If you’re anything like me, you promise people a follow-up to a previous blog entry about your trip to Japan and then you never feel like completing it. Well, the wait is over. I present to you Part 2 of our Japanese odyssey, and this post is going to be all about food and drink!
Japan is obsessed with food. I know it seems like every culture is centred around food in some way, but Japan is really, really super obsessed with food. You may think that it’s stereotypical and offensive for me to include this animated GIF of an anime character endlessly eating ramen noodles, but I’ve gotta be honest: This is what it looks like to be in Japan. Just pink haired dudes eating noodles beside blue cats.
Not really. But yes really, they love food a lot. Even just in the way that they talk about it seems kind of… sexy. Like, they think food is sexy. Anyone who has watched Japanese Style Originator on Netflix will know what I’m talking about.
All of this adds up to a varied and fascinating food culture that offers an experience bonanza to the open-minded tourist. Especially given the fact that everything that the Japanese do (food-wise), they do very, very well.
I’ll give you the run-down of what we consumed, from the simple to the substantial.
Japan has about a bajillion different snack foods that you can’t get anywhere else. Some of these are variations on snacks and candies that are found in North America. Like a Kit Kat bar that is green tea flavoured. Others, I wish we could find here. Like these little weirdo ice cream nuggets.
There are many Crunky products available in Japan. I’ll admit that the first Crunky bar that I purchased was a purchase made out of ironically loving the name “Crunky”. I kept buying them because they are great. The straightforward Crunky Bar is basically just a Nestle Crunch bar, but with a fun name. These are basically just chocolate covered almonds. But with a fun name!
You can’t walk ten feet in Japan without seeing some shit that has Pikachu plastered all over it. These were little packaged pancakes with Pikachu printed on them. I didn’t buy them, but I did buy my niece and nephew a big pile of Japanese candy, most of it Pikachu related. I do not know how any of it tasted, but I haven’t heard that they’ve disowned me, so I’m sure it was fine.
I’m not sure why you would want to buy a packaged baked good in Japan, when instead you can just stop at one of a billion amazing bakeries and buy the freshest, tastiest, weirdest baked goods I’ve ever seen.
We were there right around Halloween, and apparently everyone in Japan goes apeshit for Halloween. Seriously, though, the bakeries are mind-blowing and everything is so fresh and well-made. Unhealthy, sure. But amazing.
Look at this thing I bought!!! It was both hilarious and delicious! And spooky. It went great with coffee. Coffee is another thing that they really love in Japan. Which brings us to…
Things to drink!
You can purchase coffee at a wide variety of coffee shops, big and small. Some of them allow smoking, which blows my mind. It is disgusting. But most interesting (and insane) are the cans of coffee that one can purchase from the vending machines in Japan. They come out of the vending machine hot, which was just about the craziest thing I’d ever heard of. And the coffee really wasn’t bad, for having come out of a can. I’d take it over Tim Horton’s.
Although there are approximately four vending machines per Japanese citizen lining the streets, I must report that the streets are remarkably litter-free. In fact, being in Japan made me feel as though Toronto is absolutely full of reprehensible slobs by comparison. Also, I never quite got used to seeing so many vending machines everywhere. We literally saw one out in the middle of a deserted field in a small town. This is not a joke.
You can find some pretty wacky stuff, like this wasabi flavoured ginger ale (which we didn’t try). For the most part, though, you’ll find standard sodas, a great number of bottled waters, and cold bottled teas.
Most of the big players in the soda business are well represented here, with Coke and Pepsi products being as ubiquitous as they are in North America. They are matched, though, by the home-grown soda varieties. Here’s “Mets Cola” by Kirin. Nothing to do with Metz the band, sadly. Who would buy a Metz-branded cola, you ask?
This guy would buy a Metz-branded cola. This guy would also be absolutely giddy about the fact that you could buy beer from vending machines and at train-station vendors. Absolutely giddy!
Japan is a superior society because they allow you to purchase beer when you’re in transit and drink it on the train. You might have some kind of argument about how Canadian or American culture are in some way superior, but I’ll keep coming back to this as perhaps the ultimate trump card to play when arguing who is truly civilized.
Not only can you buy booze just about everywhere in Japan, you can buy a wonderful variety of it!
This is the first beer that I bought from a vending machine, which made it special to me. Beyond that, it just kind of tasted like regular Asahi, which is to say that it tasted fine but ultimately inconsequential. Combined with the jet lag that I experienced early in the trip, though, this tall can hit me like a sack of bricks and rendered me an absolutely useless travel companion! Good times!
I really wanted to find Japanese craft beer, and the first that I located was this bottle of JPL. As it’s made by Kirin, one of Japan’s beverage giants, JPL is craft beer in the same way that, say, Goose Island is craft beer. It’s a mass-produced craftesque product. It kinda tasted like a skunk’s butt.
My first beer from a smaller craft brewery came in the form of this amazing can of frog beer. I have no recollection of what the brewery’s name was, but I remember this beer being a pretty tasty take on a saison. Also: Look at that fucking frog. This is the best can. Japanese craft beer has some pretty amazing cans.
