I could spend my lifetime eating my way through all the different choices of food in Japan. No matter the time, place or day, you always find something to eat, and not be disappointed! Even if I spent my whole trip eating and left the country rolling myself onto the plane, I still don’t think I would have made a dent.
Japan itself is a food Mecca. Just like their rides and show experiences, the Japanese take their food scene to a whole new level - once again, incomparable to any other country. From their culture, ingredients, to their prep to their cooking and technique is world class. You can more or less find every cuisine and dish here in Tokyo. However, like most countries, the regional parts of Japan has its specialities. For instance, Kyoto is known for its tofu and vegetables, Osaka is known for Okonomiyaki, Yakisoba and Takoyaki. And the sweets such as your Macha ice cream and Harajuku crepes in Tokyo will not disappoint! Like the bucket list experiences, the food options are endless.
From restaurants to noodle shops to sushi bars to the cafe and markets, here is my top 7 meals/treats to try when in Japan! Being ‘hangry’ is definitely not an option here.
1 - Ramen Noodles...Well, any noodle dish in general!
We landed late at night, and after searching for our apartment we were starving and stumbled across a noodle bar that served ramen, udon and curries. The first thing you notice in Japan when it comes to food is how ridiculously cheap and how large the servings are. You really get a bang for your buck.
An Izakaya is a casual restaurant/bar that serves food and drinks. Similar in style to spanish Tapas venues, there are a range of small dishes on the menu and you can either order as the night progresses or have it all in one hit. Izakayas are found everywhere in Tokyo. My brother just wanted a good meaty dinner, and this is definitely a meaty dinner with a twist. They didn’t have any english menus, so we ordered off what the photos looked like. The food ranges from the conventional yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) to the less conventional such as chicken heart (which we did eat unintentionally). Purely because we had no idea what we were eating, it was a totally different experience trying to figure out what we were eating and describing the texture and taste. That night we tried chicken skin, thigh, liver, breast and heart. Some pieces were soft but chewy, others were hard and tasteless, and some I took a bite and that was me done. All of the Izakayas were quite busy, and we learnt early that the Japanese do not take tips!
Okonomiyaki is a pancake without rules. It is a speciality in Osaka and one of our friends who is a Japan advocate hassled us everyday to make sure we tried the okonomiyaki in Japan. It involves flour, yam and water batter being mixed in with a variety of ingredients such as shredded cabbage, eggs, diced meat or seafood and diced onion. Grilled on both sides then topped with okonomiyaki sauce, also known as otafuku, seaweed flakes, bonito flakes and Japanese mayonnaise. As my brother eats like a child, and I’m open to the idea of trying new things, okonomiyaki is great because what you add to the pancake is completely up to you. Is it healthy? No. Is it delicious? Definitely!
4 - Anything in Dotonbori
We got out of the taxi right in front of all the flashing 3D signs, neon billboards and herds of people. You knew you were in Dotonbori when you saw the Gilco man sign (running man sign). So we followed the masses and got lost in the tantalising scent of delicious foods, and the fact that Dotonbori is a grid so you don’t know whether to turn left or right because you think you’ll miss something tasty! Dotonbori is Disneyland's version of food. If you have done your research, you know that Dotonbori is for dining and many people describe Osaka as the ‘culinary capital of the world’. Another icon for Dotonbori is the Kani Doraku mechanical crab.. This restaurant is famous for serving all kinds of crab, and of course there is always a waiting line. The street food is cheap and delicious. Takoyaki is one of Osaka’s most iconic dishes. Similar to Okonomiyaki, it is a popular ball-shaped snack made from wheat-flour based batter, filled with diced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger and green onion. Then brushed with takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise before being sprinkled with shavings of bonito.
If you don’t visit Dotonbori when going to Osaka, is like going to New York and not seeing the Statue of Liberty. We loved every minute of it and savour the food as long as you can, because you won’t find many places like this in the world.
5- Taiyaki Cakes AKA Chocolate Fish!
We found this hidden little cafe on the corner of our street in Osaka. We woke up late one morning, and in Japan, nothing really opens that early so it was perfect for us. We were the only ones in there and weren’t really sure what this cafe had to offer. So with my very minimal Japanese knowledge, I asked the owner what this fish shaped crepe was? He responded “chocolate”, and my brother was sold. Chocolate for brunch in the shape of a fish? What more could you want? Taiyaki is a piping hot, freshly made hotcakes filled with a variety of flavours like chocolate, red bean paste and custard. Taiyaki in japanese means ‘grilled sea bream’, hence the shape. Another fun fact about Japan is that you never see people walking and eating, the only thing we spotted was people eating and walking with ice cream (I can say I was a victim of that, oh! and try the acai icecream), and the other food would be taiyaki.
We enjoyed it so much I think we had it every morning before we adventured out to Osaka.
6- Concoctions Crepes
Harajuku was most definitely one of my favourite places in Japan. I felt like I was in my element of food and fashion when walking down Takeshita-Dori Street. Besides the ice cream and Taiyaki cakes, the crepes in Harajuku is a MUST-TRY! Mainly because of how delicious they look from their menu boards, but because you can get all your favourites fruits and sweets wrapped up in one mouth-watering crepe. The smell of the crepes are irresistible, and the choices are astonishing. You can choose an array of toppings such as ice cream, pie, different flavoured sauces, cheesecake, fruit, nuts and custard. You also have the choice of savoury crepes such as tuna and curry, but why come to Harajuku and not have a crepe that will make your belly ache of both delicious pain and sweetness-overload.
Last, but certainly not least is the Sushi. In particular, SPOT Sushi in Kyoto was hands down, THE best sushi I have ever had in my life. When eating sushi back in Australia, nothing can even compare to how fresh, delicate and tantalising the flavours are in your mouth.
We were recommended, well, more forced to go to SPOT Sushi when we got to Kyoto. We searched the streets for SPOT the first afternoon we were in Kyoto, but couldn’t find it, so we made the decision to try again for dinner (as we were starving and getting cranky). I finally found the green SPOT sign when it was dark, we walked in, thinking that he wasn’t open because no-one was in the restaurant. We sat down in the 8 seater bar, thinking that the chef’s english would be very minimal, but to our surprise his English was just as impeccable as the food. He had been a sushi chef for 30 years! 20 years cheffing in the USA, and 10 years back in Kyoto. Usually his customers call him to order prior to coming to his restaurant so we were given whatever seafood he had available, so we put ourselves in his hands and he did not fail. Each day he goes to the Kyoto Fish Market and hand picks the fish fresh for that night. But don’t let me ruin the experience your own experience WHEN you go to Spot! Even though it was the most expensive Sushi I have ever had (10 pieces for $60AUD), it was totally worth it! And we were very lucky as Shinji ended up giving us an extra ten sushi pieces, the tastiest and biggest edamame beans we had ever had, Sake and a red bean paste and clam miso soup for about $80AUD. My brother, who eats like a five year old and is very picky when it comes to seafood, ate everything that was put in front of him. Even raw eel! I can’t even describe how delicious each bite was. What was interesting about this restaurant was not only the food, but Shinji’s life, and the stickers above the bar were the “business cards” of all the geisha’s who come into his restaurant in the early hours of the morning to eat. Unfortunately we were too early to have a geisha come and dine with us.