One of the things I love about traveling is the opportunity to sample great food. We’ve been having some great experiences in Japan.
The Koru-mon Noodle House is a tiny little shack in Shinjuku. They specialize in soba noodles; try the “machine gun” for a slightly spicier dipping sauce:
Monjayaki is a variation on a Japanese pancake. The ingredients are brought to you and then cooked (by your waitress or you) on a hotplate built into the table:
It’s great fun to watch. The waitress organizes all the ingredients into a pile on the hot plate. A lot of chopping ensues. The chopped ingredients are then formed into a ring around the hot plate.
The waitress then pours half the batter (it’s in the bowl, below the ingredients) into the center. Much mixing and folding occurs.
The rest of the batter is mixed in and you let it cook for a few minutes. After that, you simply scrape off the piece you want to eat:
We had our monjayaki in Tsukuda. If you go down Nishinaki Dori (the main street), you’ll find tonnes of great places. (You should also visit the nearby Sumiyoshi Shrine).
The sister of monjayaki is okonomiyaki. If monjayaki is a pancake, okonomiyaki is a pizza. Except that it’s made of egg, not dough, fried and topped with barbecue sauce and mayonnaise.
To get there, you walk through the chaos of Shinjuku, dodge the touts of Kabuki Cho’s red light district, walk up a cedar lined alley and then climb the steep narrow stairs into a poorly marked upstairs restaurant. Here’s Wendy trying to leave:
The place seats 8, all at a bar. The chef is on the other side and boxed in all night. If you know what you’re ordering you buy a ticket from the vending machine and place it on the counter (don’t worry, if you’re clueless like us you just need to say “pork” or “fish”).
After a couple of minutes, a heap of steaming noodles topped with a few slices of pork appear. As you wait, you can contemplate what else you would order if you spoke any Japanese:
If you’ve ever lived in Toronto and worked in an office tower or visited a mall, you’ve probably seen an Edo Japan restaurant offering teriyaki. New Yorkers may have been to the lonely states-side outpost of Japan’s Yoshinoya; it’s in Times Square (and the only one on the East Coast).
What I didn’t realize until visiting here, is that these are the Japanese equivalent of a diner.
We went to one in Kyoto and after ordering you sat at stools, just like in a North American diner. It felt quite like a diner, except for the ordering – you did that from a machine (a la ramen above) and then brought your ticket to a stool to get your meal made. The nice thing here is that you could see the picture of what you were buying before you purchased it:
The actual meal was delicious. Miso soup instead of chicken noodle. A variation on the garden salad. An terikyaki with an egg instead of a club sandwich.
In Tokyo we ate at a nice little place in Harajuku called Mother Kurkku. It was the least Japanese restaurant Japanese restaurant we’ve been to yet. The (smoke free!) second floor dining room had a double height ceiling (I think it’s a converted loft) and glass walls.
Plus, the wait and kitchen staff were all female.
The menu is very simple; there are only a few things available (pork, fish and spaghetti – there’s an Italian food fad going on right now [seriously]). I picked the pork, which was described as “pork boiled in broth”. Here’s what it looked like:
Maybe you can tell from the picture – that’s basically bacon. This is bacon boiled in stock. And it tasted great. I would never think to cook it this way; now I may have to add it to the repertoire.
Japan is not on the backpacker circuit as it’s not known for its low prices. However, you can eat surprisingly cheaply here if you want.
Every city has a set of cafeteria-style noodle houses. You grab a tray, pick which broth you want with your udon noodle and then maybe grab a piece of tempura (friend chicken sounds so much fancier when you call it tempura).
However, these are not crappy udon noodles. For instance, the place that I ate at had it’s own noodle machine in the front. It was only a matter of minutes between when the noodles were made and when they were served to you:
The Japanese love their octopus balls. They’re served as a meal by themselves or sometimes as an amuse bouche. They’re also surprisingly tasty – and this from someone who hates most seafood; they’re a nice mix of crunchy and rubbery – great texture.
But don’t take my word for it; check out how much Wendy loves ‘em: