Friday, November 18, 2011

of noodle museums and new coffee treats

We recently had our first Japanese mall experience. And yes, I do say "experience." Just like most other things here, we are learning as we go, and the mall was no different. We went to the ELM Mall in Goshogawara (try saying that three times fast!). Since we hadn't eaten that day, the first place we wanted to head was toward the food court. We had gotten a recommendation to try out the "noodle museum." Having no clue what this was, we didn't know what to expect. Was this actually a museum about noodles or did we lose something in the translation? When we got there, we understood.

This was not really a was an exhibition. A noodle exhibition. Basically, you walk in and you're transported to this whole new world, revolving around noodles. It had a bit of a rain forest motif going on, and there were about 20 different noodle restaurants along this dark path with Japanese tiki statues and trees surrounding the whole area. Each restaurant had somewhere around 10 tables in it, and each one had what looks like a vending machine in front.

Well, it doesn't just LOOK like a vending machine. It is one. Basically, you decide what you want to eat and then push the button on the vending machine. You insert your yen and it prints a ticket. You hand the ticket to the person at the counter and they bring it to you when it's done being made.

Well, this is all fine and well, except that it was all in kanji and we had no clue what we were ordering. We decided to take a crack at it, though, and ordered a few things. We ended up with udon noodles (which I love) and a fishy soup (not so much) and some amazing gyozas. Ben ended up going with the noodles and soup while I polished off the gyozas. We had seen several Japanese bakeries throughout the mall, so we weren't too disappointed that we both only had half a meal.

We wandered around the mall, observing the objects and the people (as well as looking for Christmas gifts for friends and family back in the states!) We found some awesome little trinkets, but most of the things we found were really expensive. We figured we were better off going with some of the things we had found in local shops around Misawa instead. Along our walk, though, we found a few familiar sites, including a Baskin Robbins and (drum roll, please) the only Starbucks in Aomori Prefecture!

While we have a few cafes on the base that brew Starbucks coffee, none of them have nearly the selection that a real Starbucks does. While we were unable to find the Starbucks mug with "Japan" on it, we did find some really great Starbucks treats. We decided to try drinks that were not available in the states. I got a dark chocolate java chip frappuccino (which was the best drink I've ever gotten at a Starbucks!) and Ben got a matcha frappuccino.

Armed with our caffeine, we were ready to do some more exploring. We found a fish market (and a few vegetable and sushi markets) right inside the mall, where the Macy's would have been in an American mall. We found a suspicious looking KFC across from an even more suspicious looking Italian restaurant. And, we found a ton of bakeries with scrumptious goodies calling our names. We ended up getting an amazing cheese and meat stuffed sandwich to compensate for our small lunch, and marveled at how intricate some of the pastries were along the bakery shelves. We knew when we came here to expect the Hello Kitty cuteness that pertains to just about everything in Japanese culture, but it still surprised us that they even add these attributes to their bread.

We are excited that something as mundane as going to the mall could seem so exciting, and we're even more excited about exploring more around the area!

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