This post doesn't aim to be the classic vademecum about Japanese food. It's a collection of pictures and notes about everything I found and tasted along my way... I think it's quite similar to what everybody can easily find traveling around Japan.
On the average for a normal breakfast, lunch or dinner I never spent more than 2,000Y - and in most of cases, I stayed around 1,000Y or even less. Always-always-always I enjoyed food a lot! I mean, food in Japan is yummy. Everywhere.
Ladies won't be happy to know, maybe, but that's the truth: I got back to Tanzania with 5 kilos more than when I left. Ok, I think it's quite normal when you switch from two years eating rice and beans and rice again, to finally choosing among tons of different dishes.
Anyway, I really liked Japanese food. Nothing in common with things that you can find at Japanese restaurants and sushi bars abroad.
One note: Again, I'm not mentioning directly names of the restaurants where I ate - I don't want to do free advertising to anybody here. So, if you're interested, just drop me a mail and I'll give you more precise references. But. At the bottom of this post, I'm dropping links about "very special" places that are worthing a visit... because they are kinda unique!
Bento is a one portion packed meal. Lot of people asked me to take pictures of this kind of food. In fact, Japanese bento are something so colorful and creative that it's impossible to resist and not to take a bite.
I found the first one on the flight from Doha to Narita: so nice, made my holidays to start the right way while I was still on board!
Then it took me just a couple of days to find my favorite (ehm) supplier of bento lunches. Which has been also a great salvation all the times I got up earlier than the café's opening, or I remembered that I hadn't eat dinner yet after the restaurants' closing time.
I'm talking about a very popular kind of shop that you can find in Japan: the convenience stores, mini markets open 24/7 where it is possible to find everything at any hour of day and night. The brands? Lawson Station and Family Mart, just a couple among the most popular.
Note for travelers. Probably a bento bought in a convenience store is the best option in case dinner at late evening: here you can find a wide choice, food is always fresh and prices are very cheap (around 300-400Y).
Quite a fun! More or less seated on a pillow over the floor - more or less, because even starting with the best intentions... after a few minutes the posture starts becoming kinda weird. A very small table in front of you, and lot of small cups and boxes with lot of curious bites inside. Chopsticks, of course.
In the pictures you can see two different traditional meals that I tried. The full vegetarian one of the Buddhist temple in Koya-san, with a variety of pickles and tempura.
And another one served in a ryokan, with rice, miso soup, pudding, green tea and beer (Japanese beers are something not to be missed!) aside.
Something else, very very traditional... small sweets and biscuit served during a tea ceremony. Right now I'm not very able to explain, anyway each of these pieces has a precise meaning, and the variety changes depending on the season - I've been at a tea ceremony right the day when it changed from the summer to the winter type. So it's like... next year it's going to be very lucky for me!
Udon & Ramen
My favorites, absolutely. Easy to find everywhere, typically in small local restaurants, at very affordable prices (600-800Y). A cup of udon or ramen, and you're regenerated and full for hours! Udon and ramen are soups with noodles - simplifying a lot, udon is done with thick noodles and ramen with thin ones.
Here you are the gallery.
As first, some udon with vegetables and egg that made me walk further after a long hiking to the top of Fushimi Inari, in Kyoto.
Then, a fabulous cup of udon with beef that I found in Koya-san... after a day of full vegetarian diet, it has been just... how to say... ok, no words can explain. And some udon with bacon and egg, that I ate during my overnight at Oedo Onsen Monogatari.
Finally, a cup of ramen - tonko-tsu ramen, with pork meat, the last meal I had in Japan, in a small restaurant in Asakusa, before taking the train back to the airport.
I have not pictures of okonomyaki directly from Japan - I just have one shot at Japanese restaurant in Tanzania, eheh!! But it's something that I tried and I'd like to talk about this as well. Okonomyaki is a kind of salty pancake topped with various ingredients, such as fish or meat. Of course, it doesn't look like the normal pancakes we're used to see - an okonomyaki looks more or less like a small pizza.
