I rather wish I had done the same since, although mine was lovely, the addition of sauerkraut to the sandwich was a good one the vinegared veg cutting through the richness of the swiss cheese.

Drinks are served at a separate counter further down the store. Although you can go for the regular 7up and cola options, there are also some more unusual choices (well at least if you're not American) My meal was all washed down with a Dr Brown's cherry soda (slightly frightening synthetic cherry flavour and enough added colours to send a toddler into a hyperactive frenzy for days)
At around $16 a sandwich, these aren't the cheapest meat and bread combos that you're ever likely to encounter but considering the content of nearly a pound of meat each they do offer good value for money. Despite the online menu joking that their 3 meat platter feeds "3 tourists or 1 local" you won't get laughed out of the joint for ordering a sandwich to share. That said you will become overly possessive over your sandwich and reluctant to let anyone else near all that juicy meat.

Bearing in mind it's Lower East Side venue, Katz's isn't the most easily accessible location compared to all the tourist jaunts that your average New York visitor will be headed for. That said, its not a million miles from the quirky shops and cafes of Greenwich Village and god knows you'll need to walk off all that meat afterwards to even make a dent in the bodily damage done by that sandwich!

Although we didn't get to sit on the "Harry Met Sally" table, its probably for the best, I know that I wouldn't have been able to help myself recreating the notorious scene and that's good for nobody at breakfast time.

Now I really am going to make a long overdue visit to see what Mishkins can offer in Covent Garden. It might not be strictly kosher but hopefully it will bring back happy Big Apple memories!

Katz's Delicatessen
Lower East Side
205 E Houston St
New York, NY 1002
Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 20 May 2012

MEATmarket, Covent Garden

Other people get homesick when they are abroad and seek out places and food that remind them of home, perhaps explaining the ubiquity of the 'all day breakfast' on the Costa Del Sol or the incessant Brit tourist quest for a "nice cup of tea- with 'proper' milk".I, on the other hand, mainly seem to get cravings for the food of the place I have just visited almost as soon as the wheels of the plane have touched down on the runway at Terminal 5. This explains why I'm beating a path to MEATmarket only 2 days after returning from a work trip to Philadelphia and North Carolina (separate posts on that coming soon). After a week of Philly cheesesteaks, cheese whizz fries, ribs and sliders I want greasy, salty, American food and I want it NOW.MEATmarket is the new little sibling of much adulated MEATliquor and is located in the Jubilee Market on Tavistock Street just off Covent Garden. Initially a bit tricky to find and SO not what you're expecting when you climb up the windy staircase above the shabby old market below. Essentially its a funny old location on a balcony overlooking the market space below shielded only very slightly from the outside world by the nets and spikes designed to keep the pigeons from taking up residence. I have no idea what the stall holders selling victorian policemen's whistles and tarnished old military medals must think of the upstart burger bar blaring out hardcore dance music above their heads. Or what they think of the innuendo ridden neon signs with provocative Twitter accounts (here's hoping that @watchbeatmymeat starts sending out tweets soon..). As for what Pete of "Petes Cafe" on the ground floor (£2.95 for a hotdog and a drink) thinks of the pricing policy, who knows since at £7.50 for a burger we're on a whole different fast food level. Clever though as I can't think of a better way of getting a West End restaurant location for what must have been a comparatively cheap rent whilst also maintaining the quirky, industrial decor that fits with the food.Upon ordering at the bar from one of the impossibly young, cool and enthusiastic staff, you leave your name and are called when food is ready. A fine dining experience it is not but, by god, is it good!
Popperz are a just-hot-enough-not-to-blow-your-head-off-but-hot-enough-to-make-your-mouth-sing concoction of jalapeno pepper and cheese moshed up (yes that's a technical term) then deep fried. Yum. But make sure you have a cold drink standing by to take off the burn.
Fries are cut thin(and, if I dare use the name in the same post as MEATMarket) McDonalds style and are super salty.
So onto the main event. The burger. As an advance warning whatever you do don't wear dry clean only. You will end up with sauce, cheese and pure oozing burger grease everywhere and you will love every minute. This is a down and dirty burger joint in the truest sense and sometimes dirty just feels good.

