Right after my Korea trip, I jetted off to the neighbouring country Japan and was fortunate to travel all over the country including stopovers in Tokyo, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto and Hakuba. So much food was consumed in my two and a half weeks there, including a small bout of food poisoning thanks to some raw chicken. But there is simply too much to recount, so here are the highlights of the trip which covers the classic dishes, the delicious treats and also the more unique foods:
Freshly made takoyaki (squid balls) from Cat Street in Tokyo. Consists of a lightly fried dough ball with squid inside, served with kewpie mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce and bonito fish flakes. Best bought off small street stores like this one (pictured above) as opposed to restaurants for fresh, piping hot balls of goodness!
Omuraisu, or ‘omelette-rice’, consists of tomato or fried rice under a soft, fluffy omelette. In Japan it is often served with meat sauce and found in more Western-fusion restaurants.
Succulent Beef Bowl
As the name suggests, succulent beef served on a bed of rice. Found at every corner of Japan at restaurants which serve food just as quickly as food courts. Many have tickets machines at the front of the restaurant which allow you to input your order, money and receive a ticket. You then give this to the wait staff/chef and food comes out several minutes later. Best of all, it’s super cheap (<$10 for a set meal).
Taking a detour to the city of Kobe itself to eat the famous Kobe Beef is 100% worthwhile! The appropriately named restaurant Steak Land serves up soft and tasty beef which is cooked on a teppankyaki-style hot plate right in front of you. Although it tastes amazing, it comes at a hefty price, with a minimum average price of $40 a steak!
This sushi platter is from the famous Tsukiji Fish Markets in Tokyo which seem to be about 10x the size of Sydney fish markets. There is a very small cluster of restaurants which only open until 11am, so best to go super early (we were there at 8am). All sushi and sashimi is prepared fresh upon ordering by a sushi masterchef who also decides what ratio of wasabi is appropriate depending on the fish type (hidden in between the fish and rice). Sushi is surprisingly pricey though – this platter cost approximately $45, most expensive breakfast I’ve ever had!
Ramen Musuem at Shin-Yokohama
I’m not normally a huge fan of ramen, but that could be because the calibre of ramen in Sydney pales in comparison to Japan. Choose from miso (soy bean), soy or spicy soup bases accompanied with the usual suspects of pork and egg and you can’t go wrong. Highlights were from the Ramen Musuem at Shin-Yokohama which featured rustic interiors depicting 1950′s Tokyo and nine restaurants representing nine regions of Japan, each serving up different cooking styles. An interesting one we came across was the less common “Tsukemen” which provides you with noodles and soup served separately, and requiring you to dip the noodles in the soup. This stops the noodles from becoming soggy in the soup and lets you appreciate the delicateness of the noodles whilst getting the flavour of the soup.
The name translates to “melon bread”, but this style of bread only gets its name due to the texture of the bread resembling a melon. However, the first meron-pan I ate in Japan was from 7-11 and I swear contained a rockmelon jam with cream inside. I never managed to identify the actual fillings but all members of my party agreed that it tasted like melon. Another variation I also found was a black tea version tasting similar to Earl Grey tea – delicious!
Prawn Burger from McDonald’s
I love visiting McDonald’s all over the world to have a look at what they do globally to suit varying local flavours and product. One product which I wished we had in Australia is the prawn burger, featuring a crumbed patty made of lots of small cocktail prawns, served with lettuce and thousand island sauce. Think a prawn version of the fillet-o-fish..
Your absolute best friend in Japan is no doubt 7-11, Lawson and Family Mart. These convenience stores are everywhere, operate 24/7 and have hot and cold food, huge varieties of drinks (including alcohol) and is great for the time poor traveller who needs snacks on the go. A favourite section of mine is their sushi/bento box fridge which contains an assortment of onigiri (triangular sushi) and bento (lunch) boxes. The best thing is that there is also a microwave and hot water in every store to cater to the bento boxes and instant noodle cups.
Which brings me to the next item…cup noodles! Nissin is the reigning king of noodles as I swear the quality of their noodles from Japan is much better than what gets imported here. Available in vending machines and supermarkets everywhere, it comes in a variety of sizes and flavours.
The conglomerate Disney does everything including their own unique food found only in their theme parks. The Disney Sea Park has a different flavour of popcorn served in each sub-world of the park (totalling roughly six variants), but our clear favourite was the milk tea flavour. Another winner for the group was the cute Mickey shaped churros!
KFC egg tarts
I bought this simply for the novelty factor of KFC selling an egg tart. Discovered this at the KFC nestled on top of one of the Hakuba snow mountains, but never saw it again at a proper outlet. Didn’t taste that good…
Unique drinks and snacks
As mentioned before, convenience stores and supermarkets are your best friends! Some of the interesting snacks we bought and ate during transit included strawberry flavoured caramel corn (amazing!!!), fish roe and mayo flavoured chips, and spicy devil chips. Also pictured are some interesting drinks such as Pepsi White and Dragon Ball Kamehame Orange Soda which we didn’t try.
Drink vending machines
Situated on every street and most train platforms are vending machines which serve up hot and cold drinks, with a group favourite being the hot milk tea perfect for the cooler weather. One of the cooler machines was the touch screen one (pictured) which also plays cute animated ads in between periods of non-use.
Yes, that is a Hello Kitty branded banana. I have no explanation.
The best thing about restaurants in Japanese isn’t the fact that every menu has pictures, but that every restaurant has a display of scrumptious looking fake food at the front. And because it’s just so shiny, sometimes it normally looks even better than the real thing and we often found ourselves walking past restaurants drooling. At the fish markets, I even found some fake sushi for sale!
Wild deer at Nara – a popular tourist destination
Japan is a country I would highly recommend everyone to go visit! Aside from the wide variety of tasty and unique foods, the people are absolutely wonderful, the culture is interesting and the large cities like Tokyo never seem to sleep. I will be back, until next time!