Sunday, July 3, 2016

Travel Tips: Japanese Eats; or What To Eat in Japan

Oops, I meant to write this post on Japanese eats before Seoul, but now I'm just going to awkwardly stick it in here and pretend it belongs.

As you saw, eating was a huge part of my trip to Japan (as it should be - Japanese food is the BEST). In fact, it was so important that I thought I'd write a separate post about it, because there are so many amazing, delicious things to nom here.  Not to mention that sometimes people don't realize the wide range that Japanese cuisine covers, in addition to just sushi.

In no particular order, here we gooooo:

1. Ramen/Soba:
Nobody does noodles as delicious as the Japanese.  There's even specialties and varieties of ramen and soba that are dependent by region, with different noodles, broth, ingredients, etc. It's truly an art form.

I've even been in one of those restaurants in Japan where you sit in singular cubicles, so you can truly focus on the ramen in front of you and its flavors, vs. having to speak to your friends & getting distracted by other things. Those things are not OK when your attention is supposed to be 100% focused on ramen, obviously.

RAMEN. Complete with pork belly, scallions, bamboo shoots, and a soy sauce-based broth.

I'm sure you've seen this duck soba featured before, but DELISH.

This is a form of cold soba called zaru soba (perfect for summer when it's a zillion degrees outside) - you get the cold noodles separate, which you dunk into the soba sauce and shovel into your mouth. It's incredibly delish.

2. Tempura:
Tempura, when done right (i.e. when it has a light, flaky crust), is life-changing. If you go to an actual tempura restaurant, you can do it up real fancy. I went to one when I was in Tokyo, and it involved multiple courses (veggies were served separate from the seafood), and various methods of dippage (different kinds of flavored salts, sauces, and flavors).  It was amazing.

First course of tempura with my favorite, shrimp! Meant to be dipped into the tempura sauce with ground radish on the right.

Veggie tempura course! Often includes potato, some kind of cucumber, etc. I dipped these in a wasabi salt and it was the best.

3. Okonomiyaki:
Okonomiyaki is like a Japanese pancake, but savory. These are one of my faves, and ingredients vary by location, but they are usually filled with a mixture of wheat batter, octopus, cabbage, ginger, pork, mayo, and sweet sauce. There are these great restaurants you can go to, where they cook them on a hibachi in front of you, or some where you can even cook your own.

Mark, Kate and I went to an okonomiyaki resty in Tokyo. But the man cooked it for us. Because we clearly had zero idea what to do.

Our little individual okonomiyakis cooking (see, you can have different ingredients!)

Complete with Pikachu fans to keep us cool (sold. This place is sold)

Finished product - with a healthy drizzle of mayo. Which I could totally eat out of the bottle, confession. Japanese mayo tastes noticeably different than regular mayo - a little sweeter and creamier.

4. Food Stalls:
Ok, so this doesn't count as one particular food item, but somewhere along the way, you will absolutely run across Japanese food stalls - whether outside a tourist attraction, or in a small street food festival, or at a community event, etc.  They often have the same delicious staples: yakisoba (fried noodles), takoyaki (octopus dough balls?? How do I make these sound as delicious as they are???), okonomiyaki (see above),  yakiniku (meat on sticks), etc. etc. And DESSERTS.

A lovely little street festival we ran across in Tokyo

Takoyaki! Delicious little balls of octopus, ginger, green onion, batter, a special sweet sauce, and mayoooo. Like okonomiyaki, but in baby ball form

Here is the okonomiyaki stall
A man making animal shaped lollies out of sugar

A mountain of yakisoba and its mayo topping

5. Japanese Curry:
Have you ever had Japanese curry? Because you need to. It's much less thick, and browner (am I selling this properly), but it has a very particular taste to it. They usually pour it over rice like a sauce, and it usually involves potatoes and meat as well, with a side of pickled ginger. I love it.

Japanese kare!

6. Sushi:
Of course. The main star. Japan is obviously the king of sushi, from the ultra-expensive swanky tasting menus in Tokyo's most intimate sushi bars, to the local cheap, quick, and easy conveyor belt sushi joints. You can find the gamut of sushi everywhere, it's super available, and yes, it is more delish here than back home.

An amazing chirashi bowl

My omakase sushi tasting at the Tsukiji Fish Market - sushi at its simplest, and most delicious

Kaiten sushi! Which is conveyor belt sushi. They usually just charge you by plate, and most have the option of you being able to order specific items from the sushi chef that they will send you directly through the conveyor, in case you're iffy about how long the sushi's been chilling on the belt (I never am, though maybe I should be....?)

7. Tonkatsu:
Lightly tempura deep-fried pork cutlets. Sometimes topped with an egg.  And a side of cabbage. And then dipped in a special tonkatsu sauce (they have special sauces for everything here!).

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8. Japanese Desserts:
Yo. I know I keep gushing over every item, but Japanese desserts are on another LEVEL. These are the main culprit for making me fat when I studied abroad. And in the 2.5 weeks I was in Japan this time around too. You all know who to blame.

I think it's because there's so much variety, they're usually very light, and nothing is too sweet (I hate the oversaturated sweetness you get in a lot of the American desserts). Japanese cakes are light, fluffy, and decorated/presented so beautifully that you think there's no way they can be that bad for you. Red bean desserts are delish. Green tea ice cream rules my life. And the other things they come up with, man....

This strawberry cream puff was epic

DO YOU SEE THIS WINDOW OF EPIC DESSERTS?!! I may have walked by, and then dragged Karim back later to sample one of the ridiculous ice cream parfaits

Here is said green tea ice cream parfait. Perfection.

An epic wall of crepes

K8 and our dessert crepe we couldn't resist having in the middle of the afternoon

9. Other:
Contrary to belief, I was not running around Japan taking photos of every thing I was eating (ok lies. I was.) But there were things I def missed taking photos of that are more than mention-worthy. In fact, these are some other must-eats I haven't mentioned yet: sukiyaki (Japanese hotpot), Japanese BBQ (they marinate the meat and it's AMAZE), karage chicken (fried chicken), shabu-shabu (I don't know how this differs from sukiyaki, tbh), and so much more! There are so many more foods that are region-specific, or variations on the items I've already mentioned. You could seriously eat your way through Japan. Also, go get yourself some udon.

And gyoza! Though I'm fairly certain these were originally stolen from the Chinese.....
But that doesn't make them any less tasty

Fun Eating Rules of the Day:
  • Again, no eating and walking. It's rude. But yes, it is also torture to be holding something delicious and not being able to eat it while you're walking. The struggle is real.
  • No passing items between chopsticks. Also rude. You have to put it on the plate first, if you're trying to get a food item to someone else.
  • It is bad form to stick your chopsticks standing up in your rice, as this symbolizes what you do at a grave - and it's bad juju.

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