I’m sure you already knew about my #47PrefectureMission and that I have completed this life mission early June this year.
I visited Mie in 2016 for two things:
1.Ise Jingu Shrine
2. Matsuzaka Beef
The two things that Mie is probably most famous for. And these two things alone warrant a visit to Mie. This time around, I’m on a new mission – to go deep. Real deep. For all 47 prefectures. All over again.
I am a proud #VisitMieSupporter of 2019.
We Malaysians and Singaporeans love food. So in this series of blog posts, I’m bringing you on a journey with me to Mie, the paradise of world class gourmet all condensed in one single prefecture.
Here’s Day 1.
Access – Shimakaze Scenic Train
I have always grouped Mie under the Kansai region, but the fact is that it might take you shorter time if you come from Nagoya (Aichi prefecture). Either way, Mie is a large prefecture bordering also Kyoto, Nara, Gifu and Shiga, so no matter which neighbor you pick to travel in from, you have a long long way to see the many wonders of Mie prefecture.
One of the best ways to make your journey to Mie more memorable is to embark on a scenic railway ride.
I travelled to Mie prefecture via Kansai airport, although it was a rather long journey of 2.5 hours, I totally enjoyed a luxurious time in Shimakaze Limited Express, a premium train bound for Ise-Shima running from Kyoto, Osaka and Nagoya by Kintetsu Railway.
Do note that Kintetsu is runs most of the lines in Mie prefecture so it would be wise to get a Kintetsu Rail Pass. I have covered this in my previous blog post on Kansai here.
Love that they have large-sized luggage locker free of charge.
Relax yourself into the ultra-comfy leather seats that have way too many buttons for reclining and seat adjustment.
Shimakaze is one of the rare trains where you can order freshly cooked meals at the cafe, or as you like, a light bento at the comfort of your own seat.
Visit car no.3 to enjoy some Mie specialty meals such as seafood pilaf, Matsusaka beef curry rice, Ise lobster miso soup and more.
Watch the stunning greenery change as the train speeds through, while enjoying your in-train lunch.
This train runs once daily from Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya, and arrives at its last station, Kashikojima.
This train is highly popular among the locals so do make advanced booking online before your trip.
In my previous blog post on Kansai, I visited an Ama hut located in the Toba region called Ama Hut Hachiman, so this time I decided to try another Ama hut experience, as I was so fascinated with this rare tradition since thousands of years ago in Japan.
To recap, an Ama (海女) is a female diver who starts to free-dive since she is a child by observing her mother or other older ama, for various treasures in the sea including abalone, pearls, sea urchins, Ise lobster and other seafood and even seaweed.
You can more about it in my previous blog post on Ama. And today we are focusing on the food!
Ama Hut Satoumian, a humble ama hut that just received Cool Japan Award 2019, focuses on offering the most premium fresh ingredients – the traditional style.
Because slippers are too mainstream.
The meal prices start from JPY4000, depending on your choice of seafood. We had a whole squid, assorted clams, himono (dried fish) and really humongous whole abalone grilled to perfect for only JPY8000.
This is going to cost at least double when it is served in Tokyo, or more, when it arrives at the shore of Singapore.
As always, chatting with the ama is a pleasant experience. These wise ladies invariably have this cheery temperament, gentle smiles, chatty with their stories while multitasking on ensuring your seafood is grilled to perfection.
An whole grilled squid just for me!
Drop by its little Ama museum located next to the hut to get to know more about this amazing tradition and their daily life.
And perhaps cosplay a little too! This is the traditional Ama diving costume when they are at work – diving. Yes, no fancy diving gear! I was told they only wear the wetsuit during winter season when the waters are cold.
Trust Japan to create a cute anime out of every single profession imaginable.
“Wow, what a beautiful lobster,” says Megu the teenage ama diver (in my head).
Katsuo No Tenpaku
Can you take a guess what this is?
It is probably not an exaggeration to claim that this is what made Japanese food the way it tastes like today. It is the very item that makes the base of Japanese food – dashi.
And katsubushi is a very important ingredient for dashi. In English, katsuobushi is called “bonito flakes”. Ah, now you get it.
Katsuo No Tenpaku is a very humble, rustic traditional goya (小屋 hut) that is so low key you won’t even notice, but don’t worry, your nose will guide you there. The scent of smoke chips and the aroma of freshly shaved katsuobushi will not be mistaken.
I spent about an hour at Katsuo No Tenpaku, and I have learnt more about katsuo than I ever had in my entire life. So sometimes I think that there’s no place too trivial for a visit. You constantly bring home something with you in your heart.
I have learnt that it takes months of repeated cycles of smoking and fermentation in order to produce a bag of fluffy bonito flakes. And I always so over-generously pour it over my rice without thinking twice.
I also took home the word “神人共食” – “Sharing food with Gods”. I learnt that Katsuobushi was originally meant to be an offering for the gods, and in this region, to the Ise Grand Shrine. This is how sacred and precious a food katsuobushi is.
I’m not sure how many of you are interested in the Shinto culture, but it was a surprise to discover the spiritual connection between food and the divine. I was deeply impressed.
