The best things I’ve eaten in Japan so far

3 Dec

Japanese food has grown very popular over the past few decades in North America. And while all the usual suspects are prevalent here — sushi, tempura, miso soup and more — there is so much more to Japanese food. It’s varied, with many different influences; many dishes have been adopted and transformed into Japanese versions. Japanese food is also very regional. Regions, cities and even villages have their special dishes or variations on favourites.

Very good quality Japanese food is delicate, with no overpowering flavours, but rather an emphasis on subtle flavours, fresh ingredients and textures. Then there is all the incredible street foods, greasy pub dishes, and Western influenced desserts which have big flavours and cause strong reactions. Here are some of the best things to grace my stomach so far:

Ramen

Before I left for Toronto, ramen was becoming very popular with new restaurants popping up monthly with the classic Toronto two hour lines forming outside. Ramen, a noodle soup dish that originated from China, is an everyday meal here with restaurants all over Osaka. The first bowl of ramen I had was unlike anything I had in Canada. I used the vending machine outside to get my ticket, sat at the long bar inside the ramen shop and was given the big bowl of fresh noodles in a rich pork and chicken base with fatty pork on top and spicy kimchi and curly green onions to add. So good. I’ve already been back to that spot as well as tried numerous others across the city, all with their own variations.

Okonomiyaki

This has to be one of those “only in Japan” dishes. Okonomiyaki is one of Osaka’s specialties. It’s a bit like a pancake or an omelette with egg, batter, cabbage, meat, cheese, tempura bits and more fried together and drizzled with Japanese BBQ-like sauce, mayonnaise and other mysterious delicious sauces.

“Okonomi” means “what you like” and “yaki” is grilled. So it’s basically a bunch of things thrown in a batter and grilled together into a delicious mess. They can be had on the side of the road for 130 yen ($1.50) or in specialty okonomiyaki restaurants. Some cheaper restaurants apparently just hand you ingredients and you cook it yourself. It also varies across the country, with some places, like Hiroshima, adding noodles.

Small okonomiyakis at an izakaya - a Japanese pub.

Small okonomiyakis at an izakaya – a Japanese pub.

Japanese curry

This was a surprising one for me. I didn’t really think Japan had their own variation on curry, but they do, and it’s delicious. The plastic food displays outside curry restaurants never looked appealing, with the curry looking more like something that came out of someone’s mouth. But a friend at lunch raved about the curry she was eating so I was intrigued. I had curry beef over fried, breaded pork and udon noodles, a very heavy meal, and it was incredible. Like a stew, with spice, but not overpowering like an Indian or Thai curry. It’s difficult to describe but it’s delicious.

Mochi

Mochi is rice that has been pounded over and over until it’s just a paste. It is then shaped into balls and filled with sweet red bean filling or other things. I love the gummy texture of them. The more decadent ones are filled with something like cream cheese or chocolate. My new friend and I have begun to discuss our days in terms of whether or not we will be eating mochi. It’s addictive.

Cheesecake buns

I’m not sure what they’re called or what they are really. But a friend pointed them out and they’re amazing. Hot, fresh buns filled with this oozy filling that tastes just like cheesecake.

Sushi

And of course, Japan’s most famous dish — sushi! I haven’t had a lot of incredible sushi here as it’s one of those things where the sky’s the limit in terms of price. Sushi is available in all convenience and grocery stores and can be bought for 100 yen a plate off a conveyor belt. But high quality sushi is an entirely different thing. I went for some last weekend and it wasn’t even that expensive. About 1600 yen ($20) for a beer and some of the most incredible sushi of my life. The salmon sushi was like butter, it was so tender, without the slightest fishy taste. This is what Japanese dreams are made of.

 

This is cheap sushi. The better stuff went right into my mouth.

This is cheap sushi. The better stuff went right into my mouth.

 

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Takoyaki and Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations Osaka | Japaneasy - December 10, 2012

    […] differ from Tokyoites. He, of course, samples Osaka’s specialties — okonomiyaki, which I described recently, and takoyaki. Takoyaki – balls of octopus fire. (From: […]

  2. TRAVEL: Visiting Hiroshima | Japaneasy - January 27, 2013

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