We get off the ferry and make our way back to the train station and back to Kurashiki.
Can’t really say enough about Naoshima. That was a trip highlight to be sure. I’m really enjoying this last leg of the trip. The small towns, travelling through nowhere places with just farms, forests and the Sea. Meeting some great people too. Oh shit are we on the wrong train? Fuck, we took the Ako line from Okayama and are now in the middle of nowhere with some school kids all wearing the same brown jackets, back packs, shoes, vests, and ties. They know we’re not supposed to be here. Nothing we can do but hop off and grab the next one back.
It doesn’t come for a while. We’re in the middle of nowhere it seems. All the kids have left and we’re on the platform by ourselves in the quiet dark. Not a peep anywhere. Ok, here we go. Back on track!
We get into the station and are back in the area where Moe said the bukkake udon places are. Noodle Hunt: Engage! The 2 places that were closed last time are closed this time too. What the hell are the hours? Ok, whatever. Here I go again typing Bukakke into google maps again. There is a smattering of restaurants around but I can’t really trust any of the results, they make no sense. Queenie thinks she can recognize the Kanji characters for Bukkake Udon, so we just duck down each side street with the izakaya lanterns, checking out each one.
We criss-cross the alleys and duck into stripper row again and back out. Nada. We are literally the only tourists walking around here. It was the same way last night going to Swlabr. I guess everyone just stays in the historic Bikan area? It’s cool, but you’ll never get a sample of the real people from there.
Oh, what’s this. I think we found one!
We walk in and are the only ones there. The chef seems rather surprised to see us. “Welcome, please come sit.” We grab spots at the bar in front of him. His English is excellent. We ask if they have bukkake udon. They do! Yes, it’s his specialty. He shows us the uncut noodles behind the bar. He’s been kneading dough. Oh this is going to be fresh AF.
We order up a bowl. The chef is so nice, he’s here with his wife who seems like a sweetheart. There are a bunch of large sake and wine bottles so I ask about plum wine and she gets us some.
While making the udon, the chef drops random app dishes in front of us to try. First comes out some octopus so I have to explain my allergy. “Oh no! That’s terrible. Lots of fish here in Kurashiki. It’s a port town”, “Yep, it’s been tough. It all looks so good”. He dices up a pickled cuke in that insanely fast way only skilled chefs can do and serves it out to me as compensation.
The chefs name is Shinji and his wife is Yumiko. They’re a cute couple, it’s fun to watch them work together. Shinji says that he went to Vancouver 3 years ago and he used to work in an udon shop there. He had to move home because his dad has cancer. He opened his own shop here and is looking after his dad. He hopes to get back to Vancouver one day, he really loved it there.
Yumiko asks how we found the place and we tell them we literally went up and down every street looking for bukkake udon until we found them. Yeah, we were surprised because this place is very local. Not many tourists here. Perfect!
There’s a spice on the table that tastes amazing on all of the small dishes Shinji is putting out. It’s like red pepper flakes but has a citrus factor to it that makes it seem fresh and zesty. I ask them about it and they say it’s made from yuzu. Oh like that hot sauce we got back in Hiroshima.
I guess we really like yuzu. “We do too! Do you want a yuzu drink?” Yumiko is so cute. She pours us a yuzu liqueur with soda. Oh it’s good! They also have a wine, like a plum wine, but made from yuzu. Yeah, we’ll try that too. Yumiko goes to the fridge and brings us a fresh yuzu to have. Haha thanks! We’re having a good time with these two. What about a yuzu and sochu? Would that be good? She makes us one. Yep, really good! She also shows us a bottle of Suze so we get that with soda too. Why not? Everything is great.
Shinji places the udon in front of us and it looks fresh and great! There’s some wasabi on the side. Yep these noodles are killer. They are thicker, more substantial than a ramen or pho noodle and more of a wheat taste. Really good. The broth is nice too. Hopefully this is a non-fish dashi broth, it’s also excellent (I suppose I did tell him about my allergy).
I put some of the yuzu spice on there and it livens it right up. Wow. Ok this dish is phenomenal now. I tell Shinji that I love it. And I love yuzu. And this spice. He and Yumiko are getting a kick out of our enthusiasm. “No seriously, it’s really really good!”
Narco gets one too
I can see Yumiko and Shinji whispering something back and forth. What’s all this about. I pretend not to notice. A minute later Yumiko comes back with a whole bag of the yuzu spice lol. “You seem to really like it. We want you to have it.” Aww man, these guys are so sweet.
