Sorry I've been a bit mia recently. All social media and Google is blocked in China so it's been impossible for me to get online. So be prepared for an overload of blog posts coming up :)
I just had to share a food diary style post of our time spent in Japan eating quite possibly the best food of our lives! I thought I'd start with Tokyo as it's one of the world's most densely populated cities and therefore has more restaurants, cafes, and fast food chains than most other international cities. In Shibuya (a suburb of Tokyo) there are over 6000 restaurants alone!!
Sushi Kanesaka, Ginza, Tokyo
Japan is of course famed for it's sushi but it's not quite like sushi anywhere else in the world. Here it is an art form! And good sushi will set you back at least £50-£100. But it's worth it! These top sushi restaurants are world renowned and it is honestly like nothing we've ever tasted before. Their expert chefs carefully prepare each dish in front of you, from the expensive cut of fish to the room temperature rice to the hint of wasabi. It's perfection! The dining experience was one of our favourites from the whole trip. If you can afford it you have to do it. It's a once in a lifetime!
Uobei (sushi), Shibuya, Tokyo
On the other end of the sushi spectrum is of course fast food sushi, similar to what we're used to eating. If you want to experience Tokyo at it's most hi-tech you have to visit Uobei. This super cool sushi diner features touch screen menus where you can choose up to 3 dishes at a time. They then get express delivered to your seat, you remove the dish and send the tray back to the kitchen by the press of a button! It's also worth mentioning that each dish contains 1-3 pieces of sushi depending on the fish and only costs roughly 50p per dish!!! Ridiculously cheap and that is something hard to find in Tokyo so this place is a must if you're on a budget. If you want to see the whole thing in action check out the video on my Instagram.
Harajuku Gyoza Ro, Harajuku, Tokyo
Who loves gyoza? Who doesn't! Especially when they're fried, mm mm!! In Harajuku there is a restaurant who does gyoza like no other. Here you will find a simple menu of two flavoured gyoza and you can choose fried or steamed. With seating around the kitchen you can watch the chefs in action, each specialising in a different stage of the gyoza process. If you want some sides with you gyoza go for the cucumber which comes with a miso paste which is to die for! Their warm sake is pretty damn good too.
Tonki (tonkatsu), Meguro, Tokyo
A big thank you goes to friends of ours for recommending this tonkatsu restaurant in Meguro. Tonkatsu basically means breaded pork cutlet. It's very popular in Japan but this place served up the best tasting ones we tried. Dating back years and years the family run business has a traditional menu with a modern flare of interior design. It's a very cool place to eat, again sat around the bar watching the chefs at work. Like Gyoza Ro, Tonki specialises in just one dish. You'll find this in most restaurants in Japan. So no wonder they're food tastes incredible when they focus on just one dish and have been perfecting it for years.
Hantei (traditional Japanese), Ueno, Tokyo
Hantei is a traditional Japanese restaurant, housed in one of the oldest buildings in Tokyo. Here you will experience traditional dining of removing your shoes and sitting on tatami flooring. The menu is a set menu and you just choose which price you want to pay (the more you pay the more delicious tempura you receive!). As well as tempura there are light refreshing snacks of carrot, cabbage and cucumber which you dip in a dark miso paste. If like me you have a bit of a sweet tooth you'll want to gobble this dip up! To finish you can enjoy a seaweed tea soup. Sounds strange but it tasted nice and rounded off the meal perfectly.
Shabu shabu, Tokyo
Annoyingly I can't remember the name of this restaurant but shabu shabu is a famous dish in Japan and is served all over. There's certainly plenty of places to try it in Tokyo. Basically the word 'shabu' refers to the swishing movement you make when dipping your meat or vegetables into the boiling broth. Normally you can pay a set price and you will get an unlimited amount of either pork or beef (or both) and vegetables of your choosing plus unlimited drinks for 2 hours. The times and prices vary but they're all in this style. So you can imagine how much you can eat and drink in 2 hours making the meal one of the cheapest we had. We were lucky enough to go here with a friend of ours that is from Tokyo so he was able to translate the menu and help us know what to do. Otherwise I think we would have found this a little daunting. It also doesn't help that most restaurants in Tokyo are high up, off the street, above shops. So you have to get a lift up to them and once you step out you're straight into the restaurant, unable to really turn around and make a quick escape if it isn't for you! Haha!
