Japanese food has so much variety of flavours and textures that I never got tired of the food in Japan. The Japanese are very passionate about food and it shows in the high quality of ingredients and beautiful presentation. These were some of our favourite meals during our two week trip to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
1. Kaiseki Dinner
Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal that is usually prepared with local and seasonal ingredients. Kaiseki meals are often offered as part of an overnight stay at a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn with tatami style rooms). We stayed at a ryokan style hotel just outside of Kyoto with a private hot spring tub overlooking the lake. Dinner was provided at a small private table by a wonderful Japanese woman who did her best to explain each dish and its preparation despite our inability to speak Japanese.
Each dish was carefully laid out on its own piece of Japanese porcelain and was beautifully presented. Each porcelain dish is specially chosen to highlight the particular dish and will be representative of the season. In total, there were probably 14 different dishes that were laid out in front of us. Certain items required more interaction such as the small fish that we were to cook ourselves over a tiny flame. The whole experience is something we will never forget.
Where we ate: Yuzanso Ryokan in Ogoto (next to Lake Otsu and just outside of Kyoto).
Tonkatsu is a breaded deep fried pork cutlet often served with shredded cabbage, rice and a special sauce. We had both had tonkatsu before in more casual settings including in a Japanese curry at the famous CoCo Curry chain, but the restaurant we stumbled upon in Kyoto provided a higher end experience. After a short wait, we were provided a menu with the various types of pork available (the restaurant only serves branded pork from certain areas). The waitress then explained that once we had chosen our meal, all of the side dishes were refillable including rice, shredded cabbage and miso soup. There were also instructions at our table for making the sauce for our pork cutlet. To make the sauce, you start by grinding the sesame seeds, then you add one or two of the sauces provided at the table. They also provide a yuzu dressing for the shredded cabbage. The pork cutlet was exceptional and it was made a bit more fun with the added activity of grinding our own sesame seeds and making our own sauces.
Where we ate: Katsukura Shijo Higashinotoin in Kyoto not far from the Nishiki Market.
3. Tonkotsu Ramen
Tonkotsu (not to be mistaken with Tonkatsu pork cutlet) is a type of ramen that originated in the Fukuoka Prefecture of Japan. The soup is made by boiling pork bones for many hours resulting in a rich fatty broth that is then topped with green onions, pieces of pork (chashu) and a soft boiled egg with the perfect runny yolk.
It seemed like we ate ramen almost every day while we were in Japan and we determined tonkotsu ramen was our favourite type.
Where we ate: Tonchin Shinjuku (Shinjuku area of Tokyo near the Samurai Museum). We were starving after visiting the Samurai Museum and stumbled across this unassuming ramen restaurant which turned into one of our favourite ramen’s of the trip.
My other favourite ramen was a black garlic ramen from a restaurant in the basement of the gigantic Osaka Station but I was unable to locate it again on google maps.
These octopus filled fried balls make an excellent street snack. The street food vendors expertly make these fried dough balls with just chopsticks and a special rounded pan before topping them with a special savoury sauce, seaweed and bonito flakes. Almost every time we saw a stand with these delicious snacks we couldn’t resist stopping for a bite. Freshly cooked, the takoyaki balls are crispy on the outside and molten hot on the inside.
One of the best spots to try takoyaki is the Dotonbori entertainment district in Osaka.
The best way to describe okonomiyaki is a savory Japanese pancake. It is made with a batter and a variety of different ingredients such as cabbage, pork belly or seafood, green onions and other vegetables. The typical ingredients can vary by region with some types of okonomiyaki that include noodles. Similar to the takoyaki, it is topped with a dark savory/sweet sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, pickled ginger, seaweed and bonito flakes.
Where we ate: Manmaru No Tsuki – This fun okonomiyaki restaurant was close to our hotel in Kyoto. We had bar seats right in front of the grill where we could watch the chefs prepare the okonomiyaki and other dishes.
6. Sushi Breakfast at Tsukiji Market
Our first morning in Tokyo and we knew we had to go straight to Tsukiji Market (before they moved to the new location further outside the centre of the city) for some fresh sushi. We walked around the outside food market for a while surveying our options before settling on a small sushi restaurant. We ordered a sashimi platter and a chirashi don (variety of sashimi in a rice bowl) and it was heavenly.
Where we ate: You probably can’t go wrong at any of the sushi restaurants in the Tsukiji Outer Market. As noted above the Tsukiji Fish Market has now moved outside of the city centre but the Tsukiji Outer Market (where all the street food is located) remains in the same location.
7. Street Food
The street food in Japan became a highlight of our trip due to the variety of choices that were available, many of which were completely new to us. In addition to takoyaki that was mentioned above, we also tried:
Manju or Agemanju – small deep fried treat filled with something sweet like red bean paste, matcha or sesame.
Mochi – Japanese sweet treat made with glutinous rice.
Matcha – finely ground green tea leaves that can be prepared as a tea or made into all sorts of desserts.
Melon Bread or Melon Pan – a type of sweet bun that is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. We tried melon bread hot from the oven and filled with matcha ice cream.
Where we ate: Nakamise street in front of the Asakusa temple.
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