Visiting Japan without sampling their cuisine would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. And, speaking of France, Japan has actually overtaken them in number of Michelin-Starred establishments- so that just proves how amazing their cuisine is! We have compiled a list of the best food we tried and the most interesting restaurants we visited. So, in no particular order…
Sushi at Tsukiji Market
In the west, when we think of Japanese food, we think sushi. Perhaps this is because it seems to encompass Japanese life and culture in itself; simple yet artful, masterful and full of ritual. Probably one of the best places to eat sushi is at Tsukiji market in Tokyo. The market draws in tourists who watch at 3am as monster tunas, fresh from the ocean, are auctioned to different restaurants. Needless to say, the sushi restaurants next to the market provided the most delicious sushi we ate in Japan. A testament to the freshness of their fish, and also the popularity of the sushi in Tsukiji, is that past 3pm most restaurants have completely run out- so make sure you make it for lunchtime, or even breakfast!
If you weren’t aware, The Moomins are fictional characters from children’s books by Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson. They are cute, whimsical and quirky, so it is hardly surprising that Japan goes mad for them. If you too go mad for the adorable trolls, prepare to be impressed. The Moomin Café and Bakery, situated in the Bunkyo area next to the Tokyo Dome, has a variety of Moomin themed food and gifts. BUT the best thing is, that you actually get to sit with a Moomin character while you eat! The characters ‘rotate’ tables, choosing who they want to sit with- so who knows which one you’ll meet!
Shave Ice in Kyoto
So, throughout our time in Japan, people kept telling us to try shave ice, and we were really confused what all the fuss was about. It’s just a load of ice with syrup on it, how good can it be?! Turns out, very good. Like, so good. Like, our new favourite desert good. Although most places in Japan serve shave ice, Kyoto is renowned for it. We stumbled into a small restaurant near the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove -mainly to escape the stifling humidity- and ordered our first shave ice. It was exactly what we needed. The ice shavings are so fine that they melt as soon as they touch your tongue, the brown sugar syrup is deliciously sweet and the bean paste adds natural earthy flavours. All in all, it is one of the most refreshing and tasty desserts we have ever eaten. 10/10 would eat again.
Animal Cafés in Tokyo
Japan is known for its cute and quirky take on everything, including the humble café. And what could be more cute than slurping a mug of matcha tea with a snoozing kitty on your lap? The correct answer is: nothing. So if you fancy cuddling an animal whilst getting your caffeine fix, Tokyo is the place. They have everything from bunny cafés, cat cafés and even hedgehog cafés!
Read more about our trip to some of Tokyo’s animal cafés here.
Takoyaki in Osaka
If you make it to Osaka make sure you try takoyaki- my favourite Japanese dish! Although you can find it throughout Japan, Osaka is credited as the birthplace of these little balls of heaven. Takoyaki consists of creamy octopus surrounded by fried batter, served with sweet sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) and mayonnaise. Go to Dotonbori for the best takoyaki in Osaka and gaze at the vendors’ lightning fast frying skills; gigantic octopus adorn the buildings, and there are queues of people waiting to get their hands on this, the mother of all street food.
Crêpes in Harajuku
Don’t you hate it when you’re craving a crêpe, but you also fancy vanilla cheesecake? Well Japan -the masters of ingenuity and efficiency- have solved your problem: wrap a slice of cheesecake in a crêpe and drizzle it with chocolate sauce. Needless to say, if you’re craving sugar, head to Harajuku. Stall after stall of sweet, syrupy, chocolaty, sugary goodness will keep you buzzing for hours.
Find out more about our trip to Harajuku here.
A regular steak can cost upwards of £70, but if your budget can stretch to it, try Kobe beef. Failing that, try ‘wagyu’ beef, which can be cheaper. Wagyu is the generic term for Japanese cows which produce high quality, marbled, tender cuts of meat. In other words, Kobe beef is an example of wagyu meat specifically raised in Kobe. It has gained renown worldwide, and this demand has raised the price of Kobe beef substantially. Wagyu meat from other areas of Japan are therefore more likely to be cheaper, but still very good. We actually tried Kobe beef whilst on a cooking class in Kyoto, which was a much more affordable way of trying it. It was potentially the most delicious meat we’ve ever tasted- it literally melted in the mouth. *drooling*
If this list doesn’t whet your appetite, nothing will. So if you love food, head to Japan and eat and eat and eat- it will be the best decision you ever make!