What food to try when visiting Japan
One thing I loved about traveling in Japan was trying all different kinds of food. There are so many Japanese dishes we do not have here and even typical Sushi or Ramen tastes completely different in Japan. There are also many other small dishes that I tried and enjoyed. Japan was one of the only countries I visited where I never had any bad food or didn’t like it. Read my blog post about what food to try when visiting Japan.
What I love doing in any country I visit is to go to the local supermarkets. I just discover what different kinds of food and specialities they offer. I feel like you can learn so much about the culture and customs by looking at the things they sell here! In Japan many of the supermarkets offer small snacks you can take on the go. They also often have seating areas in the supermarket where you can sit down and enjoy your meal. You can find lots of pre-packed sushi and other small items in the shelves. We often grabbed a snack here for lunch and sat the supermarket to eat it. It is cheaper and also convenient as you find small supermarkets almost everywhere. You can easily reduce the amount of money spent a bit if you don’t go out to eat for lunch as well. Also the supermarkets offer so many different things you can try. I enjoyed eating Onigiri at the supermarket. It is rice in a triangle shape and wrapped in seaweed (see picture). They come with different fillings and sauces such as tuna or chicken.
Fruit in Japan
As you can notice on the picture from a supermarket shelf, the fruits and vegetables section is rather small in Japan. Fruits such as apples are individually wrapped and are quite pricey. Fruits are grown to perfection in Japan and they are sometimes given as a gift to others. That’s why you often find very expensive melons wrapped in nice papers and boxes. If you’re interested in this topic, I found this video on Youtube about fruit prices in Japan.
Eating food on the Shinkansen
At the train stations you will find many shops selling boxes with food to take on the Shinkansen. These boxes are filled with Sushi, Sashimi or other varieties of food. They will pack the box for you and add some chop sticks and wet wipes for you. Some of the boxes are quite expensive depending on the content. You can also buy snacks at the supermarket and take these with you on the train. We often bought Onigri or small Sushi boxes and took these with us on the Shinkansen.
Eating at a restaurant
It is common in Japan that restaurants do not have a very big menu selection, but rather offer one type of food. So if you go to a restaurant they may only serve Ramen or Gyoza or other types of food. Restaurants are also very small and only a few people can take a seat here at the same time.
Menus & Food Displays at Restaurants
Often the menus are in Japanese only or maybe just the headers have an English translation. One other thing is that many restaurants display their dishes outside. The food displayed here is not real food, but replicates made out of plastic. You can already see what comes with which menu or how a dish looks like.
If you do have a SIM card you can try to use the picture option from Google translator. With that you just have to hold the camera on top of the menu and mark the area that you want to have translated. Or you just point on any item on the menu and be surprised! That’s how we normally did it and it worked out well for us. We also learned the number two so we would just point at something and then add ‘futatsu’. Normally I try to learn the local language a bit or at least a few words, but Japanese is quite tricky. There are different words used in different situations and depending on who you speak with. Of course a few words are good to know such as ‘arigatō gozaimas’ which you can say when leaving the restaurant.
Ordering the Check
Some restaurants have counters where you have to pay the check. When leaving you go to the counter and pay your bill there. Other restaurants you have to order the bill. I read somewhere that you can use both pointing fingers and form an X which will tell them that you are ordering the check. I never saw anyone else do it, but I tried it several times and it worked.
What we ate for breakfast in Japan
Our breakfast was always a bit different depending on what the hotel had to offer. In Kyoto there was a small breakfast buffet. In Tokyo we did not have any breakfast included so we always went out in the morning to find something to eat. Sometimes we went to the supermarket and grabbed some pre-packed pastry. The selection here is quite big in the morning. You can get anything from chocolate croissants to sweet bread and other pastries. You can also buy coffee or yoghurt at the store. When we went to Hiroshima in the morning, we also took some items from the store with us to eat on the train.
