Looking back, I realize that in all my travel posts, I haven’t posted a lot about food. It’s strange because when I travel, it’s my obsession. (Does anyone else head to the neighborhood market on their first day of sightseeing?) Heaven knows I take tons of pictures of food. They’re just not Instagram-able pictures .. that’s a style of photography that I don’t do very well.
In any case, the type of food that I like is normally unspectacular. I like it casual, tasty and informal.
Tokyo’s alley-way yakitori bars are iconic. I love the smokey sweet smell of grilling meat and the ambiance of the narrow yakitori bars. The bars are so cramped, it’s almost impossible to get a good camera shot without being singed by charcoal fire. At home when I order yakitori, it’s boneless chicken. In Japan, there’s a choice of heart, liver, gizzard, gristle and cartilage. (Sometimes I wonder if it not a huge joke being played on English menus for tourists! 🙂 )
Let’s face it though. Yakitori is really bar food – snacking bites to accompany the more serious intent of drinking.
For food to comfort and feed, Ramen noodle soup is the way to go. I love nothing more than a big bowl of chewy fresh noodles and savory, slurp-able soup. Vocally slurping soup is an essential part of eating Asian soups. Purists will tell you that incorporating air enhances the flavor. It’s a memorable experience to be in crowded ramen shop surrounded by salary men having dinner. Unlike restaurants here, there is no piped music, TV or chatter. It’s all silent except for the loud slurping of people enjoying their meal.
Japan is famous for their vending machines. They are everywhere, particularly outside of train stations where they dispense cold and hot drinks, snacks and treats. They are also in casual eateries, where one orders and pays for meals. At the door (sometimes outside of the restaurant) there’s a machine which issues a ticket, which is then handed to the cook behind the counter. You take a seat and collect your food when its prepared.
In 2015, I was impressed with the system’s efficiency and the fact that it’d obviously been in place for decades. Shortly after that, I saw a similar concept being introduced at home. Fast food restaurants like MacDonald’s, started to experiment with flashy new kiosks to order your burger and fries. Today MacDonald’s has over 14,000 kiosks deployed worldwide.
In Tokyo, my favorite place for something quick & tasty is the 7Eleven or Family corner store. At home I would never think of eating anything purchased at a corner store (think gas station.) In Japan though, they have freshly fried chicken which is GOOD. They even have a handy dandy paper carrier to both transport & eat your drumstick.
For casual, sit down meals I rather like tonkatsu style restaurants. It’s simple to order, tasty and satisfying. When we were staying in the heart of Tokyo’s electric town Akihabara, my husband and I would go to the top floor of Yodobashi Akiba. There we’d find all the restaurants including Hamakatsu which served different types of crispy fried cutlets with unlimited rice, cabbage salad and soup.
At this point in writing, I had to put this post on pause. All this research had made me hungry with an incredible urge for Japanese food. Luckily there’s a good resto ten minutes away. Here’s what I had for lunch.
Today’s post is inspired by Bits and Pieces challenge to talk about Japanese Food Experience. Moon also says to include recipes, which I haven’t. If you’re keen on a recipe, I could write one in a future post. I’ll see, based on your comments below 🙂
Toronto, Canada. February 2020