It has been a frantic scramble to get to Christmas this year and I’m glad it’s finally here! Time to wind down, relax and spend time with family and friends. Also means time to finally write up my Japan Eats post from my trip in September!
Japan was my first real visit to Asia (besides a 13 hour lay over in Singapore a few years back). For me, it was an absolute culture shock but I loved every bit of it. The crowds, the lights, the sounds. The big cities were just a complete buzz. Then of course there were the traditional elements that keep Japan true to their ancestry – the temples, the gardens, the years of practiced respect that has been carried on from generation to generation.
During my trip I visited four cities – Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima. All of these places had their own unique style both aesthetically and culturally. This included an array of different foods to try – both weird and wonderful.
Unfortunately as most places had their signage in Japanese, I was unable to capture names of most places I ate at. However, I will try my best to give a ballpark location (but rest assured, pretty much every place you go in Japan you will have a great feed). Instead of categorising by restaurant, I will categorise by food type.
I feel like even if you visited Japan and hated noodles, you would leave loving them because ramen in Japan is as as far as the eye can see. The set up of a ramen is pretty standard but depending on what area you go and what place you choose, the toppings will vary. I’m definitely a pork fan, softish noodles, loads of toppings and that soft yolked egg. However the best part of a ramen and ultimately the deal breaker of the dish is the broth. Also known colloquially (by me) as “the elixir of life”. A good broth is a chef’s staple so I can appreciate when one is made well and is a flavour bomb. My preferred broth is a pork bone or salt based broth but you can also have miso or soy as well.
I must admit I ordered a plate of gyoza with almost every meal I had in Japan. No regrets. Crispy outside and soft flavoursome filling on the inside, how could you resist. They are cheap as too with most places serving a plate of 6-8 for less than $6. What I did want to call out was a gyoza place in Kyoto which i LOVED. There was a queue out the door of this place every night, they had awesome music playing and really chilled out staff. Felt a bit like a backpackers bar but with dumplings. They also had Asahi beer on tap. Win! The name of this place is “Gyoza Chaochao”. The signage is majority Japanese but I believe they had a romanised Japanese sign as well.
Okonomiyaki (omelette pancake)
Okonomiyaki is a layered pancake style dish filled with meat, cabbage, sprouts and an assortment of other bits and pieces of delish and served like an omelette. You can find them all around Japan but they are most prominent in Hiroshima. Just a heads up, they are quite big so would share one between two if you can. They are made fresh to order and it’s quite fascinating to watch them being made because you realise just how much cabbage shrinks when you cook it!
Takoyaki (octopus filled balls)
Takoyaki is a dough ball filled with octopus that is cooked in a purpose built pan and is absolutely everywhere in Osaka! For those heading to Osaka and wanting a foodie slice of heaven, head to Dotonburi Arcade which is the main strip of quirky street food, music and where you will find pretty much all the tourists. Pretty much anywhere along this strip is a safe bet so make sure you’re hungry when you visit so you can try as many things as possible.
Tonkatsu is the Japanese equivalent of fried crumbed meat. Most times when you come across tonkatsu, it’s pork meat. It is usually served with rice. It’s a good safe meal if you’re getting sick of noodles and want something filling for lunch or dinner. I took a leap of faith with the place I visited by heading up some stairs to a restaurant with a closed door where you couldn’t see in. It ended up being delicious, cheap and the staff were very friendly.
It’s 2018 and let’s just say you can pretty much tempura anything. My favourite tempura dish was the eggplant with miso sauce. Absolutely delicious. There isn’t really much else to say about tempura, it’s relatively easy to make, it tastes good and it’s a real satisfying comfort food.
What would a foodie adventure be without dessert? Pretty much my two main sources of sugar in Japan were matcha ice creams and cream filled crepes. What’s not to love! Most places will sell matcha ice cream and a fair few also sell the matcha swirled with vanilla (if you’d rather a subtle matcha hit, i’d suggest this option). For the crepes, they have about 50 options which are all variations of a few staple ingredients – cream, chocolate, bananas, strawberries and other summery fruit. Take a sweet trip down Takeshita Dori when you’re in Tokyo.
Other food items to mention
As I said earlier in the piece, Japan was filled with weird and wonderful food options. I’m sure you’ve noticed that sushi is missing from the above list. That’s not to say it’s not worth eating in Japan but I didn’t eat a lot of it unfortunately so can’t provide any recommendations. Instead, I opted for sashimi and ordered from a menu instead of taking from the sushi train.
And that just about sums up my foodie experience in Japan. That’s not to say that there isn’t more to try, there most certainly is. I hope this inspires you to start planning your trip to Japan because it is 100% worth it in every way, shape or form.