In Tokyo we also ate rather traditional breakfast consisting of rice and chicken and egg. Traditional Japanese breakfast is not toast and eggs but rather rice, fish, miso soup and other warm dishes.
I already loved Ramen from trying it in Germany. But the Ramen I ate in Japan tasted completely different and better. There is one restaurant in Frankfurt where the Ramen tastes as good as in Japan.
In Japan we often ate Ramen at all different kind of Restaurants. I always loved the Miso Ramen with eggs in it. Especially if the egg is still soft it adds great taste to the soup. On the right picture you can see a ‘Ramen Vending Machine’ which is outside of the restaurant. You press the button for the Ramen you would like to eat and put money in the machine. You will then receive a small piece of paper which you give to the employee behind the counter. They will prepare your Ramen and you can take a seat in the restaurant. These places are often very small and run by just 1-2 employees. The buttons on the machine are in Japanese only so you just have to press any button and be surprised! The price may already give you some indication.
Of course anyone who loves Sushi comes to Japan to eat tons of Sushi. We also had Sushi several times and it tasted very fresh. The Sushi variety in Japan is also broader and they serve many more types of fish compared to Germany. Tuna Sushi is very common in Japan and they serve different kinds of Tuna.
Some of the Sushi already come with Wasabi on them and others are plain.
At the running Sushi restaurants, they have taps with boiling water at your seat. First you add some of the green tea powder in the cup and then add some water. This way you can make your own green tea at the table.
In Hiroshima we had ‘Okonomiyaki’ which tastes amazing. The way they prepare it is impressive to watch as they are super fast. It is made out of Soba noodles which are fried on a hot stone and put together like a pancake, served with eggs, porks, veggies and other varieties. The restaurant we went to is called Y. It is located at the station in Hiroshima and you can sit next to the hot stones and watch them. But there are many other restaurants that prepare this dish. The kind of Okonomiyaki I order was called ‘ikutama soba hanjyukutamago’ which comes with an egg on top. It tasted completely different than anything I had experienced before.
There are many small snacks that are served with beer in Japan. If colleagues go out after work they often go to a pub or bar for beer and then order small side dishes.
One night we went to a restaurant that serves Gyoza (see picture) and order different kinds of it. We also tried chicken with Wasabi mayonnaise which I can recommend.
We went to the fish market in Tokyo and found this small place all the way to the left. The fish market just closed and the restaurant was packed with people. We sat on the bar and could watch the Sushi Master prepare Sushi and Sashimi. As a appetizer they served us Miso Soup. This Miso Soup was very tasted and had whole chunks of fish in it. I really enjoyed it and the server must have seen that because he brought me an additional bowl 😀 As a main dish we ordered Tuna Sashimi. Sashimi is raw fish and it is served plain or on a bowl of rice and sometimes with some other veggies or eggs on it. This was probably one of the best food experiences in Japan.
In Japan you often see vending machines for drinks in the streets. You can also find these in rural areas as well. It is quite convenient as you can always buy something to drink. Most of the drinks are filled with sugar though, but there is also one kind of water you can buy. When we were traveling in Japan we sometimes bought random drinks just to try them. Most of the times this turned out ok. I enjoyed the green tea from these vending machines and felt like it gave me an extra energy kick. I saw some kids on the train drink milky drink on the right side so I also wanted to try it. Well, that was definitely not my type of drink and I also didn’t finish it. It tastes a bit like carbonated milk mixed with water and added sugar?
Alcohol is rather expensive in Japan. Normally we drank beer or water, but we also tried specialities such as plum wine and Sake. Plum wine (in the middle) is called ‘Umeshu’ and is a liquor made out of apricots (Ume), but referred to as plum wine. It has a rather mild taste and can be consumed warm or cold.
Sake is rice wine and also known outside of Japan. Sake is consumed either warm or cold. When you order it at a restaurant you can tell them how you would prefer it. If you buy Sake in Japan it comes in many different beautiful bottles which is also a nice gift to take back home.