For many people, the only thing associated with Japanese cuisine is sushi, which conquered the palates of gourmets from across the Vistula a few nice years ago. However, Japan is more than just fish rolls.
Going to Japan, we expected restaurants with subs on every corner, and in the markets, just containers of ready-made take-away sushi. We like sushi and set our minds to finally try real Japanese rolls. Although we managed to try them a few times, we tasted more of the other dishes.
Although it can sometimes be problematic to get along, so you have to order what works for you, it’s worth trying and discovering new flavors. It is important to remember that Japanese cuisine is quite different from ours from the way food is prepared to the seasoning. To us, Japanese cuisine will be associated primarily with the commonly and mightily used Teriyaki sauce, which by the end we were a bit fed up with ;)
So our idea of Japanese cuisine has changed a lot after an almost two-week stay in the cherry blossom country, but one step at a time….
Table of contents
Japanese noodles in a box and “fast” food
The first thing was the food on the plane: seafood, rice and powdered soups reigned supreme on the Dubai-Tokyo route. At any time you could ask for Japanese noodles, which the flight attendants poured boiling water over.
Immediately after landing, we were dazzled by the vending machines at the airport – the sheer number and variety of vending machines overwhelms you, let alone when you look inside and try to order something: all kinds of drinks, snacks, cookies, ice cream, etc. to choose from – sometimes in Japanese, sometimes in English, but you can understand what and for how much. Even then, we didn’t know that vending machines would bravely accompany us throughout the trip.
After a long and exhausting trip, we decided to go to the nearest 7Eleven chain store to buy something to eat – our first thought ‘We’re going to die of hunger here…’. And no, it wasn’t that there was little food, poor selection or little meat, but mostly that we had no idea what was on the shelves and in the refrigerators! Being in a small store, standing in front of a shelf with something in plastic bags, we didn’t even know if what we were looking at was food or not.
Nothing in English, German, Spanish or any language that we could at least read what it is. After much deliberation, we took something that relatively resembled food :) After this first traumatic experience, later it was downhill and more and more tasty :)
The hotel breakfast was more continental, the only highlights were soup and green tea, so we won’t waste time describing them :)
Eating in Tokyo
Many guides recommended a trip to the Tokyo Fish Market for the first day, which we wrote about here. In fact, the amount and variety of fish or seafood sold here is enormous! Many of these animals we couldn’t name or didn’t even know existed. Everything fresh, barely fished out.
Not surprisingly, the Japanese place a very high value on the freshness of food. Trying many things, we have several times had the impression that they are tasteless, mainly because not much seasoning is used – the focus is on quality and just the freshness of the products.
Japan is a paradise for true gourmets – it is home to the largest number of restaurants awarded three stars in the prestigious Michelin ranking.
As you may know, the Japanese are famous for their love of fish and seafood, and it shows at every turn. It is said that they eat everything that is alive and caught from the sea :) Seafood can be found in various forms: baked, boiled, fried, raw – more than once we found them where we didn’t expect them at all, for example, in meatballs(link) or burgers(link). Also, numerous markets and stalls offer snacks and foods that we couldn’t even name (our attention was mainly caught by octopus stuffed on sticks – like lollipops ;) ).
When we go to another country, we want to try as many regional dishes and delicacies as possible, especially those we won’t encounter at home. We ate sushi as a quick snack (you can buy ready-made sets), and we also hit one Japanese restaurant serving typical sushi in downtown Tokyo. Supposedly, the best Sushi is at the bars just outside the Fish Market, but we were deterred by the queues for about an hour of standing.
However, we eventually ended up in, among other places, the pub we wrote about here. Among the guests, we did not see any white people, no signs in English, but somehow managed to get along with an over-sympathetic elderly lady who collected plates by sign. We were all seated around the kitchen, with plates of sushi passing in front of our noses – the kind of restaurant it’s called.
. The plates were of different colors, and each corresponded to a different price. To this day we don’t know exactly what we ate but the important thing is that it was PERFECT! There is also green tea (served to your liking and for free). What was our surprise when on leaving we paid approx. PLN 30 and that’s for two people (reminder: downtown Tokyo ;o ).
Food made of plastic?
Every day we tried to eat something new. As we mentioned, it was sometimes difficult to understand what a particular bar or restaurant actually serves, but here small mock-ups rushed to help.
Well, in front of most places sample plastic dishes are displayed along with prices, so the matter is much simpler – pointing a finger at what exactly we want, we at least know what to expect :) And mock-ups can be found of almost anything (e.g. ice cream, pancakes, ramen soups, tempura etc). Here are some examples:
What else should you try in Japan?
A must-have soup ramen (broth with noodles and side dishes such as egg – beware, sometimes the egg is raw)! Eaten with chopsticks, of course, and slurping is highly recommended :) Plus Tempura (Fish, shrimp, breaded and fried vegetables), Gyoza (dumplings, served as an appetizer), noodles with side dishes -. soba (buckwheat) or udon (wheat)
, or tsukune with rice.
While in Yokohama, we recommend going to the Chinese quarter, where buffets are popular – you pay once, eat as much as you want (including appetizers, main courses, desserts; but drinks pay extra). In Hiroshima, on the other hand, the delicacy is Okonomiyaki – Japanese pancakes with toppings.
We also tried the Terijaki-style chain burgers, but frankly, the distinctive aftertaste stopped appealing to us after a few times.
However, the other flavors and unconventional ideas for combining them are delightful. For example, you can buy ice cream flavored with beans, green tea, potatoes, buckwheat, etc. And it’s hard to decide which to choose. We also saw lots of offbeat types and flavors of various candy bars, cookies and chips familiar to us.
Japanese food is…
Summary: Japanese cuisine can be overwhelming at first, and more than once we had trouble understanding the menu, but after a few approaches it is easy to recognize the basic types of dishes. The owners and waiters offer help and advice on how to eat the dishes served, especially if you look like a confused newcomer from abroad ;)
We took a particular liking to ramen, one serving of which was often enough for two people. On the other hand, after a few days we were fed up with the Teriyaki smell, which we often smell already at the entrance to the restaurant.
Japanese cuisine is very diverse and there is something for almost everyone. Plus, it’s considered one of the healthiest in the world, so take some inspiration.