After a fabulous five weeks in Japan, one of the things I most definitely miss the most is the food. Prior to my first visit to Japan in 2007, I had never really eaten much Japanese food at all. I was under the impression that all they ate was sushi – which was rather naive of me… I only spent a week in Japan in 07, but five weeks in 2010 learned me real good about the joys tasty, tasty happiness that Japanese food brings, and so the obsession begins..
5 weeks in Japan taught me to appreciate sushi, mushrooms, avocado and cabbage, foods I now love to eat almost every day.
One of my first Japanese loves is Japanese curry.
I met up with this beauty in 2007.. My dad took me to the Coco Ichibanya Curry House and well;… I was hooked, instantly. It was love at first sight.
Seriously. How do you not fall in love with that? With its glistening sexiness and sweetness, Japanese curry is a unique flavour unlike any other curry I have ever tasted. The best thing about the Coco’s is (aside from 😉 is the variety. You can order different curry sauces (from beef, to pork, curry, vegetable and even cheese?) and add whatever kind of extras you’d like (for instance, a chicken katsu cutlet, extra vegetables, cheese or fried shrimp) to side salads, you can even order half servings for kids or if you’re not feeling overly hungry (but like, who passes up an opportunity for Coco’s?). On top of all of this, CICH gets you a very decent feed for a very decent price. I love you, CICH!
You can check out Coco’s website in English here.
Another fave is mochi. Fresh delicious, warm, chewy mochi. How could a combination of sugar, water and glutinous rice flour be so amazing?
One of my fave flavours was a pink sakura (cherry blossom) mochi stuffed with a white sweet bean paste (not anko.) Green tea mochi was another fave, but some of the best mochi I had was dango.. My fave was the Mitarashi dango (white dango roasted and covered with a sweet soy sauce.) I have to admit that at first, I was a little reticent of the flavour, but I soon grew to love it – especially when I tasted it fresh in Kyoto – amazing. I was also a fan of Hanami dango. I was also lucky enough to taste mochi so fresh that it was still warm – I even got to help pound the mochi mixture with the vendors (although I was pretty crappy in comparison to the real mochi makers – lol.)
eating fresh Mitarashi dango in Kyoto
green tea mochi in Tokyo
Some further honorable mentions :
Gyoza: I’m not a pork-eater and my vego friend William, (yep, the same one who introduced me to avocado, mushrooms, Akebono and Wada-san..) taught me his recipe for vegetarian gyoza. Needless to say, it was gyoza-licious.
We ate ours with takoyaki sauce, which is a bit unconventional, but nonetheless, delicious.
Okonomiyaki the Japanese pancake. Okonomiyaki is Japanese for ‘Cook what you like’.
I tried my first okonomiyaki in Hiroshima. It was 350 yen for a takeaway (about $5 AUD, roughly). Traditionally, okonomiyaki is cooked with bacon/pork strips and shrimp, but because I don’t eat either of those, I very (badly) communicated to the cooks in Hiroshima that I didn’t eat pork (buta-niku wa tabemasen) and asked if it were at all possible to get a vegetarian okonomiyaki. Eventually, we sorted something out, but only to be laughed out of the place by one of the waitresses who shrieked “NO MEAT??” when being given our order before we left.
Yakitori (Japanese for cooked chicken ‘Yaki’ being cook, ‘Tori’ being bird/chicken).
Yakitori is traditionally served as a snack to accompany beer.
