Japanese food and I got along great. Not once did I find myself on the phone with room service, desperately negotiating in broken Japanese for a bowl of sugary and familiar cereal. (Disclaimer: I did get McDonald’s once. Disclaimer 2: I also brought my own peanut butter, which helps a lot with homesickness of the American tum.)
Anyway, here are 14 great things I ate in Japan.
A pickle on a stick in Arashiyama.
The first thing I think of when I miss Japanese food is Kyoto’s pickles on a stick. Odd-shaped, fresh and light, they were magical. When I bought one at the base of the Kiyomizu-dera temple, the vendor had me say, “1, 2, 3 YAY!” before I ate it. I liked that.
2. Giant, Fluffy Pancakes
Somehow the Japanese have figured out how to make pancakes, french toast and waffles defy gravity. These Japanese delights are taller and thicker than ours, and possibly reveal how all breakfast items should be. This maple pancake at Tokyu Hands’ Be Hands Be location made me so happy.
3. This Pile of Guacamole at Pignon in Shibuya
I will never forget this tartare shaped pile of guac. It was so bright with flavor and intensely amazing. It also hit right when I was missing my daily dose of avocados.
4. Huge Japanese Grapes
I came across these huge grapes multiple times, and was always enamored with them. (After one particularly expensive dinner, Neil and I both got ONE, just one, of these grapes served to us.) A quick search reveals they are called Kyoho grapes, aka giant mountain grapes. I will miss them. The pic above shows them as a centerpiece in a dessert at the Park Hyatt hotel in Tokyo.
5. Sushi Iwa
We didn’t actually eat as much sushi as we expected to in Japan. If you search for a good sushi joint, you’ll probably find a bunch of “great sushi dinners for under $100” lists. We decided to splurge once on the best of the best, or at least Steve Jobs’ favorite sushi, at Sushi Iwa in Kyoto. We split a tasting menu and a bottle of sake and had a killer time. We even got to chat with the chef and watch him cook.
6. Green Tea Ice Cream
I love green tea-flavored anything, so I planned to have green tea ice cream every day in Japan. I quickly learned that it is most available at tourist destinations (temples and shrines especially), so plan your eating agenda accordingly.
7. Traditional Kaiseki Dinner
In Kyoto, we sprung for a pricey kaiseki dinner at Kodaiji Manjiro, which features seasonal, local ingredients. We had no idea what we were eating half the time, but we know we had some amazing octopus and also a red ball of waxy stuff that was very tasty. Put your fate in the hands of the chef!
8. Ramen, Ramen Everywhere
We actually ate way more ramen than we did sushi. It’s just so fatty and salty and comforting. Plus you get to order from a machine, which is fun. The above is at Fuunji in Shinjuku, the below is at Afuri in Ebisu. You should also get ramen in the Ramen Koji at the Kyoto station, and play a lot on the light up stairs on your way there.
9. Lunch at the Park Hyatt Delicatessen
We stayed at the Park Hyatt hotel in Tokyo for two nights (thanks, credit card perks!) and loved their little delicatessen on the second floor. Everything was delicious, fresh and affordable.
10. Lots of Tonkatsu
Tonkatsu is Japanese for “pork chicken finger.” Not really. But that’s basically what it is. Very comforting to the American palate. Plus, it comes with a radish salad, which is refreshing.
11. Delicious Tasting Menu in Omotesando
Our friend Stasha was kind enough to treat us to a delicious tasting menu in the posh Omotesando neighborhood. Everything had fresh flavors of yuzu and dashi and warmed us up from the inside out.
12. Kushikatsu in Osaka
Kushikatsu is an Osakan food tradition of deep frying ingredients on a stick. Basically, it’s Minnesota State Fair food, all the way across the world. We were in love. We had a delicious meal of fried food and giant beers at Kushikatsu Daruma in Osaka’s Venice-like Dotonbori area. You’ll know you’re there once you see the angry chef above.
13. Fresh Fish at the Nishiki Market
At Kyoto’s Nishiki market, you can buy a skewer of raw fish with lemon and eat it street. All the cool kids were doing it, so I did too.
14. Soba at Kawasemi in Nakameguro
After all that fried goodness, this soba meal felt fresh and healthy, good for the soul.
I can’t say I ate everything Japan had to offer in just two weeks, but I left very full and happy. Until next time!