Travelling far distances with luggage is never fun, you get tired, exhausted and staircases become your worst nightmare and natural enemy. We travelled from Tokyo to Kinosaki Onsen to stay at a ryokan for one night and we never knew it could be so far. Armed with katsu sandwiches and drinks we thought we were ready for a 6 to 7 hour journey to Kinosaki. The katsu sandwiches were gone by the time we got off the first train and we had another 2 to 3 more trains to catch as transferring trains got more difficult when we travelled towards the countryside. Watching the scenery I slowly came to realise how far away we had travelled from Tokyo as the usual city skyscrapers were replaced with forest and rivers and houses became farms. By this time the sun was already setting as it was winter and Chia found a map behind her train seat, showing our location, we had travelled over 7 hours on trains, covering over 648 kilometers, passing by many prefectures.
The tension between Stan and I whilst finding our way to Kinosaki immediately dissipated when we were greeted by the friendly staff of the ryokan who presented us with a wide variety of different yukata to wear around town, Stan went with a blue one and I chose a purple one. The small ryokan consists of 4 rooms and one of them comes with a joint outdoor private onsen. Stan initially wanted to book the room with the joint bath but it was already reserved, so we settled for a cosy, traditional tatami room. Guests of the other rooms including us are given schedules on when to use the shared, private bath located downstairs.
After making sure we have settled down, the lovely hostess began serving the first course of our meal. Stan has opted for a room package that includes both dinner and breakfast meals. According to the booking website, Kinosaki seems to be well-known for its crabs, so we went for that.
First off, appetizers. As you can see from the pictures above, the appetizers include some shredded crab meat that tasted salty and sweet; fried prawns, and tofu drenched with a little bit of stock. I thought the tiny crab shell garnishing was an adorable touch to the presentation of the food. If I recall correctly, flavoured plum wine were served alongside the appetizers.
Stan and I are not very knowledgable when it comes to alcohol as we both are not fond of the bitter tastes. However, not to be party poopers, we do drink on special occasions and social outings. I do prefer sweet alcoholic drinks since the sweetness mask the bitter tastes. Sweet, sour and slightly tangy, the plum wine was refreshing.
After we polished our appetizers, we were served the second course of the meal, sashimi. It was the first time we had prawn and crab sashimi as we have never come across any Japanese restaurants in Perth that serve them. Fresh and raw seafood generally has this hint of mild sweetness and the taste is easily enhanced with just a dip of soy sauce and wasabi.
Not forgetting our ‘5-a-day’, the meal also included crab salad, served with lettuce, juicy nashi pear slices seasoned with cracked pepper and some sort of tangy dressing, which acted as a rather refreshing and delicious palate cleanser. Before I proceed, I have a confession to make. I may not be a picky eater but out of all the selections of seafood, crab is not really one of my favourites. Also, compared to my dad and older brothers, I am horrible in picking out crab meat. Despite all that, I still do not mind giving my non-favourite food a try if a place is well-known for it. I can’t really recall what the hostess told us, but I think the next dish was either boiled or steamed crab (straight from Bikini Bottom! I kid!) . Like most fresh seafood, the crab meat has a slight hint of sweetness. I also appreciated the fact that the crab shells were cracked open allowing easier access to the meat!
Next off is crab chawanmushi, a type of dish where the egg is prepared steamed with dashi broth, assortment of seafood and mushrooms. The texture of the egg is silky smooth and the crab flavoured dashi broth complemented it well.
An obligatory shot of the wobbly bits of the egg.
Little did we know the entire courses, excluding dessert, were crab meat prepared in various methods. We initially thought that despite the crab being the main star of the courses, at least the other dishes composed of other sorts of meat such as beef or pork. My ears perked up when the hostess told us the next dish is yakiniku. Don’t get me wrong, the crab meat was delicious but I expected a little break from it and wanted to try something else. Stan felt the same way too.
My heart sank a little when the hostess came in with more crab meat, yakiniku style this time. The shells were filled with miso paste which you dip the cooked crab meat into. The crab meat are slowly grilled on top of the charcoal. The dish offered an interesting taste with the salty miso paste that left just a hint of mildly sweet after-taste. Overall, it was a good dish but our taste-buds really wanted a short break from crab meat.
Then, it was time for crab shabu-shabu. I ever tried the ones with beef but not crab before. The trick to enjoy the meat is not to overcook it. The hostess demonstrated how the crab meat should be cooked by dipping and swirling the meat for a few seconds in the steamy broth. I know we looked silly, but Stan and I were amazed at how the crab meat ‘blossomed’ as it swirled in the hot broth. Basically, the meat just flared out when it was submerged in the broth.
The second last dish was crab flavoured porridge. I think the dish is also called ‘ochazuke’ if I’m not wrong but anyway, it was just a simple rice dish submerged in crab-flavoured broth with bits and pieces of crab meat, egg, garnished with seaweed.
Lastly, dessert was simple and not too heavy or overpowering. Since it has been many months, I could not recall what flavour it was but I could recall Stan and I enjoying it! Guess that is the most important?
At this point, Stan and I were bloated and satisfied. Neither of us expected our whole meal to consist of crabs and we silently hoped that breakfast the next day would be something different. After dinner, the hostess helped us put on our yukata (it’s very hard to put on!), gave us small baskets to put our towels and other stuff we were bringing with us and we embraced the cold and walked around in clogs around town. It was a pretty cool and surreal experience, just like you would see in pictures or photos of Japan and almost everyone walking around town was wearing a yukata.
Before hoping into our futon, we took a relaxing dip in the onsen. All the tension and the small arguments we had during the trip just dissipated with the hot steam. We went to sleep, warm, happy and satisfied, ready for our next trip!