There are so many preconceptions about Japan and the one I hear the most when I tell people that Tokyo is one of my favorite cities is that 'all they eat is Sushi', or more correctly the people I hear this from usually say something like 'I've never been to Japan because all they eat is sushi and I don't like raw fish'.. Its as ridiculous as saying 'I'm never going to the USA because I don't eat burgers'
Even if you remove the foreign cuisines from the conversation - pizza, pasta, burgers, Chinese and even tapas, there are still lots of very different types of food to eat here.
The one downside about eating in Japan is that often restaurants only serve one type of food. The sushi restaurant doesn't serve ramen noodle and the teppanyaki restaurant doesn't serve tempura... If you are out and about solo as I usually am, its no problem, however if you have a sushi craving and your husband had sushi for lunch then you can have a few problems.
Before I go on to write about some of my favorite foods in Japan I can not continue without addressing the 'I don't like raw fish' comment that I hear a lot.
First, I don't understand people who say 'I don't like sushi' without ever having tried it. Isn't this something we are constantly telling children?
And second, pre-packaged sushi bought in a supermarket is so far away from real sushi that it might as well be plastic, so in my opinion, unless you have tried sushi in a proper sushi restaurant you haven't eaten sushi... it would be like saying 'i don't like beef because I had a burger at McDonalds'.
I can give you a personal example to explain. I was vegetarian from the age of 18 until I was 36. I started eating fish when I was 34. I had never eaten fish apart from under protest as a child. When I started eating fish my husband (then boyfriend) thought I should try sashimi. He bought some raw salmon from the supermarket, sliced it and served it. I HATED it. I had stomach ache for a day afterwards and swore I'd never eat raw fish again. A couple of years later on a trip to Tokyo I tried 'proper sushi'.... I was immediately hooked and haven't looked back...
Ok, so moving on to the culinary delights I love in japan......and since sushi and sashimi are my favorites I'll start there.
There are so many restaurants that serve amazing sushi that its actually quite hard to go wrong. I've eaten at the 24hour holes in the wall places near Tokyo Station and had better sushi than I have had in fancy restaurants elsewhere in the world.
The sushi here is slightly different than you will find in both the UK and USA especially if the sushi trail restaurants are your benchmark. Rice on the outside of the sushi roll is a western addition, in fact I think the California Roll is a crime against sushi and should be banned worldwide.
Nigiri and Makisushi (sushi rolls), are far simpler in Japan and the flavour of the fish is usually enhanced by a simple blob of wasabi. Here are some pictures of sushi from a few of my trips to Tokyo.....
Moving on to my other favourite dishes. There are two and they sound very similar... Tonkatsu and Tonkonsu. They are one letter apart but totally different in reality.
Tonkonsu is a Ramen noodle soup bowl where the soup is made from pork bone broth and comes with green onions and sliced pork, similar but not quite the same as Ramen.
Tonkatsu is a dish where a pork cutlet has been deep fried in Panko breadcrumbs and is served with shredded lettuce and a rich sauce. A deviant dish KatsuDon is the middle dish in the photos below, where the Katsu cutlet is served over rice with a rich sauce and an egg baked over it... its really moreish and totally scrummy.
Yakiniku is basically grilled meat. We have had this a few times and it has always been a DIY thing. Its set up is a bit like a hot pot in the centre of the table but instead of the pot there is a hot pan of coals with a grill in the center of the table and the food comes on a plate so you can grill it yourself.
We have had this with Kobe beef when we were in cities outside Tokyo and it was amazing. The beef is so delicate and with a high fat content, it almost dissolves in your mouth.
There are usually some veggies that come too, and its actually surprisingly quite filling.
The restaurants we went for Yakiniku also sold Shabu Shabu and Sukiyaki too.
Shabu Shabu and Sukiyaki are similar to the Chinese hot pot. You sit at a table with a boiling pot of stock in the middle and put meat, veggies and fish. The ingredients are often dipped in raw egg after being cooked in Sukiyaki.
Teppanyaki is when fish, meat and veggies are cooked on a hot plate in front of you. I think this is quite popular in the USA as when we lived there I noticed a few restaurants where we lived serving Teppanyaki.
I have eaten Teppanyaki a few times but it has always been a fairly expensive meal.
I'm not sure if this was because of my choice of venue though...
Guests are often given an apron to wear to stop the spitting fats from spoiling their clothes.
Yakatori is basically grilled chicken on a stick, but other meats and veggies can also be used. These restaurants are usually drinking bars too and often quite smoky, due to the grilling, but also due to the cigarette smoke that can be found in drinking places.... Its a great snack on the run or if you have had a beer too many. The yakatori are often cooked on robatayaki hot coals.
Gyoza - are a fried dumpling with a meat or veg filing. They are like a fried version of Chinese Dum Sum but lighter in texture. these are one of my favourites and I even buy them frozen at the Japanese supermarket in London. They are not as good as they are in Tokyo - obviously, but they are a good runner-up.
Onigiri is the Japanese version of a sandwich and is designed to be eaten on the go. I simply called them triangles for ages before I knew the name. They are triangles (or squares) of rice wrapped in nori sheets and with a filling in the centre.
I love these for a quick snack. You can buy them in the USA and the UK in the supermarket (if you have a good supermarket).
As you can see there is so much more to Japanese food than raw fish, and there is so much more that I haven't even covered here...
Have you been to Japan, what are your favorite Japanese food items ? or do you have any questions about Japan and the food there? contact me using the form below and I'll try and help.
What a great little spot, emphasis on the word ‘little’. It’s just off Piccadilly Circus in a bit of a culinary desert, so during lunch and dinner it gets BUSY.
I was introduced by a friend and we went for late lunch around 2pm, so breezed in, got a table and fairly speedy service too. There are a 6 option for lunch. Hakozen Bento Box, 11 pieces or 14 pieces, Vegetarian Bento box, Kobe Beef Katsu Gozen, Kobe Gyu Don or Kobe Teppanyaki Kaiseki.
We both opted from he Hakozen Bento box with 14 pieces at 40GBP. and were blown away by the presentation. The box had 14 beautifully presented tiny dishes…. on tiny dishes, accompanied by barley and endgame rice and Kombu Dash soup.
Both my friend and spent the following minutes ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘mm-ing’ as we declared each item to be better than the last one. My fave pieces were scallop sashimi and the kobe beef (this is what they are known for)…. however everything I ate was DELICIOUS.
The waitress did give us a very nice explanation of what everything was but we were so distracted by the presentation that I confess we didn’t actually pay enough attention.
If you get a chance go here, Its amazing, you will not regret it. I can’t wait to go back again……
Engawa 2 Ham Yard London W1D
Generally I would avoid restaurants in shopping centres like the plague as I have had some dreadful culinary experiences in them, but in Singapore that rule doesn't really apply. Here the restaurants benefit from the fact that most people in Singapore spend a HUGE amount of time enjoying the air conditioning in the shopping centres......and so the range of cuisines in the centres along Orchard Road is quite staggering.
I was introduced to Tonkichi by a friend when we still lived in Singapore and I went back many times, so on this trip I was pleased that it was still there and as good as ever.The decor is typical of an tonkatsu restaurant in Japan. Nothing swanky, as you can see from the photos here, but why distract from the food ?
The Sapporo was served chilled to about 2 degrees above frozen...... but after a long day in the heat of Singapore the speed by which it was served and the temperature were both welcomed.Both my husband and I had Katsu Don, which is one of my favourite Japanese dishes. It was delicious. It was as good as and Katsu dish I have had in Japan. I would of liked the sauce to be a bit thicker and a bit more flavour, but that is just because I am VERY picky !!
I guess Japanese food isn't on most tourists list of things to eat during a tip to Sinagpore, but if you are over Laksa, chili crab and Rendang and find yourself in Takashimaya seeking refuge from the heat, then I would definitely suggest a lunch break in Tonkichi. If you live in Singapore or visit regularly, then there are no excuses. Give this place a try. They also have great set lunch bento boxes…
Tonkichi - Takashimaya #04-24, 391 Orchard Road Ngee Ann City, Singapore +61 6735 7522 Website
This is our favourite Sushi Restaurant in NYC. We've been here often for lunch - at least once a week when we are in NYC, and its always busy, you definitely need a reservation.
They have a weird policy of not allowing you to sit at the table until everyone has arrived, which means the entrance if always packed with people waiting for their friends.
No idea why they do this as I'm pretty sure they could sell a drink to at least half of the people whilst they are waiting, but hey, its not my restaurant.
If you can avoid the peak 12-1.30 lunch time getting a table shouldn't be a problem.
The service is very good, once seated. The quality of the sushi is excellent. We usually order the same deluxe platter as it gives a good assortment and comes with miso soup or salad. Its not a fancy tablecloths type place. It is more authentic Sushi like any you would fine in Tokyo.
Give this a try if you are in NYC, you won't be disappointed.
Hatsuhana 17E 48th New York 10017 Tel 212 355 3345
Whenever my husband comes home and tells me he has another business trip to Japan he barely has to finish the sentence before I am google-ing flight prices. Tokyo is one of my absolute favourite cities. From the very first time I went there I have been in love with the country.
We have been over 10 times and are always being asked for tips by friends who are going for the first time, so I thought I would turn those tips into a blog post.
The first visit to Japan can be a bit daunting. Its a big, busy, noisy city. There are signs written in Japanese everywhere and very little English is spoken outside of the tourist /ticket offices and hotels, but somehow it all works out. I've been to all of the tourist sites at least once, had mini adventures outside the city and eaten in many restaurants, most of the time I am alone, but I never really encountered any problems that couldn't be solved using a mixture of sign language and a big smile. My first bit of advice starts before you leave.... make sure you can use your bank card abroad.
A quick call to your bank should sort this out. When you arrive get cash out of Citibank at the airport. There are relatively few international bank ATM's in Tokyo. You can use Citibank and the Post Office Bank, but they are the only ones I've been able to use my assortment of credit cards at.......
Generally we get some cash and pay for everything in restaurants and shops with Visa/Mastercard.
The best way to get from the airport to your hotel is the "Friendly Shuttle Bus". The counters are in the airport just after you clear customs. The girls at the counter speak English and will point you in the right direction. Most buses do 5 or 6 stops and will drop you at the hotel door. The bus even has WiFi - though it is a little slow.
The whole area around Harajuku and Omotesando is great for people watching and shopping, especially at the weekend. Close by is Shibuya crossing and Yoyogi park with Meiji shrine. Both well worth a visit and fascinating for very different reasons.
Ueno Park is lovely to walk through, if you want to escape the craziness of the city or want to go to the Zoo.
Nearby is Ameyoko which is a great market area with some good food stalls and lots of good restaurants.
Sensoji Temple is a must see and the small gift shops on the walk to the temple are cute, despite being a bit touristy. Go early, as its on everybody's 'to do list' and it gets crowded.
Tokyo Tower near Rappongi - you can go up the tower and get great views to Mt Fiji if its a clear day. And afterwards maybe do a little bar hopping in Rappongi.
After these recommendations what you decide to see will really depend on how much you like to walk - there are several nice parks, if you are looking to go shopping - Tokyo Hands is amazing, or if you are especially into food and want to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.
There is truly so much to see in this amazing, vibrant city. You can spend hours just wandering around and enjoy just being there. The food is amazing too. If you are not a Japanese food expert I would suggest doing a little research before-hand. There are lots of different dishes available, but most restaurants specialise in one style of cooking. A sushi restaurant won't usually sell Tonkatsu or Ramen Noodles for example. This of course rarely matters to me as I don't have to compromise when I am out and about alone, but can cause problems if you are desperate to eat sushi and your dining partner doesn't like fish...... nothing a little forward planning can't solve of course.
I have written a review of a fabulous restaurant Andy's Shin Hinomoto. I can highly recomend this place, we have probably eaten there 8 or 9 times. Its excellent.
Japan Tourist Board
When arriving at the hotel ask the concierge for the free guide that comes from the Tourist Office. Its orange. Its fabulous. It has a page for each area with the major sights listed on the opposite page.
The next thing you should do is to get a PASMO card. You load the card up with money and use it throughout Japan on the trains and buses. its like the Oyster Card in London or the Metro Card in NYC. There are instructions for buying one and using the machines on the PASMO site.
If your hotel isn't covered by the Friendly Airport Shuttle service then you can buy the PASMO at the airport and use it on the train into the city.
Now you are set to explore all over Tokyo using the amazing train system.
Tokyo Metro map looks terrifying...... but its very easy to understand. All the lines are coloured differently and all the stations are numbered. You can even get a free app for your smartphone.
When you are on the train platform the next station the train will call at is written on the wall.
There are so many things to do in Tokyo that I could write pages and pages. Some of it will interest you, most of it not. I find sightseeing to be quite personal. I love taking photos, people watching, visiting temples and finding off the beaten track places to eat, but these things may not be your cup of tea, so I won't bore you with lists of things to do, I'll just make a few recommendations...
If you are visiting Tokyo or have friends taking a trip I'd highly recommend Andy's. Visit early on in your trip - as you will probably want to come back !!
If you are given a seat at a sharing table, don't be upset, we have had some great conversations with people we have met in here. After a few sakes the locals relax and I can almost guarantee a fabulous evening and great memories.
Andy's Shin-Hinomoto. 03-3214-8021 Website
We were introduced to Andy's by some of my husband's colleagues and we have been back every time we visit Tokyo. We've taken friends and relatives there and everyone loves it.
Its easy to find under the tracks of the JR line, close to Hibiya Metro station and staggering distance from the Peninsula. Inside its low arched ceiling that rattles with every train that runs overhead adds to the overall atmosphere.
The crowd is VERY mixed. There are tourists who have heard about Andy's and cleverly managed to get a reservation, and there are business man who have come straight from the office sharing tables with groups of young Japanese out for the evening with friends. Some people come for the food and move on after dinner, many come for the evening and eat several sharing plates to absorb the large draft beers and bottles of sake. Whatever brings you to Andy's the atmosphere and friendly service will ensure yo come back again and again. A menu in English and English speaking staff is also a bonus as after a week of having mostly no idea what I have been eating its quite refreshing !!
We almost always pre-order snow crabs. These are enormous and the meat is incredibly moist. So much easier to eat than the regular crabs and their fiddly legs and served with a light vinegar dip they are perfect accompaniment to a nice sake. For those who don't like fish - there are plenty of other options on the menu. Steak with garlic and fried chicken were favourites of one or our guests. I personally love their sashimi platter. The last one we had contained the most delicious swordfish I have ever eaten.
I love the Aqua restaurants on top of the old Dickens and Jones building.
There is a cool bar, 2 fabulous outdoor terrace bars and two restaurants, Aqua Kyoto serving Japanese food and Aqua Nueva serving Spanish.
I usually go to the Spanish restaurant as I think Alberto Hernandez is one of the most underrated chefs in London and his food is amazing. Yesterday evening I went to Aqua Kyoto with a group of friends to try out a new tasting menu. We were treated to twelve dishes - which were thankfully small enough that we were able to enjoy everything on offer. There were 16 of us and service was excellent.
All the dishes arrived together and the waiters explained the ingredients and answered any questions. My favourite dishes from the menu were the swordfish belly, Kobe beef, Grilled scallop with sea grapes and the tempura with wasabi yuzu salt. In fact the wasabi yuzu salt was so good I think they should bottle it and sell it!
From the desserts the Fuji Apple was a masterpiece. It was an apple shape that shattered to reveal an apple flavour mousse and was served with creme fraiche ice cream...
I'm not sure how many of these dishes will make it on to the main menu, but I'll certainly be back to try more things next time I'm in London.
Reservations are advised for the restaurant, get here early if you want to have a drink on the terrace.... It gets completely packed as soon as the sun puts in an appearance. At about 8pm there was a queue downstairs on Argyll Street to be allowed in to join the queue upstairs for the terrace !!!!
5th Floor, 30 Argyll Street, London. Aqua Website
+44 20 7478 0540
Sushi Ann was as close to being in Japan as I have ever been outside japan ! The guys behind the counter even shout out greetings as we entered. They were incredibly busy when I went with my husband for lunch and we booked a day ahead and got the last 2 seats at the sushi counter.
We chatted a little to our waitress and she was charming, telling us how amazing Japanese chocolate is (I have to agree) but also how expensive it is to buy in NYC.
The sushi chefs - I think there were 8 - were constantly busy turning out amazing platters of beautifully presented sushi and sashimi and everything we ate was amazingly fresh.
If you are new to sushi and sashimi thus us a great place to come as the quality us excellent... If you are a sushi lover (like me) or Japanese then you will love Sushi Ann.
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