Itadakimasu, loosely translated, means “I receive this food” and is customarily said to someone who cooks or serves your food. In a country full of rigid customs and the utmost politeness, you hear this phrase quite often. You also hear this phrase often because in Japan, food is EVERYWHERE.
Ramen; the best Ramen you can imagine. Ramen with soy broth, Ramen with miso broth, Ramen with pork, Ramen with veggies. It’s Ramen madness.
You put your ¥ coins in this machine, choose whatever permutation of awesomeness you so desire and voila …
Here’s another specimen of beauty.
… and that egg! It’s no ordinary egg either. Perfectly half boiled and oh so tasty. Every Ramen shop puts their own spin on the timeless dish and one of our favorites so far has been Ippudo Ramen. This is somewhat of a chain but the locations we have visited have always been top notch Ramen served by an energetic staff in a cozy atmosphere. I hear there’s even one in NYC!
Another favorite food has been Yakitori, or skewered meats and vegetables grilled to order. Yakitori restaurants are everywhere in Tokyo and they are generally compact and cozy. Grab a stool and ask the grill man what’s good. Don’t forget a glass or two of your favorite Pilsner because, as is true with most Japanese food, it tastes even better with a fresh pint. Tell your bartender “awa nashi”, or without bubbles… the Japanese love their bubbles but unless you want to sacrifice a third of your mug to the head, take my advice and speak those words.
Sushi … Hello!
Pictured on top is some nigiri sushi from a small sushi shop on a side street just outside the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, and represents one of the greatest eating experiences I have ever enjoyed. Temperature of the fish and the rice is absolutely essential for the sushi to be optimal and this did not disappoint.
The second picture is Salmon nigiri from another sushi restaurant in Kanazawa. It wasn’t included in my Omasake (chef’s choice) but I really wanted to taste it so I preferred it ala carte. I’m so glad I did and nearly shed a lonesome tear after eating it. I thanked the chef incessantly for serving me the BEST single piece of sushi I had ever eaten. Pure genius.
I cannot get enough of the REAL Wasabi here in Japan (not the cheaper fake stuff we in America associate as Wasabi which is nothing more than Horseradish, Mustard Seed and Food Coloring … yuck). It’s much more subtle and textured although sometimes you do catch a zinger too.
This dish is called Chanka Nabe and it’s what the Sumo eat to get good and fat.
It contains broth, tofu, beef, veggies, various sea food, pork, noodles and spices. This was one heck of meal that Jennifer and I shared with our new friend Ai and naturally, was accompanied by a pint of suds and a tall bottle of chilled sake!
Onigiri is basically sushi rice that has been stuffed with cooked fish or veggies and then wrapped with nori (seaweed). It’s everywhere in Japan and is very, very delicious. Jennifer tells me it’s what the Samurai ate when they were “on the go” which makes me like this awesome little snack even more. The picture above (of Daniel absolutely losing it) is at an Onigiri restaurant Jennifer and I visited in Kanazawa and it was memorable. They make Onigiri to order and you can tell them to add anything you like. My two favorites are Salmon and spicy pickled seaweed. This, like most Japanese foods, has made it to the states and I highly suggest you hunt these down and try one.
Soba (noodles which are made from buckwheat flour) are, like their close relatives Udon and the mighty Ramen, ubiquitous in Japan. Although warming on a cool night and unmatched for immense flavors, I sometimes prefer the Soba noodle to the aforementioned king of noodle soups. Soba are more subtle and an absolute joy to eat as well. My favorite way to eat them is as seen in pic above; Zaru Soba ! A healthy pile of Soba noodle served on a bamboo tray (zaru) accompanied by a soy like dipping sauce garnished with scallions and fresh wasabi. It’s been served this way in Japan since th 1600’s and is a favorite of this author. Pro-tip: let the noodles stew for a bit in the dip before engaging in that ever present sipping action so familiar to the Japanese… the Soba noodles need some time to absorb that goodness.