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Quick Japan recap

Just got back from near two weeks in Japan (visited Misawa, Aomori and Tokyo), so I thought I'd jot down some quick notes for the board since my research here was helpful in what I found to eat there. Likely not much here of value for the regular visitors, but maybe someone going for the first time will find it helpful.

--Up north in Misawa the fare was solid if not spectacular. No real standouts beyond a set meal with chicken that I had at a restaurant close to the base entrance, but had plenty of good noodles at various udon, soba and ramen joints. Best was a mentaiko ramen at a fairly nondescript place off the main road.

--Tried to find jyappajiru in Aomori, which is a codfish stew specialty of the area but didn't have much luck. The one place we found that had it was closed, so we eventually let hunger win out and ate some great fresh seafood sushi assortment in the basement of a department store there. Good stuff, though I'm sorry to have missed out on what we were looking for.

--Tonkatsu at the Maisen counter in Takashimaya. I had to wait in line for this one, but it was worth it. Crisp, flavorful, and not a hint of greasiness.

--Fugu chiri nabe kanseiki at Shunsagami on the 13th floor at Takashimaya. Had to go out with Japan's famous fish since it was in season. Was told mine came from off Nagasaki. Pretty mild white fish for all its fearsome reputation, but a tasty meal overall and I'm glad I tried it out. There were some accompanying oysters as appetizer that were right fine too.

--Sushi at an unidentified place at Tsukiji fish market. Just chose a place with a line and was rewarded with fantastically fresh tuna pieces and a nice white miso soup. After negotiating the frenzy of the market itself, this was most rewarding.

--Got some street food takoyaki at a vendor at Ueno park. Yum! These were gooier than I'd imagined--I was thinking they'd be more along the lines of Rhode Island clam cakes. Still a good item to consume at a bench in the park...

--My one trip to Mosburger yielded a rice burger with some sort of shrimp filler that sure wasn't high cuisine but really filled the gap during a long walk. Not bad for fast food.

--Depachikas at Isetan, Takashimaya in Shinjuku and at Matsuya in Ginza. Oh. My. God. These have to be the greatest food invention of all time.....the selection of goods is just unbelievable. I tried as many things as I could afford, and everything was great. Bought curry donuts to eat for breakfast in the hotel room, too, nearly every day. Sure wish my neighborhood had something along these lines.

--Broiled unagi and miso with monkfish liver at a place on Harumi-dori in Ginza that I'm told has been around since the 1860's. (Don't know the name, I believe the first character in the name is the one for "bamboo"). Ginza is supposedly famous for its unagi, and this was spectacular. the miso was likely the best I've ever had.

--Made our own okonomiyaki at a small place near Shinjuku station. Besides breaking my pancake on the first flip, this was fun comfort food. Thought about trying monja too, but it looked much harder to cook and we were stuffed.

--Was surprised at the level of food at places like airports and museums...I'm sure to the Japanese this is still a cut below, but we had nice meals at both Narita and Haneda. Haneda especially had good offerings. Since I'm used to having to eat lousy chow at Logan, the chance to gobble down acceptable tempura and pretty good sea bream at the terminal was a great bonus. Even ate a basic traditional Japanese style breakfast with the raw egg and salmon at Haneda our first morning there. Wasn't quite sure what to do with the egg, so I just mashed it into my rice. Not bad!

--Saddest sight i saw in all of Japan: a line of 40 or so people on a brisk night in Tokyo waiting for....Krispy Kreme donuts. ARGH.

Anyway, I'm sure I'm leaving out some meals but all in all a great trip and the level of food everywhere I thought was pretty high, especially in Tokyo. Would love to go back, I missed quite a few things I wanted to try (like oden and natto and wagyu beef...) so maybe someday I'll get back there.

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  1. Believe me, I've eaten my share of crappy food in Japan, but all things considered, I find the quality acrosss the board, is much, much better than the States- although I just had lousy sushi at Terminal #1 Narita last week. Regarding tako-yaki, the best ones are slightly cripsy on the outside and then gooey on the inside. You have to watch out for inferior tako-yaki, as sometimes the inside is too liquidy. AND, a friend of mine once got dreadfully sick from a tako-yaki yatai...Where did you see the Krispy Kreme? Another sign of the coming Apocalypse is that Hooters is also coming to Japan....Many thanks to you and other recent visitors for posting your experiences. Always nice to read. Hope you can make it back again.

    1. Krispy Kreme opened their first franchise branch in Japan on December 15, in Shinjuku Southern Terrace. It got a lot of publicity, so of course it's been mobbed by people wanting to try it out.

      1. Shinjuku Southern Terrace -- that's it! I clearly remembered seeing the Krispy Kreme sign, but couldn't remember where. I saw it looking down from my favorite women's room in Tokyo -- nay, the world -- on the 12th floor of Times Square Takashimaya (Washlets, vanities and great views--who could ask for more?).

        I left for home on Dec. 13, though, so I guess it wasn't even open yet.

        1. Great report! Thanks.

          I am curious about the miso on Harumi-dori in Ginza. I'm a miso fanatic. Are we talking miso soup? Red miso? Brown miso? Anyone know this place?

          1 Reply
          1. re: omotosando

            hmm, i'm no expert. the miso was dark, so i believe it was brown miso. i wish i could tell you the name of the place--i have the business card, but i can't read japanese!

