James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Big Soup in Little Kyoto

Big Soup in Little Kyoto

Crap Soup in Kanazawa

I’m in Kanazawa, the city known as “little Kyoto” a day earlier than expected thanks to the Osaka Marathon overflowing basically every hotel in the Kansai region. There was no choice but to take the train further north and west, eventually settling into a small, but well-kept guesthouse hotel near the train station. I was awakened this morning by an elderly maid not-so-softly singing outside my door, a subtle hint that 9:30 is too late to sleep perhaps. But it’s a beautiful fall day to spend exploring the ancient streets and samurai houses of this small metropolis near the Sea of Japan.

Breakfast this morning will be at Omicho market, the first stop for much of the fish that eventually finds its way to Tokyo and Kyoto. The stalls are laden with winter crab and sea urchin on the half-shell, and it’s much more intimate and welcoming than the more well-known Tsukiji. After impulse-eating an urchin and two oversized oysters, it’s time to sit down for a proper meal.

Amidst the swirling hub of tourists and locals, there’s a stall serving crab soup laden with shrimp heads and shiitake mushrooms. And it’s packed with an older crowd, lining up soup kitchen-style for a bowl—appetizers are done, this looks like the place. Better still, it sits next to a stall selling buri sushi: yellowtail rich with its winter fat thickening as the Sea of Japan chills into late fall. I take a seat next to a couple perhaps in their 80s (it’s always difficult to tell age in Japan). They’re both dressed in their Sunday finest, he’s drinking a beer to start the day, she’s fussing over him a bit. Arranging my food for the photo, I notice the tablecloth, straight out of my grandmother’s dining room, floral print matching the color of the buri. Like the Dude’s rug, it somehow ties everything together.

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