I’ve been tuning up this blog lately and was reviewing one of my earliest posts, about my trip to Japan. This was a jam-packed, whirlwind trip and in my original post I didn’t have a chance to write in detail about one of the best parts of travelling in Japan – the food!
Now, at about the one year anniversary of that incredible trip, here’s my roundup of our foodie experience in the land of the rising sun.
This was our first stop upon arrival in Kyoto. Located near the Kyoto Imperial Palace, this tiny ramen joint was just a couple blocks from our Airbnb, which was in a primarily residential neighbourhood. It has only 7 seats and we ended up waiting about 30 minutes for our spots after putting our orders into the vending machine. To date, Mr. Chuckles and I agree that this is absolutely the best ramen we have ever had. The broth was otherworldly rich, and we haven’t found anything even close in comparison since then. According to the instructions that they had posted at the tables, you’re actually supposed to eat the ramen with a side of rice, but we skipped out on this and focused on the very yummy noodles and broth.
We had been to several markets while in Seoul, and continued to enjoy more markets in Japan. They certainly are top notch food destinations. Nishiki Market is a five block long shopping street in downtown Kyoto, lined with over 100 shops and restaurants. It was intensely crowded when we stopped by, but we managed to explore most of it and tried out a few items. I recommend the egg filled octopus on a stick!
Our first fancy meal in Japan was at Gion Nanba, a Michelin starred kaiseki restaurant. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner, akin to a tasting menu. We made reservations online a few weeks ahead of time and booked ourselves in for the 13,000 yen dinner menu which consisted of 12 courses. I always recommend sitting at the bar-style counter in places like this, as it is a lot of fun to watch the chefs at work. Needless to say, this meal was amazing and well worth the expense.
A must-do experience while in Kyoto is a traditional tea ceremony, so we made arrangements to attend one at Camellia Tea near the Gion district. The ceremony started with a small traditional sweet, and then a brief introduction to the history and culture surrounding Japanese tea. Following this, our host demonstrated how to prepare a bowl of frothy Matcha and we had the opportunity to make one for ourselves. I found this really interesting and a nice, relaxed way to spend a couple hours.
While researching for this trip, I kept coming across food blogger articles recommending shabu shabu, Japanese hot pot. It essentially consists of thinly sliced meat and vegetables cooked at the table in boiling water and served with dipping sauces. Our Airbnb host helped us make reservations for Moritaya, the oldest beef shop in Kyoto that has been around since 1869. They do not have online reservations available (or at least nothing that I could access due to my lack of Japanese proficiency), but there is service staff that speaks some limited English. In any case, we eventually managed to get through the communication barriers and enjoyed a lovely dinner here, served in a private tatami room.
We spent a half day in Osaka after our distillery tour at Suntory Yamazaki. Osaka is a top foodie destination and it’s too bad we didn’t get more time in this city. One stop we did manage to make here was at Ichiran Ramen. The setup of this place was quite entertaining, as you are seated in a private booth where the server hands the meal over to you through a window. In keeping with the Japanese culture of severe politeness, the faceless server even bows at you from behind the window.
A short distance from Dotonburi lies Fukutaro, a popular spot for okonomiyaki, a pan-fried savoury pancake most associated with the Kansai (including Osaka) and Hiroshima areas of Japan. The Osaka variant is the most common type found throughout the rest of Japan, while the Hiroshima style is characterized by its inclusion of yakisoba noodles under the pancake. We each went with the traditional Osaka style okonomiyaki with octopus. Pretty yummy!
Who knew that one of the best eateries in Japan would be none other than 7 Eleven? The convenience stores here are so much cooler than the ones we have in North America. Japan actually has more 7 Eleven locations than anywhere else in the world, and they sell good food! Instead of the sad taquitos and stale pizza that we find at locations in Canada, Japanese 7 Elevens carry a delightfully wide selection of snacks and hot meals. We in fact visited one pretty much every single day on this trip and became addicted to their fruit sandwiches. Other popular convenience store chains in Japan include Family Mart and Lawson, which were also full of delicious treats.
This popular bakery with locations in New York City, Los Angeles, and London used to have an outpost in Tokyo as well. It seems to have closed in the last year but we managed to get in there during our trip for the famous Cronut. It was okay. 🤷🏻♀️ Unlike its locations in New York, there was no line when we came by and it was quite empty, so I suppose I’m not surprised that the doors have since been shuttered.
A trip to Tokyo would not be complete without a stop at the world renowned Tsukiji fish market. The inner market, where visitors used to be able to watch the early morning tuna auctions, has since moved to a new location in Toyosu, but the outer market is still in the same place. We visited the market on a weekday mid-morning and it was still super crowded, but we budged our way through, eventually stopping for some sushi and a daifuku.
We learned about this place from our food tour guide. Tsuta is the world’s first Michelin starred ramen eatery and was a bit a of a distance from our hotel, but we really couldn’t pass up an opportunity to eat fancy ramen in Japan! We made an early morning trek over to the restaurant to pick up a ticket, which secured our spot at lunch hour. We went with their signature Shoyu Soba which contains black truffle oil. It was pretty good, but I still think our bowl at the above mentioned Akutagawa was superior despite its lower profile.
Oh man, so much meat. We didn’t have a chance to fit in a trip to Kobe for Kobe beef, so made do with some alternative meaty meal options in Tokyo. We found Ginza Steak, which serves all you can eat A5 Wagyu. Although I restrained my intake as I was feeling a bit under the weather that evening, Mr. Chuckles consumed about 12 steaks. Gluttony at its best.
After surviving a case of the meat sweats, we went for brunch at A Happy Pancake. Their specialty is the Japanese style soufflé pancakes which are lighter and fluffier than the ones we are used to in North America.
We spent one evening in the Shinjuku district and had dinner in Omoide Yokocho, a little area made up of narrow alleyways housing several tiny food stalls. You basically sit down wherever you can find a spot and then fill yourself up with yakitori – grilled meat and vegetable skewers.
We actually had eaten a lot less sushi than we thought we would throughout our trip to Japan, so figured that we should have at least one final dedicated sushi meal before we headed home. We went to the Sushizanmai location near Tsukiji Market for one of our final dinners in Tokyo. It is part of a chain with several locations throughout the city and is open 24 hours. This is yet another reason why I miss Japan; being able to go out for high quality sushi at all hours of the day and night!
We said a very appropriate goodbye to Tokyo and Japan with our last bowl of ramen. Tokyo Station features a section in its underground shopping area known as Ramen Street, where you can choose between 8 different restaurants for a steaming bowl of noodles. I can’t remember which one we went with, but it was delicious and a perfect way to end our Japanese foodie journey.
Want more food tips?
I did a lot of research in preparation for this trip and came across a few resources for ideas on places to go and food to eat. And looking at this post, eat I did. Here are a few sources that I used for my travel planning.
Strictly Dumpling A Youtube series created by a guy name Mikey Chen who travels the world, eats all the food, and films it. I don’t know a lot about his backstory but he eats like a champion. We watched his video series on Japan and Korea, and discovered several of the places we eventually visited.
Japan Cheapo Lots of helpful guides about budget attractions and food/drink recommendations throughout Japan.
Culture Trip I really like their list guides and have used them to plan other trips as well.