Food of Japan

IMG_20170620_192622 Japan was, in a word, delicious. We didn’t experience a street food culture like the other countries we visited in the region. Instead small specialty shops dominated the food scene. The Japanese reputation for perfection and quality extends to food – serving a delicious meal is considered a point of pride and for many of the smaller shops, perfection is worth pursuing. We paid more for food in Japan than we did in almost any other country. Meals ran about $10 a person, kitchens were not available in the hostels we stayed at, and rapid transit made it hard to stock up on travel type food. We could have saved money by eating mostly gyudon and 7-11 – which we did eat a lot of – but it just wouldn’t have been worth it missing out on so much good food. IMG_20170610_123653

Ramen : Perhaps the most famous of Japanese dishes, noodles are served in a bowl of perfectly made broth, covered with slices of meat, vegetables, seaweed, and usually a soft-boiled egg. Ramen is usually served in small-ish nook type restaurants where perfection is a virtue. The cost is $10-$15 a bowl depending on the shop, and cheap ramen under about $7 is generally worth avoiding. IMG_4230 IMG_3937IMG_20170610_115850 IMG_20170614_201732IMG_20170620_190726 IMG_20170620_190738

Gyudon diners : low priced, quick, and clean. The big three (Yoshinoya, Sukiya, and Matsuya) offer all day deliciously marinated beef and curry with rice or noodles. The selection is usually limited to various combinations of the above, but they taste great and are easy on the budget. IMG_3351 IMG_3352 IMG_5263 Not in exactly the same category, but close, are buffet tempura joints that offer noodles and a plethora of fried veggies as sides. IMG_20170619_131353

Curry : Japanese curry is thick and usually available in very mild, favoring rich earthy flavors over the sharp tang of southeast asian curries. Often served with fried cutlets, curry is available at chain stores like CoCo Ichibanya (a very tourist friendly chain) or at tiny hole in the wall diners, or pretty much anywhere quick food is served. Whether plain or fancy, it’s satisfying and delicious. IMG_20170624_195342 IMG_20170621_204830 IMG_20170619_201553 IMG_6115 IMG_7031 IMG_20170628_200217

Sandwiches and Burgers : Not available quite everywhere – noodles and rice are the staples – sandwiches and their kin make up a niche in Japanese cuisine. The attention to detail is there but I would rank them as acceptable. They’re still good by any standard, but if I had a choice between a sandwich and a ramen place I hadn’t tried – definitely would go for the ramen. The exception is the extremely random cajun restaurant we found in Miyajimaguchi.

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Oddities : This is where we put the pictures of Italian food Japanese style, Okonimiyaki – fried cabbage and eggs – and the distinctive Japanese omelette, a semi-done omelette wrapped around itself into a pouch placed on top of rice. When punctured, the omelette falls down and covers the rice in gooey eggy goodness. IMG_20170618_192208
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7-11 : In the states, eating here is.. questionable. Sure they have the hot food near the front, and snacks, but the Japanese version blows ours out of the water. There is an entire refrigerated section dedicated to freshly made noodles, eggs, salads, sandwiches, rice balls, you name it. The hot-food section offers filled buns and other delicious snacks to go. While we were in Japan, we saw a documentary on 7-11’s food making process – the CEO and other execs taste samples of the food left on the shelf for several days and if they don’t want to eat it, the company doesn’t sell it. It’s cheap and good and very quick. Not the world’s best dining experience but it does well in a pinch and on a budget.
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Desserts and Omiyage : Japan has an obsession with French culture and food. Pastry and tea shops are found all over, and they are great. There is of course the unique Japanese spin on standard pastry, and the pictures speak for themselves. There are self-serve pastry shops in most train stations and all around most cities in Japan. Milk bread is a particular favorite. Similar as foods but entirely different in purpose are omiyage – gifts from traveling. Anytime a Japanese person goes away, they’re expected to come back with a representative gift from the place they visited. They’re usually edible and very often a type of pastry.

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Tokyo Banana
Hiroshima Lemon Tart
Momiji Manju from Miyajima
Apple tart from Aomori
Apple juice from Aomori



Breaded baked apple from Aomori

Apple tart from Aomori
Apple juice from Aomori

Sushi : Once a celebratory treat, Japan has apparently decided it likes sushi as much as the western world does. It’s available all over and in greatly varying price ranges. Most travelers are going to be visiting Jiro’s Sushi (of Jiro Dreams of Sushi and amazing sushi fame), but plenty of options exist to feast on fresh fish. We tried a computer ordered and rail delivered restaurant in downtown Tokyo and also a yell-out-your-order carousel sushi spot right near the station by our hostel. The automatically delivered sushi may have been a bit better, but nothing beats laughing with the chefs over the tourist’s odd fixation with salmon.

This isn’t anywhere near everything Japan has to offer – there’s plenty of restaurant types we didn’t visit and unique local delicacies we missed, but if you visit Japan most of the above should be on your radar. We’re certainly looking forward to going back.

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