In days gone by, all roads led to Rome. Nowadays, all roads (and flights) lead to Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun. Apart from the annual cherry blossoms and other cultural sights and experiences, a great reason to head to Japan is its wonderful culinary scene. Japanese chefs are renowned for their finesse, love of innovation, as well as their appreciation of their local traditions. It seems there is no end to the creativity in Japanese cuisine, and it would be a shame to miss out. For gourmets and gourmands alike, read on for a list of must-eat dishes in Japan, and where to find them!
This special pancake made from flour, egg, cabbage, and other savory ingredients such as meats and cheeses is a popular snack item in Japan, served both in restaurants and street stalls. Two cities with different okonomiyaki styles are Osaka and Hiroshima. Osaka okonomiyakis are cooked with all the ingredients mixed into a batter which is subsequently grilled and then topped with mayonnaise and other condiments. Hiroshima okonomiyaki is more akin to a crepe, with the pancake batter being cooked first, then topped with all the other ingredients before folding and adding more toppings and sauces. Either experience is a treat for residents and visitors alike!
As the name states, this delectable type of beef has its roots in Kobe, the capital city of the Hyōgo Prefecture on the island of Honshu. Only a small number of cattle are certified as being actual Kobe, and thus are expensive to export out of the country. Genuine Kobe beef is worth the long visit to the prefecture, since it is incomparable in terms of its quality and marbling. This meat can be prepared in a variety of ways but is really best enjoyed as steak cooked to your desired level of doneness. Visit steakhouses and inns in the area to try some of this mouth-watering delicacy!
Totoro Cream Puffs
Fans of the animated movies by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli will surely enjoy a visit to the Shiroge’s Cream Puff factory in Tokyo. This whimsical pastry shop has two branches in Tokyo, one of which is merely a kilometre away from the Studio Ghibli museum. What better way to extend your Studio Ghibli experience than by munching on some cute Totoro shaped cream puffs? The newer branch at Kichijoji also features a new cookie made in the shape of the Catbus from the movie “My Neighbor Totoro”. Only about 50 of these are made each day, so hurry up and get in line before the daily supply runs out!
Japan has its own take on haute cuisine, known locally as kaiseki. True to the Japanese aesthetic, kaiseki puts as much emphasis on simplicity of forms and beauty of presentation as it does on taste and innovation. The best places to feast your eyes as well as your stomachs are located within the capital of Tokyo as well as the former imperial city of Kyoto. Kyoto is home to several Michelin star restaurants that serve traditional kaiseki as well as innovative meals going up to 11 courses!
Of course, no food trip to Japan would be complete without trying out its seafood. At its best, the bounty of the ocean can be enjoyed as sashimi, freshly cut with only light soy sauce and wasabi as condiments. What better place to go than to Tokyo’s seafood markets and specialty restaurants? The famous Tsukiji fish market has relocated to Toyosu, where now visitors can buy meals of fresh seafood or watch the famed tuna auction. The old outer market at Tsukiji is still operational and remains as a destination for seafood aficionados. A caveat though: some seafood such as fugu must be prepared only by licensed chefs, so do your homework before taking a bite!
Japan has much to offer by way of culinary tradition and innovation. These dishes and their respective homes are only a small smattering of what can be found on a food trip through this archipelago. We hope that this list will help you map out your itinerary for your trip to Japan. Happy eating!