It has now been too long for me to remember anything specific from the trip, so I cannot properly review this (or any) beer that I consumed while in Japan. I’m sure that this was refreshing, while also being fun to say and fun to look at.
There are many beers that come in the more modest 330ml can in Japan, a trend that I wish would make its way to this part of the world. Sometimes tall cans are too much beer! Here’s a beer from Nagano that I remember being very satisfying!
I called this one “Celestial Reindeer Piss”, and I meant it as a compliment. This one was really good!
This was a pilsner from the hot springs town that we visited. It was perhaps my favourite beer that I had the whole trip, being a very crisp and refreshing pilsner. It was maybe made more delicious by the fact that it was hot as balls that day and we were exhausted. I wish I had more. It was also like ten bucks, so I’ll never drink it again as long as I live.
There is, in fact, more to life than beer. There are other alcohols that a person can have in their life. Like this Highball. Highballs are very popular in Japan. They are just whiskey and soda water, and you can order them in bars or get ’em in a can at the convenience store. I had one just to have it, but I prefer my whiskey straight, and fizzy whiskey tasted like what I imagine burning and drowning at the same time feels like.
We did a tasting flight at the Tokyo Sake Museum. It was both affordable and enlightening. It definitely enlightened me in the brain pan sufficiently that I was a little wobbly on my way out. Sake is great!
You can also get many varieties of Chu-hai, which is shochu (a strong Japanese spirit) mixed with flavoured soda. These rule. They taste great and are very refreshing. They will also really sneak up on you. You’ll want to eat something before consuming too many of these bad boys.
The Main Course
We ate so many good meals during our trip, it was kind of ludicrous. It’s the kind of place where one can just waltz into a 7/11 and pick up a bunch of prepared meals and they’ll be better than a lot of actual restaurants in Toronto. This is a photo of some ramen soup that we had in one of the restaurants at Tokyo station. There are a bunch of them all clustered into one area under the station. So many, in fact, that they call it “Ramen Street”.
I came to Japan really loving sushi and not being the hugest fan of their noodle soups, but I’ve been obsessed with Japanese soup since coming back. When done well, it is one of the greatest foods on the planet.
This is a soba noodle soup that we bought at a tiny little train station restaurant in Mishima. It may not look like much, but that is a little puck of tempura-fried veggies floating on top of the soup. This cost almost nothing and is a top-five meal of mine from our trip. I couldn’t believe how good it was.
Between the foods that you can purchase to eat while you’re waiting for a train, and the travel bento boxes that you can buy to eat on the train, I really must reiterate that the Japanese simply do travelling better than anywhere I’ve heard of. Chantal had this ridiculous box on one of our trips, and was very pleased by it.
A really fun thing about deciding where to eat in Japan is that most of the restaurants have a display by their entrance that features these insane replicas of the things on their menu. These always land somewhere in the uncanny valley of looking a lot like real food while being obviously made of plastic or wax or something. They are creepy and they are hilarious. I love them and I wish that all restaurants everywhere did this.
This sounds a little crazy, but we didn’t actually eat that much sushi while we were in Japan. We definitely had some and all of it was pretty good, but we couldn’t afford the really big-ticket sushi, and found that we could get really cheap and satisfying meals of other varieties.
What sushi we had was all very fresh and well-prepared, and if I ever win a lot of money, I will definitely go back and splurge on insanely pricey sushi. We made an obligatory visit to a conveyor belt sushi place, which was fun and decent. You can click here to watch a video that I took of two old men at that restaurant who I suspected were cheating on their wives.
I don’t remember what this was, but it is terrifying. Wow. Watch out, everybody.
Japan can get a little hipster-y too, as evidenced by this appetizer plate that we got at a small craft beer bar in a Kyoto alleyway. It was very good, but I’d expect this kind of snooty presentation from Queen St West in Toronto, not a literal alleyway in Kyoto.
It is not all good. This is natto. Natto is a fermented soybean dish that is often eaten with breakfast. Natto smells worse than it looks, something akin to a gym sock being farted on by a man covered in baby vomit. If hell has a food, it is natto.
Bring it back to positivity, this is what you get when you order the “hamburger” in Japan. It’s kind of like a salisbury steak, but much better. This was a delicious meal.
As was this. Good Christ, I have to stop. I am getting so hungry writing this post. This was a curry udon soup/stew thing that was piping hot and crazy good. Above, you’ll see Chantal’s meal of cold soba noodles that you take and dip into a little bowl of sauce. It was also great.
Too Much Good
Japan is amazing. I can’t recommend it enough. Go there and just plow through it face-first, eating everything in sight that isn’t natto. While you’re there, you should also look up from whatever you’re eating to take in the sights, because they are likewise stunning.
The trip is substantial, and it takes a toll both financially and physically (because it is exhausting). These costs are entirely worth it. My advice would be to get it out of the way before your kid arrives this summer.