Today I am starting my series of blogs about Japan…finally. For those of you that don’t know, Jason and I traveled to Japan in June for two weeks. It was an amazing experience and I am thankful for the blessing of being able to do some world traveling. My first post is going to deal with all things food related, which was a huge part of our trip (I’m sure you are surprised).
CUSTOMS– There were a couple of stark differences about eating out in Japan and eating out in America. First, you don’t tip in Japan and the wait staff is typically very good at their job and genuinely care about your dining experience (or at least they pretend they do). Also, you always get a moist towel when dining out, even at fast food places, except then it is usually just like a wipe wrapped in plastic. You have to take off your shoes in some places. You don’t hand the money directly to a person, you place it on a little tray, even while standing at the cash register (this goes for shops, also).
SUSHI– Obviously sushi is a staple in Japan which caused me great anxiety before departing. I will confess, I do not like sushi or any raw seafood. What we typically saw served was large hunks of raw seafood (fish, shrimp, prawns, squid, eel, etc.) served over a little clump of rice. A couple of times we did see the seaweed-wrapped sushi we are accustomed to in the U.S., but it was called “American rolls” which I thought was pretty funny. Needless to say, Jason ate anything and everything without concern for what it was or whether it was cooked. I did try a piece of raw shrimp and some other unidentifiable piece of raw fish, but for the most part I stayed away from anything that looked raw. I do not have an iron stomach like Jason and I didn’t want to ruin the trip by getting sick.
It was very common to see sushi/sashimi restaurants like the one below…the places had a large conveyor belt circling the meal prep station with booths surrounding the conveyor belt. You picked color-coded plates of the belt and the price was based on the color of the plate. Some places had an English menu where you could compare the food with the pictures and halfway figure out what you were about to put in your mouth and others did not…fun times. Anyway, I loved the concept of these places, but they had some weird stuff. Like corn and mayo sushi. And shrimp and mayo. And fries with mayo. Who would have thought the Japanese loved mayo so much? At these places I usually ate the fried squid, the semi-cooked shrimp, and rice. Also, everywhere you went you were served hot green tea. Just what you want when you are soaking wet from the humidity.
NOODLES– This was really one of my favorite parts of being in Japan. There were little, inexpensive noodle shops everywhere and I never tried any that I did not like. Also, it is acceptable in Japan to slurp your noodles so the noises in the shops were pretty funny. Often, your noodles would come with tempura fish, chicken of shrimp and some veggies, such as floating seaweed. I liked to eat the tempura stuff out of the bowl quickly while it was still crisp but Jason let his get soggy, as you can see below in the left picture. In the right picture you can also see a little white rectangle of tofu. This was served often and always with a brown sauce you were supposed to pour on top…I personally thought this was gross.
DISPLAYS– One thing I greatly appreciated in Japan were food displays. At a lot of restaurants, there were plastic, outdoor displays you could look at to see what a place served. This was super helpful and allowed you to know what you were getting yourself into before walking in the door. Most of the time, prices were also included in the display.
FAST FOOD– Japan has their own fast food chains and we ate at a couple of them. One is called Mos Burger and they serve burgers (obviously), corn dogs, fries, soft serve and pickle chips. Also, their burgers have extra thick slices of tomato on them. I mean REALLY thick. Additionally, they have two “special” burgers, one with chili and the other, a tomago burger, has a fried egg on it. I wasn’t impressed with this place.
FISH MARKET– The actual large fish market in Tokyo was already closed when we tried to go, but the area around the market sells all the fresh seafood from the market. Being an island and all, they really like seafood in Japan. I saw things from the ocean I have never seen before and I saw some of the largest seafood I have ever encountered, such as the crab below. All of this seafood is sitting out in the open with just a little ice under it. Food temps and regulations are not quite as stringent as we are accustomed.
“AMERICAN” FOOD– As with many countries, there were several American chain restuarants that we came across. Denny’s (as seen below), Hard Rock Cafe (also pictured), TGI Friday’s, McDonalds (these were fairly common), Nathan’s Hot Dogs, and more. The only time I remember that we ate at an American chain was once at McDonalds very late one night.
TRADITIONAL BREAKFAST– One time, while staying at a ryokan, we had a traditional Japanese breakfast. This consisted of salmon, rice, tofu, fruit, soup, vegetables with a spicy red sauce, natto, and more. The spread was vast.
ICE CREAM– No pictures for this one, but icea cream was everywhere. Apparently it is popular in Japan and there are some unusual flavors, such as various vegetables flavorings and green tea flavor mixed with a lot of things.
MY FAVORITES– I really enjoyed yakisoba, which is a noodle dish. Also, I ate dumplings in several places. I think this is actually a Chinese thing, but they were common to find in Japan and very yummy. Another one of my favorite places were the Korean barbecue restaurants. These places had a grill in the middle of the table and you cook your own meat and veggies. They also serve rice, soup and sometimes dessert. It was common to get “pumpkin” (which was actually what we refer to as acorn squash) and I really enjoyed that after grilling it. The bakeries in Japan were also incredible, but don’t get the fish cakes!!
THINGS I WOULD NEVER EAT AGAIN– I would never again want natto, which is fermented soybeans. These are brown and very stringy. Jason was quite surprised I would even try them, but I did and now I never will again. Also, as previously mentioned, I did not enjoy the “fish cakes” I got from a bakery. I also don’t like green tea or anything green tea flavored. Last and most certainly least, I ate what is on the plate below and it was my worst experience in Japan. I wasn’t sure I would even be able to swallow it but I managed. Certain textures just about gag me, which is why I don’t eat syrup, honey, jam, jelly, etc. and I don’t know what possesed me to try this “treat” but I didn’t want to be rude. Anyone have a clue what this thing is???