Bento Box: My Foodie Escapades in Japan

As most of you know by now, I recently took a trip to Japan to visit my best friend. While I was there, I had the pleasure of eating some authentic Japanese food, which knocked my socks off. Having lived there for two years, my friend was able to bring me around to all the great restaurants in the countryside.

I stayed in Tamba, which is in the Hyogo prefecture located in South Western Japan. It’s a small town, mostly consisting of rice fields and breath taking views of mountains; it is also home of some serious delicious food.

I’ve had some good sushi in my lifetime, I’ve been to some of the best sushi restaurants in Toronto, and none of them come close to what I ate in Japan. In their defense, it’s all about location. Of course Japanese sushi is going to taste better, no one does a Japanese dish better than, well, the Japanese. Two, the ocean is right there, fresh fish is what makes or breaks sushi. It’s not just the taste; it’s also the texture. The eel had a completely different texture than what I’m used to here. It was tender, flakey, and had firm fatty flesh. The rice on the other hand was less than “oishii” (delicious in Japanese.) It didn’t really have a flavour, other then plastic, and I found it got in the way of the fish. Our meals usually ended with a bunch of empty plates, except for the one piled with our discarded rice.

Ramen Noodles:
Well was I surprised when I found out ramen noodles is a Japanese dish. While the noodles themselves are Chinese, the Japanese popularized the dish after World War II. I ordered the Tonkotsu Ramen soup, which is ramen noodles in a vegetable broth served with pork.  There should be a picture of this dish beside “comfort food” in the dictionary. It is the epitome of a winter dish, but the good thing is that it is fairly light, so you don’t get that heavy feeling when you’re done.

A rice ball, onigiri, is white rice formed into triangular or circular shapes, usually wrapped in nori, with some sort of filling. Traditionally the filling is pickled plum, but over time it can include salmon, tuna, kombu (Japanese kelp) and Pollack. In Japan you can walk into any convenience store (in my case it was a Lawson, they are everywhere) and buy these cute snacks already prepared. It was great for a quick bite to eat while on the road.

Gobo is a traditional Japanese appetizer, made from the root of the burdock plant, and then deep-fried. They taste just like fries, but have way more nutritional value (which may or may not go out the window with the whole deep frying situation). This was the closest I got to Western food my whole stay.

Holy octopus balls Batman, these traditional Japanese snacks taste amazing. I had the privilege of attending a dekansho (a festival) in the Hyogo prefecture, and was able to try Takoyaki.  Literally fried octopus, they are a specialty of the region and are usually sold by street vendors. Using a special pan/mold, the octopus is covered in a wheat-based batter and then fried so that the outside is browned in the octopus is creamy in texture. It is usually served with fish flakes, pickled ginger and mayonnaise.

Kobe beef:
My journey would not be complete if I didn’t try the famous Kobe beef (in Kobe). Yes, it is everything that it’s cracked up to be. Kobe beef is from a special breed of Wagyu cattle, raised in the Hyogo prefecture. They adhere to a strict diet of grain fodder. Kobe beef is unavailable outside of the prefecture, and is known for its fatty well-marbled texture, tenderness and flavour.  It was quite pricey ($52 for one plate, the most expensive thing I ate while I was there) and we cooked it at the table, which was an awesome experience.

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