We loved our travels to Japan back in February 2015, and would not hesitate to go back. The food, culture, cleanliness (even in the public bathrooms), safety, and easy use of public transportation provided us one of the best travel experiences. Japan has our favorites of nearly everything – snacks (Calbee store and Pocky stores!), cute characters that we’ve grown up with (Sanrio and San-X), anime, and more. We were in Japan to run the Tokyo Marathon and spent two weeks exploring Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Koyasan.
One of the memorable parts of the trip was the delicious foods. There are plenty of Japanese restaurants back at home, but they can’t compete against the freshness of the seafood and the price. The food wasn’t as expensive as what we originally thought. We took advantage of eating at local places, and even purchasing food from the supermarkets and convenience stores. It’s been a few years and we’re still talking about our best meals.
Here are our top 10 good eats of what we enjoyed in Japan. Hope you aren’t too hungry while looking at the photos!
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We had sushi everyday, and couldn’t stop eating it. Loved the nigiri (fish over a ball of rice) and sashimi (slices of fresh fish). The sushi in Japan is not even comparable to what is served in the Bay Area. The fish is super fresh which makes the sashimi oh so delicious and melts in your mouth.
We ate sushi at the train stations for a quick snack and at a few conveyer belt places where you can pick up dishes along the conveyer belt or order from the tablet and the dish will come directly to your seating area. Don’t worry, the dishes aren’t sitting around for hours. If you’re in Tokyo, our favorite conveyer belt sushi place is at Mawashizushi Kastu (Stop at Shibuya station and take the Hachiko exit. The restaurant is on the 8th floor of the Seibu shopping mall which is across from the station).
The most unique sushi that we’ve had were kujira (whale) and fugu (blowfish). The kujira texture and deep reddish color was similar to meat. I was hesitant to eat it since I’m a pescatarian (person who eats seafood but no land animals), but tried it. It’s worth trying at least once with its unique texture. The fugu was slightly seared. We would love to try the sashimi version one of these days which is really easy to find in Osaka.
2. Unagi No Kabayaki (Grilled Eel)
Unagi is fairly expensive at the Asian supermarkets in the U.S., so it’s a treat whenever we eat a roll or nigiri with unagi at a Japanese restaurant. One of the best memories that we had was when were at Tsukiji Market area and found a vendor that sold fresh grilled eel – unagi no kabayaki. It was hands down one of our favorite items with the nicely grilled flavor and the sauce. (We also had delicious unagi during our layover in Narita!)
Onigiri was our staple snack and breakfast item. It is a rice ball filled with a variety of things (seafood, meat, soybeans, etc). We purchased these at specialty onigiri shops and even 7-11 and Family Mart convenience stores. They were cheap at less than $2 each.
4. Mochi and Daifuku
We passed by plenty of shops that sells mochi and daifuku, and they often had samples to try. Mochi is made out of glutinous rice and daifuku is mochi filled with red or white beans or other sweet, yummy flavors. The fresh, soft texture and unique flavors provided us the opportunity to eat these everyday for dessert or breakfast (as an unhealthy option). Our favorites were from a shop run by obasans (grandmas) in Osaka.
5. Shojin Ryori
During our one-night stay at Koyasan, we stayed at Kumagaiji, a shukubo (Buddhist temple). One of the best experiences was eating shojin ryori, vegan Buddhist cuisine. We’ve tried a variety of vegan food and it was the best that we’ve had. All of the food had a fresh, clean, and bursting with flavors. We highly recommend that you try this!
For dinner, we had a feast of tofu, soup, vegetable tempura, vegetables, and other deliciousness. The best thing that we had for dinner was half an avocado baked with vegan cheese. So good. Plus, We can’t forget the sake shot.
Breakfast was just as good with similar food items and with less dishes.
Ramen is a staple in Japan. We had our share of various broths – tonkotsu (pork base), dashi (fish base), chicken base, shoyu, shio, and even vegetarian. Not into a bowl of noodle soup? You’ll love tsukemen where you can dip your noodles in the sauce.
Our absolutely favorite place for ramen was at Junk Story (At 1 Chome-2-11 Kozu, Chuo Ward, Osaka). We waited in line for over 30 minutes which wasn’t bad considering that the restaurant holds 10 people. We chose our soup base and the quantity of noodles. The soft boiled egg was as a deep rich orange like the sunrise and noodles were springy.
Japanese curry is the ultimate comfort food. It’s a seemingly simple food that has a lot of flavor and texture. We walked by Curry No Akadaya (At Shijo Kawaramachi-dori Takashimaya Nishidonari, Simogyo-ku, Kyoto) and it was the perfect place for us. They had beef curry and hash curry which is the vegetarian curry made with mushrooms and onions. Hooray for a vegetarian option. Plus, we topped the curry and a mound of rice with delicious tempura and other fried foods for some crunch.
Osaka is a winner with the okonomiyaki. We loved the pancake filled with shredded cabbage, flour, egg, and choice of filling (meat or seafood). Plus, you can grill it as long as you’d like and top it with okonomiyaki sauce or Japanese mayo.
If you go to Kyoto, eat at the popular place, Issen-Yoshoku (nearby the Gion-Shijo stop) which serves Kyoto style okonomiyaki. It’s the only item on the menu. It’s on the sweeter side, has konjac jelly, and doesn’t have cabbage. You can request “no beef” if you don’t eat meat.
Takoyaki was another favorite street food during our Osaka and Kyoto travels. How can you resist pan-fried fluffy, circular balls of dough with octopus stuffed inside, drizzled with sauce, and topped with furikake and bonito flakes? Osaka has plenty of vendors to choose from and our favorite takoyaki was at the Yasaka Shrine in Gion area of Kyoto.
10. Tonkatsu and Other Fried Foods
It’s time for fried foods. We had our share of fried seafood, karaage, and tonkatsu at a local restaurant in Osaka. We were impressed that the fried foods didn’t leave our stomach sick as the batter wasn’t too oily. The meal came with unlimited miso soup and rice.
This is only a snapshot of the food we ate. We had plenty more delicious foods such as Japanese style donuts from Mr. Donut, taiyaki (fish shaped snack with red bean stuffing), traditional fast food breakfast, udon, soba, and more. We’ll be back to try more and stuff our bellies.
Have you visited Japan? What are your favorite Japanese foods?
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