In this two part series I would like to share my experiences of visiting Japan. Japan is magical, mind-boggling and mesmerizing! It had been a long term dream of mine to visit Japan and I finally made it t!

Some of the experiences that highlighted my short stay there can be found here .

Today, I am going to highlight a few dishes which I tried in Japan. Itadakimasu!

Takoyaki:

“Tako” means octopus and “yaki” means ___ .

Rings a bell?

Yes!  Yaki is derived from “yaku” which is one of the cooking methods in Japanese cuisine, meaning “to fry or grill”. So we have different Japanese food items such as teppanyaki, yakitori, teriyaki, okonomiyaki, sukiyaki etc.

In this case, takoyaki means grilled octopus bites. A street vendor from Osaka named Tomekichi Endo is credited with this popular street food (1935).

Takoyaki: Grilled Baby Octopus
Special molded pan to prepare takoyaki

I was in Osaka for only a night and one day. However, could not taste the famous Takoyaki of Osaka. While walking back to Hōryū-ji station from the temples of Hōryū-ji, I got attracted by the aroma of takoyaki and okonomiyaki emanating from a small eatery near the road. I ordered for a box of freshly prepared takoyaki – 6 of them. The exterior is a bit crispy and thin while the interior is mushy and filled with chewy bites of cooked octopus.

Takoyaki: Grilled Octopus Bites
Takoyaki: Grilled Octopus Bites

Price: 300 Yen

(Trivia: “Horyuji Temple was founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku, who is credited with the early promotion of Buddhism in Japan. Horyuji contains the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.”)

Nigiri-ten:

Nigiri-ten in a famous local snack in Miyajima. It’s a savoury white fish cake that can be either steamed or roasted. This version is fried and served on a stick. There are different flavours and varieties available like octopus and green onion, egg and bacon, asparagus and bacon, oyster, shrimp, lotus root, squid, etc. I ordered prawn.

Nigri-ten
Nigri-ten

Miyajima is probably my most favourite place during my visit. The alley from the ferry terminal to the Itsukushima shrine is dotted with numerous souvenir shops and restaurants, and wild deer roam freely in that area.

Prawn Nigri-ten
Prawn Nigri-ten

Price: 320 Yen

(Trivia: “Miyajima is a small island less than an hour outside the city of Hiroshima. It is famous for its giant torii gate, which at high tide seems to float on the water. The sight is ranked as one of Japan’s three best views. While officially named Itsukushima, the island is more commonly referred to as Miyajima –  Japanese for “Shrine Island”.”)

Chanko-nabe:

As I was happily concentrating on finishing my wholesome bowl of chicken stew cooked in the style favoured by the sumo wrestlers of Japan, I didn’t particularly ponder upon why chicken is the most popular meat (or sometimes the only meat) used in that stew known as chanko-nabe!

Chanko-nabe
Chanko-nabe

In a match, a sumo wrestler needs to stay on two feet; to fall on all fours would mean the loss of the match. Legend has it that since symbolically a chicken walks about on its two feet, sumo players would only prefer having chicken as the main meat in the hot pot. However, nowadays, there is no particular recipe for chanko nabe, and it may contain beef, fish, pork, etc.

Chanko-nabe Preperation, classic hot pot dish for sumo wrestlers
Chanko-nabe Preperation, classic hot pot dish for sumo wrestlers

Since my trip was focused mostly around Kyoto, I was in Tokyo for only a day and a half. For lunch, I went to the Ryogoku area searching for a chanko restaurant. Many of the restaurants are managed by retired sumo wrestlers. After getting a map of the area from the Sumo museum in the Kokugikan (Sumo Stadium), I selected the Chanko Dining Ami Ryokogu Main Branch as it was nearby and one of the few open for lunch then.

Chanko nabe preperation instruction card
Chanko nabe preperation instruction card

It is a do-it-yourself hotpot set and comes with its own instruction card in (fortunately) English! And rice to go with the stew plus a serving of iced green tea (free refill for rice and tea).

Price: 900 Yen

(Trivia: “Ryōgoku is a district of Tokyo where the sumo stadium, many sumo stables, chanko restaurants and other sumo related attractions can be found. It is the center of the sumo world. Sumo events have been staged in this area since a long time before, but until the beginning of the 20th century, sumo tournaments were held outdoors at shrines and temples. In 1909, the first permanent sumo hall was built in the Ryogoku area. Today’s sumo stadium, the Kokugikan, is the fourth built in Tokyo and has been in use since 1985. It seats over 10,000 visitors and hosts three of the six annual sumo tournaments (in January, May and September)”)

Okonomiyaki:

Okonomiyaki is a popular pan fried dish consisting mainly of batter and cabbage with an amazing plethora of selected toppings .This, of course, reflects from the name’s meaning in Japanese: “okonomi” literally “to one’s liking”. The variants in the cities of Hiroshima and Osaka are the most famous. Sometimes, it is known in English as “As-you-like-it Pancake”. The popular Kansai- or Osaka-style okonomiyaki usually consists of batter of flour, shredded cabbage, and other ingredients such as meat, seafood, and tofu. The ingredients are generally mixed together. Toppings typically include otafuku/okonomiyaki sauce ,aonori (seaweed flakes), katsuobushi (bonito flakes), Japanese mayonnaise, and pickled ginger (beni shoga).In Hiroshima Style, the ingredients are layered rather than mixed.

Okonomiyaki: Custom made pancakes
Okonomiyaki: Custom made pancakes

I couldn’t have okonomiyaki in either of Osaka and Hiroshima, and finally tasted one in Kyoto in Okonomiyaki Kiraku Kiyomizu Gojouzakaten restaurant near Kiyomizudera temple area. It was a Beef okonomiyaki topped with a poached egg, downed with a Calpis soft-drink (similar to yogurt drink).

Price: 1026 Yen (900 + 50 + 8% tax)

(Trivia: “The Higashiyama District along the lower slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains is one of the city’s best preserved historic districts. It is a great place to experience traditional old Kyoto, especially between UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine, where the narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional merchant shops invoke a feeling of the old capital city.”)

Stayed tuned for the second part of this exciting journey!

Guest Post : A Taste of Japan Part 1