Japanese cuisine spans traditional dishes developed thousands of years ago, to contemporary regional gastronomic delights. Whether it’s a steaming bowl of ramen, or a conveyor belt full of colourful sushi, there are options for everyone from Michelin-starred restaurants to street food.
Japan’s capital of Tokyo is the perfect place to start your culinary journey, where sushi and sake are specialities, and you’ll have no shortage of quirky dining experiences.
Try the classic Edomae sushi, created in Tokyo in the early 19th century. This type of sushi includes more traditional seafood, similar to the nigiri style of a simpler pressed fish and rice. Hit the posh Ginza area where at Sushi-Bar Numazuko Ginza you can pick up a plate and pluck all manner of seasonal seafood offerings, including sushi, from the sushi train. Try the Nama Uni Fujisan-mori, where chefs serve sea urchins piled in the shape of Mt Fuji and don’t forget to grab an aged sake to complement the meal.
Ginza is also home to three Michelin-starred Sukiyabashi Jiro, one of the best sushi restaurants in the world.
Tokyo also has its share of unusual sushi bars such as Nadeshico, Tokyo’s first all-female staffed sushi restaurant, or try the standing sushi bar Sushi Cyoh. It’s close to Toyosu Fish market so, not surprisingly, the seafood is extremely fresh. Ever popular, Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi in the Toyosu fish market are also quite possibly the busiest sushi bars in Tokyo, where queues form from 5am.
It may surprise some that Japan has an extensive, and historic, culinary love affair with French cuisine, and it’s never too difficult to find a French-inspired fine dining establishment.
Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, is well known for its volcanoes and natural hot springs, and it’s also home to The Windsor Hotel’s Michel Bras TOYA Japon based on the culinary philosophy of French master chef Michel Bras. The two Michelin-starred restaurant turns modest ingredients into dazzling creations, resulting in a sensory overload through its presentation, aroma and taste.
While there is no shortage of Michelin-starred restaurants in swanky suburbs, you will also find some equally decadent fun feasts on the street. In Osaka, try some of the local street snacks such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
The ball-shaped takoyaki can be found at curbside food stalls and local shops all over Japan, even some convenience stores sell these tasty snacks made of wheat flour batter and pieces of octopus, pickled ginger and green onions. They’re cooked in a special pan to give them their shape and brushed with a sauce similar to a mayonnaise and Worcestershire blend, before being sprinkled with bonito (dried fish flakes).
Further west, Hiroshima is famed for its okonomiyaki, a casual meal likened to a savoury pancake of meat, seafood and vegetables. At Okonomiyaki Nagataya the dish is grilled on a hot plate in front of you and topped with a tangy sauce and shaved bonito flakes.
While back up north in Hokkaido at Ginneko you’ll find a snug little pub specialising in yakitori, Japanese-style chicken on skewers grilled over charcoal. Try the signature dish chappuyaki, a grilled pork shoulder basted in an original secret sauce.
In multiple regions around Japan breweries are creating their own style of sake. Kyoto is the most well-known area producing this rice wine liquor with its abundance of spring-water. Here you’ll even find the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum – an exploration of sake making. Thanks to the Shinano-gawa River, the mountain region of Niigata has also established itself as a leading sake manufacturer. Regardless of where you go though, you’ll be able to sip Japan’s most famed drink – and as with the food, it varies from region to region, so there’s always a new flavour to be found.
To explore more of Japan’s vast culinary options visit ‘Enjoy my Japan’, where you’ll find videos and stories exploring in detail Japan’s food and drink experiences.
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