Exciting food exploration in Japan
Apologies for the absolute radio silence for the past few weeks! I have embarked on my funemployment trip (aka the trip all consultants take between quitting their jobs and going to business school), which consists mostly of travel throughout Asian countries. I’m visiting a mix of places that I’ve been to before, ones I haven’t, and seeing friends who live in these countries along the way. By traveling by myself, I’m honestly learning more every day than I ever thought possible about the culture, history, and of course food of these countries. One place I’ve wanted to go to for ages was Japan. I was a bit nervous about the language barrier, which did prove to be quite extreme, but I nevertheless had some unbelievable food experiences. Japanese food is among my favourite of all Asian foods, and although I did realise just how Americanized Japanese food is there, it was an amazing education to experience Japanese food of all types throughout my time in Kyoto and Tokyo.
On my first night in Kyoto, I happened upon a tiny restaurant seating perhaps 14 people at the bar that was quite bustling. No one spoke English and everyone stared at me upon entering when I somewhat sheepishly asked for an English menu. I went with the “omikase” which is basically the chef serves you things and you eat them and good luck with what you get. For the most part, it was quite successful, and I got an added bonus of sitting next to a few kind people who explained things to me in broken English. I truly felt like I was in a movie for most of this experience as so many exciting dishes were just placed in front of me in succession.
To start with, the Japanese are a big fan of pickled vegetables. I am always a fan of vegetables so I loved this as a starter – from left to right, eggplant, a mushroom spinach-y type mix, and some radishes and carrots.
Then came honestly the most perfect sashimi I have perhaps ever eaten. It was bonito and just presented so simply. It was exquisite – unbelievably fresh and perfect texture. Definitely savored every bite of this one!
So, you all know how I love tofu, but this dish did not do it for me. It was some sort of very soft tofu in a weird sauce…too adventurous even for me. The texture was just very odd. I could not eat more than a few bites!
It’s worth noting that baked goods, particularly little cakes, are AMAZING in Japan. I was so obsessed with all of the bakeries and particularly the food halls of department stores that just had rooms and rooms of little delicacies like the one above (that was just from the little bakery in my hotel in Kyoto). Japan knows how to do sweets!
Another common thing found in department stores is little bento boxes like the one above. I spent a fair amount of time simply gawking at the variety of foods you could get in any food hall in Japan (honestly, they put David Jones or Harrods to shame). This had a whole bunch of stuff that I had no idea what it was in it but I got it anyway because you know, when in Japan…
One day, I went to the Tsujiki fish market (Tokyo’s most famous fish market – or perhaps the world’s most famous fish market if we are being honest) and after gawking at all of the slaughtering of fish, I went to the tourist stalls nearby where one could actually consume it. So my breakfast that day was a Japanese omelette (they make them in funny containers and push them together to make them really compact and then put a stick in them and voila!) and some utterly fresh sashimi. Honestly this was the ultimate breakfast. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in the moment in a breakfast situation than I was when consuming this.
Above is a mug of iced green tea and some delightful chicken meatball and mushroom yakitori skewers. A big thing after work in Tokyo is to go to little bars and get some of these delicious little bites to go with your beer. They are all fresh and hot and amazing.
Another utterly amazing thing that you can find in alleyways of Tokyo are NOODLE BARS. I was on the way back from fancy drinks at the Park Hyatt and stumbled upon a soba bar that seated only about 10 people all happily slurping away. I sat down, pointed at what I wanted, and got this bowl of soba noodles, seaweed, and an egg. It cost about 4 dollars and could not have been more delicious in that moment. Seriously.
Because Tokyo has more Michelin starred restaurants than any other city in the world, I decided I had to at least try a 2 starred one for lunch (they have much better deals then – you can escape for under $50 USD). I decided on Edition Koji Shimomura and after just a bit of trouble finding it (good luck trying to find an address in Tokyo when you don’t speak Japanese), I found myself in a lovely tiny little restaurant with immaculate service.
The first course was…interesting. It was oyster-centric which was a bit difficult because honestly I’m not a fan of oysters. On the bottom there was an oyster mousse, a dabble of lemon and lime jelly, then actual oysters, and then seaweed on top. I struggled here, not gonna lie. I just can’t do oysters in most circumstances. If I liked them though I’m sure I would have enjoyed this.
The next course was much more to my liking! It was a perfectly cooked duck breast with assorted fresh vegetables including asparagus and sugar snap peas. The presentation was artful and it definitely tasted delicious.
But of course, dessert was my favourite, probably because it was centred on chocolate. There was a glass of cocoa water (which tasted amazing – think chocolate milk but water instead), ganache with olive oil drizzled around the side, and some kind of powdered chocolate sorbet. The best part about the dessert was that the flavour of the chocolate water deepened after tasting the ganache and the sorbet. Perfect way to finish off a meal for sure.
So I thought the meal was good, but honestly compared with some of the food I’ve had in Sydney at 2 and 3 hatted restaurants, I can’t say I was terribly impressed. I mean it was definitely delicious, but perhaps I’ve been spoiled by just how fine the fine dining in Sydney is. I’m sure if I shelled out even more money at a dinner in Tokyo I would get to the next level of culinary nirvana. Next time perhaps!
My last meal in Tokyo though was also fantastic because it was at a place where the menu was all in Japanese and I had some generous colleagues (well, ex-colleagues I suppose) that took the time to take me out! It was all yakitori, which is grilled skewers of mostly meat, and it was even more delicious than the yakitori I’d had the other day.
Yakitori is totally the equivalent of Japanese comfort food. Here is chicken, and also some more chicken. At one point they also served chicken cartilege, which you are apparently supposed to eat all of. (I did not.)
Overall, dining in Japan was basically the stuff of dreams. I know that I barely even scratched the surface too – no fancy sushi restaurants for example – but I think I got a good sample of department stores food, bento boxes, sashimi, omikase, yakitori, and of course so many baked goods and cakes. I left Japan already wanting to go back. The food alone is a reason, not to mention its incredible culture and ridiculous amount of things to do!