We ask them what else we can do in the area. That we’re headed back to Osaka tomorrow and fly out the next day. They tell us there’s a castle in Okayama. We’d have to switch trains there anyways. Ok, sounds like a plan!
While we’re sitting there another table of 4 comes in. Shinji manages to get their order, make the food and serve them all while maintaining a conversation line with us the whole time. Yumiko is making yuzu based drinks for us and that whole table comes, eats, and leaves while we’re still sitting there. We must be having a good time.
Shinji would like to get more foreign customers. I tell him it seems most tourists are staying around the bikan area. We haven’t really seen any out this way the past two nights. Maybe put fliers out at the hostels in Bikan? Yep exactly! (this also answers my internal question about whether this was fish based broth haha. I probably won’t die. Or maybe he used something else for ours.).
Ok well I think at this point we’re actually keeping them open. Not that they seem to mind at all, the conversation has been great. But we’ve been here for hours and don’t want to overstay our welcome so we tell them it’s about time. They both walk us out. Selfie time! Great people.
That was awesome. We finally got to try the bukakke udon. We’d passed by another spot that seemed alright too. Looked like a craft beer bar. We get to expand our secret mission to Kurashiki. Where was that place? You’d think we’d know by now after spending the last two nights aimlessly wandering around all of these streets. Yep, we do know. Found it!
Beer Bar Marugen
We go in and are also the only people in this place. Just one dude working behind the bar so we pull up and have a seat. He’s pretty talkative as well and asks where we’re from. Canada/Taiwan/Live in California. Oh he lived in Vancouver 14 years ago (confirming my growing suspicion that everyone in Japan seems to go to Vancouver at least once in their lives) and he was also in Taiwan just 5 years ago. He loves both places. Canadians and Taiwanese are both great people. We feel obliged to agree.
He says this place has only been opened for 3 months. It’s the only craft beer bar in Kurashiki (nailed it! That’s top notch adventure detective shit right there), he thanks us very much for coming in. He really wants it to catch on. The menu is all Japanese but he explains some of the beers to us so we get a flight. An IPA, bitter and pale ale. Not the clearest beers I’ve seen but they all taste pretty good.
Oh Jingba wants to Skype with Queenie for a little quick (Jinba translates to Golden Dad. He’s a pretty awesome guy. Good singer too. He once sang a capella at a karaoke night in a local bar in Redlands much to the amazement of everyone there, but that’s a story for another time). “I’ll talk to Jingba, you talk to this guy”, haha will do. He drops off some smoked nuts and giant corn nibblets to snack on. Damn, these are good beer treats. I chat him up while Queenie talks to her dad.
His name is Takeshi Imae, he goes by Ken for short. He does all the cooking here too. True izakaya style place, I love it. He’s from Nagano originally. Says he was in Vancouver during the winter Olympics actually and saw some of the speed skating events. Oh I was there too. The Olympics really adds to the vibe of a city, lots of energy. Infrastructure gets built up something crazy. It was super rad, all of the establishments in town turned into some country’s home base. The chocolate factory turned into the Swiss House for example. He went there too! The chocolate was amazing. He’s looking forward to the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo. “You should come back! We’ll get a place haha”
Queenie comes back and we order some food. She thinks one of the signs says liver so we put some of that in. He nods and goes off to make it. Oh Queenie I think you need to work on your kanji translations, that is clearly more octopus lol. But it’s too late to correct the mistake now, he’s already cooking. Plus it looks phenomenal.
I explain to him about my fish allergy and that we thought it was going to be liver. “Oh no! I will make you something”, “No, no it’s ok, really”, he’s not having it, “It will be one minute. You will like it.” He comes back with a Kobe Beef style dish. Jeeez Ken, you’re too nice!
We get a few more beers and shoot the shit with Ken some more. Glad we stopped in here. Good beer, good food, good company. It’s probably around closing time for him too so we settle up and decide to call it a night.
Ken walks us out. That’s just what they do here, it’s so great. He shakes our hands and says it’s been a pleasure meeting us. “Oh you’re hands are so soft!”, yeah his hands are so soft! Haha thanks Ken! He wishes us safe travels and we snap a pic with him.
We head back to the Royal Arts. We spot the bitch in Gay Mart and giggle. Decide to just pass it by. Back at the hotel we make use of our massive bathroom and draw a giant blue bath in the jacuzzi. Time to unwind, we’re leaving Kurashiki tomorrow and heading back to Osaka for one last blow out with Andrew, Rodney and Co. That should be a blast. First we’ll check in on one last castle before we go though: Okayama, the Crow Castle!