It’s amazing how the Japanese, skilled in the arts, technology and trade, had also mastered the art of food dynamics. Japanese cuisine is reflective of a resolute quest for perfection: the ingredients are of high quality; layers of flavors are created without using too many spices thus emphasizing the natural goodness of the ingredients; the food presentation is a work of art, emphasizing on the natural beauty of the ingredients. There is a harmonious balance of texture, color, shape, and flavor.
Because delectable food with a sensational visual appeal triggers a wave of dopamines, our savoring faculties are enhanced…and heightens our dining experience. The exceptional palatability transforms a simple meal into a more pleasurable moment.
It’s not at all surprising that Tokyo has been labeled as “the food capital of the world”… and Michelin, giving Tokyo the most stars, vividly validates this.
Here are some of the Japanese dishes I tried during my beautiful sojourn in Tokyo.
Sushi, Japan’s most famous dish, reflects the Japanese’s emphasis on creative presentation, obsession for freshness and exquisite quality. The raw seafood on top of a hand-pressed portion of vinegared rice, which is wrapped by seaweed or anything else, is a work of art…and for a fish or any seafood to be eaten raw, it must possess absolute freshness!
The origin of sushi dates back to ancient times since the concept of raw or fermented fish combined with rice was reported to have existed during the 7th century in Japan and as early as the 2nd century in China…but the sushi we know today, that small patties of hand-pressed rice topped with cuts of raw seafood, was said to have originated during the first half of the 19th century during the Edo period. It’s known as Edomae sushi and the rice had a pinkish shade due to the kind of vinegar they used then. It has gained so much popularity that it has creatively evolved resulting to more than a hundred varieties, with Tokyo’s nigiri-sushi as the most popular. It has been reported that sushi is now a $14 billion industry in Japan and according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, there are more or less 45,000 sushi restaurants within the country and 16,000 outside of Japan.
I was basically not fund of eating raw seafood but experiencing the taste of it in Japan, I reveled in the different textures, that certain playfulness of flavors which, when dipped in sauce with a little wasabi, gave a little punch.
It is a must to try the freshest sushi and sashimi in the thriving sushi restaurants within the historical and biggest seafood market on earth. All it takes is a bite to taste the freshness of the sushi and sashimi in one of the sushiya restaurants in Tsukiji market!
If you want to taste the ultimate sushi and experience that deeper taste of culture, where one man’s passion for perfecting the art of making sushi brought him international recognition, a three-star Michelin restaurant and made him the greatest sushi chef in the world, then you should try to get a seat on Jiro Ono’s Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant. It is extremely hard to make reservations but it will be amazing to experience such a profound sushi dining experience.
This site gives more information and tips on how to make reservations: http://www.businessinsider.com/get-reservations-at-sukiyabashi-jiro-2014-6
The abundant sea surrounding their islands have yielded fresh seafood catches… and the bodies of water flowing within their picturesque land nourish the world’s most efficient farms. For centuries, they had developed a healthy food culture, with the main diet composed of seafood, rice and vegetables. Buddhism, a very strong influence on this culture-oriented society, banned the consumption of meat for more than one thousand years. It was only in 1868, at the start of the Meiji Period, when the ban was lifted…and some Japanese gradually started eating meat. After WWII, it has steadily increased, including the seriousness in cattle breeding.
Although Japan started breeding cattle much later than other countries, wagyu, which means Japanese cow (wa – Japan, gyu – cow), holds the record as the most expensive beef and the best quality beef in the world.
The grading system of wagyu is based on the yield grade and meat quality grade. The yield grade, which determines the usable meat on a carcass, is ranked from C (lowest) to A (highest). The meat quality grade, which is based on marbling, color and brightness, texture and firmness, and quality of fat or “sashi”, is ranked from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). A5 is the best quality wagyu.
That most prized marbling, which gives that distinct flavor and tenderness, has a 1 to 12 score scale, with 12 being the highest.
Kobe beef is wagyu raised in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture and comes from breed of cattle called Tajima-gyu. It is the most popular wagyu outside of Japan and its grades range from A1 to A5 and a marbling score of 6 to 12.
Perfectly cooked! It gave such an excitement to taste this famous kobe beef in Heijouen, one of the good restaurants in Ginza!
Now sliced to perfection! I had to close my eyes on my first bite. Hmmm…first, that melt-in-the mouth tenderness…then that distinctive rich juicy flavor lingering on my palate. It’s easy to be a firm indulger in all things beefy if the quality is this good!
Dry-aged kobe beef, sold here in limited quantities only!
Matsusaka beef comes from Matsusaka City in Mie Prefecture. It is said to be the best kind of beef and has the most tender and expensive cuts in the world.
Look at that marbling! If kobe beef has a marbling grade from 6 to 12, matsusaka has 10 to 12.
Definitely, matsusaka is the best type of beef!
Rokkasen Restaurant has excellent matsusaka and delivers excellent customer service too! This restaurant ranks number #5 of 5,311 restaurants in Shinjuku as per TripAdvisor. Its few branches have already served more than 2.23 million customers since its establishment in 1986.
