Monday, May 10, 2010

I heart Japanese food!

I'm in love with so many aspects of life in Japan, and food is one of them. I came to Japan thinking I'd probably have a difficult time dealing with the amount of rice and fish, but not at all. Japanese food has a lot of variety, and can be kind of dangerous! Seriously, everything is so tasty, and oh, the sweets...

Here's a list of my favourite eats in Japan:

A savoury pancake made of batter, vegetables such as cabbage and green onions, and different types of meat and fish. Practically anything goes in okonomiyaki. I love going to restaurants where you grill it yourself, it's part of the fun. The Kansai style okonomiyaki is just one pancake containing all the ingredients, whereas the Hiroshima-style version is served with a layer of fried noodles. Personally, I prefer the Hiroshima style: much more vegetables, and the noodles make it more crunchy and exciting.

{Kansai style}
{Hiroshima style. Notice the noodles in the middle!}

As cliché as it sounds. My region is not famous for its sushi. I think the best one is found around Tokyo. The freshest sushi I've ever had was at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, the early catch of the day. Sushi in Japan is very, very different from the North American version. Forget about everything you know about sushi and names like Tuna 911 and concoctions containing cream cheese. Sushi in Japan is at its most simple, a piece of fresh fish served on a bed of rice, with a dab of wasabi. Many of my fellow foreigner friends here told me they miss the North American version. I love going to the conveyor belt sushi restaurants, where sushi rolls around and you pick your favourites. Cheap, efficient, and tasty!

Onigiri are rice balls (or triangle shaped) with some kind of meat or fish in the middle. They're real life savers. I don't make them at home, but I usually pick them up at convenience stores when I'm in a hurry. My favourite kind has tuna in the middle. I also love the ones with the pickled plums (umeboshi). Opening the package can be mind-boggling, but it's all worth the trouble. Sometimes I cannot read the package since it's all in Japanese, so more often than not it's a ball of rice with a surprise inside. Fun!

My students always laugh when I tell them I like nabe. It's a very traditional Japanese dish, usually served in the winter. Nabe is a hot pot, and you just throw in tons of vegetables, meats, and fish. My friend Yoshi made nabe for New Years, and it was the best: miso broth, with shrimp, chicken, mushroom, cabbage, and green onion. I love the fact that you don't have to rush to enjoy this meal (honestly, most Japanese meals are ingested at a ridiculous speed), and I enjoy sitting around the pot in good company.

As I've mentioned before, udon is famous in my prefecture. To be honest, I thought it looked (and tasted) kind of boring at first. I mean, what's exciting about a huge bowl of thick noodles? Oh, but then came the slice of lemon... the ginger... the green onion... the fish cakes... the tempura... oh deliciousness. Cold udon is the best for hot summer days, too!

When my friends from Montreal visited last week, I excitedly told them I'd take them out for ramen. They reluctantly followed me, expecting pre-packaged noodles in a tasteless broth. They were in for a surprise as they saw heaps of noodles served with slices of pork and onion in a soy broth. Ramen is my comfort food here. My favourite ramen shop in Marugame serves it with kimchi. I love how traditional and informal ramen shops are. I wish I could slurp my noodles without feeling guilt about the noise... still can't do it even though it's socially acceptable!

It's technically not a dish, but bento are brilliant little lunchboxes. You can pick them up pretty much anywhere: convenience stores, department stores, train stations. They're perfect for picnics, or when you're in a rush... or riding the Shinkansen. There are hundreds of varieties, but they usually contain rice, a meat or fish, and various side dishes (pickled vegetables, salads). Bento is a real art in Japan- you can have animal shaped rice balls and all sorts of cute arrangements. Eating bento is a special treat for me, as I reserve it for special occasions (um, as a reward for running).

I'm sure I'm forgetting tons of other delicious Japanese fare, and don't even get me started on sweets and snacks... I'm saving it for another post!

いただきます!! ("itadakimasu", which means "enjoy your meal").


黃k0822oryb_card said...

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Jen said...

Vivian, it all looks so good! I'm a little hesitant about the "real" sushi, but I'm sure it's delicious since it's so fresh. Those bento boxes are cute, and they've translated here; I've seen you can buy bento box lunchboxes, and there's a blog with different meals built to go in them!

The ramen looks like it would be my favorite. I love miso soup, so anything miso-based would be yummy!

Thanks for sharing! I want to go to Japan just to eat now!

Fashion Chalet said...

This is a reminder to have lunch. YUM! How have you been, love? =)

We do share the same taste in music. How fun would going to Coachella together be!!!


French lover said...

aaaaaaaaaaah OMG je viens finalement de découvrir le nom de ce plat étrange (Okonomiyaki, Kansai style) que j'ai mangé un soir à Tokyo. Nous ne savions pas ce que nous mangions, c'était tellement étrange...
Strangely enough, I was utterly grossed out by the thing. We still laugh about it today ;) It's such a vivid memory ^^

Des said...

Wow, what a great variety of choices you have there.

Nicole Marie said...

yum yum yum!!

Nigel said...

What a great post! I definitely agree with your recommendations and, in fact tried my hand at Hiroshima okonomiyaki not long ago.

Are there any Japanese dishes that you've tried cooking? Any suggestions?

{lovely little things} said...

I loved this post, you are making me so excited for visiting Japan and eating all that delicious food!!

maeghan said...

Reading about yummy food never gets old. I wish I could get a plane ticket over there RIGHT NOW! :)

melanie lace said...

It's like a japanese food dictionary! Love it.

Kelly said...

all of your pictures look so good! when i lived in san francisco, they had a little japan with THE best japanese food ever. this post makes me want to go back just for little japan's food!!