Ramen, ramen, ramen!!
Found all over Japan (and all over the world) is ramen! The traditional Japanese noodle soup. It's not the healthiest of options being made with animal fat and plenty of salt and sugar. But it's tasty and cheap! Most Japanese people will probably only dine on this maybe once or twice a month but we had it once or twice a week!! And every where we tried it it tasted different. Every restaurant has it's own secret recipe but we loved them all. Ramen is fast food at it's best. The restaurants get really busy and you often have to queue out the door but there are hundreds around everywhere you go and because it's a quick in and out service the queues disappear quickly. Traditionally pork is used in ramen but you can choose vegetarian, beef, duck etc. You can also have it light, fatty or super fatty and sometimes choose your level of spice. The picture in the bottom right came with a serve of collagen!! Yes you heard right, collagen! In this ramen restaurant every girl that orders a bowl gets given a side of collagen to help with their skin?! Perhaps because the ramen is so fatty and technically bad for your skin they think the collagen is going to counteract it… who knows. As we often said… 'Only in Japan!'.
Another popular dish in Japan is okonomiyaki, and another popular city is Kyoto. Here the two come hand in hand. Okonomiyaki is an omelette style pancake made of egg, meat or veg and lots of leaks. Chefs make it expertly, often in front of you at your table and then serve it on a hot plate and you're given a spatula to cut it up with. The hot plate is a great addition to Japanese restaurants to keep your food hot and we found it at a few different places.
Another traditional dining experience in Japan is called Kaiseki, whereby you enjoy a set menu of small, intricately prepared dishes. It's often not cheap but uses the finest ingredients and the chefs are leagues above most chefs! To work in a kaiseki restaurant takes years of practice and experience, similar to that of sushi. We found this particular restaurant down a little side street in Kyoto. Once seated at the bar our chef prepared each dish in front of us explaining what she was doing and what the ingredients were as she went. The tempura was heavenly and I can't even begin to describe how good the black sesame honey ice-cream was! Lots of savoury and sweet dishes include sesame in Japan and I loved it.
Similar to shabu shabby is the hot pot. A pot of boiling water and raw ingredients that you cook yourself! A little scary at first but it cooked almost instantly. These are to share and are pretty big so don't go ordering one for yourself! Again I can't remember the name of this restaurant as we stumbled up on it down some laneway in Kyoto - often the best way of finding good food.
Kobe, a name you may have only heard of when referenced to kobe beef. Kobe is quite a large city in Japan and is famed for just that, deliciously succulent kobe beef. It's all in the marbling effect of the meat, it comes from a well bread type of cattle and comes at a high price. But for any meat lover it's a must in Japan! We stopped in Kobe literally just for this on our way to Hiroshima from Kyoto. Each chef serves 6-8 customers, carefully preparing, cooking and serving all the ingredients in front of you. It's a real taste experience with the chef recommending which herbs and spices to put with which cut of meat. The fried garlic and pepper were my favourite combo. We were also given tofu, vegetables and potatoes as well as rice, a drink and to finish sorbet and coffee for our set price.
Whilst visiting the snow monkeys we stopped for a night in Matusumoto where we found a robatayaki restaurant. Here they serve up meat and vegetables on sticks. Each chef has a different job and you can pick from a long list of different meats, fish and vegetables with the added option of fried in batter. The sticks come out to you as when they're ready and are served on a hot plate in front of you to keep them warm like I mentioned earlier. You can also choose larger meals of rice or noodle dishes but it's all about the meat on sticks!
Miyajima is famed for it's floating arch and it's oysters! A Google search will bring up both. This place is possibly the best place for oysters in the world. Not having been a fan of them before (mainly because I've only ever tasted them in awful restaurants and raw) I was a little hesitant. However once I tried a hot one I couldn't help but eat another 3 and then tuck into some covered in cheese and herbs. Delicious!! There are restaurants all over the island serving them but Kaki-ya is one of the more famous with long queues out the door. We had to wait a while but we found everywhere on our travels - if in doubt just join the longest queue! If there's a long line of locals you know it's going to be worth the wait!