As many of you know, I spent my summer vacation (July 24 – August 1) in Japan. Due to plans and health issues, I made little time within the past couple of weeks to blog. Yes, it’s true. I was sick this past week once again. My immune system can’t seem to get strong here, as my job is high-energy and high stress, and I am constantly exposed to new viruses.
Back to Japan. I went with Eric and Antonio to several cities. The rough itinerary is below. The links to my Facebook photo albums are under the itinerary. Feel free to see the hundreds of photos I took by clicking on the links.
July 24: Arrive in Tokyo in the early afternoon
July 25: Depart Tokyo in the morning and take bullet train to Kyoto
July 26: Kyoto
July 27: Side trip to Nara
July 28: Depart Kyoto in the evening and arrive in Kobe at night
July 29: Leave Kobe in the morning, visit Himeji, and arrive at Hiroshima in the afternoon
July 30: Visit Miyajima, depart Hiroshima and take the bullet train back to Tokyo
July 31: Tokyo
August 1: Explore more of Tokyo and depart for the airport in the afternoon
Tokyo Part 1
Kyoto Part 1
Kyoto Part 2
Kyoto Part 3 and Nara
Kobe, Hiroshima, Himeji
Tokyo Part 2
This post will be devoted to the delicious food I ate in Japan. My next posts after this one will focus on 1) my favorite temples and shrines and 2) the culture, descriptions of each city and fun activities that we did.
Vending Machine Meal
The first meal I’m going to talk about is a “vending machine meal.” What is a vending machine meal? Well, some inexpensive restaurants have a “vending machine” to take the place of a waitress. Each machine has a short description of the meal written on a button, and you simply press the button (meal) you want and pay the machine. The machine then prints out a ticket, which you must bring to someone at the restaurant counter. They take your ticket and call you when your food is done. Our first dinner in Japan was a vending machine meal in a very trendy area called Shibuya in Tokyo.
Meal Vending Machine
With the help of some pictures and the lady behind the counter, we each ordered our meals. Mine was delicious and very reasonably priced. Basically, it was a piping hot bowl of rice topped with heaps of flavorful chicken, sprouts and onions. And, they gave us a raw egg to crack and mix/cook into the meal.
My Vending Machine Meal
Of course, the meal could not be complete without some chopped pickled ginger on top. The restaurant had a huge tub of it, and it was a great addition to the dinner!
Tub of Pickled Ginger
I ate sushi twice in Japan. The sushi was mainly nigirizushi-style (raw fish on top of rice and wasabi) and sashimi-style (just raw fish). I did eat a couple of tuna rolls, but Western-style special rolls are not very common.
Our first sushi experience was at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, where different dishes move along a conveyor belt, and you choose whatever looks good. This sushi was nothing short of great and was also reasonably priced. There were lots of types of fish (different cuts of tuna, salmon, mackerel, yellow tail and more I can’t remember), eel, cooked shrimp, raw shrimp, raw squid, raw octopus, cooked octopus, egg, and many other dishes I could not recognize.
Conveyor Belt Sushi Restaurant
Conveyor Belt Sushi Restaurant
My second sushi experience was at the infamous Tsukiji Fish Market (more on this market in my next posts) in Tokyo. If you want fresh fish, this is the place to go. There were several fresh sushi restaurants to choose from, and they all had lines out the door… at 9 AM! My first sushi breakfast was at one of these restaurants. YUM! By the way, I do not recommend eating raw shrimp. It’s a popular sushi dish in Japan, but I had a hard time stomaching it.
My Sushi Breakfast
The second one from the left on the bottom row might have been a raw clam, but I don’t remember. That one was my least favorite, after the raw shrimp on the top right. The one on the bottom right was good, but I also forget the name. My favorite was definitely the tuna.
My Sushi Breakfast
Notice my meal came with miso soup and green tea, both very common in Japan. The miso soup was so good!
Japan has tons of noodle dishes, including curries and ramen. Most noodle dishes consist of udon noodles (thick wheat noodles) or soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat flour. One of my favorite noodle dishes is cold soba noodles with dipping sauce. The sauce has a soy-sauce base, but it is much sweeter. You simply put a little wasabi, onions and seaweed in the sauce and dip the noodles in the sauce. Apologies, these pictures aren’t the greatest.
Noodle Dish with Cabbage and Ginger - Similar to a Chinese Dish
Soba Noodles with Wasabi, Onions, Seaweed and Dipping Sauce
Udon Curry - Very Good!
