Food will undoubtedly be a highlight of any holiday to Japan. With Michelin star restaurants, unbeatably fresh and locally sourced ingredients and an emphasis on seasonality of food, the country is now widely considered the new food capital of the world.
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Yakitori cooking in Japan.
Japan’s equivalent to the pizza, okonomiyaki is a fun, cheap meal which you can often assemble yourself. In an okonomiyaki restaurant you sit around an iron hot plate armed with a spatula and chopsticks and cook your choice of meat, seafood and vegetables in a cabbage and vegetable batter. Once cooked you then garnish it with katsuo bushi (bonito flakes), ao-nori (an ingredient similar to parsley), Japanese Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise. It’s a delicious and filling meal and there are several regional variations, Hiroshima style okonomiyaki is particularly well known and is served with a fried egg.
Both sukiyaki and shabu-shabu are popular dishes with foreign visitors to Japan. A pot of simmering water flavoured with sake, soy sauce and sugar is placed on a sizzling hot plate or an open fire at your private table. A waiter than brings you a selection of thinly sliced raw beef, vegetables and noodles which you then proceed to cook yourself. The cooked ingredients are then dipped in raw egg in the case of sukiyaki and goma (sesame) or ponzu (citrus) dipping sauces in the case of shabu-shabu. It’s fun and sociable dining and when made with high quality beef such as Kobe, Hida or Wagyu it’s a sublime experience.
Considered an accompaniment to beer or sake this is one of the healthiest meals around. Sushi is a small piece of exceedingly fresh, raw seafood placed on a ball of vinegared rice. The most common ingredients are tuna, squid and prawns. Sashimi is simply sliced raw fish served without rice. Both are accompanied by shouyu (soy sauce) for dipping, hot, green wasabi paste (similar to horseradish) and slices of pickled gari (ginger). The most common and cheapest way of eating sushi is by finding a kaiten-zushi bar. Here you sit at a counter and whilst the chef stands in the middle skilfully preparing various plates of sushi you select the dishes you wish to eat from the revolving conveyor belt.
Tempura was introduced to Japan in the mid-sixteenth century by early Portuguese and Spanish missionaries. Tempura is the general name for any vegetable, portion of fish or prawn fried in a light and crispy batter. Best eaten piping hot it is generally served with a small bowl of ten-tsuyu (a light brown sauce) and a plate of grated daikon (radish) to mix into the sauce. At a specialist tempura restaurant you’ll generally order a teishoku (set menu) which includes whole prawns, squid, vegetables, mushrooms and the aromatic shiso leaf. It’s a truly delicate meal which is seemingly effortlessly produced by your chef.
Originating from Korea, Yakiniku has all the pros of barbecuing but without the torrential downpour which has blighted so many a British barbecue! Various cuts of beef are dipped in a dark rich sauce and cooked at your table (by you) on a small grill. It’s another sociable dining experience which can be accompanied by bibinba- a tasty and healthy Korean rice dish cooked quickly to lock in freshness and kimchi- spicy Korean pickles. Again Yakiniku lends itself perfectly to marbled Kobe, Wagyu or Hida beef.
A popular after work meal, yakitori is made up of small pieces of chicken meat and vegetables skewered on a bamboo stick and grilled over hot coals, and makes a great accompaniment to an ice cold beer in the summer or hot sake in the winter. At a yakitori-ya (yakitori restaurant) you usually sit around a counter with other customers and watch the chef grill your selections over charcoal, the smell is irresistible and the taste even better. Yakitori restaurants are usually found near train stations and are small, steamy places which bustle with life.
To find out more about tailor-made holidays to Japan please contact one of our Japan specialists.
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