Friday, February 15, 2013

Food & Drink in Japan!

Sorry for the brief hiatus there, these past two weeks of packing have been a little bit hectic. Today however, I am free to return to my pictures from Japan and discuss one of my favourite topics - FOOD!

A bowl of typical Japanese Miso Ramen, with the traditional broth, thin soba (thin buckwheat) noodles, flavouring vegetables and two slices of pork on top. Completely diferent from Korean ramyeon, but oh so delicious! Soba noodles can also be fried or served as ramen in oil broth, but miso was by far my favourite.
As I may have mentioned (raved about) in my post on Osaka, Japan - and particularly the Kansai region of Japan - does nothing if it does not do food well. In contrast to the typically chili-laden, heavily spiced Korean food I've grown used to, Japanese food is much (much) milder, with much of it not being spicy at all.   Japanese dishes are typically also saltier than their Korean counterparts, with more miso-y, soy flavours.

A variation on the traditional Japanese Shabu-Shabu (hotpot). This one contains thinly sliced pork, tofu, mushrooms, cabbage and udon (thick buckwheat) noodles cooked in soy milk. Although I was initially skeptical, it turned out to be mouthwateringly yummy :).  
Street food, such as takoyaki (battered and fried octopus balls) which mentioned in my post on Osaka, also plays and extremely important role in Japanese eating culture. A more substantial meal-sized version of takoyaki also exits. Okonomiyaki, which literally means 'whatever you want grilled' is a large savoury pancake made by mixing together - well, whatever ingredients you want - and frying them up in batter. This can be done either by your server or, by yourself at a hotplate table in certain restaurants. It is quite delicious and is a Kansai specialty, although Hiroshima is also known for having its own version in which the pancake, egg and other ingredients are not mixed prior to frying and are then served on top of a plate of noodles. I found that I much preferred the Kansai variation, though I have a number of friends who disagreed.

Okonomiyaki ingredients prior to mixing, the white buble-like things in the top left corner of the bowl (can bowls have corners?) are actually bits of tempura.
The result post-fry up, complete with okonomiyaki sauce (think sweetened Worcester sauce) , seaweed  flakes and dried fish flakes (usually bonito) on top. In the corner. Japanese mayonnaise is also a classic topping, although the portrait being drawn by one of my friends at the table is a little more atypical.
Of course, in the eyes of most people, one has not truly discussed Japanese food unless one has mentioned one of two things - Sushi, or Green Tea. I am happy to report that I consumed both while on my trip, and that both are indeed delicious when consumed in their native land.

Mini-squid sushi at a conveyor belt sushi place in Kyoto. Between my friend and I, many many plates of sushi were consumed. This was the final plate and it rocked! More 'normal' varieties were also offered.
While in Tokyo, I was lucky enough to have my lovely friend Ayumi take me out and insist that I try some traditional Japanese green matcha tea. We also had tasty brown rice tea, but it is the matcha that truly sticks. Matcha is thicker and frothier than typical green tea and is made directly from boiled finely powdered leaves (as opposed to steeping them). It has a surprisingly deep, rich, unsweetened taste which made me question why it is not always consumed in this way!

A bowl of matcha served with lightly flavoured agar (gelatin)-based desserts in a sweet syrup with soybean powder. Definitely a must have. 
In addition to providing great food, Japanese restaurants (particularly in Tokyo) can often be done up with quite quirky and fun themes. Here I am sharing a meal with friends in what is essentially an over-sized Christmas ornament!

Thanks guys! You rock :)!

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