A Culinary Guide to Taura, no. 1

Some background: Taura is technically part of Yokosuka City, but it has a village feel. The village may be old (there are some temples and shrines from around 1500 A.D.), but, as is the case in much of the Kanto plain, not very much, except the temples and shrines, looks or is particularly old. There are some antique homes (100 years old?) in the old town center, beautiful wooden houses, sometimes tragically clad in corrugated aluminum. My neighborhood is quite new (no house is more than 5 years old, and many were built only a year ago). It was laid out on a steep hill that straddles the two parts of the town, what I call North Taura and South Taura. Edit here: since this post, I’ve come to realize I should call the northern part of town “Funakoshi,” and the southern part “Old Taura.” Funakoshi-cho is a neighborhood within Taura, and Taura-cho, the oldest neighborhood, is the center of Taura. Each neighborhood of Taura is near a train station (Keikyu Taura in Funakoshi, JR Taura in Old Taura). The markets and restaurants are grouped in two “town centers” to be convenient for the commuters who use each station. The position of my house is unique in that access to both parts of town, depending on how I descend the hill, is almost equidistant.

This is my village, a modest place, with modest restaurants and markets and bars. I document them as examples of the range of Japanese cuisine and other food/drink that is present even in my small town. I had heard myself moaning from time to time about how there were no great restaurants in my town, and Rilke popped into my head:

If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place.

Today, in North Taura Funakoshi, a new bakery opened in what was previously a pet store. Over the past few months I had been watching the empty shop space, wondering what the new store would be. One day, I noticed a small sign announcing a bakery would open November “jōjun” (in the first ten days of November). As I walked to the train station, I would peer into the promising shop window, hoping for a good rustic loaf, a decent baguette with a crackly crust, something, anything better than the status quo. The local supermarket carries the worst of Japanese bread: soft, bland, thick sliced loaves for toast, various sweet, stuffed pastries carrying the smell of the factory, and pale, triste “French” bread whose crust gives under a light press from a finger through the antiseptic plastic wrap. In North and South Funakoshi and Old Taura, there are two similar pastry shops that carry not very interesting sweet pastries and more of the same soft white bread meant for cheese toast. [I’ll have more to say about Japanese cheese toast in the future.] The pastry and sandwich shop in North Taura Funakoshi doubles as a cigarette shop, so you can imagine how much I want to shop there for bread.

Today when I opened the door to Mori’s bakery, the young staff greeted me with great enthusiasm, but the shelves were almost empty. The shop space is tiny (8’ x 8’) and simple (dark wood floor, white walls with white shelves), and the back is crammed with mixers and ovens, leaving only a narrow passage between the equipment. The baker looked busy talking with a man in a suit. I had thought I might ask him some questions, but I was glad to have an excuse not to before I tried his bread.

I carefully looked over the offerings. Shelves on one wall displayed some examples of the stuffed breads that the Japanese love (an pan–sweet doughy bread stuffed sweet bean paste, curry sauce-stuffed, bacon-stuffed, spicy potato-stuffed). I shall try some of Mori’s stuffed breads later. They looked good, but today I was hunting crust.

On a table in the center of the room were a few remaining batards. I grabbed a tray and poked one of the breads with a pair of tongs. The crust didn’t give, which was a good sign. I bought the loaf and took it outside. It smelled right: clean, yeasty but not too yeasty, with fresh bread headiness. I tore a little and enjoyed the chew. The batard has a firm crust that flakes when you tear it. Baking with Julia informs me the uneven holes are desirable, but the texture is perhaps a bit too chewy. Still, the bread tastes good and has a good balance of salt; it will take a decent cheese or some butter just fine. So far, so good…