The month of August was dedicated to traveling around Japan. The first post gives a first glance on planning, budget and itinerary, while the second summarises the top 10 things that I would absolutely love to import from this awesome country.
One of the reasons I voted for Japan was food. Even though at first sushi did not really intrigue me. On the contrary, I had to play knowledgeable the first time they’ve ordered sushi at our company 😛 Not to mention the training with holding the chopsticks!
But little by little, you learn to love the taste. To understand how much wasabi to take with each bite. To appreciate the fresh fish. To learn that this is the umami taste, one of the five basic tastes together with sweetness, saltiness, bitterness and sourness. Beautiful discovery, isn’t it? The umami taste can be translated as pleasant savory taste.
Little did I know about the variety of food in Japan, though. In one month, we had sushi 3 times. Yes, only 3. Here’s what else we have tried and how we liked it.
Lunch in Kinugawakoen, a small town north of Tokyo. Their dishes are often composed of small diverse portions including rice, fish and pickled vegetables. A small soup is always a must at the beginning of a meal.
A similar variety, but with tempura, instead of fish. Tempura consists of seafood, vegetables or even meat coated with batter and deep fried. It is usually served together with sauce. It was introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century and has become one of the most well known dishes outside of Japan.
Here’s another tempura dish. It was common to have a big bowl of soup with vegetables and tempura aide.
Five course menu at Nikko. Click on each of the pictures below to see what they are. Thanks to Nadina and Piet for the recommendation of this specific restaurant 😉
Yuba, made of soybeans
Sesame paste with wasabi
Cold soup, edamame, eggs, pumpkin, watermelon
Vegetables with cold jelly
The menu, if it helps 🙂
Traditional Japanese breakfast. Even though it looks very stylish and very well taken care of, I would have opted for some old plain bread instead.
Soba for lunch, a sort of pasta with all kind of vegetables.
Loved it, it seems 🙂 [especially the tempura!]
After climbing down Fuji, we’ve treated ourselves with Fuji goodies: coffee and a sweet pastry in the shape of Fuji. They totally love this mountain 🙂
One of my top three dishes was gyutan curry stew. Gyutan is basically beef tongue. It was specific for Sendai area, in the north of the main Island of Japan. Wouldn’t have thought I would like it so much, so if you happen to encounter it, just give it a try 😉
Grilled gyutan (beef tongue). Delicious!
Japanese gyutan dumplings. Filled with meat, they are a wonder aside soy sauce for light evenings.
But of course, we wouldn’t always know what we order. One of the first meals in Hiroshima was the case. Just look at my face watching a bowl of udon (thick noodles)…
This must have been the reason why… 😀
Edamame, or immature soya beans, are steamed and served with salt. You eat just the inside which contains soya beans, looking very similar to the oh-so-known beans.
Okonomiyaki! Order the mix and prepare the food yourself on top of a hot plate right in front of you. You like it medium or well done? No problem, it’s up to you!
Rice with chicken coated with a thin layer of omelette. Tassos called it *calzone rice*. This could easily qualify as an insult for both Japanese and Italians, I know, our apologies. It was a rather sweet dish, which I wouldn’t necessary choose again. But well, part of the experience 🙂
Matcha is powdered Green tea. One of the omnipresent tastes in Japan. The very first day we have tried cold matcha tea. It was also the last time. Needless to say, this is also a taste you learn by trying things. By the end of the trip, I was more open to stuff like croissant with matcha (one of my favourite sweets, found in Himeji!), Oreo with matcha, ice cream matcha and even candy with matcha! As you can guess, they had more of these international brands totally adapted to the local market by adding.. matcha 🙂
Grilled salmon, which as a base type of fish, was very affordable. Mind the presentation 😉
We’ve also tried several juices, the one on the left made of some specific fruits (of course I cannot recall the name :p) found in the region of Ise, also called by our lovely friend, Yuki, the Mecca of Shinto shrines. The second one was a gift of a stranger when we’ve knocked at her door for water. We wished her to be healthy 20 times that day :))
The famous Japanese ‘Shabu Shabu’. Legend says that the meat is from cows that are treated with beer and massage to make their meat soft. You dive the thin slices of meat in the heated soup and while you swing it to get cooked you sing to it ‘Shaaaabuuu… shaaabuu…’
Eel on rice and omelet. Eel is considered a very special delicacy in Japan and people are crazy for it when it is the period of fishing (end of summer).
Food is always enjoyed more in the presence of nice people. We were really fortunate to be hosted by some wonderful people. In Ise, our host Yuki introduced us to his friends and took us for dinner in a very special restaurant. I wouldn’t be able to describe all the things we tried, but it was an assortment of different sashimi (raw fish), meat, vegetables and other Japanese delicacies.
Traditional ‘Kyoto style’ sushi. Found only in one restaurant in the famous area of Gion. Nothing tremendously special but definitely filling for the rest of the day.
That’s it for now 🙂 As pictures testify, there are plenty of dishes to try, even if fish is not your favourite. The Japanese are masters in the way they present their food. They want to make it appealing and varied in terms of taste and colour. Moreover, they are very fast with delivering as we have rarely waited more than 10 minutes to be served an order. How they manage to do this, is a mystery I haven’t resolved yet 🙂
The only disappointment was that I could not find those colourful and (sometimes) unbelievable sweets from Bored Panda that I have dreamed of before going there.
Oh well, need to go again! 🙂