I had previously been a big fan of yakitori in Australia, however, all of the yakitori I experienced in Japan was very different to what I was used to. Most yakitori in Australia is made with boneless breast or thigh meat, but the yakitori we tasted in Kyoto and Tokyo was riddled with fat and often gristle, sometimes even bone. Though it was usually covered in a delicious teriyaki-tasting sauce, I felt unfortunately I could not stomach it too well, which was a disappointment. Perhaps we ordered the wrong kind (the first time we tried it, it was ordered by someone else and the second time we ordered it, we used a touch screen that had no English on it), but sadly my experience wasn’t a totally positive one – maybe next time…
Tempura, unlike yakitori, was a much more pleasant experience. It is much lighter than any other deep fried food I’ve tasted. I had tempura three times when I was last in Japan – once at Akebono in Tadaoka, once on Koyasan in the monk’s temple and lastly in Gion on Hanami koji right before the Maiko tea party. I always ordered vegetarian tempura (except at Koyasan – the shojin ryori was by default, vegetarian anyway), since most meat that comes with tempura is mostly shrimp, which I don’t eat. Tempura vegetables usually consist of potato, sweet potato, mushroom, onion, pumpkin, often peppers all covered in a very light and creamy tasting batter. Good tempura is not oily, which is a pleasant change from some Western deep fried foods. I eat my tempura by dipping it into the tempura dipping sauce and then with a bite of rice – delllish.
You can’t really go to Japan without bumping into sushi. Although it wasn’t *as* prevalent as I originally imagined on my first trip to Tokyo, it is still widely available at practically every supermarket and convenience store in Japan though this was mostly the cooked variety (such as egg, tofu, prawn and crab sticks and cooked fish). The sushi below was what I ordered with tipsy friends in a touch-screen restaurant, but I didn’t touch it – raw fish really isn’t my thing…They on the other hand, assured me that it was awesome.
The sushi below is from beloved Akebono – they served it daily for lunch. Wada-san would usually charge me no more than 100 yen for a plate of this stuff. It was honestly the best sushi I had all throughout Japan and believe me, I looked for it. This sushi is stuffed with two kinds of marinated tofu that melts in your mouth combined with a sweet caramelised onion. Pure. Perfection. We also had some of the best inari-zushi here at Akebono (the fried bean curd pouches filled with a vinegary sweet rice). Gosh, it makes me sad to think that the only way I can get sush this good is to go all the way back to Japan! All the inari I’ve had here in Sydney has honestly been total crap in comparison.
We practically lived off onigiri from convenience stores. It was cheap (around 100 yen each time – roughly $1.30 AUD?) and very easy to get a hold of and convenient to eat on long shinkansen rides that we were mostly conked out on. The onigiri pictured was the one time I ordered it at a restaurant. It was filled with smoked salmon and mayo, unlike the usual fare at the stations (which mostly consisted of tuna and mayo).
Who could talk about Japanese food without mentioning ramen? Originally from China, ramen noodles have been firmly implanted into Japanese culture. As an avid watched of Naruto and Naruto Shippuuden (a popular Japanese anime), I looked forward to enjoying my first bowl of ramen noodles (as the main character in Naruto so often does). Unfortunately for me, ramen is often served with pork and shellfish as well as consisting of a pork-based broth. Fortunately, I was able to find two places that I could try ramen at. First was a miso ramen soup, then a ramen with a toriniku (chicken) based broth (pictured). Needless to say, it was delicious – and fantastic for the cold Japanese winter we experienced. In Japan it is polite to slurp your noodles (which, coming from Australia, seems bizarre and kind of rude). But apparently, it means that you are enjoying your food. Tentatively, I slurped my soup.. But it still felt weird.. One cultural norm in Japan I just couldn’t get over was the sniffling. Instead of blowing your nose, it is more polite to just sniff (disgustingly, by the way-) your nose, since blowing your nose is rude – another inversion of politeness in Australian culture… Probably not something I should be mentioning in a food post perhaps?
“Mmm, chicken ramen!”
I left the best for last. My favourite dish from Akebono was the yakimeshi (Japanese fried rice. yaki ‘cook’, ‘meshi’ rice).
I’m not sure how, but Wada-san’s husband stuffed this delicious rice full of flavour. I’ve never been able to get nearly close to replicating the flavour of Akebono’s yakimeshi. After I tasted it for the first time, it was the only other thing I would order. Yakimeshi will always hold that special place in my heart… I can’t wait to go back to Akebono for more!
Well that’s it for now. I hope everyone gets the chance to sample some of these Japanese goodies – it will really change your life! (and your tastebuds.)
love and noms,