I love going to Japan to eat all the wonderful food… People who haven’t been don’t really understand. Japanese food is NOTHING like the food served in Japanese restaurants around the world where you can have sushi, tempura, ramen, udon, meat dishes, fish dishes, or whatever you feel like, all under one roof.
The first time my husband came to Japan with me, I asked him what he wanted for dinner. He looked at me and said he will decide once we get to the restaurant. I explained to him that we need to decide before, as depending on what he wanted, we would go to a specific restaurant. He looked confused. I explained that if he wanted noodles, we would go to a ramen-ya or a soba-ya. If he wanted sushi we would go to a sushi-ya…. Now he fully understands, before we even land in Japan, he’s already requesting that our first meal be at a ‘okonomiyaki-ya’! Okonomiyaki is like a Japanese cabbage pancake with seafood and/or meat, basically anything you want inside. You get these cooked at your table, usually in very small and intimate restaurants.
In fact most restaurants are very small, often only one or two people inside cooking and serving. A very intimate and cosy feel, as if you’re going into someone’s kitchen to eat. When we arrived in Tokyo this time, the kids were very tired and hungry so we rushed to a udon-ya. My kids absolutely love udon. The lady at the restaurant was surprised that my little girls each ate one whole full portion. From then on, every day, Gaja and Soraya asked for udon…. of course we couldn’t let them decide our meal everyday, there are just too many dishes we need to have whenever in Japan!
On top of my list of things to eat when in Japan is ‘yakiniku’ which is the Japanese version of a Korean barbecue. The meat is cooked at your table and enjoyed with all the little side dishes. My parents love it so much they even have a yakiniku table at home, and I swear one day I will have one in my home too! In fact now that I think about it, the Japanese really like cooking at the table - you also have the delicious ‘shabu-shabu’ which is Japanese hot pot, you cook at the table the meat, vegetables, noodles, etc. Another one of my husbands favourites.
This time my kids really got into ‘yakitori’, chicken skewers, which are often made on the street as well as in little ‘drinking’ restaurants, where you sit and have a few drinks while enjoying freshly grilled yakitori. My girls also love the ‘tonkatsu-ya' where they serve breaded deep fried pork with shredded cabbage. Ok, they still avoid the shredded cabbage but they just inhale all the tonkatsu! To me, even shredded cabbage is delicious in Japan, and I love having it together with the tonkatsu. My girls all time favourite has to be ‘ramen-ya. Nothing beats a good bowl of ramen, any time of the day…. Most of these places just have a counter with high stools, so we really had to pick and choose where to go because my girls are still too little to sit on high stools, but we still managed to get in a few good bowls of ramen while we were there.
Then you have the ‘tempura-ya’. I’m sorry rest of the world, but you just don’t know how to get tempura right, so please just stop trying….. Tempura in Japan is just amazing. Yes it’s deep fried but it tastes so light and healthy! You can go to a fancy tempura ya where they will deep fry different types of seafood and vegetables right in front of you as you eat, or you can go to casual restaurants that serve ‘ten-don’ which is tempura on top of rice with a special sauce. Also delicious!
Of course while in Japan you have to have some good sushi a few times as well and we really managed to get the best this time - we went to Tsukiji market to experience the whole thing - but this experience deserves a whole blog post on it’s own, so I will be writing about that amazing day in a later post! There is such a misconception that people in Japan make sushi at home. In fact when people hear I am from Japan, they immediately ask if I made sushi. No, in Japan you do not make sushi at home, you go out and have sushi, where the sushi chefs are highly trained. Yes, you would have ‘temaki’ (hand roll) sushi parties at home, but you would not make ‘nigiri’ sushi, that is something left to the professionals.
This time I also managed to get out a few nights with friends, and go to some ‘Izakaya’s’. My favourite and what I miss most about Japan! Izakaya’s are basically drinking places that serve a variety of food that goes well with drinking… something like Japanese tapas!?
I am just trying to wet your appetite here! I am only getting started..... I am excited to share with you some of the best restaurants I went to on my recent trip, in future blog posts, so stayed tuned!