For two weeks the Henry family has been traipsing across Japan, land of salty snacks and tepid green tea. Back home in New York they find that crunchy rice crackers (senbei with nori) inhabit each jacket pocket.
The trip’s one great discovery, found in the famous Kyoto covered food market street (Nishiki-koji), were dried umeboshi, the tart salt apricot-plum found in a bento box. Dried ones pack all the punch of fresh ones, but taste slightly sweeter, an amazing mouth experience that keeps the palate satisfied and amused long enough for the shinkansen to travel from Hiroshima to Osaka.
In case you go, be forewarned. In Japan there are very few internet connections, no iPhone service, and no trash cans, all the more remarkable because Japanese streets are immaculate. You could eat off the floor.
In the Ginza Mitsukoshi a fresh-faced young woman offered Mr. Henry a free chocolate truffle imported from Paris (over $1 each). Although excellent coffee is widely available ($5 per cup), fine dark chocolate is very scarce. After eating half, he passed the uneaten portion to his devoted consort who characteristically took no notice of him. The truffle dropped to the floor. Seeing no trash can nearby, confident in the cleanliness of Japanese floors, and unwilling to waste the precious truffle, Mr. Henry straightaway picked it up and popped it in his chocolate-deprived mouth. Her spine shivering, the Mitsukoshi woman squeaked in horror.
The one unforgettable meal took place in a 15th-century Buddhist mountaintop temple (Shojoin-in, Koya-san) partly converted for use as a ryokan. In a beautiful tatami room adorned with painted six-panel screen, a muscular monk with shaven pate served a vegan dinner comprising every conceivable fresh bean, mountain yam, and tofu preparation.
Koya-san signature fresh tofu had a toothsome custard-like texture and a slightly caramelized flavor. Cold boiled spinach had been quick-pickled in a light rice wine vinegar and seasoned with a sesame peanut sauce. Of the many pickled and preserved fruits and vegetables, the most unusual was the whole pickled kumquat. You eat the whole thing, seeds and all.