I went for a dead hippy with no lettuce (green stuff with some potential of nutritious value in it, in MY burger? You're having a laugh....)Two big, fat, moist patties of beef with cheese, dead hippy sauce (a yellowy, tangy sauce with unknown but delicious ingredients.
The pickles were really beautifully sweet and crunchy, none of the lip puckering, eye-narrowing sourness that you sometimes get from a burger pickle.
The Black Palace was, for me, the winner. On the board menu it differed only in onion content from the other burgers. The BP's onions were sweet, mulchy, caramelised onions rather than the lesser cooked minced onion siblings found in the other burgers. Traditional ketchup and mustard sealed the deal and resulted in much running of filling down my chin.
I'm not usually a milkshake kind of a gal but when the shake in question is served 'hard' its one temptation too far. 'Hard' in this case was lashings of bourbon and maple syrup although almost as tempting was the chocolate and chocolate liqueur option (and there was something involving vanilla but in all honesty I switched off straight after hearing maple bourbon). At a fiver it was worth every penny.

I'm going back for the Philly cheesesteak and next time I'm taking a bib. If I were a pigeon I would sod the spikes and netting and be onto that balcony faster than you can say "Dead hippy and fries".

The Deck, Jubliee Market Hall  Tavistock St, London WC2E 8BE
020 7240 4852

MEATmarket on Urbanspoon
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Friday, 27 April 2012

Sticks N Sushi, Wimbledon

Wimbledon isn't know for its wealth of culinary creativity. Wimbledon town is home to a plethora of eateries many of which sadly are more of the Walkabout/Nandos variety. There is even an establishment called Jimmy Spice's "World Buffet" which boasts of its prowess in the fields of Chinese, Indian, Italian and Thai cuisine. (£9.99 for unlimited Tikka masala with your lasagne with your spring rolls anyone?) An impressive breadth of purported skill for any chef.

 If you venture up the hill to swanky Wimbledon Village, the inhabitants may be somewhat wealthier but the food on offer to them is still not as high quality and varied as you might hope. There are, of course, exceptions to this rather bold statement; the Lighthouse does a decent supper and I'm dying to pay a visit to the comparatively new Lawn Bistro whose menu sounds lip smackingly enticing but in general I wouldn't race across London at the prospect of eating in SW19. I'm quite sure there may be many delightful establishments in both the Village and Town that I just haven't been fortunate enough to visit yet but from experience so far, that has not been the case. Wimbledon's attitude to food was summed up for me by the manager of Claude Bosi's Fox & Grapes last summer during one of the most apalling meals that I have ever had the misfortune to encounter (and the only time that I have ever walked out of a restaurant without paying for some of my food) when, upon paying £25 for a lobster and being unable to scrape more than a forkful of lobster out of its dried out carapace I was essentially informed "well what do you expect for £25, this is Wimbledon?". I don't care if I'm in a 4 Michelin Star restaurant on the moon, if its billed as lobster then there had better be lobster in it, end of. I hope that said manager has since experienced what £20 will buy you lobster wise in Mayfair...

Anyway, having set the scene for the general gastronomic malaise in SW19, back to the matter in hand, Sticks n Sushi.

Ordinarily I would have a rant about the use of the rather irritating "n" in the middle of the name. It could be interpreted as an uneccessary attempt to be trendy, albeit in a rather 90's way. One might ask why the more sedate ampersand couldn't have been deployed ? - 'Sticks & Sushi' looks much more classy. However, on the basis that S&S (I'm going to use the ampersand even if they don't) already has nine outlets in its native Denmark I will let it drop. Yes, you did read that right. Nine outlets in Denmark then one in Wimbledon, unusual business expansion plan maybe but one that I very, very much hope will work for them- there is certainly the gap in the market.

Located on Wimbledon Hill in the bit that straddles the area between super posh and well, not so posh, its easily accessible and is going to be a big hit. It's only been open a month and local Wombles L&S already seem to have eaten there multiple times per week (enough to ask for a loyalty card and no, there isn't one. Yet.) I joined them on a rainy Wednesday to sate my Japanese food habit recently acquired in the land of the rising sun.

Their picture, not mine!
First impressions of the decor are that this is a pretty huge floorspace (maybe explaining why they opened in lower price per sq ft Wimbledon & not Soho). Decorated in the kind of luxe/industrial that Scandinavians seem to do so well; big silver pipes and ducts overhead, a giant brick print curtain across one whole wall but with low lighting, touches of leather and ergonomic wooden seating to keep it classy.
The cocktail list is not massively extensive but uses more unusual Japanese ingredients and had enough choice that I struggled to make my mind up opting first for a yuzu and whisky creation then later for a yuzu martini. I love yuzu and find it unlike any other fruit flavour despite the fact that it is often described as a Japanese lime. They are, however, virtually impossible to find in the UK. Indeed S&S confirmed that theirs are shipped in monthly from Africa. So my yuzu quest continues, if anyone finds any let me know!
Yasaisticks (posh name for raw vegetable bits) with miso dip were tasty with the tip offering a rich and powerful umame flavour. The ubiquitous edamame beans served alongside crackers were also fine.

