When traveling I like to try the local delicacies, street food or national dishes, but this has sometimes meant that I really have to push the boundaries of my food comfort zone as I am not naturally adventurous when it comes to food, especially unknown Japanese food. In fact, I was so unadventurous that my Dad used to tease me about it! So while in Tokyo I was determined to push through my nervousness because how can you really experience a Country if you don’t eat local foods
I had read about Tempura and Ramen while doing my travel homework for Japan and I got the chance to try both on my first full day when we had lunch on our day trip tour to Mt Fuji. The lunch was at a traditional Japanese Restaurant, and we had a nice table setting with a sampling of different foods including sticky rice, tofu, vegetables, pickled carrots, the seafood and vegetable Tempura and a Ramen bowl. Not knowing exactly what everything is, you play a bit of a guessing game as you eat, but it was delicious and filling.
On the day that I got to enjoy with my personal guide (Ryoko) from Tokyo Free Guide, you can read more about that here. she took me to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. I had told Ryoko that I didn’t think I could handle real Japanese Sushi (it has larger amounts of raw fish then Americanized Sushi), so we didn’t try that at the Market even though it is the ideal place to have it and I know I was really missing out – I just couldn’t do it this time. But Ryoko did have me eating a number of foods that normally I would have shied away from, she was very encouraging!
Bonito flakes are dried, fermented and smoked shavings of the young Bonito fish. They are the main ingredient of Dashi, a broth that forms the basis of many soups including Miso, and also many sauces. It tasted quite salty and was so finely shaved that it melted on the tongue.
This eel on a stick was actually delicious, so tender and good that I happily would have eaten more – never thought I would say that about eel!
Ryoko also got me to try samples of Cod roe, Clams and Tuna, marinated in Teriyaki Soy Sauce and there were 2 types of clam, one in Citrus and one in a Ginger sauce. They were all really good.
She also showed me a sampling of Oden, a variety of either eggs, tofu, potatoes or radish marinating in seasoned fish broth, and I was pleasantly surprised by the mildness of the radish that we tried, after eating the radish I couldn’t resist drinking down the rest of the broth.
We finished our market tasting off by eating a sweet called Yomogi-mochi, which is made by mixing Mugwort into glutinous rice and pounding it. The filling was Azuki beans with sugar which made it sweet but I have to say the texture was not my favourite.
I was lucky enough to participate in a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony which was wonderful, and Macha green tea is featured in many foods including ice cream, and drinks. Japan has the most flavours of Kit Kat’s in the world, and of course, Green tea is one of them!
I got this yummy Macha green tea ice cream sandwich at Garden House Crafts on Meiji Dori Street, they also offered a Shake too. For a city where it’s not considered polite to eat while walking, there are a surprising number of places you can buy foods to take away, but I then felt awkward eating it on the street, and so would stand off to the side until I finished.
Being the Spring, and Cherry Blossom (Sakura) season, many places were also offering Sakura flavoured lattes, cappuccinos etc. and as part of the picnic lunch I shared with my guide, Ryoko, I tried a bread bun with a Cherry blossom filling which was lovely.
Our picnic lunch also consisted of an Onigiri, which is a white rice ball (or triangular shape) that is filled with one of a number of different fillings,(I had salted salmon) and then wrapped in seaweed. We also shared some Bamboo shoots with sticky rice.
Apparently Bamboo shoots only have a short season, and I was lucky enough to be there for it.
The salmon Onigiri was great, and the type we got was ingeniously wrapped so as to keep the seaweed outer layer crispy. The only issue I found when trying to buy one a few days later, was that there was no English on the wrapper, and sometimes even no picture, so I didn’t know (and still don’t) what the filling was on that one!
Another interesting dining experience I had was when we went to have Udon noodles for dinner. We ordered from a menu with very little English and mostly pictures to go by, so I ordered what I thought was Udon noodles with a poached egg on top.
Much to my shock, it came out with a raw egg on top!!! My immediate thought was “I can’t eat that”, then I thought for a moment and realized that if I stirred the egg into the hot noodles they would cook it, and sure enough, it worked. Turned out to be a creamy eggy sauce that was very tasty.
I had read about the amazing variety of Crepes you can purchase in and around Takeshita Street, a street very popular with the Japanese teens. So after doing some shopping there and watching the Japanese school girls having fun eating rainbow coloured Candy Floss, I had to make sure I got myself a Crepe. After some deliberation I opted for a Caramel Apple one which satisfied my sweet tooth quite nicely. The choice of flavours really was a little overwhelming!
I didn’t have a chance to visit a Kawaii (cute) Café, which are cafes themed to cute icons such as Hello Kitty, and snoopy despite there being a number of them in the Harajuku area of Tokyo. I suppose that is something I can save for a future visit.
I did visit the Tokyo Food Show, a large food hall/shop in the basement of the Shibuya Station, and was amazed at the variety of foods there, and most of it looking so perfect! Seriously, the packaged strawberries for example were all perfect ripeness and uniform in shape and size, and other fruits and vegetables were the same. Alongside European style pastries, were more unusual Japanese ones, and I was so amazed by it all that I took my husband there to show him before we left to go home. Many of the Department Stores have these food halls in the basement, another one I visited which was much the same was in the Mitsukoshi Department Store in the Ginza area. The Sushi on display at Tokyo Food Show was like artwork, it looked so pretty that I was almost tempted to try to eat some – almost, but not quite!
Date of visit; April 2017