Travel Japan 2015: Where (or What) to Eat (Part I)

There are a lot of blog posts circulating around the Web, teaching Filipino netizens how to travel around Japan on a budget. When it comes to food cost, most of these posts are able to share practical tips. But there are some posts that suggest grabbing their meals at convenience stores, or worse, buying groceries and bringing them in their flight to Japan.

Bullcrap.

Japan is one of THE best places to experience the foodie culture. Each region has its own specialty dish, and Japanese cuisine offers an extensive variety of dishes. From seafood to poultry, noodles to rice, and even the raw to the deep fried, an average person with minimal food knowledge can easily find his favorite dish in Japan. One cannot maximize his stay in Japan if he misses out on this gastronomic experience.

This being said, allow me to share some of my own foodie experiences in Japan. Hopefully this can be a guide for those planning for their trip; additional considerations in their budget and itinerary.

Itadakimasu!

DISCLAIMER: I've also included photos from my trip to Japan in 2011 and 2013, so there is a chance that some of the restaurants featured here are no longer in operation. My apologies in advance!

Kobe

Regional Specialty: Beef

Kobe beef is a variety of Wagyu beef, bred in the Hyogo prefecture. The practices in raising cattle for Kobe beef have caused a stir among animal rights activists; needless to say that its meat is considered as one of the highest grades of beef--higher than even USDA. Kobe beef is usually served as steak, cooked medium-rare on a teppanyaki grill.

High-grade beef is characterized by the marbling of fat on its meat.

Restaurants to Try:

I. Wakkoqu: Kobe Beefsteak

There are two branches of Wakkoqu in Kobe: one branch is near the Shin-Kobe Ropeway and Herb Garden, the other branch is closer to the city center. The branch we tried out during our trip in 2014 was the former one.

The steak is sliced and cooked in front of you by a chef. Kobe beef is cooked "bare", with no traces of marinade or rub. What I really liked about the experience is that each part of the steak has a particular slice in order to balance the amount of fat and meat. Also, each slice is paired with a particular condiment: a choice between salt, pepper, dark (balsamic?) vinegar, and soy sauce mixed with yellow mustard. The fatty part of the steak is left at the end, where it is mixed with bean sprouts to remove the umay factor. The best part is that everything is explained by the chef so you can better understand and appreciate the experience.

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Each dip brings out a different characteristic of the Kobe beef's flavor.

Additional Information:
  • Reservations allowed? Yes!
  • Walk-ins allowed? Yes!
  • Accepts credit cards? Yes!
  • English-speaking staff? Yes!
  • Price of a steak dinner? 8,180 JPY for 180g sirloin set (with appetizer, soup, salad, a choice of rice or bread, and coffee)


II. Steakland Kobe

Personally, I haven't tried this one, but this restaurant always comes up during my research for the trip. Steakland Kobe (Note: The website is in Japanese; just use Google to translate the page) is a cheaper alternative for Kobe beef steak, where dinner sets are priced at 4,480 JPY for 160g tenderloin set (with appetizer, soup, seafood, grilled vegetables, salad, a choice of bread or rice, dessert, and coffee). Not bad!

Its location is quite convenient, too, as it is located just by the Kobe-Sannomiya station.

Osaka

Regional Specialty: Takoyaki

These octopus-filled balls of grilled batter are a ubiquitous street food in Osaka, so much so that even souvenir shops are selling takoyaki cellphone charms and magnets. Personally, I'm not a fan of the "authentic" takoyaki flavor, due to the fact that I've been practically raised to appreciate the takoyaki of Samurai stalls beside SM's supermarkets.

Food trucks on the Osaka Castle grounds

IMG_4909
Perfectly grilled takoyaki.

What I've noticed is that the trademark flavor of Osaka's takoyaki isn't the takoyaki itself, but its sauce. Sweet-sour terikyaki sauce, topped with bonito flakes, this sauce is also used in other street foods like the karaage below.

Imagine that?! Chicken karaage is just street food for the Japanese.

Other Foods to Try Out:

I. Omurice

Omurice (a coinage of "omelette" and "rice") may seem to be an unassuming dish at first glance, but in reality nothing symbolizes Japanese comfort food more than the omurice. The first omurice shop, Hokkyokusei, is actually found in Osaka.


Each omurice meal comes with miso soup, and you also have the option to chose a topping to go with your omurice. A word of caution, though. The table setup in this restaurant is Japanese-style, meaning you have to sit on the floor (pillows are provided, of course). Those who are not used to eating this way may strain their leg muscles if they sit too long.

A photo posted by Miriam P. See (@ako_si_iam) on 

II. Seafood

Osaka is situated near water (specifically Osaka Bay), so seafood should be fresher than the non-bay areas in Japan.

Shopping districts like Shinsaibahi are dotted with numerous sushi restaurants; you just have to pick one to your liking.

Salmon sashimi @ a random Shinsaibashi restaurant

Tip: When eating sashimi in Japan, I highly encourage you to venture outside your usual salmon sashimi preference. Tuna sashimi, like beef, also has varying degrees of fattiness depending on which part of tuna is used. Akami is the "normal" grade sashimi, chutoro is the fatty belly, and otoro is the richest (i.e. fattest) of the three cuts. I personally like chutoro sashimi; it easily surpasses the quality of salmon sashimi.

Chutoro sashimi @ a random Shinsaibashi restaurant

III. Ramen

The first branch of Ichiran ramen in Osaka can be found along the riverside of Dotonbori. Ichiran ramen specializes in tonkotsu broth, and has been around since the 1960's.

A photo posted by Miriam P. See (@ako_si_iam) on

There are a lot of ramen shops to explore in Osaka, and since its Japan, you'll hardly go wrong with your choice. If you want to try something that hasn't been franchised in the Philippines, I suggest you go for Chabuton (Note: The website is in Japanese; just use Google to translate the page).

My first-ever tonkotsu ramen experience in 2011. I didn't even know what tonkotsu was back then.

IV. When in Universal Studios Japan, one must try out Three Broomsticks

Food is understandably overpriced inside amusement parks, but if you have to choose one restaurant, I highly recommend Three Broomsticks inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.


No Harry Potter fan should leave without trying out butterbeer al fresco, with a view
of the Hogwarts Castle.

Three Broomsticks offers a variety of European-themed dishes, which is a refreshing change from all the Japanese food you'll probably eat throughout your trip, and of course, Butterbeer!

Butterbeer can be ordered cold or hot. Cold Butterbeer is carbonated, much like cream soda, while hot Butterbeer is like (super) sweet tea. I prefer cold Butterbeer, because the hot one is just too sweet.

Tip: So that you can bring home a Harry Potter-related souvenir, order the Butterbeer in a mug. You can wash the mug afterwards in the restroom et voila! You have a souvenir mug from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

To Be Continued...

I realized that my post is getting a bit long (and I'm already quite sleepy), so I'll be continuing my recommendations in another entry. Good night!

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