If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m obsessed with food. It’s been something that I developed over the years, and I have Mr Ana to thank for that. He is a wonderful cook (so is his mum!) and has introduced me to all manner of things that I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.
So during my travels I’ve tried a huge variety of things and it’s gotten to the point where I actually research my holidays around the meals I will eat. Some might consider that strange and even excessive. I just put it down to making the most of my trip!
As I’ve travelled to Japan quite a few times now, I’ve developed a bit of a visual diary of some of the awesome food I’ve tried.
On my first trip to Japan, Mr Ana’s friend took us to try tempura in a famous restaurant in Asakus – Daikokuya. Daikokuya is an institution in Asakusa – many obachans and ojiichans line up well before the restaurant opens at 11am. Daikokuya is famous for its ebi tendon – a rice bowl drenched in tendon sauce and topped with big tempura prawns. It’s a bit different from your stereotypical tempura as it has a strong sesame oil taste and the tempura is chewy, not crunchy. I really loved this dish and it’s my go to place for tempura – I make the effort to get to Daikokuya before 11am and line up with all the retirees.
I really enjoy eating tonkatsu and stumbled across Katsukura a few years ago. Katsukura is a katsu restaurant from Kyoto and the branch we go to is in Takashimaya Times Square in Shinjuku. I usually go for the premium pork cutlet, which is a bit more expensive then the standard pork cutlet (¥2800 bs ¥1800) – however it is so tasty and juicy that it’s well worth it. Perfectly crunchy coating cooked well so it doesn’t taste oily. I also love their endless supply of cabbage salad, which I always drench in yuzu dressing. Their barley tea is also very enjoyable. On my last trip to Tokyo, I ate there twice!
Omurice is something that I love to eat. I don’t get to eat it on every trip and don’t really have a regular place, but it’s very easy to find on the restaurant levels of major department stores. My favourite kind is the omurice that is split open (like below) with demi-glace sauce. It’s not a complex meal (well, the demi glace sauce can be), but it’s a meal that always makes me happy.
While in Hakodate, Hokkaido, we visited the fish market to have a walk around and eat lunch. Hokkaido is well known for its produce, and is famous for the variety of crab you can find there. So when we found a restaurant to eat lunch, I ordered a sushi rice bowl topped with fresh crab and salmon roe. The crab was fluffy and sweet, and the salmon roe was slightly salty and very fresh. And it only cost ¥1500!!!
Ms N, a local of Hokkaido, insisted that we try shio ramen while we were visiting. Shio (salt based) ramen is famous in Hokkaido, and Ms N took us to Ikkokudo to try it. Luckily we arrived just before the lunch rush, as we would have been turned away if we arrived 10 minutes later. Shio ramen is much lighter than tonkatsu ramen, so you don’t feel so full and heavy after a bowl. The ramen noodles where perfectly al dante and chewy (yum!), and the fresh shallots went very well with the chicken shio stock. I don’t know when I’ll have the opportunity to visit Hokkaido again, however I think shio ramen is my new favourite!
I love sweet things and when I saw a busy little stall in Nakamise in Asakusa, I lined up without really knowing what I was lining up for. Turns out that I lined up for a little ice cream sandwich. The ice cream is sandwiched in little wafer cups shaped in a lantern shape, after the giant lantern sitting under the Kaminarimon (thunder gate) in Asakusa. I chose green tea as it’s my favourite – a nice little snack while having a stroll and looking at all the bits and bobs.
I read about Kyo Hayashiya while researching for my last trip. A teeny cafe that specialises in all things green tea, it has quite a few locations across Japan. However I visited the one that lives in Lumine in Shinjuku. It has all of 6 seats in the cafe, so it’s often hard to find a seat – best to go at odd times of the day (before lunch, late afternoon, or just before it closes at 9:30 or so). I chose a dessert set that had a generous serve of green tea ice cream (my fave), some green tea jelly, and a bit of green tea milk at the bottom of the glass. The dessert came with a hot green tea. The jelly wasn’t that sweet but had an intensive green tea flavour which balanced out the sweetness of the green tea ice cream. And when I thought my mouth would freeze over from the ice cream, I took a sip of green tea which warmed me up. I love this place!
When researching for my solo trip to Japan last year, a very kind person on Trip Advisor emailed me a map of cool things to eat in Shinjuku. One of the places she suggested that I try was Grom Gelato in one of the Marui department stores. Grom is originally from Italy and has grown to have branches all over the world (not in Australia though!). Very popular with Japanese customers, I patiently lined up to get a small cup of gelato. I chose dark chocolate (my fave since trying it in France) and also salted caramel (another fave obsession of mine). The gelato was very smooth and creamy, and more soft than the usual gelato I have tried. It was sweet but not unpleasantly so – dark chocolate was a good choice. I had to eat it fairly quickly otherwise it would melt. Grom have a limited number of seats, however I grabbed one facing the street and did a bit of people watching while I ate my gelato.
Snaffles cheese cake is exclusively sold in Hakodate in Hokkaido – and nowhere else. We searched high and low for the cafe and bought a box to enjoy while driving back towards Sapporo. Individually packed for convenience, these little cheese cakes are ridiculously light and creamy, with a slight tang from the cream cheese. One of the best cheese cakes I have ever tried. Yummmmm…
Crepes are very popular in Japan so there are plenty of places to try them. I normally grab one if I drop by Harijuku (they have a huge Daiso there that I like to visit). Sure, there not as good as the Crepes I’ve had in Paris, nor is the ice cream as good as the gelato I’ve had in Italy. But it’s a handy little snack if you crave something sweet.
So there you have it – a gazillion things to try in Japan. You will never run out of options!