Posting about a trip to Japan cannot be complete without a feature on food, which is one of the key attractions of Japan. I did a lot of research on restaurants prior to our trip and I’m glad to say that it paid off. Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order. Apologies for the long post, but this is also my last post on my trip to Japan.
Roan Kikunoi, Kyoto
There is no shortage of Michelin starred restaurants in Japan. In fact, Japan is the country with the most number of Michelin stars, with Tokyo and Kyoto occupying the #1 and 2 slots as the most-starred cities in the world. We chose to visit Roan Kikunoi, a two starred restaurant by Chef Yoshihiro Murata who has a total of seven Michelin stars. Roan Kikunoi serves Kaiseki cuisine, which is the equivalent of a tasting menu and focuses on highlighting seasonal produce.
We went for lunch, which was the more affordable option. We were served seven courses and it was clear that the food had been meticulously prepared using very fresh and high quality ingredients, with perfection in mind. Take for example the appetizer – what a beauty to behold and ‘spring’ immediately comes to mind. It featured lots of different preparation methods, textures and tastes which somehow went well together. My favourite course was the baby tuna sashimi with marinated egg yolk sauce. It was simple, but the tuna was very fresh, melt in your mouth and more importantly, the egg yolk sauce complemented it so well that I was trying to get every last drop of it.
Honke Owariya Soba, Kyoto
This is one of the oldest restaurants in Kyoto, with over 500 years of history and it continues to serve some of the best soba. We went to the original restaurant which certainly looks and feels its age, but this is part of the charm. We were sat on the first floor where the table (and perhaps even the floor) seemed to be slanting. I have never been a fan of cold noodles, but we decided to order a set of cold and another set of hot soba. When I tasted the cold soba in this restaurant, I realized that I wasn’t a fan because I hadn’t tried the good stuff before! There were lots of ingredients to go with the soba and the sauce was tasty yet clear and refreshing. My husband and I ended up fighting to have more of the cold soba rather than the boring old hot soup noodles.
Ramen Street, Kyoto
If you’re a fan of ramen, I highly recommend visiting the ‘ramen street’ on the 10th floor of the Kyoto train station. The whole floor is dedicated to ramen and the moment we stepped out of the elevator, it smelled amazing. We randomly tried one of the stalls which seemed popular. We joined a queue, thinking that we were heading into the restaurant. Instead, when we reached the front of the queue, we realized that we had to order our food from a machine. Luckily, there were tiny pictures to guide us and we managed to place our order and were promptly seated to enjoy our slurpingly delicious, piping hot ramen.
Maisen Tonkatsu, Tokyo
Deep fried pork cutlets, anyone? Maisen is one of the most popular tonkatsu places in Tokyo. The restaurant is located in a former public bathhouse. When we were there for lunch, there was a very long queue, snaking through the front door and up the stairs. We queued for about half an hour and were seated ahead of others because we were willing to sit at the bar. Our patience paid off – I’ve never had fried food like this before. The batter was crispy and light, while the meat itself was so juicy and tender that I could cut into it using my chopsticks. It was also not greasy and came with rice and salad, which helped me feel less guilty about having fried food.
Due to my hubby’s obsession with Kobe beef (the cows drink beer and get massages, he says), we stopped by Shin-Kobe on the way back from Hiroshima to Tokyo just to have Kobe beef. Kobe beef is wagyu beef reared in Kobe and is served in other places but we just wanted to have it in Kobe. Our logic was similar to the logic behind Guinness tasting better in Ireland. Wakkoqu, a teppanyaki restaurant which is popular for its beef is situated just outside the train station which made it the prime choice. Again, I highly recommend going during lunch time as the lunch sets are about half the price of the dinner menu.
We sat in front of the teppanyaki counter so that we can watch the chef in action. Our slabs of beef were well marbled but looked kind of small (130g) compared to the steaks we’ve had back in London. The chef removed the fat from the side and used this to grease the pan. He then cubed the beef and cooked them in a few batches. The beef was cooked to perfection – it was well seared but still rare on the inside and literally melted in my mouth. There were different options available – having the beef with fried garlic, salt, black pepper, mustard or a light sauce (sort of like a mix of soy sauce and vinegar). My preference was to have it with garlic or just on its own. Even though I was concerned about the adequacy of the meat quantity, I couldn’t finish my portion and gave the last couple of pieces to my husband who gladly devoured them. This was not because I have a small appetite, but because of the richness of the meat. The beef was served with rice, miso soup and vegetables which have been cooked in the meat’s juices, but the beef was definitely the star of the show.