Today we have a guest blogger, Tony Kawaguchi, a Honolulu resident sharing with us his recent trip to Japan. Enjoy!
Food in the Motherland – My Trip to Japan
By Tony Kawaguchi
It had been about 10 years since I had visited my home country of Japan, and since my wife had never been, we were excited about the trip. We got on the plane at Honolulu Int’l Airport with the kids and grandma, with 3 things on our agenda: Tokyo Disneyland, visit family, and eat as much good Japanese food as possible.
Japan is full of good food. Food is absolutely everywhere. Walking along the streets of Kyoto and Tokyo, it seemed as if three fourths of the businesses were restaurants. Many look like this traditional old building (see top photo), with plastic display food out front so you can see what you might be eating. If it doesn’t have plastic food in front, it’s probably not a restaurant. Only the very high end places don’t have plastic display food.
The great news is that Japan has become very cheap! Yes it’s cheaper to eat in Japan than to eat in Honolulu. Our average ramen meal was about $4, and our average chicken or pork meal was about $6. Even though the exchange rate was terrible, at about 90 yen to the dollar, meals were still very cheap. 10 years ago it was about double the cost, so go now while their economy is still really bad.
Is this Katsu real or is it plastic? This one happens to be real, and it happens to be awesome. A tiny hole in the wall, as most restaurants are in Japan, like 95% of them seat under 20 people. The Katsu (breaded pork) in Japan has lighter breading and less fat than in Hawaii. I’m not sure why but for some reason here in Hawaii the pork is not as lean and not nearly as tender. These katsu medallions were so tender you didn’t need a knife and barely needed to bite. Amazing flavor and great texture. The breding was light like cotton candy or something.
We happened to be in Japan during “Silver Week.” I never figured out what that is, but apparently it’s some kind of Buddhist holiday. Well fortunately for us, it meant that there were dozens of street vendors out in the temple grounds in Asakusa, Tokyo. The Festival at Sensoji Temple proved to be a Foodie’s wonderland. Tako yaki (fried octupus), and Okonomiyaki. (O-ko-no-mee-yah-kee) Say that three times fast…
This guy was making Hiroshima Okonomiyaki, which unlike versions from other regions, contains bacon. It is basically fried pancake batter with a lettuce base, fried egg, some kind of fish, shrimp, bacon, and a very thick sauce similar to yakitori sauce.
Here is the finished product. I actually didn’t like how much sauce it had, but the taste was great. It would have been perfect with less sauce. There were at least a dozen vendors making different variations of this, but we only tried a couple. Great food for about $4 each. We split each one among our whole family so we could all try different regional Okonomiyakis.
There are also some psuedo western style restauarants, like this one called “White Lover.” I have no idea what they were intending to say with that. People who love white things? An intimate relationship with a haole? No clue. I looked at my wife and said, “Honey, you are my white lover.” (She’s haole.)
Speaking of my wife, here she is at her favorite find. This chocolatier was in Ginza, Tokyo. It had about 4 million of the most amazing types of chocolate mixed with Japanese chesnuts, azuki beans, and pounded rice. They gave us at least 10 samples of things, so of course we were obliged to buy something. We bought dark chocolate bark filled with almonds. Incredible. There are little bakeries and confectionaries everywhere in Japane. Literally every 5th block or so has one.
This little $2.50 snack was our second favorite. It’s a mochi outside with sweet bean inside, and they had 20 different flavors filled with chocolate, green tea, etc. Below is what it looks like inside. Absolutely amazing. We brought some home and are still eating it. Wondeful little snack that they were calling “crepes.” But no, they are not crepes.
Finally, I thought this would be funny to my friends back in Hawaii. Roco-Moco? Hmmm sounds familiar, but not sure it’s quite right. This is a menu at the Tokyo train station. Funny, do they think a lot of people from Hawaii come there looking for breakfast? Oddly they only serve it beginning at 11am. Funny thing about Japan – almost nothing is open until about 10am. The only breakfasts we could find were Denny’s and McDonalds. I guess everyone sleeps in and works late, because even the trains are emtpy until about 8am.
If you love Japanese food as most people in Hawaii do, I highly recommend a visit to Japan. Walking around Asakusa, Kyoto, Ginza, and Yokohama, there were so many great places to eat that I wished I could eat 10 times a day. :::
Tony Kawaguchi lives in Honolulu, and normally blogs about Hawaii Real Estate at www.AlohaTony.com.
If you’re a Kama’aina or Hawaii expat and you have a great story related to food in the islands that you’d like to share as a guest blogger here on The Tasty Island, you’re more than welcome to eMail me for consideration.
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