The most important part of the place is its food! Once you learn to accept the local food, you learn to accept the uniqueness of the place. I have been living in Japan for 2 years now and I am in absolute love with the place. Accepting and liking the Japanese cuisine is hands-down the major contributor to this. Here are some dishes which helped me relish the flavors of Japan.
Sushi is not food, it’s an experience 🙂 Vinegar rice topped with varied seafood make the most popular Japanese dish. The topping is usually raw fish but grilled eel, boiled prawns, or tofu is available too. There are different types of sushi and you must try at least one of each! Nigirizushi (seafood on rice), gunkan (small rice and seaweed cup topped with seafood), temakizushi (seaweed roll filled with rice and seafood) and inarizushi (wrapped with deep fried tofu) are amongst the popular ones. (“sushi” becomes “zushi” when it precedes some word, so don’t get confused)
Sushi-Ro is the most popular sushi chain where locals enjoy their sushi dinner. Sushi places in Ginza and around ports are fresh. Tourists are drawn to Genki sushi , the famous conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo. These chains are pretty affordable with around $1 per plate usually.
Originally a Chinese dish, it is adopted quite well in Japan. This wheat noodle soup is oishi (delicious) and inexpensive at the same time. Ramen is differentiated based on the soup. The common ones are Shoyu (soy sauce), Shio (salt), Miso , and Tonkotsu (pork stalk). You also get to pick the type of noodles you prefer. The noodles are differentiated based on their thickness and firmness.
Now comes the best part, the toppings! Each bowl has at least 3-4 toppings amongst chashu (pork slices), menma (salty bamboo shoots), moyashi (bean sprouts), kamaboko (fish cake), tamago (boiled egg), corn, butter, spring onion, etc. I usually look for the chef’s recommendations and have not been disappointed even once. My favorite still remains tonkotsu ramen and Hokkaido miso butter ramen.
Ramen shops are clustered around the train station and its basements and
almost at every corner around the station. Ramen is a fast food so you are meant to eat quickly and leave 😛 It is not a place for relaxed conversations or dates. At busier locations, you’d find only standing ramen places. Although the tourists’ flood to Ippudo or Ichiran for the novelty of it, the locals prefer the regular outlets. These ramen shops are the ones who use a vending machine for placing an order. If you loved your ramen, you can finish all your soup as a compliment to the chef (Be aware, ramen soup usually contains a lot of salt!). The most important thing! It is fully acceptable to make a slurping sound your noodles while eating 🙂
These thick buckwheat noodles are enjoyed hot as well as cold. Soba dishes are served with a soup or with a dip. Mori soba, boiled cold noodles, eaten with soya-based dips. However, kake soba is dipped in hot soup, usually dashi (fish stalk). There are different varieties which can be enjoyed hot as well as cold. Amongst these my favorites are tororo soba, kitsune (topped with deep fried tofu) soba, and tanuki (topped with tempura bits) soba.
Karaage and Tempura
Now is the time of fried snack! Karaage – fried chicken, and tempura– fried everything else 😛 The best about Japanese fried snacks is you cannot feel the oil in there, unlike the fried snacks in the west. These are crispy, delicious and with almost negligible oil.
Both, kara-age and tempura, are enjoyed with alcohol or for munching during hunger pangs. Izakayas serve karage with mayonnaise (weird, right? :P) But trust me, it’s tastes like heaven! Karage is also served in a set with miso soup and rice for lunch meals (one of my favorite cheap thrills :P). Tempura is served with tentsuyu sauce that it is a mix of consomme, sweet sake, soy sauce, ginger, radish and spices. You will not regret ordering these for you!
Along with these, there are onigiri, okonomiyaki, curry, yakitori, udon, and much more you can enjoy. Japanese cuisine (和食, washoku) offers an abundance of gastronomical delights with a boundless variety of regional and seasonal dishes as well as international cuisine. A foodie will not return disappointed from Japan!