In Japan, when you start a meal, you have to say “Itadakimasu“, meaning “I am grateful to receive this food” and at the end, it’s polite to say “Gochisosama“, meaning “thank you for the food“.
Each Japanese area seems to have its local specialties and it’s gonna be hard to taste everything – not that we don’t want to but there is only so much we can eat, unfortunately! We discovered that Japanese people seem to like their food, sweet or savory, so you can find delights at every hour of the day… let’s try!
You think you know tofu? Come experience the Kyoto cuisine and you’ll discover a whole new world, made of an infinite variety of tofu: grilled to make brochettes, glutinous in salads, or so fresh it almost tastes like a burratta… we couldn’t get enough!
Displayed in super cute little plates, our eyes were as satisfied as our taste buds. Such refinement in preparation requires the gourmet to take his time and to appreciate every single mouthful.
We found the Tofu heaven in Kyoto, down the Nanzen-ji temple: Junsei Restaurant
Japan is well know for its seafood. From the traditional sushis and sashimis to the more surprising tako tamagos, we tasted some delicious seafood specialties!
Those little wheat flour balls are a specialty from Osaka. Filled with diced octopus, they are the perfect snack. You have to like octopus though as you may bite into a red tentacle at some point in the process… but it’s really tasty and fun to eat as you’ll add colors to these little golden balls with takoyaki sauce and sprinkled green laver. Yummy!
Kind of a pancake made of scallions, cabbage, eggs, pork and flour batter, the Okonomiyaki is Osaka’s specialty (even if Hiroshima claims it too)… On top of this “pancake”, some dry pickled ginger, a sweet and thick kind of Worcester sauce, and japanese mayonnaise.
Well, we tried, we had to, but for the first time we’re not convinced by a local specialty… we like the US classic pancakes way better!
This snack is typical Japanese street food and basically consists of a baby octopus whose head is filled with a quail egg. It’s then candied and skewered.
Our eyes were attracted by those little bright red octopuses and if our eyes want something, then we can’t help it…
Oscar liked this snack while I found it too chewy but hey, he had fun eating it!
Walking into Kuromon market in Osaka, you will be surrounded by deliciously appealing seafood: scallops, oysters and other huge prawns grilling on charcoal and smelling like heaven! We tried the scallops and weren’t disappointed, just chewy enough, generous and tender, it was a tasty treat!
Of course, we ate sushis in Japan and of course they’re delicious. Just going to the supermarket was so exciting for us… Japanese have rows and rows of fresh appealing sushis/makis and sashimis, so many choices that we could spend hours choosing a box of 6.
In Kyoto, the sushis specialty is called Sabazuchi. The Saba (mackerel) is fermented in vinegar and wrapped around the rice with pickled seeweed. It’s a very specific flavor, quite vinegary but not bad.
There are 2 places in Kyoto to try those local sushis, Izuju Sushi and Izuu.
Edomae Sushi with akazu
Visiting Tokyo, we couldn’t avoid the Tsukiji market, a huge fish market surrounded by little restaurants serving ultra fresh sushis. After a long walk through the fishermen stalls in the market, we rested for a while at Tsukiji Kagura and tried their specialty: the old Tokyo style sushis. They use a traditional technic of sake fermentation to flavor the rice, giving it a “akazu” flavor and a light brown color. Pan seared salmon, sea urchin, fat tuna and salmon roe sushis, a colorful and tasty plate! It may be only 10.30 am, we had no problem bitting into those delicious sushis!
Less fancy but fun are the conveyor-belt sushi places. It’s very impersonal and you won’t have a nice dinner with your friends in this kind of place but it’s cheap, fast and if you don’t want to bother having a chat with anyone else than your phone, then it’s your spot.
You just have to click on the computer in front of you to order your sushis and they will be delivered in front of you, sliding on the conveyor belt directly from the kitchen. There is no waitress to serve you, just grab your sushi delivery and enjoy!
We ate our fair share of noodle soups and Phòs in South-East Asia but the Japanese noodles cannot be compared.
Ramen are wheat and egg noodles served in a tasty broth and toppings such as pork slices, boiled eggs, green onions and seaweed. Already in NYC, we were completely obsessed with Ramen and had our regular spots – Ippudo or Totto Ramen – so in Japan, ramen motherland, we have to taste every single kind…
And no disappointment at all, we had some pretty delicious ramen:
Our best ramen spots were in Kyoto: Gogyo and Ramen Sen no Kaze restaurants.
Before enjoying authentic ramen, as penniless students, we used to eat instant ramen. Chicken, beef or seafood flavored dried noodles we brought back to life with a cup of boiling water. 5 minutes preparation and 50 cents worth, it was a super convenient and affordable dinner!
Guess what… we found the instant ramen mecca in Osaka! There is indeed a museum dedicated to the dried noodles where you can even create your own recipe! We were like children at Disneyland…
But Ramen aren’t the only variety of Japanese noodles… and while they are “pulled” noodles, Udon and Soba are made by flattening a ball of dough which is then floured and cut.
Udon are the thickest and the most delicious noodles we tried when eaten fresh. Often served with tempura – vegetables, chicken or shrimp – hot or cold, Udon noodles are deliciously chewy and soft.
We found a tiny restaurant specialized in Udon in Tokyo, where we could admire the precise and quick movements of the Udon master preparing our food. An art!
If you like Udon and you happen to be in Tokyo, don’t miss Shin restaurant!
Soba are buckwheat noodles, browner and with a stronger flavor than the other 2. They have a nutty flavor, so you can eat them without any particular seasoning. Hot or cold, don’t be shy and slurp them loudly, it’s gonna be the sign you enjoy them!
Japanese love sweets! We noticed we could find pastries, desserts and candies pretty much everywhere and anytime (not to displease us…).
From delicious Japanese doughnuts filled with light custard or red bean paste to fish shape pancakes and glutinous mochis, there is always something sweet to bite into!
Matcha tea and its recognizable bright green color is everywhere to be found in Kyoto. As Japanese ice creams are also famous for their creamy texture, we wanted to try the matcha parfait so we could conciliate flavor and texture. Japanese are obsessed with parfaits, to which they add their own twist. On top of the ice cream, you’ll probably find japanese ingredients like mochis (glutinous rice balls), red bean paste, sponge green tea cake, colorful agar jelly… the more the merrier, right?!
We won’t lie, the texture of those little additions can be weird but it’s so fun and colorful! The parfait was devoured in less than 15 minutes so I guess we liked it overall!
If you come to Kyoto, check the Tsujiri Tea House out, it’s where the matcha madness happens…
Check those treats out if you come to Japan and don’t worry if there is no English menu available for you to order. Something a bit weird (but very convenient for non-Japanese speaking people) is that dishes are on display at restaurants’ entrances… in their best plastic version! Enjoy!