Last year cookery book author and food blogger Niamh Shields (aka @eatlikeagirl) visited Japan. Here she shares her top 10 reasons for food lovers to visit Japan.
In Japan food is a very serious business. On my visit to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto I found so many reasons to return, and I plan to, many times. Limiting it to ten was a challenge, and there are many more. Check back in on eatlikeagirl.com for more, over the coming weeks.
1. Traditional Japanese Breakfast - the traditional Japanese breakfast is joyful, intricate and very fresh. Fish, mildly cured, marinated and grilled, rice, miso, tofu, all kinds of gorgeousness. Tiny fish dancing with rice grains and popped with sansho peppers. All that, and you leave the table feeling wonderful and ready for the day. A little different to the traditional English breakfast, then! My most memorable one (I think about it all the time), was at Touzan at the Hyatt Regency in Kyoto. See my blog post about breakfast at Touzan here.
2. Japanese Artisans & Food Markets - Japanese artisans are committed to their craft, using techniques that have been in use for hundreds (thousands?) of years. Visit a market and try everything, the pickles, the street food snacks, and buy a handcrafted engraved knife to take home with you. Nishiki Market in Kyoto is enormous and wonderful, and you can get the knife of your dreams at Artisugu, who have been making them for 400 years. Kappabashi in Tokyo also has many knife shops and is a must visit. Blog post about Nishiki Market here.
3. Food Museums - in Japan, all food is celebrated, and there are many food museums. My favourites were dedicated to the instant noodle, which is a serious business there and very well respected. Lots in the UK don’t realise this, as they have only tried Pot Noodle, but the original Nissin Cup Noodle in Japan is a whole other thing. 95 billion servings of instant noodles are eaten worldwide every year, and it all started in Momofuku Ando’s home kitchen in Japan in 1958. His story, and the story of the instant noodle, is celebrated and serves to inspire in the wonderful Cup Noodle Museum in Yokohama. Nearby in Shin-Yokohama is the equally delightful Ramen Museum which recreates a town in 1958 Japan, peppered with small ramen shops where you can try some of the best ramen from around Japan. Click here to see my post on the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum.
4. Monjayaki Street - I will bet many of you have heard of Okonomiyaki, but what of Monjayaki? Translating as tasty snack, it is the food that school children would have after school, but everyone embraces it. Cooked on a teppan (and you cook it yourself for the bulk of it), this pancake is a fabulous umami rich crisp indulgence, and you mustn’t miss it. Try the mentaiko mochi one in Monjayaki Street (actually Nishinaka Street), is where you will find the best of them, and many of them too. You can even buy a kit to take home. More on visiting Tsukishima, the monjayaki district in Tokyo here.
5. Japanese Sweets - traditional Japanese sweets confound our western senses but once you open your mind to them, they are quirky and delicious. We put beans and sweet corn firmly in the savoury camp, but in Japan, these (and many more ingredients) become wagashi, a sometimes savoury sweet. Try taiyaki (a little fish shaped pancake filled with custard, made fresh in front of you, usually). Blog post on sweets in Tokyo here.
6. Eating in the Stations - Japanese train stations are massive food courts too, and often have very surprising treats. Go to Tokyo train station and hit the Calbee stand for fresh cooked warm crisps served with hot chocolate sauce - trust me, it is delicious! Also try the matcha cakes in one of the many patisseries. More on the eatlikeagirl blog.
7. Osaka Street Food - Osaka is famed for street food. Dotonburi, all fabulously brash with giant protruding restaurant signs, is dotted with food stalls. Takoyaki, small octopus ball pancakes, are unmissable. Be sure to try Osaka-style okonomiyaki and kitsune udon noodles too. Kitsune noodles translate as fox noodles, as legend has it that foxes love deep fried tofu, which tops this delicious rustic street corner noodle dish. Click here for a blog post on my hunt for the best okonomiyaki in Osaka.
8. Kaiseki Meal - Kyoto is known for wonderful intricate kaiseki meals and they are a must on any visit. But you can have wonderful kaiseki in Tokyo too at Kitsune Usagi, a wonderful traditional restaurant with a traditional kaiseki chef from Kyoto. This charming intimate restaurant serves beautiful considered food and should be on your hit list.
9. Yakitori and Cocktails - when in Tokyo don’t neglect the alleys by Shinjuku that are dedicated to yakitori (termed “piss alley” but don’t let this put you off). Small open restaurants serve yakitori of all sorts, from chicken skin to pig uterus. For something a little more refined head to Birdland. For cocktails after head to Gen Yamamoto, a brilliant small cocktail bar recently opened.
10. Fine Dining with a View - Tokyo has wonderful restaurants with views, where the food delivers too. Michelin-starred Hinokizaka serves terrific food. Chef Kasamoto is known for his excellent tempura but the restaurant serves a relatively broad range of cuisine, including terrific sushi. Not quite so high up, but nonetheless in a lovely room, Hei Fung Terrace at the Peninsula serves authentic and excellent Cantonese cuisine if you are looking for an alternative on your visit.