S&S offer a variety different fixed platters of different size and shape some majoring more on the fish side of things others of the cooked chicken variety. Quirky names like "bankrupt", "green keeper", "man food" and "four meal drive" give you a clue as to their content. You can also go down the a la carte route but platters are the most cost effective way to get a taste of lots of things.
A wealth of yakitori options are on offer. From the traditional terikayi chicken type options to the less Japanese sounding goats cheese & ham or beef and herb butter they all sounded divine and (unusually for fussy old me) I could have merrily eaten all of them. There are so many bad examples of how not to do fusion cooking out there so it was a pleasant surprise to find one that really works. Although Japan and Denmark are geographically distant, gastronomically there are certain parallels; clean, simple flavours and presentation and a fondness for fish being just a couple! 
Table for 2 / sticksnsushi with additional choiceWe opted for a Sticks n Sushi platter with additional choice for three. Here is what a two person portion looks like on their website and, unlike many establishments, the picture was near as dammit true to life. Yum.

Salmon, hamachi, prawn & tuna nigiri all consisted of good quality, fresh fish and well seasoned rice. Hard to say anything beyond that, very nice but nigiri is nirigi really.

Large Futimaki rolls were equally tasty: ebi tempura being a favourite.

The yakitori was where S&S really shone. The tsukune chicken was a stick of seasoned minced chicken meatballs, asparagus with bacon gave a salty crunch but the best by far was the chicken teriyaki with spring onion yakitori. The sauce went beyond the usual teriyaki and was thick, gelatinous and very moreish whilst the chicken was juicy and grilled to perfection.

Highlights of the Uramaki inside out rolls were the  'Tuna sparkling roll' - the sparkle taking the form of some orange shiny roe and the 'Cut the ... roll' consisting of surimi, sugar snap and sesame.

Dessert was one of the real highlights of the meal. Usually in Japanese restaurants (and indeed in Japan itself) there are not a huge variety of desserts designed for the western palate. Mochi and red bean paste take some getting used to. S&S however, has chosen to take the route of offering desserts with a Japanese twist, for example. The desserts on offer are much more varied and interesting than those listed on their website.

Espresso chocolate fondant was topped with crispy caramelised hazelnut pieces and served with a creamy hazelnut ice cream. The fondant was just molten in the middle- a minute more in the oven and we'd have been in trouble- and the flavour of espresso was prominent without being overpowering. All in all, a seriously good dessert. Creamy green tea parfait held a vivid and deep matcha flavour with the red of strawberry nougat made a colourful contrast on the plate. Cubes of financier added a more solid texture to the dish.

Service was extremely attentive and really accommodating. I'm allergic to avocado which can make sushi a minefield but the chef prepared a special platter for me, not something many places would do on a fixed group menu. Both the yakitori and the sushi were both equal in quality to anything that I tried in Japan last month and, in some cases, much better. High up my list for next time will be the scallop kataifi yakitori where scallops are wrapped in a crispy birds nesty thing and also the ebi bites, looks like a type of prawn popcorn - sounds delicious. I will be back again very soon!

Sticks N Sushi on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Ben's Canteen, Battersea

A glorious Sunday morning dawned and following a promise I was looking forward to a saunter around London watching some maniac marathon runners do their stuff from the sidelines. Couple of drinks maybe and a pub lunch? No sireeee. This marathon runner stalking thingummyjig is almost as exhausting as the marathon itself*. Several hours later with an unhealthy dose of blisters- yes I managed to get blisters as a spectator, don't ask- and very soggy from a torrential downpour I found myself heading back through Battersea feeling both starving hungry and just a little bit grumpy. 
(*massive exaggeration alert)

I had been tempted by the sound of Ben's Canteen for a very long time having been mutual followers on Twitter and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to refuel. My end of marathon day sentiments seemed to be echoed by the sandwich board outside Ben's; not a Bloody Mary maybe and a bit late for brunch but a gin and burger would have exactly the same effect.

The decor of the restaurant is quite rustic with stripped wooden floors, chunky tables and mismatching chairs. The toilets are unusual but follow quite a cool idea of letting a local artist loose in each cubicle to put their own stamp on it.

The giant wordsearch on the wall had me fixated and resulting in my blurting out random words throughout dinner much to the annoyance of A & E whose conversation was punctuated by my shouts of "gazelle", "hippo" etc as words popped out at me.

Having been called by the sirens of the Ben's twitter account towards the mythical and much praised Scotch egg (an all day breakfast one don't you know!) I was devastated to discover I was too late, other devotees had guzzled them all, the selfish buggers. No matter, the absence of Scotch egg just means I will have to return (as does the absence of the rolo chocolate tart with peppermint icecream but more of that later). Straight onto the main event then....

Although it was a Sunday and the roasts sounded amazing, I wanted to check out the rumour that Ben's offer one of the Best 10 Burgers in London.

The burger sauce is really good. I'm not going to try and hazard a guess as to what goes in it other than to say that its both tangy and creamy at the same time and, whilst I'm overusing words ending in "y", its also bloody yummy.

A&E did both order the roast and the beef, in particular, was beautiful. Note that I don't say it looked beautiful. I know is was beautiful because E had so much beef on her plate that it was almost a whole cow so I obliged with some plate clearing assistance. Both rare and tender, call me selfish but I can't wait to go back and have a whole plateful to myself. 

Dessert was probably my only slight dip in the evening. I had been eyeing up a rolo tart with peppermint ice cream since the menu arrived however it was all gone and, despite appearing again on the newly printed evening menu (albeit this time with spearmint icecream) none was to be forthcoming. There had also been a white chocolate tart on the first menu we were given but this too had disappeared from the menu we were handed at dessert time. I wasn't feeling terribly inspired by the remaining non chocolate desserts (including rhubarb eton mess, lemon three ways, Dark Star Cheesecake and rum jelly with coke ice cream) but really wanted a taste of something sweet so went for lemon three ways.

The three ways in question were an ice lolly, lemon curd and a lemon sponge pudding. The ice lolly was more style than substance, it looked great in the tower on the plate but tastewise lacked in flavour a little. This essentially meant that the dessert was lemon sponge pudding with lemon sauce. It was an excellent sponge, all light and fluffy and suitably sweet and zesty and the curd sauce was equally delightful

The staff are absolutely lovely and very knowledgable about the food that they are serving and dealt brilliantly with my minor childish tantrum over the rolo tart (I thought the whole point of the Rolo is that you save the last one for someone hmm? hmmm?)

The wine list is comprehensive and priced by the glass or bottle, we settled on a couple of bottles of Spanish tempranillo that slid down quite nicely and warmed us up on a chilly, wet spring evening.  If you're in the Clapham Junction area there is really no reason not to give Ben's a try.

UPDATE:  I have been back to Ben's again since my original visit. Lured by the Twitter sirens once more, I saw the promise of a midweek barbecue on one of the few evenings that we have been able to call "summer" so far this year. The burger was good (although a little overdone perhaps due to an unruly barbecue) but the pulled pork roll was sublime and a total bargain at 6 pounds. I think Ben's is increasingly likely to become a reliable neighbourhood staple for me.

Ben's Canteen on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Tokyo: Ueno Park

I hold my hands up and admit that I am a nightmare to travel with.  Half the fun is in the advance planning for me and several months can be spent researching locations, restaurants, transport, weather. You name it and there is a fair chance I have researched it. So when it came to planning a trip to Japan one of the major criterion was weather and more specifically blossom or sakura. I consulted various websites detailing the bloom dates in various towns over the preceding five years to try and ensure guaranteed blossom.  So we arrived. No blossom. Not a problem, still two and a half weeks of the trip to go and quite a journey south. Two weeks on and down in Kyoto there is still no blossom. Back to Tokyo and our last full day in Japan having left Ueno Park to the last possible moment, perhaps most famous for its blossom and the hanami parties- essentially picnics- held under the trees.  There were odd patches of blossom so I didn't go completely without...

Spot the bird.
In summary a grey, windy and rather chilly day was not how I had hoped my Ueno Park experience would pan out....

We started in the north of the park from Ueno station on the JR train line. At least nine  museums are located within close proximity including the National Museum of Science and Nature , the Ueno Royal Museum, and the National Museum of Western Art. as well as Tokyo zoo. Wading through the hordes of overexcited groups of Japanese schoolchildren we headed towards our target for the morning, Tokyo National Museum.

Tokyo National Museum is worth a visit if you are interested in better understanding some of the historic Japanese periods throughout the ages and seeing artefacts from each era.The building it is housed in is also quite beautiful. Just like the British Museum or the Met in New York, you could spend an entire day there and only scratch the surface but for me it was more interesting to dip in and see a few of the highlights to get some context to what I was seeing elsewhere.  The park is far from being only about museums, it also holds several shrines including the Toshogu Shrine (close to the zoo) and Bentendo Temple in the middle of Shinobazu Lake.

