The title should in fact be tabemasu which means to eat, as nomimasu is to drink but I couldn’t resist the play on words, this is all about the amazing food we’ve eaten in Japan. There are many regional dishes and specialities and we’ve tried a fair few, it would be a dull post if we just ate McDonald’s or plain rice the whole time, plus we do love good food and Japan has not disappointed us!
Hmm, where to start? Well of course, we have only sampled some of the great eats Japan has to offer and often keep things fairly simply to stretch our budget that bit further; wagu beef certainly hasn’t been on our menu this trip! By far the best food we’ve had was while staying with a host family in Kumamoto, Toshiaki and his wife Atsuko. We ate like royalty or so it felt for the 2 nights we stayed there, tempura; such a delicious and light batter, poached fish, gyoza (fried dumplings) and we were sent off each day with a packed lunch and snacks, mmm.
Noodles are probably the dish we eat most frequently and we’ve munched and slurped our way through so many different types (it’s polite to slurp your noodle soup, shows you’re enjoying it), plus the portion sizes are massive and good value. From ramen (a bowl of noodles in broth) at a simple fast food outlet on a street corner, to instant noodles in pots; there are so many different types and flavours, one supermarket had two aisles full to choose from! An early favourites that’s been hard to beat was Champon, a dish from Nagasaki; ramen with pork, seafood and vegetables. One memorable experience was soba noodles, which we had up in the hillsides near Nagano. Soba, as we found out, are often served cold and then you dip them into your broth before eating and slurping of course! Cue a lesson from the waiter on how to eat my soba properly as I was obviously doing it wrong! After finishing our delicious meal, we then watched the chef making the soba noodles whilst waiting for our bus.
You can’t talk about Japanese food without mentioning sushi, for us it was a treat to celebrate a successful few days hiking in Yakushima. We went to a sushi bar, a bit like Yo Sushi back home but you get the added spectacle of watching the food being prepared right in front of your seat. When you think of sushi you may well think of discs of rice wrapped in seaweed with fillings in the middle, that’s actually makizushi and sushi also includes nigirizushi (raw fish on rice) or sashimi (raw fish or meat). One trick we learned is that at the end of the day the supermarkets reduce the price of any ready prepared sashimi that’s not sold, hard to say no to a tray of sashimi for under £2, oyshi desu (delicious)!
Another dish we’ve had a couple of versions of is dumplings. Gyoza, fairly common across Japan, similar to Chinese dumplings, they are fried and stuck together in a row of 5. However our favourite is Oyaki, a speciality of Nagano, big dumplings with lots of filling, sweet or savoury and either steamed or baked. These were delicious and another memorable experience as we watched the lovely old couple that ran the restaurant make and cook the Oyaki in front of us.
Now for a weird one, curry. It’s really popular in Japan but it’s nothing like Indian curry. If you went to the Jamboree then the curry we had at the staff canteen or cooked in the subcamp was typical Japanese curry. It all tastes fairly similar, not spicy and fairly sweet, with soft veg and meat that you’re not quite sure what it is but it tastes ok.
I’ve been told by Mike that I can’t finish this post without including sweets and cakes, the Japanese definitely have a sweet tooth! Bread and cakes are everywhere, although bread is quite sweet and often more like brioche, they can be a bit hit and miss and you’re left disappointed as visually it all looks so appealing. However two favourites are mochi (sticky rice balls filled with various fillings like bean paste) and bean paste jelly bars – Mike’s favourite hiking snack. I could go on and on about food as I’m sure you all know by now! Anyway those are definitely the highlights, we’ve also eaten Okonomiyaki (Hiroshima style), Yatai in Fukuoka (see earlier blog post) and sampled (free) Sake at a brewery in Nagano and now both enjoy it!
So finally what have I learned and will my experience in Japan change my cooking? The stand out dish for me is simple ramen; noodles, miso or soy sauce based soup, some veg and maybe a couple of slices of meat, topped with spring onion, quick, easy and tasty! I’ll also remember the simple and easy to prepare lunchbox snack of Onigiri; cooked rice with a small portion of savoury filling like tuna or vegetables in the middle, balled together into triangles or discs and wrapped in a seaweed sheet if you want to be authentic.