Monday, June 22, 2009

Demographics & Fitness

About two weeks back I did an open water swim at Aquatic Park, my first in 8 months. It was not that easy. I was out of practice, and had lost a lot of my swimming endurance. It was still wonderful though. Lining up with a bunch of other wetsuit swimmers beforehand, the sun, the surf, there is nothing comparable.

Anyways, before I digress too far....

After being away for so many months, and spending the past 4 months mostly at a combined CrossFit and Krav Maga school, the thing that hit me most was the age difference between the two groups. Open water swimming and triathlon related workouts tend to be dominated by 30 something and 40 something types like myself. There were multiple people in our crew at Aquatic Park that had either gray hairs in their beards or their hair, but still swam beautifully.

Krav Maga/Crossfit on the other hand seems to be dominated by the 20-somethings. After Climb California I checked out the age info on my fellow team members -- I was the 2nd oldest member of our crew.

The question arises of where does all of this leave me. Open water swims, triathlons, thats were I came from. I'm now several years older than I was when I first started that stuff, now I'm diving into a fitness craze dominated by people up to a decade younger than I am.

This doesn't make it any easier to take a hook punch to the jaw.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Kansai is the Heart & Soul of Japanese Cuisine

Had the pleasure of finally visiting Kansai with M earlier this month, specifically Osaka and Nara. My first visit ever to Japan was to Kyoto in 1998, so in a way this was a homecoming. It was also a homecoming of sorts for M as well. Her family is from Osaka originally, and they are still fans of the Hanshin Tigers (think Boston Red Sox but Japanese).

But back to the subject of my post...

This trip hit home the fact that while Tokyo might be the center of Modern Japanese culture, Kansai is the real home of Japanese cuisine. And when I mean Japanese cuisine I mean both the high and the low, the super refined Kaiseki and the street food that Japanese salaryman survive on. Anyone visiting Japan, seeking to experience the full range and depth of Japanese cuisine needs to go to Kansai, eating and drinking their way through Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, and (if possible) Kobe. In theory, you can experience the high Japanese cuisine and the low Japanese street food culture in Tokyo. But its just not the same. Its like eating Chicago deep dish pizza in Manhattan.

While in Nara we stayed at a beautiful old hotel that looked like it was frozen in the 1930's. Beautiful old woodwork. No ambient music playing in the background. The hotel bar served a few beers, tons of whiskey and imported liquors, but no mojitos or cosmos. The hotel provided a very nice Kaiseki dinner menu, some of which you can see below.

From Japanese Porn (food)

From Japanese Porn (food)

From Japanese Porn (food)

Very dainty, very nice, extremely refined in terms of taste & texture.

We then hit Osaka. M and I did a kuiadore, to eat and drink to excess the way Osaka people do it. I can spend several paragraphs boring you with the details, but the pictures below probably capture it all the best. Imagine each of these dishes with a soy sauce bottle size bottle of Japanese beer. You get the picture.

From Japanese Porn (food)

From Japanese Porn (food)

On a side note, the stuff you see just above is a kind of deep fried meat & seafood on a stick. Eating this stuff is subject to certain rules as you see below;

From Japanese Porn (food)

The raw egg on curry rice you see below was our brunch meal the next day. It was damn good....

From Japanese Porn (food)

Our dessert was takoyaki. Not the healthiest way of eating.

From Japanese Porn (food)

Anthony Bourdain's episode in Japan does a decent job of explaining that the origins of Osaka's eating culture are rooted in discriminatory laws dating back to Tokugawa era Japan. Specifically, the laws forbade merchants from spending their money on big houses and large parcels of land in order to prevent them from showing off their money, from challenging the merchants from using their money to challenge the power and authority of the Samurai. Instead, merchants spent their money on food and drink, leading to a rich and diverse food culture developing as a result of the patronage of the merchant class.

Frankly, I think the merchants got the better deal. Eating and drinking my way across Kansai, I appreciated their legacy.