Japan: Food

One of my favourite parts about travelling is the food. I love trying new foods and seeking out regional specialities – and my trips to Japan have been no exception.

The first time I went to Japan 10 years ago, my friend and I decided in our wisdom to eat nothing but Japanese food, morning, noon and night. I lasted three days.

On the fourth day, we visited Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji fish market at the break of dawn where I was given raw tuna and crab to try, and then I cracked. I was desperately craving western foods and ended up demolishing an entire tub of Pringles-like crisps for lunch and a bowl of cereal for dinner.

For my second visit, I decided to be much more sensible, opting for a mostly western breakfast and then Japanese lunch and dinner, with the occasional sandwich thrown in.

As much as I’d like to eat nothing but local food on my travels, I find my body sometimes struggles to adjust to the new foods. This plan proved far more successful and I ended up enjoying a much broader range of foods, too.

A plate of takoyaki at Osaka Castle

One of my favourite Japanese discoveries is takoyaki (above). When I mentioned to my brother-in-law’s sister-in-law that we were going to Osaka, she squealed in delight and insisted I had to try takoyaki while I was there. I therefore made it my mission to track it down.

Takoyaki are balls of batter stuffed with octopus and topped with mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce. I found some for sale in the grounds of Osaka Castle, and while I was a little unsure of it (I’m not the biggest fan of octopus), it turned out to be really tasty and I was glad I’d sought it out.

Another food I really enjoyed was chocolate and melon bread. They’re small sweet rolls with a swirled chocolate and pale green melon design.

I found them in a cafe called Afternoon Tea in the shopping centre attached to Sendai’s main railway station where we had breakfast each morning in Sendai. It was so good I had it every day (along with another bread or pastry offering, such as red bean paste buns) and I wish we could get it in the UK!

Other firm Japanese foodie favourites from my travels were green tea ice cream, which I had on both trips to Kyoto, and is simply delightful, and cassis and orange juice, which I first tried in Sendai.

Although it sounds a bit of an odd combination, the two work really well together and it ended up becoming my cocktail of choice in Japan.

An ice cream stand selling whitebait, jellyfish, green soybean and grating apple sherbet ice cream at Zuigan-ji Temple in Matsushima

Japan is home to some weird and wonderful foods, and I particularly enjoyed discovering some of the more unusual foods the country had to offer.

In Matsushima, for example, we found a stall selling a huge variety of ice cream flavours (above) – some everyday, others decidedly less familiar.

I wasn’t brave enough to order the jellyfish or whitebait ice cream (although I was intrigued), instead opting to try the wasabi ice cream, which really tasted of wasabi and was unlike any ice cream I’ve ever had.

A reconstituted fish lollypop in Matsushima

I also tried what I thought was a grilled squid lollypop (above) from a street food vendor where all the young Japanese were queuing up. But on eating it, I think it was reconstituted white fish…

But that’s part of the fun of trying different foods when you’re abroad, following the locals’ lead come what may and enjoying (or in some cases immensely disliking) the new experience.

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