Cheap plane tickets to Nagoya (名古屋), Japan, are in abundance right now. Fly there for the food.
One famous dish is misokatsu, epitomized by the restaurant Misokatsu Yabaton. Look for the giant pig on the side of their flagship location in Yabacho, or visit one of their 12 other locations in the city.
Be prepared to wait. A line forms outside their restaurants before the stoves are fired up, especially on weekends.
Take your seat, drink some tea, place your order. The head chef will feed customer requests to his crew, stern and decisive and exact, who then execute their roles with military precision.
The kitchen is open, so if you’re fortunate enough to be offered a seat in front of it, watching their clockwork operation is a joy in itself. There’s a special harmony in seeing a handful of chefs come together with a wood base, a hot cast iron platter, a bed of shredded lettuce, a bowl of steamed rice, the main course straight out of the fryer, and red miso sauce ladled atop or set on the side.
It’s a bit like watching synchronized gymnastics in a shoe box. There’s no space for error. If someone makes a mistake in his timing, the entire team starts over.
The menu features breaded and fried pork cutlet, fried pork loin and a few items of fried seafood. It’s different from typical tonkatsu in that the entrée is drizzled with or dipped in warm red miso sauce that incorporates broth and a house blend of seasoning. It’s simple fare, but crispy and satisfying.
Nagoya’s red miso, or akamiso, is a specialty that you won’t be able to escape no matter where you are in the city. Nagoyans seem to love it, to the point where it has inspired a craft beer.
The soy paste is aged for several seasons, sometimes more than a year, in wood casks with stones stacked on top in a pyramidal pile. Salty, sweet, but also astringent, it’s loaded with umami and presents itself as a much stronger-tasting miso than other variations.
Don’t let the chemists fool you. Fermentation is magic, and the mysteries of its slow transformation are gustatory alchemy.
Misokatsu will stuff you full. Walk it off. Explore the kinetic sculptures found under elevated highways. Watch skater kids do kickflips beside them. You might even encounter lip sync battles between local girl groups, their adoring fans dancing in unison too. Explore Sakae district.
Do some shopping, check out the Ferris wheel, see Nagoya’s TV Tower, and immerse yourself in the galactic blue of Oasis 21’s observation deck after dusk. Right beside it is the Aichi Arts Center, where you can get tickets for the fine arts museum or watch a show in the performing arts theater.
Visit Myokoen for some matcha, and definitely, definitely, definitely pick up their Cha-colate pastels, which come in two flavors: matcha and houjicha (a roasted green tea). Both are superb and need to come home with you.
When you’re at the airport, ready to fly back to Hong Kong, you get one final chance to eat misokatsu. Yabaton has a branch in Chubu Centrair Airport. Since budget airlines don’t feed their passengers, you may as well indulge.
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