A Culinary Adventure in Japan
A Culinary Adventure in Japan
A trip to Japan is all about experiencing contrasts: city and country, ancient and contemporary, reverence and innovation. Exploring Japanese food culture is no different. In our travels to Japan, we’ve taken great enjoyment in sampling both its budget-conscious, fast food and casual dining options, and – at the opposite end of the scale – its exquisite, world-beating high-end gastronomy.
A passion for the very best ingredients, handled with utmost skill and precision, runs through each and every dining experience you have in the country. This is married with a typically Japanese sense of care and thoughtfulness: as a diner, you’ll be paid the utmost respect whether you’re being served premium sashimi at a closed-down restaurant, or grabbing a bento box at a convenience store. We can say with confidence that no matter your particular budget or tastes, you’ll eat very, very well in Japan.
Most visitors to Japan will typically be looking for more wallet-friendly dining options for the majority of their meals. The pickings are rich! Japan has a reputation for being an expensive destination, but the reality is really quite different. With a population that works exhausting hours and has little time for food preparation at home, you’ll find a much broader and more enticing range of fast and casual dining than back home.
Live like a salaryman and embrace wholesome, delicious, and widely varying cuisine without breaking the bank. Kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi restaurants – as quintessentially Japanese experience as you can imagine) are a must-visit, as are hearty meals in izakaya (a Japanese equivalent of a pub) where you can enjoy all the classics: yakitori skewers, noodles soups, and stir-fries, and the world-beating okonomiyaki (a thick wheat pancake typically topped with cabbage, egg, onions, mayonnaise, and your choice of protein).
Stop for lunch at a standup ramen bar (the food of the gods washed down in double-quick time!), or dive into a cornucopia of bento boxes at Konbini convenience stores, and you’ll be well sated while barely making a dent in your daily budget or your sightseeing time.
Nonetheless, most visitors will want to treat themselves and splash out once or twice during their trip…after all, an ‘event’ meal is likely to be one of the most memorable experiences of your trip! If you’re spending time in Japan’s mountainous, picture-perfect interior then look forward to dinners in your ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) accommodation, where you’ll be served elaborate multi-course kaiseki dinners – helpfully included in the nightly rate!
Amongst Japan’s cities, you’ll find an astonishing 668 Michelin-starred restaurants, a staggering 226 of which are in Tokyo alone (more than any other city in the world). Prices range from a reasonable $30-40 per head to… well, the sky’s the limit! But Michelin-starred or not, truly exceptional fine dining cuisine is achievable on even a moderate budget: whether it’s the showmanship of teppanyaki, expertly-crafted sushi, and sashimi, or painstakingly-prepared wagashi (Japanese sweets) during a private tea ceremony.
Some of our favorite experiences
Ryokan kaiseki dinner
Out in rural Japan enjoy accommodation in a ryokan – traditional Japanese inns – which are exactly as you’re probably picturing: matted tatami floors, sliding shoji screen doors, exquisitely-prepared kaiseki meals…all set against a backdrop of manicured gardens and bubbling hot springs. A taste of authentic Japan, with a hosting style that has barely changed since the days of the samurai.
A Taste of the Gion district in Kyoto
The Gion is Kyoto’s traditional heart: a network of tight cobbled streets lined with wooden machiya houses and stores, and an entrance into the world of the geisha. Explore this atmospheric district with an enthusiastic local guide, dipping into hidden door restaurants where low tables and tatami floors are the order of the day, and tiny bars specializing in micro-distillery gins and whiskies.
Private tea ceremony in Kyoto
An authentic tea ceremony is an absolute must during your visit to Japan. Kyoto, the cultural heart of the country, is a truly be-fitting location to experience this most Japanese of traditions. Private ceremonies typically last for around an hour but can be turned into a longer experience if paired with other cultural activities such as flower arranging, kimono-wearing, bento cooking classes, or calligraphy.
Sushi-making class in Tsukiji Market
Tokyo’s renowned Tsukiji fish market is a premier travel experience in itself. Tour the market early morning watching producers and suppliers at work, dive into one of the attached fresh restaurants for a truly exceptional breakfast, and then join an expert-led sushi-making class just outside the market to hone your skills.
Osaka street food tour
The catchphrase of Osakans is kuidaore: “eat yourself to ruin”. Join in Japan is famous for its delicious cuisine and one of the best ways to experience its culinary scene is to join a food market tour, led by a local expert. Look beyond sushi to enjoy mouth-watering izakaya grilled meats and skewers, sample street food such as takoyaki octopus dumplings or okonomiyaki savoury pancakes, or slurp a delicious bowl of ramen – a national obsession.
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This article was first published in issue six of the Unforgettable Travel Magazine.
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