There’s a Japanese drinking tradition called “bottle keep.” Yes, that’s right – a charming Japanese-English turn of phrase, pronounced “bottoru kiipu,” to denote a bottle of whiskey kept locked for you at a bar or nomiya (pub, drinking place) and you keep the key. It’s of course more cost-effective to purchase superior whiskey by the bottle than in separate servings. I came across a rather poetic label on one such bottle kept by a bar in Shunan City in Yamaguchi Prefecture — “A glassful of drops, each drop is tomorrow’s dream, sip your dreams by drops.”
The assorted sake no sakana (Japanese tapas or accompaniments to alcoholic drinks) were exquisite. The sashimi and sea bream head braised with tofu were unfailingly superb, each presented on a plate complementing and framing the colours of the ingredients.
One of the regulars turned up with a fish he’d just caught, and within minutes, the chef-owner had created a masterpiece, beautifully presented.
After leaving the nomiya, we passed by an oden stall. Oh… nostalgic comfort food. I hadn’t had oden in decades. Oden is a very homely dish of diverse savouries, simmered in flavourful broth. You choose what you want from a wide selection — stuffed seaweed rolls, meatballs, hardboiled eggs, fish loaf. For some odd reason, oden never tastes as good when made at home — I find it best eaten outdoors from one of these stalls, preferable quite late at night. It was one of the delights impecunious students could indulge in, late on a cold winter night, especially after a long, relaxing soak in a public bath (sento). Despite being full, I found I had room for some gingko nuts (heaven!) and a stuffed fried tofu (abura-age) parcel, both enlivened by an eye-wateringly sharp mustard.
It was the first time I’d ever gone out drinking with one of the children, now fully grown. And what a truly enjoyable and memorable evening it was. Thank you very much, No. 2 son. And I made sure I didn’t embarrass him by getting giggly over a bit of sake. :-).