I’m not going to do a long, wordy post on our recent trip to Tokyo, though I could probably write for days on the subject. Instead, I’ll break up the details and focus on the highlights of our trip. And I’m going to go right for the good stuff: this post is all about the food.
Here are the eats that topped our trip:
3am noodles: We loved the little noodle shops where you buy a ticket from a machine and hand it to the cook to place your order. This is how we enjoyed our first Japanese meal (we’ll call it the jet lag special), and it’s one of our fondest memories. This was a dish of udon noodles with vegetable tempura in dashi (broth). I could barely walk back to the hotel from being so full.
Sweets: I’ve spent many of my years learning about pastry and I’m not sure why Japanese sweets have never been a distinct interest of mine until now. The precision and beauty and textures and flavor…it’s a good thing I don’t live there because some of these pastries don’t come cheap!
Our favorite pastry shops were:
Sushi and sashimi: Andre and I love our sushi nights so we had our sights set on this. Surprisingly to us, there were far more noodles, dumplings, and tempura than sushi in the city. And we learned that sushi is often seen as a special occasion food. Regardless, the sushi and sashimi we did enjoy were simple and fresh which meant we could appreciate the few ingredients that were used. We even learned how to make our own.
Street food: Street food was interesting in Japan, a far cry from hot dogs and soft pretzels. We found ourselves drawn to more of the sweet items, like melonpan, a big, sweet bun with the most amazing crispy, crunchy exterior (pictured). On Enoshima Island there was tako senbei, a fresh-pressed octopus cracker that seemed to be all the rage. We weren’t quite interested (plus the queue for it was incredible). We also tried dango, the pink, white, and green sweets made from rice flour (you might recognize it as an emoji!), but we just aren’t used to the pasty texture. The ice cream, on the other hand…so lush and creamy. Give me matcha ice cream (read: anything) for the rest of my life and I’ll be a happy girl. Also pictured: a matcha latte and a kobe burger, which you can casually buy for $10.
Tempura: I found tempura to be Japan’s answer to comfort food. After a long day there’s nothing quite like a big bowl of tempura prawns, vegetables, and rice. I was surprised to see pork tempura so frequently, and we learned that it’s a favorite kid’s meal. The best tempura we had was part of a tatami-style meal we experienced. Tatami is the mat on the floor where you sit at a low table to eat your meal. I loved the combination of the tempura with the bright pickled vegetables.
Kaiseki: When we booked our trip and I started researching Japanese culture (I had an embarrassingly low level of knowledge on the subject beforehand), I knew I wanted to experience kaiseki. It was the one dinner reservation I had made ahead of time. Kaiseki consists of multiple courses and is just as much art as it is food. The dishes are seasonal, balanced, and carefully decided. The restaurant we went to was called Ginza Maru and the chef who served us was named Kazuhiro. That’s right, the chef served us. We sat at the counter in front of a beautiful prep and cooking space while Kazuhiro prepared some dishes, plated our food, and served us sake. We had a range of food from vegetables and broths to raw and cooked fish, sea urchin (uni), and tofu. We weren’t quite ready for the night to end so we ordered some wagyu beef tempura served with nothing more than soy sauce and a squeeze of lemon. And then we died, came back to life, and went on a quest for more wagyu beef. My husband and I agree, that dish won the whole trip.
Sake: Andre and I have dabbled in sake previously and we enjoy it, so we wanted to make sure we experienced a range of sakes in Tokyo. I can’t say we’re very well versed on the subject, but we tried about 8-10 different sakes ranging from dry to sweet during our trip. I’m hoping to continue
drinking learning about the subject.
We enjoyed a flight of sake here: Dassai Bar 23
The food was an incredible highlight of our trip, and I believe it tells its own story in every place we travel. In Japan, that story was one of respect and pride in the country’s resources, an appreciation of fresh, straightforward ingredients, and a reverence for life’s uncomplicated pleasures.