Sunday, October 24, 2010

Food tour of Japan

14 days isn't a lot of time. When you break it down, that's roughly 42 meals excluding snacks. My goal for this holiday, as it is with any holiday, is to sample as much of the local food as my digestive system will allow. When you find yourself in Japan, you realise you have a formidable challenge before you.


Potentially deadly unless prepared by a trained chef, many people wonder what all the fuss is about. I had a fugu course consisting of sashimi, fried fugu and fugu hot pot. The flesh is quite firm so the sashimi had to be sliced very thin. The texture that made the sashimi underwhelming in first course, really shone in the second. Fried fugu was a revelation! Firm and juicy, this fish was made for frying. The final course was a hot pot with mixed vegetables. The firm flesh was again very tasty and easy to pick from the bones. Looks like my chef passed his/her fugu preparation exams!

District in Tokyo specialising in kitchen ware and all things to do with cookery/catering. Come here for all your cooking needs and the replica food models you see out of Japanese restaurants.

Powdered green tea has jumped from the tea cup into all sorts of dishes. You will find matcha flavoured soft serve, Kit-Kats, cakes, biscuits and the list goes on....

Massively popular in Japan without the hype of Masterchef. The Japanese love their pastry and this is reflected in the plethora of luxury chocolate boutiques and cake stores. Even Lipton Tea has up-market pastry shops. The two big names in the macaron universe are Laduree and Pierre Herme. The amount of packaging for 3 Herme macarons was astounding: cardboard bag, plastic bag and a cool pack!
Flavours sampled were:
chocolate, salted caramel, olive oil & vanilla, coffee, caramel praline. I loved the avant garde flavours of Pierre Herme, but in my opinion, Laduree was the best based on texture and taste.

Mos Burger
Japan's answer to McDonalds. Tasty burgers and nice for a change of pace.

Tasty and satisfying noodles served in a pork, fish, or soy(miso) based broth. Deep and intense flavours but one to avoid if you are on a low sodium diet!

Fried pork cutlet. Juicy and satisfying.

Tsukiji Fish Markets
One of the highlights and a must see on a trip to Tokyo. The variety and quantity of seafood is staggering. Come early (5am) for a sushi breakfast before wandering through the markets. We arrived at Sushi Dai around 5:10am and still had to wait 45 minutes to be seated. The sushi was some of the freshest I've tasted and were served straight onto the wooden counter you were seated at. Among the sushi included in the set course were: tuna, yellowfin, red clam, scallop and eel. I saw the toro (fatty tuna) and had to order one which ended costing an extra $10 - ouch!
Surprisingly you don't see much salmon about on the menus. Here, tuna is king. The Japanese consume about 30% of the world's tuna and here, you can see their transition from sea to plate. Those of you who only know tuna as a beige chunk of flesh, packaged in a tin with brine will be surprised when you see the real thing. They are impressive creatures and much bigger than would imagine. The knives required to butcher these fish can almost be 6 feet long and more resemble swords. Be careful with your cameras though as workers generally do not like pictures taken of the tuna. Other seafood is fine and you will see varieties of fish, shellfish and crustaceans that you never knew existed. Do take care and watch your step as the workers dart around in their motorised buggies navigating around impossibly narrow spaces. There is also a separate fresh produce market selling fruit and vegetables that is worth a look. Here's a pic of fresh wasabi.

Grilled eel - the sweet sauce and flesh combined with the gelatinous skin makes this one of my favourite Japanese dishes

Vending Machines
Not only limited to dispensing cool drinks like Calpis, vending machines are use in restaurants to handle the ordering/paying process. Choose your dish, pop your money in, hand the ticket to the waitress and out comes your set menu.

Chicken/assorted meats/offal and vegetables grilled over hot coals on skewers. Smokey and delicious.


Nishiki Markets
Kyoto's famous food markets. Extending along a single covered street. You could spend hours wandering up and down.

Buckwheat noodles served hot/cold with a soy/dashi dipping sauce. Beautiful al-dente texture.


My lovely and generous friends in Osaka treated us to a crab course consisting of boiled crab, crab sashimi, roasted crab, crab brains, crab hot pot, tempura crab, crab sushi, and crab/rice pot! It was fantastic to have crab served in so many different ways. The shell had even been partly sliced off for easy access to the sweet and firm flesh.

Osaka's cooking/catering equipment central. Just a few minutes walk from Namba station, this is a must visit if you're shopping for crockery, cutlery or a heavy duty commercial equipment.

A centre of knife manufacture in Japan. Many of the top professional knives are forged from raw materials right here. Only a 15 minute train ride from central Osaka. Definitely for the knife enthusiast, there is a knife museum and a few shops within walking distance. Check your credit limit - some knives can cost well over $2000 each! Exquisite craftmanship.

This cabbage 'pancake' that was developed in Osaka after the war when supplies were scarce. Seafood or meat is added, then finished with BBQ sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and bonito flakes. Delicious, satisfying and great value.

Octopus 'balls' formed from a batter, seasonings and a chunk of octopus. Again finished with BBQ sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and bonito flakes. A great snack for any time of day.

Kobe Beef
This is where the wagyu craze all started. Top grade beef is designated A4-A5. Prices will shock your bank manager. I chose a Kobe beef course that consisted of various seafood dishes, beef 'sashimi' and a tenderloin fillet. The texture was melt in your mouth - amazing. The richness that comes from the fatty tissue was delicious. However, there wasn't much of a beef flavour. To compound this, the fillets (around 130 grams) are cut quite thinly and then served pre-cut into bite sized pieces. So you don't get the satisfaction you would from slicing into a big slab of meat. If I had my time again (and provided I had somewhere to cook), I would spend $60 on a fat kobe beef steak from the butcher instead of going for the fancy $160 course (that's right - $160per head for lunch!). Overrated in my opinion...
Hiroshima Okonomiyaki
Hiroshima has their own variant of the okonomiyaki throwing soba noodles into mix. The noodles make for a slightly lighter meal and they crisp up nicely around the edges to give another textural dimension. Very tasty and if I had to choose between Osaka or Hiroshima okonomiyaki, I would pick Hiroshima for lunch and Osaka for dinner!


  1. You went to Japan for two weeks and didn't pack me in your luggage??? Well done for surviving the fugu, interesting to see what all the fuss was about, looks like you had a fabulously appetising time!

  2. Wow you ticked all the right 'must eat' boxes in my opinion. How many knives did you bring back?

  3. ooh ive always wanted to try fugu! heh i think cos of simpsons :P

  4. Amazing pics and food! I wonder if frying the fugu gets rid of any poison? Poison poisson is not good for anyone!

  5. I love Japan! I want to go again soon .. Where are your knives?!?

  6. I remember trying fugu when I was in Japan. I think the Simpsons episode was running through all of our heads!

  7. And for those curious about the Simpsons episode:

  8. Wow, where to start?!! You covered so much territory in such a little time, kudos for that! I hope you managed to get some sightseeing done as well as eating! :D For my money (and I know I haven't tasted the real thing) salmon pips tuna every time. I've only had really really good tuna once and never since but sashimi salmon I could eat till the cows come home. I was also fascinated to see that the Takoyaki photo you took looked exactly like the one on my pack of Takoyaki flavoured potato chips (blog alert!). They must teach all chefs to serve it that way! He he!

  9. Thanks so much for the tour! I'm going to Japan in a few weeks time!

  10. Great pics, fantastic little foodie tour you've given us. Would have loved to check out the knife shop too.

  11. What a fabulous food tour! it makes me wish I had spent more time in Tokyo! Great post, my favorite part about traveling is definitely the food!