JUDY EATS: FOOD VIBES IN JAPAN
We didn't have very much on our Japan agenda; visit Enna, go skiing, and EAT. Food is always great motivation for travel. My appetite has always been pretty adventurous. I grew up eating pig's blood soup, bone marrow, and fried fish for breakfast. James? Not so much. He didn't even eat seafood until we met and I forced him to try it. (12 years ago). Now you'll catch him feasting on tuna tartare and I couldn't be more proud.
While I still have an appreciation for all types of cuisines, my diet is a lil restricted these days. Still eating eggs, fish, and keep it rather plant based otherwise. I keep it light on the dairy but still binge on a block o' bleu from time to time. I was so excited when I saw the term, flexitarian, in print because that's how I'd like to identify. (BC im cheesy) I knew that I had to be flexible during this trip because didn't want to miss any cultural experiences and I also could barely read most menus.
And let me be really real. It hasn't been that long since I've dipped chicken liver pate or had a meat snack on the clock. It is my job to describe and sell food, so I should know what things taste like. Plus, don't want anything to go to waste! So if it's free and for R&D, I will certainly try it!.
Let's take a walk down memory and see everything that we ate in Japan!!
First meal in Japan. We hopped off of our 13 hours flight and it was suddenly dinner time. We were greeted with tea and ordered a round of Asahis. I got the salmon sashimi plus ikura (roe) over rice. On the side was: miso soup, mentaiko, pickled vegetables, greens, and a boiled tofu dish. About 1800 yen for the entire set!
This is where we learned that in Japan, you call for your server by saying "sumi ma sen". It has a variety of meanings, mostly "excuse me" or "sorry". The most useful word to know, if you ever go to Japan!
Our first izakaya experience.
An izakaya is basically a Japanese gastropub. When people go out, they go hard, and food is usually is involved. First of all, we loved that there was a basket under our table for our bags and hangers behind the table for our coats. There are turmeric pills (take 3) on the table for your future hangover. We ordered so much good stuff! Potato salad with mentaiko (pollock roe), cucumbers with miso, oden (winter hot pot), fried sardines, lotus root, plus beers, of course!
My only complaint about Japanese dining is that smoking is still allowed indoors. I forgot how much it makes your clothes stink!
We went to the Family Mart kombini (convenience store) pretty much every day. Onigiri (rice balls) filled with so many things! I always got ikura (duh) or with greens. Don't even get me started on the snacks. Shrimp chips, vegetable straws, green tea kit-kats!!! Plus iced matcha, solo beers, and hard-boiled eggs on-the-go. We were eternally equipped with snacks. Sharing with friends is the best part!!
The Noodle Bazaar at the CupNoodle Museum was one of the most adorable places that we dined at! There were noodle stands from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, China, Kazakstan, and Italy! You pay 300 yen for a noodle dish and a culturally-appropriate drink. I had noodles from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Japan--which were original CupNoodles and a melon soda. I was so tempted to get noodles from Italy (and San Pellegrino). I indulged in Uji Kintoki (Green Tea Shaved Ice) with condensed milk, syrup, and red beans for dessert. It was a day of decadence, for sure.
We were in Tokyo for a hot minute at the beginning of our trip, the Nakano neighborhood. We had a salad, tuna sashimi, and tonkatsu. There are essentially two major ways of frying food; katsu or tempura. Most fried food is always served with shredded cabbage. It's all about balance.
Afterwards Enna and I got cocktails at Vow's Buddhist Bar. Our bartender was a Buddhist Monk whose favorite band is Baby Metal! We only had one drink because we had to catch an early train the next morning.
We spent Christmas day drinking sake and skiing!! It was a challenging day and when I finally made it down the mountain (after an hour and a half), I needed comfort food. I thoroughly enjoyed udon (or maybe it was soba) with vegetable tempura (there is a more legit name that I'm forgetting), an Asahi tall boy, and a real ass Coca-Cola. It was the most rewarding meal.
For Christmas dinner, we traded our normal Italian Festa dei sette pesci tradition for a feast of Japanese fish meal while wearing our yukatas (casual kimonos). I came to really enjoy the meals that we were eating at the Japanese inns. Fried fish, raw fish, miso soup, pickled vegetables. There were slight changes to each menu, depending on the region. I absolutely love Japanese breakfast. More fried fish, cold vegetables, tofu with bonito, seaweed salad, eggs, beans! Plus a coffee with chocolate to finish.
We spent about 4 days in Kanazawa and absolutely loved it! There was actually a 10 page article in Air Canada's December issue of En Route about this up and coming city. This is where we learned about Kanazawa's rich history of gold leaf. There are castles, temples, shrines, and a geisha-tea district. We stayed very close to the train station, which was a helpful point of reference while we were walking around.
After touring the Gold Leaf Museum, where I bought myself a tiny gold spoon and was given complimentary tea with gold flakes, I had to indulge in ice cream wrapped in gold leaf!! Consuming gold leaf really validated all of my years drinking Goldschlager.
Our first night in town we came up on a ramen spot where the only options were spicy or not spicy. It was chicken and included a chicken meatball. Ramen restaurants are like diners. Get in, slurp your noodles, and get out. No camping, especially when there is a line wrapped around the building. People are so accommodating and will hurry up and eat, so you can eat next. Keep that in mind the next time you are lolly-gagging at a table!
Later that night, we went to karaoke and indulged in nomi hodai (all you can drink). Needless to say, the night ended with kombini snacks and the next day began with coconut water. Coco water tastes slightly different in Japan, but it's ability to cure a hangover is just the same!
We skipped Tsukiji Fish Market while in Tokyo (the biggest wholesale seafood market in the world!!) While in Kanazawa, we spent some time at the Omi-cho Market, which according to Enna was a way better experience because it wasn't as packed. Going to the market with my Grandma was a childhood pasttime, therefore I was in market heaven. I had mackerel on a stick, an octopus croquette, fresh pineapple, and the most sought-after delicacy, UNI! We had been searching for uni all day and I was the happiest sqirl to find this, fresh out the shell for only 1000 yen.
There was a kaiten (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant in the market but the line was insane for lunch. We wanted to go for dinner, but they were closed plus it was raining like crazy. We asked our taxi driver to take us to the closest kaiten and he totally sent us to a secret locals spot. It was such an experience! Each plate has a different color, which determines the price. I was so blown away by self-service matcha! Water spickets at the bar! Calling orders via microphone! As you can see, I had 8 plates plus clam miso soup and sake in a box, of course!
Ikura (salmon roe) is my all-time favorite piece of sushi. Paired with my favorite beverage, I was blissed out.
We just happened to walk past a vegan macrobiotic restaurant while trekking to Kanazawa Castle, aptly named Los Angeles. A small-ish menu, we opted for the 3 course lunch. This included a salad, a ginger burger, and a muffin (I chose yuzu.) There was a delicious clear drink that had ginger bits, I have no idea what it was! I may never know. Plus I had roasted rice coffee for the first time and the flavor is so robust and unique. I can't speak enough about how impeccable service is in Japan, everywhere! Their culture of hospitality is so genuine and accommodating.
Later that evening, we spent the night in a ryokan, where we relaxed in the onsen and had dinner served to us in our room!! Can you believe that entire meal was only 2000 yen. After we finished, the staff came to our room to clear our dishes and set up our beds on the tatami mats. Staying in a ryokan is an absolute must while in Japan!
After Kanazawa, we traveled to Osaka and didn't have much planned. We set out to find the Gudetama Cafe, which was on the 7th floor of one of the many malls tethered to Osaka Station. A lover of all things Sanrio, the Gudetama Cafe was SO KAWAII. I love James for enduring experiences like this. I enjoyed a delicious udon dish with soy milk and shrimp paste. This was the first time we used the Google Translate photo option to translate the menu. We had a latte for dessert and honestly, I would have ordered everything if James would have let me.
We took a day trip to Nara, where we had our first vending machine ramen experience. We were wandering down this cute lil street, trying to find food. James literally followed a scent to this spot. There were only two dudes working and they were slinging noodles with the quickness. I never saw one single vegetarian/pescatarian option in these machines. No biggie. The broth was always delicious and I would just give James the meat.
Our AirBNB in Osaka was centrally located to many things. The subway station was across the street, next to a cafe where I had soy matcha lattes and James ate hot dogs for breakfast. There was an izakaya style restaurant downstairs called Wa-Ta-Mi, which apparently has many locations throughout Japan. They had an extensive menu that included delicacies like horse sashimi. I opted for smelt roe, salmon belly, and sparkling sake! The kombini was next door, so got ice cream to eat in bed but forgot spoons! Chopsticks will do the trick, if you're in a bind.
I am OBSESSED with black sesame. I love how nutty and earthy the flavor is. Black sesame seeds are the perfect addition to my daily avocado toast. During our 2 hours wait to get into the Naritasan Shinshoji temple, there were many vendors along the way, so you could pop out of line and get a nibble. This cone was probably my favorite thing that I ate in Japan.
Real talk, I was super hungover on New Year's Day and my morning consisted trying not to barf oranges and green tea. When I finally got an appetite, we indulged in jaga-bata, which is a grilled potato slathered in butter. We made it more decadent with mentaiko mayo and hot sauce. It cured me along with a Metz cola. While in the temple, there was festival style food, where we had lots of food like ikayaki (squid on a stick) and french fries topped with nori.
On our last full day in Tokyo, we had been shoppin' til we dropped and got a lil hangry. After a failed attempt of finding tempura at the mall food court (there were 2 floors), we hopped on a train to Harajuku and hoped for the best. The streets were packed and we turned down a lil side street where we found a tiny restaurant with open seats! There were pictures of a calico cat everywhere! The mackerel set was only 1200 yen yet the chef apologized for raising her prices due to the crowds.
Late lunch = late dinner which means we missed out on getting a bucket from KFC. We had a light snacks at the izakaya near the karaoke spot. In hindsight, I should have eaten a lot more to balance the nomi hodai whiskey-gingers! We survived karaoke and I woke up still turnt the next morning. It was for the best because I was feeling goofy. We had KFC chicken biscuits after checking out of our Airbnb. Honestly, I am so fascinated by American fast food around the globe, I had to check it out. The chicken was tempura fried and the biscuit was sold separately. The most delicious morning after breakfast!
Our last meal in Tokyo was ramen, of course! Every ramen spot that we went to was different from each other, which is so fun. We walked into this one spot and nobody was eating. Moments after sitting down, we knew something was up. Enna says it's rare to see people just sitting around and not eating! We quietly dipped and found a gem around the corner. It was a perfect last meal. The quail egg/ double egg was a nice touch. I so needed the protein!
THE REAL MVP OF JAPAN
The most incredible thing about Japan is that there are vending machines EVERYWHERE. Literally on every block. There was always green tea and water but the variety of food and drank was endless. Rice crackers with anchovies, sparkling apple soda, HOT CORN SOUP. If you were lucky, you might roll up on a beer or cigarette machine. While you might hunt miles for a trash can, there was a machine on every block to fulfill your every desire.
I don't really want to think about all of the gazillions of plastic bottles that go into filling these machines, so lets talk about how there is basically no litter in Japan!!! There is no litter in Japan.
Our mission in Japan was to eat and we did exactly that. I cannot think of one meal that I disliked. The Japanese diet consists of mostly plants, fish, and vegetables, which might be the key to why people live so long! I always felt energized after every meal, never uncomfortably full. Since we've been home, I have incorporated more Japanese cuisine into my current diet. I've been making my own miso broth, eating more buckwheat noodles, and turned my matcha game to 100. Japanese food is a lifestyle and I'm about that life!