A Traveller’s Guide to eating in Japan
I’ve teamed up with one of my good friends, Jeremy Fong , to bring you regular food, kitchen, and restaurant reviews! He’s had an extreme passion for great food which has made gatherings quite the feast! Jeremy isn’t afraid to try new foods and be inventive when it comes to crafting his next meal.
He’s just come back from a trip to Asia, and you’ve guessed it, HE ATE SO MANY AMAZING FOODS!
So, we are going to start off with a series that will bring you his first person insights of the cuisine he experienced!
Today, we’re talking Japan!
I know when most of us think about Japanese food, we immediately think sushi! But there’s so so much more than that.
But first, some (super brief) history!
During the Kofun period (250 – 538), Japan began to be heavily influenced by Chinese & Korean culture, which also brought chopsticks to their tables.
In the Heian period (794 AD – 1185) China introduced rice cultivation to Japan, which quickly became the preferred staple of their meals! It’s seen that in their traditional “banquet setting” meals were very elaborate:
Bowl of rice & soup (preferably miso)
Chopsticks, one spoon, one plate for seasonings
Salt, vinegar, and hishio (soy sauce)
Thinly sliced dried fish and fowl
Thinly sliced fresh fish, shellfish, and fowl (which was the original Sushi)
Fermented fish, giblets, jellyfish, and aemono (type of sauce/dressing)
Desserts would be presented as Chinese cakes and assorted fruits and nuts
Then finally finished off with sake
Super involved huh?
Over the years in the early 20th century, the Japanese adapted the Chinese noodle, named it shina soba (“Chinese soba”), then renaming to ramen. By 1900, ramen quickly became a simple street food the Chinese would pull by carts to sell.
OK enough with that! Let’s get to the food!
Elaine: What do you think the most known cuisine would be for Japan?
Jeremy: Most known would include sushi, ramen, and anything matcha.
Elaine: Are there any kind of ‘hidden gem’ meals/restaurants you can think of?
Jeremy: I would say, if you followed TripAdvisor or Google maps and looked at ratings, you’ll find lots of stuff off the beaten path. There’s restaurants near all the tourist traps; then there’s the stuff that locals love and you (have to) travel out of your way to go. I find a lot of people have already done this.
Just Google “Best ____ in Osaka” and generally you’ll find 2 or 3 blogs that have done the heavy lifting and have already tried, rated, and categorized the resturants already.
For example, I Googled “Best unagi don in Osaka” (Bbq eel). I read a few blogs, then tried to find them in Google Maps. The first restaurant I wanted to try was actually closed forever!! The second restaurant luckily was very close by and actually used to be a Michelin star restaurant.
Elaine: So would you say you can get a lot of great recommendations from blogs, TripAdvisor , and locals? That picture looks delicious fyi
Jeremy: It was amazing. Yes, however getting information from locals is hard… if you don’t speak the language.
Elaine: What meal was your least favorite?
Jeremy: Ramen looks good right? It was delicious, but it was still my least favorite. Why? Because we didn’t research and just picked any ole ramen place. So it wasn’t outstanding. ALL places we researched had OUTSTANDING food
Elaine: What would you say your favorite meal was?
Jeremy: Ramen from this place. Up to 2 hour 45 minute wait.
Elaine: Whoa that’s a long wait!
Jeremy: We waited 45 minutes because we went early. (The restaurant) had extremely high reviews.
Elaine: What made this meal stand out for you? And how would it compare to your ‘least favorite’ meal?
Jeremy: Funny how the least favorite and most favorite meals are both ramen eh?
The least favorite was because although tasty, it lacked that something extra special. My favorite place, they did everything by hand, noodles with perfect chew, pan friend pork belly, super rich pork bone broth simmering for hours, a special touch by adding garlic oil at the last second on top of everything. Just a few drops.
Elaine: (At this point my mouth began to salivate)
Elaine: For someone with a sweet tooth, are there any recommendations?
Jeremy: Matcha and mocha are Japan’s specialty.
This is warabi mocha dessert. Underneath is matcha ice cream made with Hokkaido milk(Very rich and creamy milk). Yeah, anything matcha you can’t go wrong.
Elaine: And is Japan big on any late night snacks? Any drinks you particularly enjoyed?
Jeremy: Hmmm… didn’t do much drinking, other than tea. Late night snacks, in Osaka, they are well known for their Takoyaki (ball shaped flour batter filled with minced octopus, and deep fried)
The first one is 6 takoyaki under the green onions and there’s a soft boiled egg on top. Super amazing.
The second is a more traditional takoyaki with large pieces of octopus inside. Or tako. With bonito flakes on top. When fresh, it’s like putting a ball of lava in your mouth.
Elaine: Now I want some. I had some the other day and burnt the inside of my mouth.
Jeremy: Yup, they’ll do that! Bad takoyaki , the dough is like bread. Good takoyaki, nicely fried outside, and still melty inside.
Elaine: If I had a… let’s say, 5 hour layover in Japan, what would you recommend for me to go eat? Also do you know how to make takoyaki? I’m asking so we can eat some now ha ha
Jeremy: I don’t know how ha ha sorry. 5 hour layover in Osaka, I’d say, get takoyaki, and get ramen.
Ramen from here is good. This place is an introvert’s dream.
Elaine: Nice! Sounds like a place for me!
Jeremy: Order from a vending machine, don’t even have to see the server’s face.
Elaine: If you could say anything to any of our readers that are heading to Japan soon, what would you tell them?
- Unlock your phone using an eBay phone unlocking service
- Buy a local SIM card for high speed data
- Never get lost or have to ask for directions because GOOGLE MAPS IS GOD
Elaine: and anything about meals you’d like to tell them?
Jeremy: Ummm.. most places have English menus. Just ask. When eating ramen, they often have several different broths to choose from: shoyu ramen is soy sauce broth, miso ramen is miso flavoured, shio or salt flavour, or the holy grail in my mind – tonkotsu ramen, or slow simmered for hours pork bone broth. I always go for pork bone/tonkotsu broth. Simply the best.
If you’re unable to make it to Japan, try out some of your local Japanese restaurants so you can at least get a taste! They might surprise you! And if that isn’t your thing, Amazon can ship you some things to try:
Amazon’s best selling ramen: Myojo Ippeichan Yakisoba
Japanese bowl & chopstick set (to eat your noods with, instead of a fork)
Matcha Mochi – these soft and chewy balls of yum will cure anyone’s sweet tooth
Lonely Planet – Travel Guide – Get acquainted before you go!
Have you been to Japan? Did you have the same experiences that Jeremy had? Let me know in the comments!
Jeremy is a food lover. He has travelled overseas on food-cations, and most definitely calls himself a foodie. The hardest question anyone can ask him is “What is your favourite food?” because he simply can’t decide. His food-spirations include Kenji with Serious Eats, Chefsteps, and his parents and wife Christine for helping him hone his pallet. Check out his Instagram!
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