I can’t believe it’s been a year since I was in Japan! You guys have probably seen my other posts on what to do in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. But I realized that I have yet to dedicate a post to the most important part of the trip: FOOD! Ok, maybe not the most important part, but food is a huge part of the culture in Japan. Hence why it deserves its own post. Hope you guys enjoy! No specific restaurants for the most part (only because I always forgot to write down names), but these food categories should be enough of a starting point for those of you trying to plan out your food options in Japan.
1. Okonomiyaki: Now this is how you do a pancake! I think okonomiyaki is best described as a cross between a pancake and an omelet. I think a certain style of okonomiyaki also uses noodles, as if it didn’t have enough carbs already. The place I went to in Osaka was super cool–everyone sits bar-style around a stave, and your food gets made right in front of you! You can more-or-less customize the toppings. I remember adding hella green onions to mine. So delicious. Veggies, meat, carbs…all packaged up into a thick pancake. Definitely more filling than it looks, so it’s nice if you go with a larger group. That way, you can try a little bit of everything.
2. Tsukemen: Ah, I could talk about tsukemen for days. In some ways, it is very similar to traditional ramen. You have your broth, your noodles, your toppings. But unlike regular ramen, the broth and noodles are kept separate for tsukemen. Tsukemen is known as “dipping noodles.” So because of the dipping factor, the assumption is that you’re not consuming as much broth as you normally would with the noodles–just enough to coat them lightly. Thus, the broth when it comes to tsukemen is often a lot thicker, and not really that drinkable by itself because it’s so rich and salty. But as a light coating on the noodles, it’s delicious!
3. Ramen (in isolation): I’d say that eating ramen alone is an almost therapeutic experience, but I think eating ramen in general is therapeutic…Anyway, if you haven’t dined at one of these famed Ichiran isolation booths, you should definitely give it a try! You can sit next to friends/family, but there will be a divider separating each of you. So you’ll have your own private eating space. Each booth is connected to the kitchen by a small window that they use to deliver your food through. Once the food is out, they shut the window so you can eat in peace. The ramen here is fantastic. I love how the broth is so simple (and relatively light) but carries so much flavor. The ordering process is kind of confusing if it’s your first time. You use the vending machine, and they have workers there who will guide you if you need help. The ticket that gets printed from the vending machine is what you hand over to the kitchen staff after you get seated. It’s a pretty cool experience overall.
4. Udon: So I grew up eating udon for breakfast. It’s super easy to make and it keeps you full for hours. The noodles are thicker in texture compared to ramen–much denser and chewier. Anyway, I associate udon with breakfast now. I don’t know if it’s actually a thing in Japan (my Japanese friend says no), but there were a bunch of udon shops around where I was staying in Tokyo that were open pretty early in the morning, so breakfast seemed like a good option. It’s super cheap, you pick your choice of ingredients/toppings, and they make the noodles on the spot and scoop a generous serving of broth over them. Piping hot, but delicious! Super comforting in the morning 🙂
5. Kyoto-style sushi: This style of sushi is pretty different, at least in terms of appearance. I highly recommend the Saba version of the Kyoto-style sushi. Saba (mackerel) is what Kyoto is known for. It’s fermented in sushi vinegar with sushi rice packed underneath. Now that I think about it, it’s almost like a cross between sushi and nigiri, especially given how much rice they use relative to fish. But the fish is super high-quality. Thanks to this place, I’m a new fan of mackerel! Managed to find a couple places in NorCal that serve a similar version of this kind of sushi. Will share in a later post 🙂
6. Fresh sushi from Tsukiji Market: Aite, so we didn’t make it to the famed fish auction…we had just gotten in the night before and the thought of having to wake up at 3am was…less than appealing, to say the least. So we went for breakfast instead at around 8am (still pretty early by my standards). A lot of the restaurants surrounding the market get their fish from the market super early. Which means that there’s no better place to go if you’re looking for a fresh sushi breakfast. Unfortunately, 8am was still not early enough. The lines for all the restaurants were already wrapping around outside, and these Japanese restaurants aren’t big yo. There are no sign in sheets either, so you’re literally stuck waiting. We didn’t get to try the sushi restaurant that we had our eyes on (Sushi Dai–which people claim to be the best sushi restaurant in Japan) because the line was already insane, but the one next to it (didn’t catch the name) wasn’t a bad alternative. I had freshly fried tempura with rice, miso soup, salad, and tuna sashimi. That tuna sashimi was amazing. So fresh–the texture was perfect. Literally melts in your mouth.
7. Boxed meals from the grocery store: Boxed meals are definitely the way to go if you’re catching a long train ride, for example, and need something for lunch! The grocery stores here have a HUGE selection of boxed meals. You’ll definitely have a hard time choosing. Rice dishes, sushi, skewers, you name it! And they’re all boxed so beautifully. Prices are reasonable and the quality of the food is top-notch. I could have wandered these grocery stores all day.
8. Japanese BBQ: I had Japanese BBQ twice during my trip. The first was at a small local restaurant near Tokyo (few subway stops away), thanks to a recommendation from a friend. Nobody there spoke English, so I guess it was pretty authentic? Still not sure what exactly we ended up ordering, but the meat was delicious!! Look at all that marbling! The meat was super tender and full of flavor. In both places that we went to (the second was a BBQ restaurant in Kobe), you cook the meat yourself. So part of the outcome of the meat rests on you, haha. But they had a great selection, and all of the different cuts that we tried were delicious! Well worth the trek.
9. Green-tea soft serve: You can find green-tea soft serve all over Japan. The first time I had it was at a vendor booth at a market in Kyoto. So good!! And for the rest of the trip I was constantly on the lookout for green-tea ice cream. It’s the perfect thing on a hot day, and it was super hot when we were in Japan. So the ice cream was a life saver. The green-tea flavor is nice because it’s light and refreshing. So even though you are eating ice cream it feels like you’re just having a healthy snack. Or maybe that’s just what I keep telling myself to make myself feel better 🙂
10. Sundaes: These sort of go along with the green-tea soft serve. They go all out with sundaes here…I can’t even remember all the ingredients they used in the one pictured above. But they’re delicious! These are, of course, pricier than a cone of soft-serve, but if you share with a friend (definitely recommend…since they are quite large), it’s totally worth. I usually opted for sundaes with green tea ice cream, red bean, and mochi. But a lot of them also come with ingredients like cereal flakes, cherries, whipped cream, etc. So filling, but so good. These are on the heavier side though, so unlike the green tea soft serves, it’s hard to tell yourself that it’s only a healthy snack 🙂
Hope you guys enjoyed this list!! Anything else ya’ll would recommend? For those of you who want to pin this post for later: