Hey, Alisa here! I am continuing the collection of posts about our trip to Japan. This time I want to talk about things I especially liked in Japan and let’s make it in the form of list. Making lists is fancy. The headings with number in it attracts more clicks, they say. So there is my pick of facts and things I liked about our travel to Japan. Hope, you will find some interesting information to investigate further, or try yourself.
If you expect the list of things I didn’t like about our travel as well, most likely there will be none. Not only because I think negative comments are too individual, but simply because there would be not enough cons to make a list. =) I tell you, I really liked Japan. I did!
The first part of my list is devoted to food and cuisine. In this part:
- Custard taiyaki
- Bottled coffee
- Matcha-flavoured everything
- Melon bread
- Sushi at Tsukiji market
- Kaiseki cuisine
- Home cooking
1. DANGO (団子)
First time we encountered dango in anime series Samurai Champloo. It was the main source of nutrition for the protagonists, so we thought is worth being on our must-try list =) Next thing you know, I am standing in front of a food stall on Sugamo market street, pointing my finger to little white balls on skewers, asking on my broken Japanese “Is this dango? Can I have one?”
Did we know what dango is before we tried it? No, except for the shape we did not. We had our expectations regarding taste and texture, but no background knowledge of ingredients or recipes. So dango surprised me. First – the texture. I somehow expected at least some crunch to it, but there is none – dango is a little ball made of rice flour served on skewer. It is soft and chewy. We tried both savoury and sweet varieties, and our favourite were sweet ones:
- Mitarashi dango – white, covered with sweet soy sauce based syrup (on the right)
- Chadango – green-tea flavored (on the left) They all have mildly sweet taste and pair very well with green tea. In my opinion it is number one delicious kind of traditional sweets we tasted. We had dango in different cities, and they never ceased to deliver :)
2. CUSTARD TAIYAKI IN AMEYOKO
Traditional fish-shaped taiyaki is too big of a size to be missed on the street food cart. So if you keep your eyes peeled, you can spot it from afar. That was exactly our case. I came for takoyaki and stayed for taiyaki. However, the taiyaki I am are talking about are not entirely traditional. These specific fish-shaped cakes by Gindako are made of puff pastry with custard filling, so basically it is a croissant. Nevertheless, they still have full right to be called “taiyaki” because name refers to shape of the cake. Flaky, warm and buttery pastry with lush custard filling will not leave you indifferent. Maybe the only thing I regret about these taiyaki croissants, is that we did not have enough time to eat more of them =)
3. CANNED AND BOTTLED COFFEE
The canned coffee wasn’t too unfamiliar concept for me due to lots of occasions it was featured in manga. But the scale of the use exceeded my notion by far. Tons of brands and varieties of canned and bottled brewed coffee made me roll my eyes from time to time, but what can I say, I used the benefits of it and it was very convenient =). Essentially you buy a litre bottle of brewed coffee from convenience store and reheat it at home by need, or you can buy already hot cans of coffee from vending machines or heated stalls to drink immediately. Coffee with ice is also a popular menu item in Japan, so reheating your drink is optional =). You can choose from a few dozens of brands and as much different sorts: black, black sweetened, with milk, with milk and sugar. strong, mild, etc. You just name your poison, they have it botteled. We tried several different brands and sorts during our travel and our personal favourite is Tully’s Smooth black medium.
I do not mind at all, if this trend never reaches Estonia, as eventually nothing can substitute a freshly brewed cup of coffee. But if it does, the convenience of this concept might find a way to our everyday life easily.
4. MATCHA-FLAVOURED EVERYTHING
No doubt that Matcha gunpowder tea is a huge part of Japanese culture and it goes far beyond the traditional tea ceremony. You can get everything Matcha flavoured in Japan. I fell in love with the original taste of the tea instantly, so all other green and matcha-flavoured food items fitted my travel diet perfectly. The top hit was, obviously, matcha ice-cream, but everything else was nearly as awesome: mochi, dango, anmitsu, KitKats, bisquits, milk shakes, etc.
We were able to bring back with us tons of different matcha-flavoured sweets, but not ice cream. My last one was on the shinkansen train from Osaka to Tokyo, bought from food cart. And it was soo-ooo good. I will miss it big time. I might be even so desperate, that home-made matcha ice cream might be on the menu one day.
4.1. ICED UJI MATCHA LATTE AT TULLY’S COFFEE
It is closely related to my previous point, but I wanted to extra emphasize this one. Smooth combination of matcha and milk is a match made in heaven. Add some ice cubes, and refreshing and just a tiny bit tart drink is one of my top remedies from summer heat.
5. MELON BREAD (メロンパン)
Once again, this one comes from manga. It was high on the list of food items, I wanted to try. And I knew I will recognize it by the shape and unique pattern. Melon bread is basically a white bread covered with a thin layer of cookie dough of some sort. the distinctive shape helps to spot it from afar on the store shelf (once again, very useful trait, when it comes to delicious things). It has many sorts and flavours in addition to basic melon one. We tried also strawberry and chocolate chip options, but original bread is just too delicious by itself. The one bought in nearby convenience store is already good enough, but if you wish to go extra mile, my suggestion will be Copenharvest Bakery at Tenjinbashi-Suji Shopping Street in Osaka. Check out the size on the left =)
6. SUSHI AND STREET FOOD AT TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
With this I will not be doing any discoveries, as Tsukiji is a well known tourist attraction. But just let me be tedious here for a second and become the a hundredth person to tell you, how awesome this place is. Somehow we were lucky enough to skip all the possible waiting lines and get to the table we wanted at the time we wanted, so Tsukiji outer market definitely gets additional points from us for that. This time we both selected chef’s choice of fish, Ilya in form of sushi and me as a donburi. The meal in such a place caters to all your senses: obviously it tastes awesome. The clean tastes let you explore and enjoy different textures of fish and seafood. Lively and busy atmosphere of the place with people around gives additional sense of volume to this entire experience. And the exceptional level of service just goes without mentioning. I am sure positive impression we got might be not exclusive to the specific place we visited. Nevertheless, I am confident to recommend you this one: Tsukiji Sushi Sei Honten, 2nd floor.
7. SOBA NOODLES
Any soba (buckwheat noodles) is good, but cold soba, zaru soba with dipping sauce just found the way to my heart. Before I tried it, the concept itself of eating cold noodles seemed somewhat strange to me. But I kid you not, it tastes amazing. The sauce plays the key role in this dish, but all occasions I had it so far (ranging from tiny airplane meal to specialized restaurant in Osaka) was super tasty. I will be definitely trying to recreate this at home. Due to the fact that season of cold refreshing dishes is ending, I cannot leave the soba in hot broth unmentioned. There is huge variety in the broth and topping part, but the principle remains the same: it is buckwheat noodle in a broth. Once again, our experience teaches, that wherever you go, the quality most likely be above and beyond your expectations. On the picture it is soba in hot broth topped with duck. When we first went for soba in Tokyo it was chilly and rainy, so my obvious choice was something hot. But as long as we were sitting in the venue, I observed the company of four elderly locals eating zaru soba with such an appetite, that I thought next time I am having it no matter what. So I did and never regretted.
Soba definitely wasn’t the only noodle we liked there. The king of hearty comfort foods of Japan – mighty ramen with hundreds of regional varieties. First thing we have done, when settled to Tokyo, is found nearby ramenya and returned there several times over the course of our stay. We tamed the ordering machine (more about this monster in my further posts) and just couldn’t have enough of it. Well, this was figure of speech at least in the beginning, because I warn you, the servings are huge. But you get accustomed to that horribly fast and after couple of times you will slurp noodles and broth like a pro down to the bottom of the bowl.
9. KAISEKI CUISINE
Outstanding local cuisine experience, that was a part of our ryokan stay. More art, than food. The event in shape of a meal. Kaiseki is extremely seasonal and rich with regional varieties. To tell the truth, I couldn’t recognize the most part of ingredients in front of me, so I took it as an art form. It was all really tasty though. No exceptions! Anyway, this is the case, where pictures could tell you more that words. Just look into the soup bowl on the top right pic. There is definitely a full moon over the woods =)
10. HOME COOKING
The opposite of formal kaiseki style cuisine, Japanese home cooking is something everybody should try. We were lucky to have two opportunities to cook and taste home-style lunches. First was during a cooking class we took with YUCa and second with lovely couple Jun&Souei. We have cooked ramen, gyoza, tamagoyaki, mixed rice and miso soup made with homemade miso paste (featured on the top left of the pic – tastes awesome just by itself). Every meal was special for us in terms of ingredients and used techniques. We definitely learned something new. Moreover, now that we finally have purchased proper rice cooker, I think we can easily incorporate some of the ideas to our regular menu =)
TO SUM UP:
This is for sure not exhaustive list of things I liked about Japanese food. Possibly some undeservedly forgotten items will slip into next parts of my list. =) In the second part of this list I will tell you about modern life perks, that made us extremely happy in Japan. And part 3 will be all about traditions.