The Hairy Bikers Asian Adventure – South To Kyoto

It’s very rare in this day and age of television viewing that I actually have to wait a whole week to watch the follow-up programme of something I’m interested in but thats exactly what I had to do regarding the second Japan-based episode in this series which aired on BBC2 last Thursday. I was very keen to see what a non-Tokyo programme would involve given that the capital city has featured prominently in many programmes over the years.

You can watch the episode here

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First to feature is Fuji Yoshida in Yamanashi-ken which is not exactly a huge distance from Tokyo but its still a couple of hours away. They visit the oldest noodle restaurant in the area and learn how to make udon (thick noodle) which starts off with Dave pounding the dough with his feet and brings to the proceedings a nice little reference to his time on ‘Celebrity Come Dancing‘ last year. The whole process really is a work of art and it brings it home how much time, effort, energy (and heart!) is put into each bowl of noodles.

Renowned for their cooking locations the guys make ramen noodles in the foothills of Fuji-san and they even make the pork broth part of it from scratch too. Those watching in the hope of seeing some weird Japanese inventions get their wish during this part as they have an egg contraption on hand which can shape the soft boiled eggs. I’m not sure how many British viewers watching will bother to follow suit but has that ever really happened on food television?! I, for one, enjoy watching such shows but have never really felt the urge to try and replicate such a dish.

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Mount Fuji is the most climbed mountain in the world (one that I conquered back in 2007) and its peak is only really visible for 100 days a year which sadly doesn’t include their time in the vicinity but that doesn’t seem to bother them too much. Their eyes light up when they see the spiritual mountain and they giggle with excitement. The word “privilege” is used many times by Si throughout the programme and this was one such time.

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Before leaving Fuji behind they take an onsen in a scene which does come with a warning that those of a nervous disposition may want to look away before their naked bottoms are seen on screen. Now, I’m no fan of hot spring baths but this setting does look wonderful and the kind of one I wouldn’t mind taking one day.

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On reaching their destination of Kyoto they ride their bikes through the geisha district of Gion and on to the buddhist temple where they spend the night. The next morning they’re on breakfast duty and make tofu dumplings. Such cooking is labelled shojin ryori which loosely translates as cooking of the purified mind and their task shows the work and discipline involved in making tofu and indeed being a monk too!

Like Si, I have stated in the past that tofu is boring but recently I’ve started eating it far more regularly for breakfast and certainly when its mixed in with natto and okura its lovely. Similarly, the tofu they taste during their temple stay looked really nice.

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Of course they couldn’t go to such a place without meditating and yet again they take it on and reflect on it in such a positive manner. Its just about being still and quiet which in the modern world is very difficult to do is how Si sums it up in a quick soundbite.

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The pair know their audience and inform them where certain ingredients can be bought as well as suggesting alternatives too. At the buddhist temple they make tofu, aubergine and lotus roots stew for their monk and from that purity they then move on to okonomiyaki which has them drooling with excitement as they cook the pancake-style dish for a 5-a-side football team. I was a bit surprised to learn that this basic dish is the most popular fast-food in Japan despite the western invasion of burgers and so on. As I mentioned in my review of the Tokyo episode it is nice to see such people bumbling with enthusiasm and excited by food which I probably take for granted these days.

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The merit of Anthony Bourdain’s programmes on the Travel Channel, and more recently CNN, is that he (mostly) sampled the everyday food of the regular person and that is what this duo did by including Japanese service stations in their adventure. Back home these places are hardly renowned for the quality of food and its debatable whether they are in Japan but one thing which I can be sure of is that every single service station has its own speciality snacks and this is the kind of thing that interests me. However, the duo, particularly Si, are not impressed by the melon buns which they have!

Before embarking on their trip to Japan the bearded men had a trilogy of quests; Tsukiji fish market, Fuji noodles and perhaps the defining moment of their trip was to try Kobebeef on its own turf. This kind of meat is said to be the finest in the world and boy are they excited to be there. No cows in the field there as the wagyu are treated so preciously that they’re not allowed outside. However, the idea that such Japanese cattle are fed beer, massaged, listen to opera and lie on straw beds are sadly a myth.

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After using the Kobe beef in sukiyaki, cooked for the owner of the prized beef cows, the two down-to-earth northern lads return to Kyoto for a kaizaki banquet of 16 courses dating a long way back. This is all eaten in the company of an apprentice geisha known asmaiko. Yet again their reaction to everything is refreshingly positive.

