Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Japan Series! - Food of Japan (Part 1)

            As expected, the food was one of the most amazing parts of the experience of visiting Japan! I guess I had a lot to say about the food, so this topic is going to be split into two separate posts. Today I’ll be talking about the unique qualities of Japanese restaurants themselves, and about some traditional Japanese foods.

Japanese restaurants
            I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that we ate with chopsticks the entire time we were in Japan. I don’t think I saw a single fork for the whole two weeks. But there were some other interesting (and more surprising) things about the restaurants in Japan.

Matt and Trent workin' the chopsticks.

            One major difference from American restaurants was that instead of a glass of cold water, the waiter or waitress automatically brings tea – usually hot, and usually green. This was true of almost every restaurant we visited, regardless of the price range or what type of food was being served. (The only exception I can think of is McDonalds!) In fact, most servers looked surprised if I asked for a glass of water instead. (I can’t drink green tea due to the way caffeine affects bipolar disorder symptoms.)

That little glass is tea, not alcohol, I swear. XD

            Another really interesting feature of some Japanese restaurants is the window display. This features life-size plastic replicas of some or all of the dishes offered there, each labeled with a name and price. The window is located in the front of the restaurant, facing out. This is really handy because it allows you to judge how appetizing the food looks, whether the portion sizes are big enough to satisfy, and whether you can afford it, all before even entering the restaurant. It’s very convenient if you’re trying to decide between multiple restaurants, and I liked being able to choose what I would order before going in.

An example of a restaurant window display. I hope you appreciate this picture, because I got scolded for taking it. -_-' (We were told we weren't supposed to take photos of/in stores, but I forgot. XD)

           At a few of the restaurants, we also encountered a ticket machine with pictures and prices of food on buttons. You simply press the button for the food you want to order, insert your money, and take the ticket that comes out. Then you give the ticket to the waiter, eliminating the need to verbally communicate your order. Anyone who has ever had to order food in a foreign country by pointing at the menu and shrugging apologetically will certainly appreciate the convenience of such a device. It definitely made things easier for those in our group who could not speak or read Japanese.

Billy operating the ticket machine.

Traditional Japanese food
             Billy and I agreed that by far our favorite food that we tried in Japan was tonkatsu. It’s essentially a breaded, fried pork chop. We had learned about tonkatsu from one of our Japanese textbooks, but never had the chance to try it in the States, so of course it was the number one goal on my list of foods to try on the trip. I think Billy would probably eat tonkatsu any way it was served to him, but I preferred it as katsudon – tonkatsu served over rice and topped with egg. It was amazing. We ate it every chance we got while we were there, and we’re trying to perfect the recipe at home. (Look for a post on that someday!)

Katsudon. Oishii! (Delicious!)

            If I had to choose my second favorite traditional Japanese food, it would have to be tempura. Tempura is breaded and deep-fried veggies and shrimp. The lotus pod slices were surprisingly delicious. (Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of my tempura. XD)
            If you are ever in Japan, there are a few other foods I suggest you try. These were good, just not good enough to make it on my “favorites” list. Udon, soba, and ramen are very popular noodle dishes. Don’t let the “noodle” part fool you into thinking they’re bland; all three are served in a flavorful broth with vegetables. (And nothing like the cheap “Ramen” noodles from WalMart!) Although a bit hard to eat with chopsticks, these noodles are worth the effort.

Udon. Wish you could see Billy trying to eat these with chopsticks! LOL

            Another dish I recommend trying is what Peek-sensei called “Japanese pizza” (although I never found out whether that was the official name or just her way of explaining the dish to us). All day she kept telling us that we were going to eat Japanese pizza for lunch. I think we were all looking forward to something similar to American-style pizza, but maybe with different toppings. What we got was this:

The alleged "pizza."

            As far as I could tell it was noodles topped with ham, shrimp, fried egg, and some kind of sauce. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but it was still reasonably good.
            And of course, how could I review the food of Japan without mentioning sushi? Surprisingly, I only ate sushi once while in Japan. I think that was partially because I can eat it in America and was eager to try other foods that weren’t normally available to me, but also partially because Billy doesn’t like sushi, so we usually ended up choosing something else. To be honest, the sushi I tried didn’t taste noticeably better than good sushi in Arkansas. There was more variety, but the flavor was about the same.

     However, the method of delivery at this particular sushi restaurant was unique and interesting. The sushi was delivered on a conveyor belt which ran all the way around the restaurant, surrounding the sushi chefs in the middle. Customers sat at a bar on the opposite side of the conveyor belt and chose their sushi as it passed. When we finished eating, we took our empty plates to the cashier so she would know what to charge us. I wish I had taken pictures, but you’ll just have to use your imagination (or Google image XD).
            I would also like to tell you about a couple of food experiences that I did not really enjoy. One was yakitori. I had heard about yakitori in the book Hachiko Waits, and it sounded delicious. I had been told it was basically “chicken on a stick.” However, the yakitori I tried seemed to be chicken liver. I am not a liver person. If you are, you would probably like it, but I am not.


            The other food that I didn’t find particularly yummy was my bento box. A bento is basically a cold packed lunch, which many Japanese people either buy or prepare themselves. It usually contains a variety of foods, artfully arranged in small compartments in a box.

My bento lunch, plus orange juice.

We bought bento one evening for dinner on a long train ride. There were a few things in the box that I did like, but overall it wasn’t something I would get again. I might try a different type, but I would prefer to know what was in it first. Anyway, the most interesting part of my bento was this little guy:

My little friend. Sorry for the blurriness; it's a bit difficult to take
 a proper picture with the camera in your left hand while holding
 a baby octopus with chopsticks in your right. XD

            At first I wasn’t going to eat him, but then as I was looking at him the others from our group noticed. After that I knew I had to eat him or look like a wimp. (I know… peer pressure… It’s horrible. XD) The flavor was actually okay, although I didn’t like the texture. Still, I was kinda proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and trying something I wasn’t sure about.
That’s it for today! Come back next time to read about foods from other countries as prepared in Japan, as well as what we ate for breakfasts and snacks while in Japan! (Or click here for a list of all posts in my Japan series!)


  1. Hi, Kristy & her friends,

    I'm not good at computer and the net.
    By chance, I have enjoyed reading your articles, a desire to know more charms about my country.

    Like in the U,S., most of the restaurant in Japan offer guests cold water.

    The plastic foods replicas for the restaurant use or strap type souvenir for mobile phone use are available in some shops at Kappabashi shopping arcade, originally sells cooking utensils & tableware to professionals, is now open wide and many tourists from the world particulary buy the items of cooking knife and/or plastic sushi replica.
    The location is close to the Ueno station where several nice museums site.
    Here you can read English comments from the visitors at Trip Adviser.

    Most of the TonKatsu-Ya - the restaurant specializing in TonKatsu dishes - is dealing with many types of deep-fried cookings such as RousuKatsu - pork loin, HireKatsu - pork fillet, Chicken - its breast with skin, Sasami - its breast without skin, Ebi - prawn, Aji - horse mackerel, Kaki - oyster in season, and as variations some of the item above are fried with Ohba - herb, cheese in, Ingen - vegetable, and also the restaurant offers you Oroshi Tonkatsu:the fried meat served with grated Daikon radish poured by Ponzu sauce ( made of vinegar & Shouyu - soy sauce ).

    The KatsuDon has two types, one is cooked with TamaNegi - onion and the other is with NagaNegi - green onion, but the restaurant decide what to chose and you can't chose it.

    The ingredients of Tempura have many variations. Most common items are as you gave vegetables, and shrimps in cluster ( Ebi-no-KakiAge ) often served at the last dish in the set menu.Kiss - a small white fish - is also a part of the ordinary set menu.
    KurumaEbi - a kind of prawn, Hotate - scallop, Kaki - oyster and Ice Cream tempura are for single dish order.
    The said "lotus pod slices" is perhaps "Renkon - lotus root slices", rare in tempura but often appears in hodgepodges such as "ChikuzenNi".

    Since you like TonKatsu & Tempura, I'm sure you will like KushiKatsu, too.

    To be continued to Part 2


  2. Indeed, Udon, Soba, Ramen are the three major noodles. The others are SouMen ( in summer ), KishiMen, YakiSoba and SaraUdon. They are different and also delicious in their own textures.

    What your teacher called "Japanese Pizza" is "OkonomiYaki Hiroshima style". Even if it was out of your taste, I imagine there is a chance for "OkonomiYaki Kansai style" - a Japanese savory (thick) pancake which uses grated YamaImo - yam - as one of the main ingredient of the dough ( and no noodles ).

    Sushi has several variations: the sushi you know, OshiZushi, ChirashiZushi, TemakiZushi, TemariZushi, InariZushi.
    The KaitenZushi restaurant - sushi bar with conveyor belt - generally categorized in the lowest price & quality.
    If you want to eat delicious ones, please go to the authentic sushi bar.

    Yakitori has several variations in the meats and the chicken liver is one of them.
    Its flavoring has two kinds: Salt or Tare - Shouyu based sweet sauce.
    Order single items according to your taste is not economical than to a set menu, but will secure you feel in good during the trip.

    It was very sorry that you bought bento box with not knowing what inside.
    There is a tendency higher the price, richer the taste.
    Many of the mega city in Japan, the train station and department store locate almost same site.
    The basement of the store has a large floor where cooked meals & bento boxes sell.
    Every foods are visible and the boxes are almost no exceptions.
    At your next visit to the country, utilize DepaChika - cooked foods' floor at the department stores.

    The little guy is a baby octopus, the Spanish and Italian also eat it.
    TakoYaki - octopus balls - is a popular casual snack for tourists from abroad, and Tako - the sliced octopus sushi is one of the major items.
    In cooking ways, the texture differs.

    In the last, I'll tell you the small guy's another name, "Devilfish".
    You beat it !


    1. Taro-san, thank you again for all the information! Maybe I should have researched more to make sure I had everything right before I wrote this post, but I just wrote it based on what I experienced and what my sensei told me. Now that you've explained Japanese food in more detail, I have lots of ideas for what to try on my next trip! :)


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