The solemn and elegant tea ceremony offered a peaceful retreat during the 15th century, a time defined by internal wars. This lovely ritual was usually done by friends in the natural charm of a tea-garden. They also held elaborate tea parties to display their exquisite utensils such as the spoon, ladle, kettle, and caddy where the tea leaves were stored.
There are many varieties of teas in Japan such as macha, ryokucha, hojicha, jasmine, oolongcha, genmai, etc. Tea is the royalty of herbs and matcha, the powdered green tea, is the king of teas! Its beautiful verdant green color signifies that it is very rich in chlorophyll, making it a superior detoxifier. This hand-picked, shade-grown, stone-milled tea leaves hold high concentration of antioxidants, minerals, amino acids, vitamins, and micronutrients such as potassium, vitamins A & C, iron, protein, and calcium. It is named as one of the most powerful super foods! It purifies, boosts energy, strengthens the lungs, burns calories, improves cholesterol, and studies have indicated that it has nutrients which can fight cancer and inhibit the attacks of HIV on human T-cells.
My favorite Japanese street food! Diced octopus, tempura scraps and green onions are encased in a gloriously grilled golden brown balls of wheat-flour batter and served hot with a topping of dried bonito shavings, Japanese mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce.
During the early centuries in Japan, there were different variations of the grilled flour-based batter concept but the real takoyaki first hit the streets of Osaka in 1935.
These juicy and flavorful skewers of bite-sized chicken, pork or beef grilled over heated charcoal are perfect for lunch, dinner, snacks, or simply paired with cold drinks.
Having yakitori inside one of the very tiny eateries lining the narrow 100 meter avenue of Memory Lane or Piss Alley gives you that cozy Japanese feel.
I had this fried rice or chahan with yakitori. This is a delicious meal in itself given the generous amount of fresh shrimps mixed with a flavorful fried Japanese rice.
Breaded premium pork cutlets, deep fried to a crunch! This delectable crunchy soft pork fillets are served with a siding of shredded cabbage and dips of mayo or tonkatsu sauce.
One cold rainy night in Tokyo, I had this heartwarming soup, simmering in a hotpot on the table. Sukiyaki is one of my favorite soups! It’s so yummy with paper-thin slices of beef, vegetables, noodles, and tofu cubes simmering in a flavorful broth with the sweet warishita!
Hot eggs on kushi or skewers at Tsukiji Market!
A typical Japanese meal comes with small side dishes, miso soup, a small bowl of rice, and a main dish.
Oooops…the chopsticks should not be placed across the top of the bowl of food but should be placed on a chopstick rest when not in use. The ceramics, glass, wood, and stone for plates, bowls and cups create a warm sensory approach.
I enjoyed lifting my bowl of miso soup with both hands and sipping it straight from the bowl.
Wagashi or Japanese sweets in different forms like flowers and animals, which are mostly based on the adzuki bean, have been served ever since Heian times on special occasions like weddings and tea ceremonies. As with many Japanese delicacies, their appearance is just as important as their flavor.
A childlike glee browsing the spectrum of candy colors and designs!
The sweet, smooth, soft Mochi is a popular Japanese delicacy made of cooked sticky rice, pounded into a paste and molded into different shapes. Its history dates back to the 8th century and was used by emperors as offerings and samurais as gifts. There is an annual mochi-making festival called Mochi-tsuki as part of the Japanese New Year celebration.
Today a high percentage of young Japanese enjoy some western food and the famous Marion Crepes attract a lot of crowd in Harajuku, Takeshita Dori.
Different kinds of fresh seafood and vegetables prepared in different Japanese ways: raw, fried, grilled, boiled, and steamed.
An enjoyable alfresco lunch in a historical island of Enoshima that is also famous for fresh seafood. This plate was a carefully presented mix of raw fresh-caught seafood beautifully played with fresh vegetables.
Grilled fish or yakizakana!
Tazukuri and other tidbits…
Sun-dried small fish cooked in sugar and soy sauce or tazukuri.
Fried to golden brown seafood dishes!
KATSUDON and SOBA
Having these old traditional dishes the high-tech way… through a vending machine! It’s amazing to dine in a busy restaurant manned by only by a few cooks! The Japanese always think outside the box!
It’s fun grilling the flavorful bite-sized raw meats over a flame of charcoals in a yakiniku restaurant.
I saw these roasted sweet potatoes while going around Kamakura. Yaki imo is perhaps one of the healthy snacks the Japanese enjoy, especially during the cold season. Sweet potato is one of my favorite veggies. It tastes so delicious and is highly nutritious! It is one of the best sources of vitamin A and have loads of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, as well as vitamins B6 and C…and low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol.
Even the Japanese take-home meals reflect such dedication to details and presentation, like these displayed in a food hall of the elegant Mitsukoshi Dept. Store in Ginza. Mitsukoshi has a two-storey food hall with more than a hundred stalls by famous bakeshops and restaurants.
Since going to the grocery or market and cooking are time-consuming, young professionals and the elderly have become more reliant on eating out or buying the packed ready-to-eat food from food stalls or convenient stores like Family Mart, Lawsons or 7-11.
Ready to eat for your own domestic degustation!
You can check out these sites to know more about Japanese cuisine and restaurants: