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.
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