Anyway, let’s move on to food. Which I’m sure all of us are interested in!
I had a try at shaving the rock-hard katsuo on a “kanna”.
Here’s my prized katsuobushi! Looks just like pencil shavings in a sharpener case.
Tenpaku san, the owner then opened up a steaming hot pot of white rice, pour the freshly shaved bonito flakes on top, and drizzle soy sauce over. I am already drooling.
Pencil shavings rice bowl, anyone?
It was AMAZING. I’m really bad at food reporting, but it was amazing. I was telling Tenpaku san why I bothered waking up 6am every day and spend one hour to cook breakfast. This will only take 1 minute!!!
THIS. Just this. Good quality bonito flakes on top of hot rice, seasoned with shoyu. The simplest soul food for many Japanese – “okaka gohan“. It has become mine now.
With the very jovial 4th generation owner of Katsuo no Tenpaku – Tenpaku san himself. Not forgetting bringing back souvenirs for my kitchen.
Shima Mediterranean Village
Many people’s dream is to travel around the world.
You know my dream? My dream is to travel around the world – in Japan.
I thought I have been transported to Spain (or is it Greece? Or Italy? Turkey?!) the moment I entered Shima Mediterranean Village.
I was greeted by an exotic atmosphere with passionate latino melody playing at the background, and a lazy house cat having an afternoon siesta.
There was not a hint of of Japan in sight (unless you look really up close on the food menu or until an overly polite non-European staff start to keep bowing).
Shima Mediterranean Village is a resort (I would totally say that it is a theme park too!) with many beautiful, spacious villa-style guest rooms, and at least a hundred insta spots.
You don’t even need to try. Every little nook and cranny is your gram-worthy inspiration.
Some of the decors and actual materials used including art pieces, floor tiles are sourced from its original countries, giving the village a really authentic vibe.
Souvenir shops that exude Mediterranean charm, you will really forget that you are actually in Mie, Japan!
This resort’s popularity is quick on the rise spreading like wild fire on Instagram. Remember you heard it from me first.
It makes a perfect romantic couple getaway, as well as family vacation with lots of spacious room accommodating a good number of guests.
I couldn’t find anything Japan-familar other than Toto washlets and Mitsubishi air conditioners. Well, those are exceptions that just have to be made-in-Japan.
Even if you are not staying the night, it makes an unforgettable day trip to Europe, minus the dreadful long flight, tiresome bargaining and potential pickpockets.
Lastly, just before the sun sets, embark on a sunset cruise that brings you along the beautiful Ago Bay.
We got on the boat from the pier of Shima Mediterranean Village and set on a cruise.
Amaris is a small chartered boat, but that’s what makes it so special. Time and price can be customized according to your request or special occasion.
We are leaving Spain! Well, at least now the captain speaks Japanese.
Our final destination of the night was getting nearer.
Wait what? We are checking in the hotel by a boat?
Oh right. I forgot we are in Venice now.
I was spoilt rotten on the very first day – checking into Shima Kanko Hotel The Bay Suites, the very hotel where Prisident Obama, Prime Minister Abe and other country leaders had their sweet bonding time during the G7 Summit 2016.
The Shima locals are very proud of it that the meeting/dining table arrangement is kept exactly how it was like during the summit.
All the suite rooms have an ocean view of the Ago Bay. Everything spells lux. I give it a rate of G7.
Also if you pay attention to the decor in the hotel, you will find lots of pearl decorations, a local specialty (more on that another day!) of the Shima region. Spot the massive pearl chandelier at the lobby!
“La Mer” French Restaurant
While almost everything on Day 1 was a highlight of the day for me, my first dinner was a majestic feast to end the night with.
With Higuchi Hiroe who leads this Michelin 1 star french restaurant. I was told that she never takes a day off and is always seen running around the restaurant doing stuff. It was really nice of her to personally come and greet all of her guests. Such a passionate, hardworking, respectable lady.
I’m someone who doesn’t even know how to use her cutlery properly in a fine dining restaurants, but I know when something is delicious. This is an sea urchin platter with… lots of sea urchin. Even the “ice cream” was sea urchin!
Ise lobster bisque is a classic here so it has to be your choice of soup.
Catch of the day was katsuo. A completely different fare from what I had at Katsuo No Tenpaku.
Would anyone complain about having too much abalone in one day? Remember Ama Hut Satoumian? It was lunch! Is it really okay to spoil me this much?
The abalone steak was the most flavorful abalone I’ve ever had, I mean, it is crispy on the outside!! How is that even possible??
Dessert was white peach in fruit gelee.
Even the herbs for tea are homegrown by Higuchi san herself.
I picked La Mer again for my breakfast the next morning. It was great because I didn’t get to enjoy the view the previous night when it was all dark.
In the menu, I could choose between eggs Benedict or omelette with abalone, and I thought it would probably be too much a sin to have abalone 3 meals in a row, so here’s my eggs Benedict.
And I was all fuelled for another activity-packed second day about pearls, shrines and samurais.