I always describe myself as a foodie. Well, recently at least. Before, I felt that saying you’re a foodie means you like expensive meals and frequent Michelin starred restaurants where you nod cleverly at the wine pairing. And that’s not really me. Yes, I do love a good wine, but ask me if I get the fruity note with a bit of sweetness, then I’m lost.
But now being a foodie means you appreciate food, street food, restaurant food and even a delicious home cooked meal. And for me Japan was a foodie heaven, so I decided to share this post on eating in Japan.
And eating in Japan doesn’t have to be expensive. Yes, you can visit the world famous sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, the only one with three Michelin stars and I hear it’s absolutely amazing and we almost ended up booking a tasting menu before we decided that (like a very expensive bottle of champagne) it might be lost on us. But Tokyo offers so much choice that we didn’t regret our decision. Maybe we’ll return when we perfect our sushi knowledge. But in the meantime, we’ll just sit in front of our telly and watch Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, the film behind the world’s utmost sushi expert.
But eating in Japan is so much more than just sushi, I’ve had food I never even thought I’d try and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to do so. We started our trip in Tokyo as some of my friends live there and we thought it’ll be easier starting in a big city. Tokyo is a foodie heaven and not only because of the abundancy of restaurants, but also because most of them are very reasonably priced.
Golden Gai is a back alley, that looks really unimpressive and if it was in London, you’d probably opt not to walk down it. But in Tokyo, you do. The street is filled with small (and I mean miniscule) bars and restaurants. They don’t even look open most of the time, so you need to gather your courage and just walk in. We went to Nagi, the best ramen place according to plenty of websites. Climbing really steep stairs we were faced with the tiniest restaurant ever. It maybe sits about ten people and there’s not enough space for two to move at the same time.
You pay, as in many Japanese restaurants, via a machine before you sit down. I love this efficient system to bits. The ramen was absolutely delicious. The broth was so rich I would quite happily drink it on its own, the depth of flavour was incredible. I loved the four tiny dried fish on top and the noodles that weren’t too soft. If you have ramen in Japan, Nagi is the place where you have to go.
We stayed in Shinjuku, a perfect area if you want to walk around in the evening as it’s filled with bars and restaurants. And they won’t break the bank. Sutameshi will set you back less than £10, so you can save those much needed Yen for a drink. Drinking in Japan is more expensive than anything else as you’ll always have to pay a cover charge too. For some reason you can’t drink without getting snacks 🙂
Fans of sushi should head to Tsukiji Fish Market. It’s not only an enormous operation, but the food on offer will expand your horizons. I tried seaurchins with scallops and had really fresh sushi and random snacks from dried fish to honeyed seaweed. If you’re an early riser (or if you don’t like sleeping at all), you can try and queue for the tickets to the tuna auction. They only allow up to 120 people in, so you need to queue at 3am for the 5.25am auction. We opted for warm and cozy beds and a 9am breakfast instead.
Being foodies we couldn’t skip a kaiseki dining experience. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. Kaiseki also means a collection of skills and techniques needed to prepare the food. Don’t ask me which restaurant we went to as they all look very similar and the fact there were no English signs didn’t help.
We walked from Shijo Dori down Hanamikoji Dori and then ended up in one of the streets on the left. All the restaurants and houses are traditional and look very similar. Look for the ones that take card if you don’t have a lot of cash on you. Kaiseki dinner was the quietest meal of my life so far. There’s no music playing, no loud chattering. At some point I found myself whispering as I felt like speaking out loud will destroy the tranquility. But the food was, as every single time in Japan, a real treat.
When in Kyoto there’s no way you’ll escape matcha. Lucky me. I love matcha, not because of the abundance of antioxidants (although this may be why I don’t age), but because of the delicious taste. But it’s not everybody’s cup of tea (yes, I know, comedy isn’t my strong point). If you don’t want the tea, go to one of the tea houses in Gion, Tsujiri Tea House is very well known and you can’t miss it as there’s always a massive queue outside. They do incredible matcha sundaes, so incredible that I kept coming back to try more.
The sundae comes with cream, jelly, little dumplings that are a real joy to eat and pack a surprising amount of flavour, even though they keep it subtle. And nato beans. Nato beans are an acquired taste and I struggled eating them at breakfast. They are fermented soybean and very sticky, but in the sundae they worked incredibly well and I really enjoyed this healthy treat.
We tried a full Japanese breakfast too. I wouldn’t be able to write an all-encompasing post on eating in Japan without their version of the English fry-up. Sakakura is an insignificant little eatery that serves a traditional breakfast for 500 Yen, which is extremely good value. Egg rolls, miso soup, rice, tofu and greens on a plate are a good way to start a day packed with activities as you won’t need food for a while. I was never a big fan of tofu, but the proper one you get in Japan has converted me. Creamy and light, it’s a perfect breakfast dish.
Eating in Japan wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the bakeries. Doughnuts filled with curry, melon buns (yes, bread that’s green and tastes like melon) and other treats kept finding their way into my bag for the long train journeys. Don’t be scared by the unknown, just throw a bunch of random goodies on your plate and enjoy the little flavour surprises they hide. I promise you won’t regret the choices.
Every foodie needs to visit markets in any country they visit. Nishiki Market in Kyoto is a haven for all foodies. Abundance of street food, hot and cold, fresh produce and snacks, whatever you want, you can find it there. I loved the octopus balls, squid, matcha lattes we got to try. My only regret is that I can’t eat more, because I would have loved to stop and try every single thing on offer.