Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Sock's Guide to the Breakfast Buffet


A tiny part of the Best Breakfast Buffet ever at the Tokyo Station Hotel

Tokyo, and at 6.30a.m. awoken by jet lag in the early hours of the morning we  decide to hit the breakfast buffet at the Tokyo Station Hotel before it has been 'Laverne'd'.

I'm going to let you in on one of those annoying private little made-up words that families or couples share. We coined the verb 'to Laverne' some years ago on our tour of Iceland...

Outside of Rejkyavik Iceland is mostly gloriously empty and unpopulated.  For those not venturing into the desolate interior, there is a road circuit around the island and a limited amount of hotels en route that everyone stops at.  When I say 'everyone' what I mean is the unexpected coachloads of Americans (we deduced, parents of the young military quartered in the (now closed) naval air station on Keflavik). We bump into these coachloads on too many occasions.

I don't remember much about the Icelandic breakfast buffets other than that at one of our more 'off piste' destinations, along with the various cured fish, meats and cheese, little shot glasses were laid out filled with a glowing golden liquid.  "How civilized - a little snifter with brekkie" I thought as I seized what I took to be an Icelandic 'Eau de Vie' and downed it in one.  Yurgggggghhh! My throat filled with a viscous slime and the disgusting taste of neat cod liver oil, leaving my mouth filled with a fishy after taste for hours afterwards.

Other than that the buffets passed without incident until our stay at Husavik for a whale watching cruise.  Perhaps the midnight sun affected our sleep patterns but we arrived late next day at the breakfast buffet and to our disappointment much of the food had disappeared and not been replaced. Worse, the remaining decimated meats and cheese had been mushed around, fingered and smeared. What was once a neatly piled plate of herrings, smattered and smashed. The butter covered in toast crumbs, globs of jam and other substances in an unappetizing, inedible mess.  Towards the  far end of the buffet strip a large American with a butt the size of China was still loading her plate Desperate Dan style, greedily mauling the remaining pastries. The Bedsock and I, with rapidly diminishing appetite, salvaged what we could from the remaining food massacre and retreated gloomily to our table.  Nearby I heard the Americans' tour guide say, without sarcasm, to the Large Lady "Enjoying your breakfast, Laverne?" 

And so a new word was born into the Socks vocabulary, to 'Laverne' meaning to decimate the breakfast buffet,  or used descriptively as in  'The breakfast buffet has been Laverne'd'.

The next morning, alarm clocks set, we ensured an early pre-crowd arrival at the buffet and noticed a sign had gone up saying "Food must not be taken outside the restaurant - sandwiches can be made and paid for on request!". 

I confess to a certain amount of guilt over this, not being above snaffling something tasty from the breakfast buffet for laterz.  On my childhood travels abroad YoungMaSock would carry an enormous handbag bought specially for the purpose of  packing full of goodies from the hotel breakfast tables which would then form our picnic lunch. In Figuere da Foz we breakfasted in our room, as usual in Portugal, breakfast came in an enormous basket laden with fruit and cakes. But to my and BroSock's disappointment pretty much all of it disappeared into YoungMaSock's bag to be doled out as meals for us kids over the next couple of days!   OldMaSock never grew out of this habit and for years carried a tupperware box in her handbag into which substantial portions of restaurant meals would be stored for later.  On an early acquaintance with OldMaSock, The Bedsock was unsuprisingly shocked to see her stuff two large sausages into her serviette and transfer the bundle into her handbag, despite the fact she was being well fed and watered by us and this being years before her becoming a tad demented!

As usual I have digressed, back to the Tokyo Station Hotel at a far too early 6.30a.m in the morning. As it is, even Laverne couldn't defeat the Japanese ethos of beautiful presentation and the Tokyo Station Hotel has the best breakfast buffet ever! No doubt, in the event of a Laverning the well-trained staff would discreetly repair the damaged buffet, restoring its pristine beauty for the next person.  But even with such a cornucopia of exquisite food there are still pitfalls to avoid!

The buffet is lined up on two sides of the long, elegant Atrium room at the top of the hotel (in this case the 'top' is in fact the third story in a refreshing change from the skycraper hotels around it!).  On one side a bar serving freshly cooked eggs etc., then an eclectic mix of European dishes, including cheeses, smoked salmon, shrimps in mayo, lasagne! (yes lasagne! whoever heard of lasagne for breakfast? Unless you are at home with a hangover eating leftovers from the fridge.) Moving on past  mouthwatering French and Danish pastries, breads, toast and jam, a sudden delve into various Chinese pancake rolls and dim sum. Leaping over to the opposite side where a variety of top class teas await (NOT the ubiquitous Twinings varieties that most foreign hotels offer when they think they are being posher than those who just dish out Liptons!) green tea, roast green tea - my favourite!, various fresh juices, fresh fruit, several delicious types of yoghurt.  Then on to the best of all - the Japanese breakfast! Rice dishes and 'select your own' sprinkles to go on top, miso soup to ladle into your bowl with your own choice of accoutrements, natta (this was a weird fermented thing that gave me wind but apart from that aspect the Bedsock thought it was rather tasty!).  Then various dishes of unknown provenance, mostly delicious and probably kelp and squid based - all accompanied by pickles and condiments for our delectation.   Then finally, the piéce de resistance (see top photo) almost too beautifully laid out to touch! But touch we did, filling our plates with raw tuna served with a spicey lime dip, tofu skin in little glasses (our absolute favourite), little sticks of burdock root in a sesame dressing, chopped up okra and yam, rolled omelette, herry spawn on kelp (whatever that is), pickled nozawa greens, and whatever was in the bowl filled with black snakey stuff in the middle which was probably so outré they refused to label it for fear of putting westerners off!

No worries here either about using our usual trick of digging to the bottom of the platter in case someone has coughed their germs all over the top layer!  Although on the occasions when I feel it incumbent on me to do this, I remove the article I want with precision and not leave the plate messy and Laverne'd for the next person.

The Bedsock's choice from a breakfast buffet in Hakodate - rice, salmon eggs, raw prawn and tuna!

The only peril was where to start? If we filled up on Japanese food would we have room for a croissant with our coffee?  As we were staying several nights we formed a plan to eat
a different 'style' of breakfast each day although I confess to wolfing down a quick croissant with my coffee whilst still having the taste of tuna with wasabi dressing in my mouth. At other hotel buffets we were shocked to see Japanese people (normally so delicate and fastidious!) piling their plates with a bit of everything in food combinations like, raspberry tart with salmon eggs, bacon, and pickled veg, that would give you indigestion just to think about! Which just goes to show there is a bit of Laverne in all of us.


Helen Reeley said...

I'm guilty of Laverning...I take my breakfast sausage in a napkin for a mid morning snack & a banana & a yogurt :-)

Caroline said...

So wonderful to see you back here on your blog! What a glorious trip, congratulations for persevering.

Arabella Sock said...

Thank you Caroline. Everytime I get re-enthused about blogging something thwarts me - this time my new computer has turned out to be faulty (after the Bedsock spent 3 days transferring everything over to it) so he's now had to transfer everything back to the old one so I can write another blog!! I will have forgotten all the stuff I was going to write about soon so I need to try and do some more blogging whilst I still have the memory of how it felt. Anyway I'm glad people are still reading it.

Helen, you are worse than OldMaSock!