Last week I left the Land of the Morning Calm to spend eight days exploring the Land of the Rising Sun. We spent a week in the Kansai Area, which is located on the southern portion of the main island. It includes the three main hubs we visited, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, as well as a number of other towns and cities with plenty to offer travellers.
Rather than writing up a diary-style post with a day-to-day itinerary of our travels, I decided to divide our trip into different themes. Naturally, food is one of the most exciting parts of any vacation, so I’m starting with that. The next posts will focus on Temples and Spirituality, and then Nature. Of course, there’s a lot more to Japan than these categories. These themes were simply the most prominent aspects of our trip and therefore the themes I feel more comfortable talking about.
Food in Japan
I expected the food in Japan to be delicious, and it was nothing short of that. We hit up the staples like ramen, yakisoba, and some Osakan specialties, and enjoyed some international favourites as well.
Delicious yakisoba from a street vendor. Japan definitely does street food right!
I much prefer the dining experience in Japan to back home in Canada. Similar to Korea, the restaurant culture in Japan creates distance between the eater and the server. While I appreciate the enthusiasm and friendliness of servers back home (though I didn’t enjoy doing it myself when I was a server), I much prefer the space servers provide in Japan.
There’s no being checked on every five minutes. No “can I get you anything else? Another drink? (so I can get more tips)?” No offering the bill so they can rush you out for the next customer. Overall, it’s a much more relaxed experience.
One might argue that this is taking the human connection out of dining. When I dine out, I am going for the human connection. However, I want that connection to be with the friends and family in my company rather than a stranger who likely interacts with a false friendliness for increased tips (I know I did that when I served!).
That being said, the servers are still polite and friendly. They’re even cut out of the process in some restaurants where you purchase your food and drinks via vending machine. First, you choose your items, then pay the machine, which gives you a ticket to hand to the chef. They make the food for you and serve it directly to you in a bar-like set-up.
Korea does ramen (or ramyeon, they call it) really well. With plenty of heat and delicious add-ins like egg and dumplings, ramen in Korea turns the starving student’s survival food into something delicious and filling.
The home of ramen, Japan, similarly takes the instant noodles to a whole new level, but with a very different flavour palette. Hearty, meaty broth with deep flavour takes the place of the heat, and its often topped with a few slices of fried, fatty pork belly. Eggs and vegetables also make an appearance, and extra sauces and flavours can typically be found on the table.
The first meal! Delicious, rich ramen.
Udon is another great noodle dish. This curry udon was to die for.
When thinking of Japanese food, sushi is probably in the forefront of most Westerners’ minds. However, the country has so much more to offer. Osaka in particular has a number of specialties that we got to enjoy during our trip.
Takoyaki is a famous Osakan snack that’s actually quite popular where I live in Korea. With a crunchy outside, and a soft, creamy inside filled with octopus, these two-bite delights are fantastic.
We also tried, Kushikatsu is a series of battered and deep fried veggies, meats, rice cakes, eggs, and more dipped into a delicious sauce made with Worcestershire.
When I think of treats in Japan, mochi is the first thing that comes to mind. The delicious, squishy, chewy rice cakes filled with an array of flavours is a favourite of mine. Our trip to Japan revealed a variety of treats beyond mochi that prove the country to be well-versed in the art of desserts.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of Japanese desserts is the variety of interesting flavours. When we were exploring Nara park, we tried sesame, sakura flower, and Japanese plum flavoured ice-cream. Sesame was a particularly prevalent flavour for desserts; I also tried it in a cream puff and bubble tea.
What I love most about some of these flavours is that they tend to not be too sweet. When eating desserts I often find myself taking just a few bites because its too sweet for me. In Japan however, I got to enjoy my entire desserts without feeling gross after.
Japan has some fantastic cafes and offers up a good, strong cup of coffee!
Probably the best slice of pie I’ve ever had: honey salted caramel from The Pie Shop.
The only aspect of Japanese food I didn’t love was the lack of fibre. I love my fruits and veggies, and unfortunately the food we ate didn’t have a lot of these foods. After a week my digestive system was begging for some fibre. However, that’s coming from an experience of eating out for the whole week. We didn’t plan specifically where we would eat, but rather went to restaurants that caught our eyes when we were hungry. Naturally, our experience with food was extremely limited compared to what is actually available, and moreso compared to what the average Japanese individual eats day-to-day.
One of the best parts of living in Korea is that I get to experience that more authentic food experience. Not only do I have the opportunity to have home-cooked Korean meals, but when I eat out with the Korean teachers I get to try the restaurants the locals go to. I would have loved to have a similar experience in Japan, but unfortunately time restricted our food adventures.
What delicious Japanese foods did I miss?