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They compare the art of it all to being like theatre and the fan dance and games which follow, a world apart from playing darts down your local, are lapped up with relish. That was to be their final event in Japan and just goes to show that it can be a great place to visit for a trip. Progressing beyond being seen just as a visitor is a different kettle of fish altogether and can have its frustrating moments but watching this show can make one feel how lucky we are to live in such a country.

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Having really enjoyed this series I may even take a dip into their back catalogue to see what they’ve done in the past. The series isn’t over yet and South Korea is still to come which doesn’t interest me quite as much as Hong KongThailand and Japan but I’ll definitely be tuning in as its really nice to watch people who are passionate about their interests and that certainly includes these two humble, infectious hairy bikers.

The Hairy Bikers Asian Adventure – Tokyo

Following on from their adventures in Hong Kong and Thailand this pair of British TV personalities fulfilled a lifetime ambition when they came to Japan for a couple of weeks. Two Japan shows have been filmed and the first one, which aired on BBC2 last Thursday, was centred around their time in the gastronomic capital of the world known as Tokyo.

You can watch the episode here

As the programme gets under way it is actually the sound of ‘Japanese Boy‘ by Anekawhich plays over the top rather than the usual ‘Turning Japanese‘ track but of course that gets used later on in the programme.

Now I’d never seen anything by the Hairy Bikers (Si King and Dave Myers) before but over the four episodes of this series (thus far) it is quite easy to see how these two over-weight middle-aged men with beards and tattoo’s have been accepted in to so many peoples living rooms each week. They come across as such nice, likeable chaps with their warm infectious enthusiasm and easy to understand style. The presentation can seem a bit kid-like at times but its that simplicity which I’m fond of. Their strong and passionate interest in the country, its food and everything else was nice to see and they were just laughing and enjoying themselves whilst never making fun of the locals.

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They start off in Akihabara at a maid cafe (above) but not the one I took my recent guest  to the other week! The duo learn about kawaii culture at ‘Maid Dreamin‘ and Si is given a heart shaped omurais (rice omelette) with a ketchup drawn cat added by the maid. Dave has a bear katsu curry rice dish. They didn’t say it but you can sense that this kind of place is a bit weird for the pair.

Their first cooking showcase takes place on the banks of the Sumida-gawa river where they cook tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet) (below left) and then, 20 years of dreaming comes true for the guys when they go to Tsukiji fish market with a 4am start at the place where 2000 tonnes of fish arrive everyday from all around the globe. We’re told that Japan eats three times more fish than the UK which surprised me as I would’ve thought it was way higher than that. Of course fish is very important for Japanese cuisine and they say that Japanese sushi is overtaking some sandwiches as the choice of lunch for many British people.

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Anyway, Dave gets to make and serve his own sushi (above right) which may sound like a very simple thing (and it kind of is!) but for a chef like him its very exciting he’s truly delighted to have done it and was grinning like a young kid who just got the cream.

Now, some people may turn their noses up at them making a California roll (which they do at Kiyosumi Gardens teahouse) but you’ve got to remember that they are making this programme for a British audience of whom a majority may be put off by the nori(seaweed) being on the outside of the roll. Hopefully by starting on such dishes (below) some Brits will hopefully gain a taste for it and move on to the real thing afterwards.

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Ryogoku is next for a spot of sumo action (below) but not watching it. Instead they eatchanko nabe hot pot with their host and two other huge wrestlers who they inevitably have a sumo fight with, whilst wearing the proper wrestling attire that Karl Pilkington didn’t quite wear in ‘An Idiot Abroad‘ in 2011. Yet again their enthusiasm shines through and they end up gaining a better understanding of a sport that they knew very little of beforehand.

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“A miso soup a day keeps the doctor away” is a new one on me but the bikers are keen to make rice miso which they did somewhere in Chiyoda-ku with a group of women (below) who they agree to prepare something for. The Japanese ladies of course react to the tasting in true Japanese TV-style which is always over the top and very predictable!

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Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown‘ on CNN at the end of last year focused on Tokyo nights and that side of the city is further explored here as they go out on the lash with three sararimen (business men). I always tell people back home that a night out in Japan is a little different with food dishes replacing a bag of crisps. Thankfully though the beer is always flowing and the guys, wearing ties and jackets, sample a range of yakitoricooked from the heart which is what the chef tells them.

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You see, the chef in ‘The Ramen Girl‘ (2008) wasn’t just making it up when he told Brittany Murphy’s character that the food has to come from the heart. Whatever they do the Japanese pour their heart and soul into it and appreciate and respect food of all levels as indeed do the hairy bikers and I now look forward to the next episode where they travel to other parts of Japan.