Bentendo Templev

Some of the lonely businessmen and my favourite of the Ema Shinto shrine plaques.
I had heard stories of how lower ranking businessmen are sent by their bosses to sit all day and guard the best sakura spots but had never quite believed it to be true until I saw it with my own eyes. Junior accountants, lawyers, management consultants all suited and booted just sat, all day, on a blue tarpaulin awaiting the arrival of their colleagues after hours.

One thing that cannot be disputed is that the Japanese truly do LOVE blossom. Gaggles of people were crowded around the few trees already in bloom taking pictures on everything and anything from top of the range Canon SLRs to the most basic of mobile phones. Much posing and peace finger signs ensue.

Wandering down along the long, straight lane of over 1000 cherry blossom trees, around a quarter were about to bloom and many early sakura hunters were out in force.  Restaurants and shops all release special sakura themed dishes or products, even international companies get on the bandwagon, I came home with a limited edition Le Creuset blossom shaped tea set and Lanvin, Celine and Dior sakura handkerchiefs all at much lower prices than the non limited edition would be at home.

Reaching the Southern end of the park I took a detour towards the lake. During sakura season numerous street food sellers line the bridge that crosses to a small islet set out into Shinobazu Pond. 

All kinds of weird and wonderful sweet and savoury finger foods are on offer and stalls are busy with passing trade.   I ordered a barbecued chicken yakitori stick. In all honesty it was a bit disappointing, too much overly sweet sauce but it was a bit early in the day for salted sardine or chilled octopus kebabs.

Baby octopus anyone?
Locals and tourists weren't the only ones eyeing up the seafood....

You can't go to Tokyo and not visit Ueno Park no matter the time of year- it is such a melting pot of Japanese culture and a relaxing spot in an otherwise non-stop city.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Hiroshima (and Okonomiyaki)

We arrived in Hiroshima on a bitingly cold morning. I hadn't been sure what to expect of the town which is known, lets face it, for one thing and one thing only, a huge and awful atomic bomb. It would have felt wrong not to visit at all and to fly past on a Shinkansen train bound for somewhere more "fun". Equally though, there is something a little ghoulish about only visiting somewhere because of its disastrous history. It was therefore with a little personal trepidation that we pulled into Hiroshima station.

What struck me first was quite how well developed the main town is considering its comparative youth. Other than in the Peace Park by the river, there are no apparent signs remaining of the city's destruction and it is a quiet but thriving city.

As we wandered arond the children's peace monument looking at the strings of brightly coloured origami birds of peace sent to Hiroshima from children's schools all around Japan, a visiting group of children assembled into a group and began to sing first in unison before building into a crescendo of three part harmony. Their sweetness and innocence contrasted so poignantly with the horror of what had happened before. Even cynical old me may have shed a tear. Like the use of poppies in the UK to mark Remembrance Day, the little origami birds of peace are a pretty way to teach children about the ills of war and also to never forget but look forward.

Visiting schools leave chains of little coloured birds that they have made back in the classroom which are then subsequently displayed in glass cases surrounding the children's monument. 

After a morning spent reflecting in the Peace Park in biting winds we needed both heat and sustenance and in Hiroshima there is no better place to get local food than Okonomimura, a multistorey building in the Shintenchi district packed to the rafters with small oknomiyaki outlets offering different versions where you follow your nose until you find one that you particularly like.  Its origins lie in many family owned street food stalls who all grouped together into one building; like a sort of old Japanese version of Hawker House. Although they all serve okonomiyaki there are lots of variations on a theme, some offer buckwheat pancakes, some are vegetarian or specialise in seafood- you have to browse to find the right one for you. This is the true origin of the dish; "okonomi" meaning "whatever you like" and "yaki" meaning "cooked". The primary difference between the okonomiyaki of Hiroshima versus that of Osaka is that in Osaka the ingredients are mixed together before cooking, more in the style of a giant omelette whereas in Hiroshima they start with the egg before layering vegetables, noodles and other options such as squid, shrimp, chicken or cheese on top.
Upon taking a seat at the counter surrounding the hot plate you are issued with what looks like a plastering or polyfilla blade. The dish is layered up in front of you on the sizzling griddle; onions then egg, then cheese and noodles. Last of all is the rich, brown, tangy traditional okonmiyaki sauce and a creamy sauce. 
 Its not the most sophisticated dish in the world and its a messy, hot business eating it as you are hovering over a sizzling hot plate but its about as tasty and filling as you can get for the price and well worth the experience.

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