Food Trip: I’m Turning Japanese

If you think you love sushi, think again.

If you haven’t been to Japan and you’re a self-proclaimed sushi addict, then you’ve been living  a lie. I’m no sushi expert and I don’t even consider myself sushi crazy but there’s a reason why it originated in Japan: They know how to make it. And they make it real good. Unfortunately, the kind of sushi we are used to, especially in America, is not even up to par with the real Japanese sushi.

But Japan’s food landscape is much more than the popular sushi. Last April, I went to Japan for the first time. Well, technically I’ve been in Japan for a layover some fifteen years ago but that doesn’t count. It was so good to be back in Asia again and Japan was the best place to rediscover a culture that was familiar to me growing up.

Get ready to experience mouthwatering Japanese food throughout this post.

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What I ate in Japan:

Sushi

Osaka, Japan

This plate from Osaka is a combination of heaven and hell. I am a pretty adventurous eater and when it comes to seafood, I’m not picky at all. Naturally, I asked questions about the kinds of sushi and the kinds of fish on this plate. Forgive me for not able to share those details, I can barely remember and I didn’t really care about the details. It’s sushi. Raw fish with either rice or seaweed and wasabi. What else is there to know?! It’s not the time to be picky. If you don’t eat sushi then why the heck are you in Japan?

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However, I do have something useful to share. I don’t like wasabi and I don’t eat my sushi with it. I didn’t see any on the side so I didn’t even think about the suspiciously missing green paste. Unbeknownst to me, the wonderful thing called wasabi was already INSIDE some of the sushi rolls!

Washoku

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According to the UNESCO page, Washoku is a social practice based on a set of skills, knowledge, practice and traditions related to the production, processing, preparation and consumption of food. I referred to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization because Washoku became the 22nd Japanese asset to be listed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013. It is a social custom handed down from generation to generation that expresses Japanese people’s respect for nature.

Most of all, the traditional Japanese cuisine has by far the most beautiful presentation I’ve ever seen. It was so beautiful, I didn’t want to eat it. I’d rather starve than touch this masterpiece.

Who was I kidding? I annihilated this baby.

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Washoku 101

Characteristics of Washoku
  • It should have three main elements: cooked rice, soups and side dishes, and Japanese pickles.
  • Every meal should contain:

    Go shiki (five colors): red, green, yellow, black and white.

    Go kan (five senses): touch, sound, smell, sight and taste.

    Go mi (five tastes): sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy.

  • It includes sushi, udon, tempura, grilled/fried/stir fried dishes, dishes cooked with fish stock and more.

Different regions have different kinds of cuisine. This is also a big factor of your Japanese food experience. When I was in Kyoto, my favorite Japanese city, I had a different version of washoku. Since, traditional Kyoto is well known for its Buddhist vegetarian fare and tofu, I had vegetarian washoku! Sorry Anthony Bourdain, when in Kyoto, I must eat tofu!

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It is absolutely mind-blowing. I have a high regard for the Japanese way of life, of how they value every element, live by their principles and respect for traditions.

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If my veggies are served like this everyday, I would be healthy and skinny as hell!

The great thing about Japanese food is that it doesn’t only LOOK good but it TASTES good as well. Japan uses the freshest ingredients and has a healthy way of cooking their food. Most of the dishes are being “cooked” right in front of you.

Nabe

Speaking of being cooked in font of you, NABE or Japanese hotpot is one of my favorites! One thing you need to know about me is my love for interactive “cooking”, not so much the real cooking but if you invite me out for hotpot, yakiniku , shabu-shabu or galbi….I will love you. But first, you need to know what the hell I am talking about.

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This particular nabe is yosenabe. It has a variety of ingredients which includes a combination of chicken, beef and seafood.

My Dad is half-Chinese and making hotpot at home is not foreign to us. The best hotpot technique I learned from this is to put in the hardest ingredient first as they take longer to cook, and the tender ingredients are added last so they won’t overcook. Now, how to figure out which ones take longer or fastest to cook is not a lesson I learned. If you know me, I would end up throwing everything in the pot all at once. But don’t tell my Dad that.

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Yakiniku

Yakiniku literally means “grilled meat”. In short, yakiniku is barbecue in our Western world and if you’re familiar with galbi (Korean barbecue), it’s pretty much like that. I love barbecue in any shape way or form.

My favorite!

Note: The restaurant I went to in Kyoto for yakiniku uses touch-screen tablets to order and reorder. It doesn’t have English translation but it has photos and you can add how many orders you want including dessert and drinks. No need to keep looking for a waiter to take orders. Something I haven’t experienced in the States!

Noodles

Now we’re talking. My favorite noodle of all time is UDON. Yes, that super thick noodle made of wheat flour and often served with fried tofu and vegetables.

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Udon

The most popular and recognizable noodles is ramen.

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Ramen

They ALL taste good by the way. I can’t get enough of their soup! I wouldn’t even care if it’s like 90 degrees outside.

Miso

I can’t talk about Japanese food without mentioning the infamous miso soup! The Japanese miso soup is simply phenomenal. It’s like no other. You all know what miso soup looks like, and if you don’t. You need to get out more.

Most of the meals here are served with miso soup and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Eating in Japan is one unforgettable experience and I will cherish it for the rest of my life. Although, I’m pretty sure I will be visiting Japan again. It is one of my favorite countries and one that I want to explore more and immerse myself in.

This was not the end of my Japan food trip believe me. This is only the beginning. I didn’t even talk about the street food, the weird food, the ‘only in Japan’ food!

Watch out for my Food Trip part 2 post soon and let’s talk STREET FOOD!

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Jen is a Chicago-based traveler and a full-time Director of Development for an arts & culture organization. Originally from Connecticut, she created Angel of Wanderlust as a place to share her travel stories and photos with friends and family. Now, it is a place for adventurers, explorers and dreamers. Its purpose is to inspire and encourage people to see the world and achieve a better work-life balance.