DJ Neil Armstrong needs no introduction for hip-hop fans. He was Jay-Z’s touring DJ for all of 2008 and 2009 and has shared the stage with the likes of Rihanna, Beyonce, Kanye West, Young Jeezy and Timbaland in a storied career. He’s also performed at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and spun alongside Common, Neil Young, Coldplay and Linkin Park. Talk about an eclectic mix.
Back in April, Neil took over our Instagram during a four-week trip to Asia and it turns out that music is not his only flavor. The takeover – in which the DJ took our followers on an incredible tour of Tokyo and snapped photos and videos of robot sushi, turtle soup and gigantic burgers – went so well that we asked him to keep a travel journal on his next trip. First up was Taiwan. Next: the Japanese regions of Nagoya and Okinawa.
Most of the time I come out to the Land of the Rising Sun, I only get to stay in the Tokyo area. On this last trip, I visited two new places: Okinawa and Nagoya.
Nagoya is about 300 miles south of Tokyo. Just like America has its regional cuisines (i.e. Cajun in Louisiana), so does Japan. On this very short trip, I tried two specialties famous to the region.
This looks like regular pork or chicken katsu (fried panko-breaded cutlets), something you can get at any decent Japanese restaurant in the world. It’s usually paired with a Worcestershire-like sauce called tonkatsu. In Nagoya, the fried cutlet is topped with a miso-based sauce and is fittingly called miso katsu.
Another regional dish from Nagoya is hitsumabushi, or una don. There are plenty of restaurants that serve this dish in Tokyo and other cities, but Nagoya is where it comes from and it’s one of the dishes you need to try if you’re in the area.
The dish consists of chopped grilled unagi (fresh water eel) over rice in a wooden bowl. The condiments, called yakumi, are shiso, wasabi and scallions, and that silver packet contains shredded seaweed.
The ritual behind eating this dish makes for a unique eating experience. You don’t just dive in — follow these steps in order to not look like a noob.
First, mix up and divide up the unagi/rice into four portions. Put the first portion in your bowl and eat it straight up.
Next, take the second portion, put the yakumi on it and try it that way.
For the third step, follow the same instructions as step two, but also add a fish broth called dashi to create a rice soup.
And finally, for the last portion, you pick your favorite to enjoy one last bowl. Delicious!
Next, I was off to Okinawa. Just like other American born in the 80s, all I knew about the area was what I learned watching The Karate Kid, Part II. I ended up trying one of the most unique dishes I’ve ever experienced.
This is umibudo don. Umibudo is that weird green stuff. Interesting translations I’ve heard are “sea grapes” or “green caviar.” It’s simply a type of seaweed that grows near Okinawa. My understanding is that it can’t be refrigerated and because of this, it’s not really seen outside of the areas where it can be harvested. To experience it, you have to make a pilgrimage to Mr. Miyagi’s hometown.
You know how you bite into salmon roe and it bursts with flavor? The same thing happens with umibudo, except with great seaweed flavor. Think of it as seaweed in bubble form. It’s pretty amazing.
For the umibudo don, they place some tuna tartare over rice and top it with the seaweed. You mix it all together and enjoy.
‘Til next time, fellow eaters. Happy traveling!
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