Let’s Talk About Food – Back to Japan Day 7

 

There are certain places in the world that people think of when they think of food, Italy, France, Thailand, and most definitely Japan. The culinary delights that can be explored in this country seems to be unlimited, and it would take a lifetime to explore them all. Each of them offer new tantalizing tastes that will make your bud sing, and a blog itself would have to be dedicated to the many ways food is offered in this country.

Of course, when the common man thinks about Japanese food, the first thing that comes to mind is sushi. It is an exotic dish in the United States, but it is not as big of a deal in Japan. Even though there are many fancy restaurants that can be found that serve this dish, it is considered more something that a person can grab for a quick lunch or even breakfast. My favorite way to eat sushi out here is to find the places that sit everybody around the cooks who constantly place various plates on a conveyor belt. You just pull off what looks good, and then the add up the plates, you pay and you go. It keeps everybody happy, and it is a fun way to eat sushi.

Another fun dish to have is okonomiyaki. This is kind of like a pancake made with dry rice as the main ingredient, but there are many other things that they throw into them. You mix them up in a bowl, and the cook them at your table. You can get healthy choices with fish and vegetables, or you can go the route that I went and load it up with a bunch of different meats. There is a really good restaurant that serves this in Harajuku called Sakura Tei. It is a little hard to find because it is hidden well among art galleries, but it might be one of my favorite restaurants in the world because of the food, atmosphere, and fun of making my own savory pancake.

I was also able to experience a lot of street food on this trip to Japan. Anywhere the cherry blossoms come out, they set up a festival for the two weeks that it happens. The booths come out and a variety of food is offered. You can find anything from ramen to fried potato swirls. It is also a fun way to dine because you get to jump into the festivities going on around you, and everybody can find something that they will enjoy.

Speaking of noodles, Japan offers many different types of them from cold buckwheat noodles to think steaming bowls of udon noodles. During the summer months, the colder options are great, but on this trip there was a little bit of winter still in the air, and I enjoyed the hot udon noodles. Many times they are served with some tempura to make a great meal anytime of the day.

Japan is also well known for its Kobe beef. This might be the most tender steak that I have ever had. It just melts in your mouth, and it is worth every penny I spent on it. The rumor behind why this beef is so tender is because the ranchers who raise these cows will feed them beer and massage them while they are alive. It makes the beef tender, and it makes me happy that at least the cow had a happy drunken life while still alive.

Basically, it does not matter where you go in Japan; there is going to be something amazing waiting for you. You just need to be a little adventuresome because you might not always know what it is you will be getting. There are many traditional Japanese dishes out there, but this a very creative country, and I always come across something new that quickly becomes my favorite new dish. The food alone makes coming out here worth it.

They Can’t Shut Us Down – Back to Japan Day 6

Early shoppers at Tsujuki Fish Market

One of the most memorable experiences of my first visit to Japan was visiting the fish market in Tsujuki. It was a big warehouse where all the day’s catch would be brought in to be chopped up and sold to the local markets and restaurants. It was a crazy experience of fishermen and butchers working in harmony with buyers who were looking for the perfect fillet of spicy tuna. It smelled a little of fish, but it was an experience that always stuck with me. Recently, this old market shut down and moved off to a new location. It was a big event that was talked about in all of the newspapers around the world because Tsujuki was one of the oldest and largest fish markets in the world. It could be destructive to this iconic part of Tokyo, but the restaurants and shops that established themselves over the years were not going to let the place shut down that quietly.

Namiyoke Inari Shrine on the edge of the Tsujuki Fish Market.

There are still three blocks of merchants that get up early every morning to open up their shops and welcome the crowds that make their way down there. The shrine on the corner of the market is still visited by these same people to give out a quick prayer before they set off for the day. And more importantly the crowds of people still come down to this place to snap pictures and enjoy the food that is here.

A crab kissing a fish.

The smell of fresh fish still lingers in this corner of the city even though the buyers have left it behind, but there are still numerous sushi restaurants that open their doors at 5:00 in the morning to serve breakfast, and the old statues are still hanging from the buildings. It is not only fish that they sell here either. There are many stores that offer fresh coffee, tea or ice cream. Vendors also bring in fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as all of the appliances needed in order to make the meals you want with all the fresh food that you just bought. Of course, there are the shops that sell the silly tourist things like t-shirts and trinkets, but that is not the main focus of this place.

Snow crab being prepared for me on the street of the Tsujuki Fish Market.

It is all about the food, and some of the best bites that this place has to offer are prepared on the street. They will make egg on a stick, thin slices of Kobe beef, and various types of fish of course. My favorite was the fresh snow crab that was fried in oil, and then put on a big pat of butter before smothered in soy sauce before it was all glazed right in front of me. It was served with a little bit of Dijon mustard, and would have been considered gourmet anywhere else in the world. But here it is just street food. It is this grounded feeling that this neighborhood has that makes sure that it will always last even though the fish market has moved to another part of the city.