Yeah, I know it’s been just over a year since I last posted. Annnnnnd I have yet to blog about my two months in Europe. Or my New York City trip. Well. Frankly, my dear, IDGAF. Let’s just move on.
One week from tonight, I will be at LAX with two of my dearest friends preparing to board an All Nippon Airway nonstop flight to Japan. This is my first trip to the land of the rising sun, and I’ve been wanting to visit Japan since I was a young weeb (that’s hopeless nerd obsessed with anime and other J-culture). This trip is a good twenty (plus) years in the making and I am so excited, I haven’t even really allowed myself a lot of time to think about it. Now that the final 7 day countdown is here, though, it’s time to get hyped up.
My friend Nexus is the self-designated itinerary builder, taking a huge burden from myself and our other friend, Ty. Our so-simple-a-monkey could do it tasks were simply to give Nexus a list of all of the places/activities we wanted to potentially tackle during our visit. Truth be told, I don’t have a huge “must do/see/visit” list, but rather a “MUST EAT” list. As this is my wheelhouse, I did not share this information with my friends – they know “Eat ALL the things” is generally my ultimate goal. However, I thought I’d share my Japan Must Eat Wish List with you. I realize some of these dishes are a bit out of season, but fuck it, just roll with the punches, OK?
Nikujaga | 肉じゃが (credit)
Nikujaga is easily one of my favorite go-to recipes that I cook well at home but want to experience first hand in the land of its origins. A lighter version of Western “pot roast” or “beef stew” this dish literally means “meat and potatoes.”
Chawanmushi | 茶碗蒸し (credit)
Chawanmushi is a savory steamed egg custard. While I will pass on the fish cake variety as pictured above, I would like to suss out one adorned with mushrooms and shrimp. Yum!
Yakiniku | 焼肉 (credit)
Literally translating as “grilled meat”, yakiniku is the ultimate carnivore indulgence. One of the meals I am most looking forward to sharing with my two friends, I can almost smell the hot charcoal and feel the inevitable meat sweats we’re all going to be suffering from!
Oden | おでん (credit)
Although traditionally eaten exclusively during the winter months, I am crossing my fingers I might find some little hole in the wall Showa era eatery that serves exactly this style of Oden: small, individual two slurps portions that can be changed up on every order so as to experience the variety of Oden. I only discovered this smaller version through a Japanese show called Gourmet Samurai, streaming on Netflix.
Hamburger Steak Curry | ハンバーグカレー (credit)
Listen. This little white girl loves herself some Salisbury steak; it is easily one of my favorite dishes ever, and Japan’s “Wafu Burger” and “Hambagu Steak” is no less delicious. Add curry, rice (maybe a sunny side up egg on top? maybe a cheese sauce?) and you have heaven on a plate.
Temari Sushi | 手まり寿司 (credit)
I don’t know what it is about Temari Sushi that makes it more special than regular sushi; maybe it is the novelty of a circular sushi bite, or perhaps it is simply more aesthetically pleasing to my eyes. Either way, I want to pop them in my mouth and savor each adorable bite.
Cute Parfait (credit)
Another iconic image of anime is a bunch of girlfriends meeting at their neighborhood cafe after school to indulge in a sweet treat, particularly a parfait. This was often seen in my favorite anime, Sailor Moon, and has made a lasting impression on me. I don’t care that my rose-tinted school girl days are long gone, this is going to happen.
Okonomiyaki | お好み焼き (credit)
First, a history lesson: Being a weeb in Los Angeles during the 1990s/early 2000s was pretty sweet due to access to abundant Japanese communities. The apex of weeb-hood at this time was going to a restaurant that served okonomiyaki (or, alternatively, finding a mix and making it at home with your friends). These places are few and far between, with one I only know of for certain in San Francisco (and maybe Gardena, down here in the Greater Los Angeles area). So, what is it? A Japanese savory pancake made of batter with cabbage, topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, dried bonito flakes, and dried seaweed. I’ve made this at home, but my goal is to eat Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki (Pictured above) which features yakisoba and and thin slices of pork (which I add anyway to mine). The iconic image of friends sitting at a low table with a teppan (hotplate), making their own okonomiyaki, is very iconic of my generation of weebs and one I wish to fulfill.
Fusion Pasta (credit)
I’ve been grossly obsessed with mentaiko pasta since, uh, oh I don’t know. Let’s say for 15 years. It isn’t something I can eat but once in a very great while, like annually, due to the sodium content of mentaiko, or roe from Pollock fish. I’m not terribly picky about the kind of roe pasta I want to eat in Japan, but highest on the list is Uni, Ikura, Tarako, and of course, Mentaiko.
Sukiyaki | すき焼き (credit)
The ultimate Japanese hotpot dish, there is no particularly special reason I want to experience it other than it is something to be eaten with treasured friends – which is what I intend to do!
I’m not exactly sure how to explain the difference between a Japanese style crepe and an American style crepe, except that the Japanese style strikes me as more extreme. Crepes have always been a favorite dessert of mine, and I want to take the opportunity to taste how another country approaches this beloved French staple.
Hamburger Steak | ハンバーグ (credit)
Don’t adjust your monitor; you are not seeing double. This is indeed another hamburger dish, the O.G. hambagu dish, if you will, sans rice and curry, opting for a lovely demi-glace sauce. I think this is the closest to a Salisbury steak Japan gets, and I cannot wait to taste it!
Kaiseki | 懐石 (credit)
A traditional multi-course meal, a kaseki is typically offered at a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. Kaiseki is considered an art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of seasonal food. This style meal is actually going to be realized when we check in to our lovely ryokan at Kinosaki, but it was very high on my Must East list – so it was worth adding!
This is by far and wide not a definitive list; there are many regional dishes I’d like to try, and I leave myself open to discovering new dishes I’d never heard of before to expand my mind, taste-buds and experience.
What are your favorite Japanese dishes? Have you tried any of these? Do you have any recommendations in the Kyoto, Osaka, or Tokyo city areas?