It can be found in restaurants specialized in this kind of dish. I tasted okonomyaki at a place in Ginza (Tokyo), with some good Japanese wine aside. Prices for food in Ginza are a bit more expensive than average, in this case the bill was something like 3,000Y per person. Anyway, it is worthing to try one time at least.
Pasta, Pizza, etc...
'Cause of course, it came the time when I really needed to get back to something reminding me about Italy. I didn't really look for Italian restaurants, it's not my habit to travel around the World and look for "my" kind of food, costs whatever is costs.
Yet, I jumped by chance into several very pleasant surprises.
As first, one of the best "risotto" with sea fruits I ever had, in an amazing restaurant around Skytree in Tokyo.
Then a gorgeous "spaghetti-combo", tried in a very famous chain selling spaghetti food. I was in Tokyo, Shinjuku Station, before the night transfer to Kyoto... and yes! It provided me energy enough to face my first overnight on a bus.
I even found quite a good pizza, in Kyoto, at an Italian trattoria nearby Teramachi. After a walk in Ponto-cho area, where restaurants are quite expensive... I decided for this one.
Can't stay without, I'm too hungry at morning So, I tried lot of different combos. And I even took all the photos. Here we go!
Let's start with the best. The one with a big prawn as main course. The pudding, the miso soup and the green tea. Not such different from the previous dinner - and this fish for breakfast seems also quite weird to the Italian taste. Not to me, since in Tanzania I even dared meat and banana soup early morning (eheh!). Anyway, I just say. Be brave. And try this out.
Staying around the "fishy" mood. This is my breakfast at the fish market. An early morning expedition to Tsukiji (Tokyo), can't be sorted out without a sushi big feed. I took this mix, aside green tea, in a popular sushi bar just out the entrance of the market. An advice? Probably combos with just one or two kind of fish are better than combos with many different pieces... where there is the risk to find something very difficult to swallow at 8.00am - for instance, I had a little problem with shellfishes.
Between a fish and another, I also found an excellent English style breakfast. Just dropped off the overnight bus, at 6.00am in Kyoto Station (and there's life there, at this time!), completely nuts. This breakfast made my day.
I chose a "standard" milk and green tea with a pastry when I passed by Namba Station in Osaka. Cheap and good. Commuters' way - in fact I was the only gaijin (stranger) among a lot of white collars on their way to job.
Last one. Ok, I know that in Japan it's not polite to eat out in the street. But it was very early, I was walking alone around Odaiba towards Tokyo Big Sight, and there was nobody around. So... I took this license: food from the convenience store, chilling on a bench under the autumn sun. Note please, the soft-soft white pastry, the onigiri (rice ball filled with fish) and the cappuccino in the bottle. Real hot cappuccino. Remarkable!
Here you are, another gallery of various food that I really enjoyed between trips and shopping time.
Mini sandwiches and green tea milkshake, at a café in Ikebukuro (Tokyo). Happy hour with a glass of "passito" wine during the navigation in Tokyo Bay, aboard the super-trendy floating bar Jicoo. A spicy curry at the last floor of Shibuya 109, after crazy shopping in Shibuya (Tokyo).
Burger with chicken teriyaki at a Mc Donalds: just an option if you're in a hurry, but really it's not worthing with all the choice of food that you can find wherever. And a must-do! "Creative" food at the Nishiki Food Market in Kyoto.
Not to forget, because in Japan you can find fantastic sweets, pastries and cakes! Some samples. A mousse with green tea and whipped cream - desserts flavored green tea are not to be missed. A cup of ice cream with whipped cream and a gorgeous chestnut jelly. Iced coffee topped with an ice cream ball.
In many places, complimentary bites and drinks are offered to guests. Let's have a look. Green tea and pastries in ryokan. Green tea and rice biscuits at Kongobu-ji Temple in Koya-san. Complimentary water, available in all the restaurants and bars - this very stylish one is from Jicoo floating bar.
At last, some snacks that I ate along the way. A chocolate mousse found in a jido-hanbaiki (vending machine) at the airport. Roasted chestnuts on-the-road in Koya-san. A rice roll and hot green tea bought in a convenience store. Look at the roll's packaging! It allows to wrap the nori without touching the rice