Turning Japanese – part 2: what we ate
18 June 2016
I have always dreamed of visiting Japan and one of my 2016 goals was to just pick dates and MAKE IT HAPPEN! So glad I did.
Japan is home to many remarkable food and Japanese cuisine is something that the world loves. With sushi and sashimi, ramen and udon, omu rice (Japanese Omelette Rice) and tonkatsu, the choice becomes endless…
Myself and Baz did our darn best to EAT EVERYTHING on our trip out here and I thought I’d round up a few of our most favourite things from the trip and edible local things to look out for which will come in handy if you should find yourself in Tokyo. The sheer selection of dining establishments over in Japan will leave you dizzy in glee!
Ichiran Ramen (multiple locations)
We were on the hunt to find that perfect bowl of tonkotsu ramen in Tokyo, and with so many places on offer it can seem daunting. We came across Ichiran (after reading lots of raving reviews about the place on TripAdvisor). A place that cooked up one of the best tonkotsu broths I’ve ever had! Dense, full flavoured broth. Ichiran Ramen has been widely accepted as one of the best spots for tonkotsu ramen in Japan.
Ordering is done on the vending machine at the bottom of the stairs then by filling out a slip of paper that asks life’s most important questions:
How firm do you want your noodles?
How spicy and rich do you want your broth?
How much garlic do you want in your bowl?
We filled it out, handed it over, and waited to be led into our private booth, where you can avoid distraction and focus on the only thing that matters – RAMEN. Extremely flavourful (because I ordered it that way) and a small dollop of Ichrian’s special chilli sauce gavesit a nice kick. Tip: make sure you add a soft-boiled egg, it changes the whole meal!
Tsukiji Fish Market
We had to be up nice and early to make our way over to the Tsukiji Fish Market. It’s incredibly hectic here; and we had to do our best to not get run over by the “Turret trucks” (fish carts), avoiding getting shouted at for taking photos, and trying to eat fishy foods whilst being surrounded by dead fish. It was all pretty crazy but a great insight the world’s largest ‘working fish market’! A visit to Tsukiji Market is best combined with a fresh sushi breakfast or lunch at one of the local restaurants.
Pablo Mini Cheesecake Tarts
Please, please have a Pablo Mini. We had the green tea and original flavours.
Tonkatsu is panko-crusted, deep fried pork cutlet. It’s crispy, crunchy, juicy and delicious; typically served with fluffy white rice, piles and piles of finely shredded cabbage, pickles, and miso soup. At first, when I looked at a tonkatsu menu, I thought everything looked the same, but really all the cuts taste different. We had Tonkatsu twice and picked between rosu-katsu (loin) or hire-katsu (fillet). Rosu is juicier and has more marbling whereas hire is a bit more lean. You can’t go wrong with crispy juicy deep fried pork and addictive tonkatsu sauce!
Kushiage, also known as Kushikatsu, are skewered deep fried meats, seafoods and vegetables in a panko batter served with tonkatsu sauce. We went to our first Kushiage restaurant in Odaiba, and it was fun having our own personal deep fryer on our table and frying our bits of assorted meats and seafood the way we wanted.
Japanese Curry Rice
Japanese curry is one of those meals, kind of like ramen, that’s famous for being a 24 hours a day food, and in both Osaka and Tokyo it seems to be a favorite among late-night gamers.. This one wasn’t healthy… but how could we resist!
Literally means “soaked in tea”, a simple dish of green tea poured over cooked rice often with seafood such as salmon. Hot water or dashi can be used in place of tea and common toppings included nori and sesame seeds for extra flavour. At first it was a strange combo (tea and rice?) but definitely a hearty and comforting meal.
Melon Pan from the “World’s second best freshly baked Melon-pan Ice cream”. This was a sweet bun shaped like a melon with a thin cookie dough crust filled with ice cream. The melon bread was crusty and warm, and went well with the vanilla ice cream. Despite the name, melon pan aren’t traditionally melon flavoured.
Assorted Japanese Street Food
Yakitori can be literally translated “grilled chicken.” It’s a category of Japanese cuisine that includes dozens of items that are grilled on thin bamboo skewers, we couldn’t stop stuffing our faces on these.
These are fish-shaped waffles filled with a sweet red bean paste. The outer layer is crispy (made with a batter that’s similar to pancakes) and the paste is soft and gooey. I had these on the go or whenever I saw a street vendor – the perfect snack when you need that ‘sweet snack’ anytime you can’t put your finger on exactly what you want.
Okonomiyaki are like a Japanese pancake/omellete filled with various types of savoury fillings, such as vegetables, seafood, and even noodles! Drizzled with a tasty sweet & savoury sauce. Make sure you share, these were pretty dense and filling.
THESE WERE EVERYWHERE! Savoury ball-shaped pancakes with octopus at the centre topped with Japanese mayonnaise, ginger pickles and fermented fish flakes. Seriously, the added fish flakes were a bit too fishy for me.
Baked fish, often mackerel, on a stick. Saltier than salt itself.
Mochi were a fundamental ingredient to Japanese desserts. Made from Japanese glutinous rice cake and were served sweet or savoury.
I was lucky enough to stumble across a stand selling Sakura flavoured mochi. Filled generously with red bean paste and wrapped in a pickled sakura leaf. Sakura mochi can come in a number of regional varieties and tend to have a chunkier texture in Osaka but were smooth in Tokyo.
Dorayaki (mini pancakes filled with bean paste)
Castella-like pancakes sandwiched together with anko (sweet red bean paste). You can also find other ingredients such as chestnuts, green bean paste, whipped cream and ice cream also added to the middle to sandwich the two pancakes together. One of my favourites!
Honey buttered toast filled with berries, ice cream, honey & butter! Be prepared to loosen up those jeans.
Japanese Ice Cream
Japanese ice cream is my absolute favourite type of ice cream, and I couldn’t stop eating enough of it! I don’t know how they did it, but it’s the creamiest and tastiest ice cream in the world!
OSAKA, KYOTO, KOBE and NARA
Japanese Gyoza in Osaka
We couldn’t help eating as many of these as we saw, and only £1.60 for a tray of six, the price was too good to miss. They typically have a slightly thinner dough than the Chinese original, crispy skin and tender and juicy meat inside. A decent place to try out if you are a gyoza lover.
Real Kobe Beef in Kobe
I can finally cross off EATING KOBE BEEF IN KOBE, JAPAN off my ‘To do’ list! Baz LOVES steak and eating one of the worlds’ finest grades of beef in its place of origin was an unreal experience. The raw beef came on a plate, beautifully decorated, and when I saw the veins of fatty marbling in the meat we were about to grill, I almost couldn’t handle my anticipation. Baz’s thoughts? “Best beef steak I’ve ever had in my life.” Certainly (Baz’s) best steak of his life! The meat was unbelievably juicy and had a depth of flavour that I’ll never forget how the meat was so tender it was as if I didn’t need to chew it!
Shanghai dumplings at Paradise Dynasty
We spent our last full afternoon in Tokyo exploring Ginza, and stumbled across this restaurant offering super colourful Shanghai signature dumplings (Xiao long bao), all homemade on-site and offering 8 different flavours (each dumpling a different colour and taste). My favourite flavour was the original, still the best, the black truffle followed closely followed by the ginseng flavour. The cheesy dumpling was v.cheesy. The garlic one was super garlick-fied.
We packed in A LOT of stuff and I had the best time out here. Please put Tokyo on your list if you haven’t been and put your favourite spots in the comments if you have. One thing is for sure, Japan will definitely pull your sweet tooth! Try out as much as you can from the local foods scene, this was definitely one of my fave things about travelling.