When you think of Japanese food, the first thing that always comes to mind is sushi. But japanese food is a lot more than raw fish and rice. In this hub, I will give an overview of some of the tasty tidbits that await you in Japan beyond the cliche.
Let's start off with one of my personal favorites:
What is it? It's been called Japanese pizza, or Japanese pancakes, but these descriptions always fall short. Okonomi translates to "whatever you like," and yaki means "cooked." The basic idea being that okonomyaki is made up of just about anything you desire. However it's base ingrediants always consist of a batter made from flour, grated yam, water, eggs and shredded cabbage. After that, the sky is the limit. Some typical favorite add-ons are fried eggs, shrimp, pork and onions. Usually its served with a sweet sauce on top, squirt of mayo and a dash of dried seaweed flakes.
Yakiniku, which translates simply to "cooked meat," is more of a dining experience than a food item. I'm usually not a huge carnivore, but yakiniku is the one occasion I'll go out. When I see the platters of delicious kobe beef, or fancy pork cutlets being brought out, its hard to not let myself gorge. Aftrer the meat arrives its up to you and your friends to cook it on the grill in the middle of the table. Simple pick what you want, and place it. Next select a tasty and perfectly cook morsel and dip it in the specially prepared steak sauces and enjoy. Oh and don't forget to wash it down with a cold one. And yeah, you can order veggies too if you want.
Yakitori restaurants can be found at almost every train station. Yakitori is skewered bite sized bits of chicken that are then roasted over open flames. The cook often by hand feeds the flames by flapping a fan to keep the coals hot. Plop down at the bar and point to whatever tasty bits of chicken suit you. There are many different kinds of yakitori, all form different parts of the chicken such as hearts, skin, or breastmeat. You can also get yakitori with various vegetables such as green onions skewered together. Usually there are are a variety of dipping powders and sauces to sample. Again, wash this down with a Japanese to get the full affect.
I keep talking about beer so perhaps it deserves its own category.
Japanese beer gets a bad rep by the great beer drinking cultures of the world. Most argue that it's too cold, too light, and there's not enough variety. I agree that it is all of those things. But, if you drink Japanese beer with Japanese food, its a match made in heaven. Those that bad mouth Japanese beer need to give it a chance with some of the delicious food mentioned so far.
Traditional Japanese food hardly ever features baking of any kind.
But believe it or not, Japan has amazing bakeries. This is a country where most households still don't have modern ovens, yet almost every town in Japan has a kickass bakery. And these bakeries aren't just cheap nockoffs, they are the real deal. You can find traditional french bread and delicious and amazingly ingenious cakes. There are also Japanese inventions like green tea cake and sweet been past bread and donuts. One time I was enjoying some cake in a bakery in Kyoto when a french couple came in and sat down. They too enjoyed the cake that they ordered and proceded in telling the staff how amazed they were. They're exact words in english were something like this "That was amazing cake, and we are French!"
I think that's all the proof you need right there.
It's the winter meal of choice for on the go Japanese and foreigners. Oden refers to any tasty bit of vegetable or meat boiled in a combination of soy sauce, sugar and rice wine for hours. My image of a perfect bowl of oden usually features, an egg, a big chunk of Japanese radish, maybe a sausage, a piece of fried tofu and if I'm feeling it, a piece of fish cake. Oden doesn't sound great, but its worth sampling. It took me a couple of trials before I realized how deliciously satisfying it could be. Traditionally it was sold out of small street side stalls for laborers, but now it can be found in convenience stores almost everywhere.