All I can say is YUM YUM YUM! Okonomiyaki is incredible and also reasonably priced. What is this hard-to-pronounce dish? It’s a Japanese pancake. If you’re thinking breakfast pancake, you couldn’t be more far off. Okonomiyaki can have a number of ingredients, but mine had dough, green onions (sometimes), cabbage, pork, sauce, sprouts, udon noodles (sometimes) and a fried egg (sometimes). The ingredients can either be Osaka-style (mixed), or Hiroshima-style layered (layered). I tried both kinds, which are equally phenomenonal. The pancake is usually topped with seaweed flakes, bonito flakes, pickled ginger and sauce.
Hiroshima - Cooking the batter
A Lovely Brochure on Okonomiyaki
Hiroshima-Style Finished Product
Here is a video of our Hiroshima chef making our okonomiyaki.
Shabu-shabu. Another wonderfully delicious meal. It’s a Japanese hot pot, where you cook meat and veggies in boiling water and then dip the juicy food into ponzu sauce or a sesame sauce. We ate at an all you can eat shabu-shabu restaurant that did not disappoint. We had both pork and beef and a number of vegetables. I only took a couple of photos, which do not do shabu-shabu justice.
Before the Hot Pot
The Hot Pot Heating Up
A Successful Dip
Hands down, the best meal of the trip was the Kobe beef meal. In fact, it was one of the best meals of my life. I’m really not sure I will ever eat beef that amazing again, unless I go back to Kobe again. The beef practically melted in my mouth and burst with flavor. Kobe beef is made from a certain type of cow that is on a strict diet and gets massaged every day to ensure tenderness.
The meal came with an aperitif, a smoked salmon appetizer, sesame salad, cold pureed corn soup, fresh vegetables, a bowl of rice, a peach/ice cream dessert and an espresso. I ordered red wine to eat with my beef. The chef cooked right in front of us, as our mouths salivated. The beef was perfectly cooked, and we ate it with crispy strips of perfectly fried garlic. We could also choose to eat our beef with ponzu sauce, soy sauce, wasabi and salt and pepper. I tried different combinations, and they were all so wonderful. After the chef cooked the beef, he sauteed sprouts in the leftover beef juice/fat. Another tasty side vegetable! It’s official. If I could eat only one thing for the rest of my life, it would be Kobe beef. Here are some pics.
Wine, Aperitif, Chef Sauteing Garlic
Soon-To-Be Crunchy Garlic Strips
Smoked Salmon Appetizer
Raw Kobe Beef
The Veggies About To Get Cooked
* The yellow vegetable is a type of pumpkin, and the white vegetable is a lotus root. Lotus roots are very common in Asia, and they are very good!
Part of the Meal
Sauteing the Sprouts With Leftover Beef
Another Look At The Plate
Green tea is very common in Japan. Both sushi restaurants that I went to served it with the sushi. So, you can drink it casually at restaurants, and you can drink it more formally at tea houses. On my last day in Tokyo, Eric and I decided to go to a tea house in a park. They served us iced green tea with a confection. Because we didn’t know how to drink green tea properly, the woman who served us kindly gave us an English list of tea ceremony “manners” in case we were interested in drinking tea the traditional way. To read the list, click on the photo.
Tea Ceremony "Manners" (click to enlarge)
Confection and Iced Green Tea
Although I’m not a huge fan of the flavor of green tea, it was nice to drink something cold to help with the sweltering heat and humidity.
My Favorite On-the-Go Snack and Refreshment
Since we did a ton of walking on our trip, we would buy snacks to keep us going throughout the day. My best discovery was cheese-flavored crackers called Cheeza. Move over Cheez-It! Cheeza is unquestionably way better. The bag says 51%, so I’m guessing the crackers are 51% cheese. They sure taste like it.
My favorite on-the-go drink could only be found in selected Kirin vending machines, as the drink is made by Kirin. The drink is a lemon-flavored soft drink with no sugar. Definitely very refreshing. I don’t have a picture of the drink, but it’s easy to find a picture of it on Google if you type in “Kirin Lemon.” When walking around Japan in 90-degree weather and 90% humidity, Kirin Lemon hit the spot.
This concludes my Japanese food round-up. Of course, I had other meals, but I only listed the highlights. Japanese food sure is tasty!