          2. Heading to Japan for the first time, and totally intrigued by the section below. Please elaborate.

            --Depachikas at Isetan, Takashimaya in Shinjuku and at Matsuya in Ginza. Oh. My. God. These have to be the greatest food invention of all time.....the selection of goods is just unbelievable. I tried as many things as I could afford, and everything was great. Bought curry donuts to eat for breakfast in the hotel room, too, nearly every day. Sure wish my neighborhood had something along these lines.

            6 Replies
            1. re: brownonthebeach

              Every department store in Japan has food floors, usually two basement floors (marked as B1F and B2F). You can find all kinds of food--from deli and produce to gift packages. I used to go to these floors for free samples when I was a kid :-)

              For those who think the food in Tokyo is great--most people in western Japan (esp. Osakans) think the food sucks in Tokyo! (except for sushi) You got to go to Western Japan, namely Osaka, Kyushu and Shikoku, for good food. Okonomiyaki and takoyaki are very Osakan--Tokyoites don't know how to cook them!! (What they have is okonomiyaki-wannabe and takoyaki-wannabe ;-)

              1. re: kuidaore

                I take exception to the assertion that Kansai food is great, and Tokyo food is lousy, though I do admit that Tokyo food is often too salty and soy sauce is over-used. It's really a matter of taste, and what you have become accustomed to. That said, the very best food in Japan I have ever had has been in Hokkaido, actually. The best ingredients speak for themselves.

                1. re: kuidaore

                  What else is considered Osakan? I'm curious what and how big the difference is between Tokyo and Western Japanese food.

                  1. re: eatfood

                    You can never expect a short answer for that from an Osakan!

                    Negiyaki (though not as popular as Okonomiyaki), Hakozushi, Battera (Okada in Vancouver has pretty good Battera, which is rare to find outside of Japan), Ikayaki, Kitsune Udon, Udonsuki, Kayaku Gohan, etc. (Osakans love udon over soba). Fugu dishes are originally from western Japan ("Tecchiri" in Osaka)

                    Some of the MANY Differences between Kansai and Kanto:
                    -Shoyu: Usukuchi is used for cooking in Kansai (every Kansai household has kokuchi and usukuchi). Uskuchi shoyu is lighter in color, but not in salt content. Udon (or soba) in dark soup in Kanto is very unappetizing to Kansai people.
                    It's almost a "sin" for a Kansai person to cook with kokuchi!
                    -Dashi: Kobu in Kansai vs. Katsuo(bonito) in Kanto (though both are used in both areas.) Manufacturers vary the soup of Cup-O-Noodle to the taste of each region.
                    (Instant ramen was invented in Osaka.)
                    -Miso: Dark in Kanto vs. lighter in Kansai (darkest in Nagoya or Chubu) Miso greatly varies from region to region.
                    -Zoni: Shiro-miso in Kansai vs. sumashi (clear) in Kanto (and elsewhere?)
                    -Unagi: the way it's cut and cooked is different
                    -Chirashi-Zushi: very different. Chirashi zushi you see at Japanese restaurants is Kanto-style.
                    -Negi: "Aoneg" isn't used in Kanto. What is called "negi" in Kanto is called "Tokyo negi" in Kansai. In Kansai Tokyo-negi is used only for sukiyaki and other nabe dishes.
                    -Tokoroten: eaten with black syrup in Kansai vs. with vinegared shoyu in Kanto
                    (Tokoroten is oyatsu(snack) for Kansai people while it's okazu for Kanto people)
                    -Tanuki(soba): soba version of Kitsune udon in Osaka vs. udon or soba with tenkasu in Tokyo and Kyoto. (There's no such thing as "Kitsune soba" or "Tanuki udon" in Osaka!)
                    -Natto is a Kanto thing. Kansai people started eating it only about 20 yrs ago (for health benefits) and many people still don't eat it.

                    Osaka prosperd as the "Nation's Kitchen" (it was a food logistics center) during the Edo period. Traditonal sayings are "Kuidaore (go broke over food) for Osakans, "Kidaore (over clothes)" for Kyotites and "Hakidaore (over shoes)" for Tokyoites. Osakans are passionate about eating and the food has to be good AND cheap. (Osakans are like Chinese in many ways.)

                    1. re: kuidaore

                      Thanks for the long and detailed reply, I'm going to need a dictionary to slowly decrypt what you said!

                      I'm heading over to Osaka towards the end of this year and I'll be sure to plan my trip around Osakan specialties.

                2. re: brownonthebeach

                  here's a metropolis write up on depachikas:

                  http://metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/648/loc...

                  and another one from japanwelcomesyou:

                  http://japanwelcomesyou.com/cssweb/di...

                  suffice it to say that these are worth walking through at the very least and are packed with all sorts of great food that will compete for your money. my advice would be to check them out while you're there, hope i didn't take too long in responding. good luck!

                3. Just a general observation to add to the well-researched details of kuidaore above. My friends who live in Kansai definitely (and rightly) stand by their local cuisine, but most of them will concede that Kanto's sushi is better. This is probably the result of having Tsukiji market in Tokyo, at the heart of a quite centralised fish distribution system.

                  I have no prejudice against either western or eastern Japanese food, my simple advice to visitors is try to plan in advance and see whether you can try the local dishes, as unsurprisingly they are normally the best at source. If you are only visiting Tokyo and you want to try Hiroshima okonomiyaki, for example, don't worry - there are plenty of Hiroshima exiles running shops here and you can still get the real thing.