One could easily visit Japan, do nothing but eat, and still have an amazing trip. During our stay we managed to not only see some incredible places, but also experience some of the most unique and flavorful cuisine that we have ever had. Trying out all of the food, both familiar and new, was truly an adventure in itself.
The first thing any visitor will notice when searching for food options in Japan is the consistent use of realistic plastic food samples at just about every establishment. We had heard of the concept before, but did not realize how universal it was until we were there. It was not only fascinating to see the attention to detail in each plate, but also very helpful when it came time to order food, since we could point to our exact desired dish when making selections.
Perhaps our favorite meal of the trip was at Manzaratei Pontochoten, where we enjoyed a traditional Kyōto style meal at a small restaurant with prime seating at the counter. From our seats we could see the chefs putting together lovely little dishes, often ladling in broths and sauces from the various large bowls resting on the counter in front of us. Already one of his favorite foods in general, James proclaimed this was the best unagi he has ever had after his very first bite.
We had several bentō boxes while on the trip. They were pretty and convenient to grab while on the go, and also fun to explore what each one had inside.
Rāmen in Tōkyō is of course an absolute must, and we tried out a few different ones while on the trip. Ichiran was our favorite one of all, since not only do they have fantastic rāmen, but the experience of dining at one of the their restaurants was completely new to us. The first step is buying a ticket at a machine at the entrance. Then, each patron is seated in their own individual booth and given a sheet to fill out denoting their preferences on things like noodle firmness, spice level, aromatics, and richness. A small curtain separates the booths from the kitchen, and only the hands of the servers are visible as they place your order in front of you once it’s ready.
Naturally, we were very much looking forward to eating plenty of raw seafood on the trip, and a simple conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Kyōto Station was one of the most satisfying experiences. For around one hundred yen per plate, guests simply pick up what they’d like from the belt, and stack up their dishes for a tally at the end. The fish was incredibly fresh, and we tried a few that we had never eaten before.
Another must for the trip was trying out all of the street food. For this we headed to Nishiki Market in Kyōto – a long strip of vendors selling goods such as fresh seafood, pickled vegetables, and just about any ingredients that a local resident may need for cooking. Among the produce shops there are also several vendors selling hot food ready for eating on the spot. We walked through the entire market starting at one end, and made sure to get a wide variety as we made our way through. The tako tamago (candied baby octopus stuffed with quail egg) was James’ favorite, while the cup of fried chicken was some of the best I’ve ever had.
One of our most memorable meals was at what is locally referred to as Piss Alley in Shinjuku. Contrary to what the name suggests, Piss Alley is a fun narrow street where you can sit in a tiny restaurant and enjoy delicious yakitori under the glow of hanging lanterns. After cramming into one of the restaurants, we ordered a great variety of meats and vegetables that were all lightly seasoned before being grilled to perfection over binchotan (Japanese white coals) right in front of us. We had friends who had just arrived in Japan, and we met up with them to share the experience.
Tonkatsu is a traditional Japanese comfort food. Panko crusted pork cutlets and cabbage salad are served with a small bowl of sesame seeds on the side. We ground up the sesame seeds ourselves, and added our choice of sauce from little pots placed in front of us. The experience was fun and unique, and I brought home a little grinding bowl and sauce pot from a local market to recreate the meal someday.
The variety of snacks found all throughout our trip was insanely impressive. From cat shaped chocolate popsicles, to obscure flavors of Pocky, and the best gummy candies I’ve ever had – there was no shortage of opportunity to try new things.
Overall it’s safe to say that the cuisine in Japan is an adventurous experience. Almost every time we saw something interesting to try, we went for it, and were never disappointed. We were consistently intrigued with how most of the foods used the same types of ingredients that we are accustomed to eating in North America, but used in ways that transformed their flavor profiles.
I have always loved French food, and on our recent honeymoon we were able to taste a fantastic variety of many of the nation’s dishes. For one of my favorite dinners we had cornish hen in a morel sauce and the best potatoes au gratin I had ever had. I knew I had to try to replicate the meal at home and am pleased with the results.
For the cornish hen:
Ingredients: 1 whole cornish hen, 2 cups mushrooms (I decided to use a variety of mushrooms instead of just morels, but you can stick to morels if you would like), 1/4 cup flour, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/3 cup diced shallots, 2 garlic cloves, 1 cup dry white wine, 1 cup chicken stock, 1 cup heavy cream, salt and pepper to taste.
Instructions: cut the hen into eight separate pieces, sprinkle salt and pepper over hen. Lightly dredge the hen pieces with flour. In a non-stick pot (I use a dutch oven) heat the two tablespoons of olive oil. Add hen one piece at a time and cook about two minutes per side. Remove the chicken from pot and place on a paper lined plate. Add the butter to pot and let melt, add the shallots and garlic and cook until tender, about two minutes. Add the mushrooms, wine, chicken stock, salt and pepper to taste and let simmer for two minutes before adding the chicken pieces. Cover and let cook for about 20 minutes. Add the heavy cream and simmer for an additional five minutes.
For the potatoes:
Ingredients: 4 large thinly sliced russet potatoes, 3 tablespoons butter, 3 tablespoons flour, 2 cups whole milk, 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper.
Instructions: heat oven to 350F. In a saucepan melt the butter and then add the flour. Whisk flour and butter for a few seconds and slowly pour in milk, add salt and pepper and bring to a gentle boil, until thickened. Add in the cheese, and whisk until cheese is fully melted and incorporated. Layer bottom of an oven safe dish with potato slices, add a bit of the cheese sauce, top with a layer of potatoes, repeat process until you reach top of baking dish. Bake for about 40 minutes, until potatoes are tender and lightly crisp on the top layer.
Enjoy with a glass of wine! Bon appétit!
Naturally, one of the many highlights of our honeymoon was enjoying the French cuisine. We had a great variety of classic dishes, as well as some new ones we had never heard of. Here is a sampling of some of our favorites, at least some that we managed to take a picture of before gobbling it all up.
All of our breakfasts were fantastic. Our meal at the famous bakery Ladurée in Paris was perfectly suited to meet our expectations of this gorgeous dining room. Every element from the perfectly cooked poached eggs to the elegant tea cups made the experience even more enjoyable.
As much as we loved the delicate poached eggs from Ladurée, I found that oftentimes the simpler foods were just as delicious. This warm egg and toast breakfast at Café Charlot was one of my favorites from our whole trip, and one that I know we’ll re-create at home many times.
On a colleagues recommendation we tried out Breizh Café, which turned out to be just a short walk from our hotel in Paris, to try out their famous buckwheat crepes.
Neither one of us had ever tried foie gras (it’s actually illegal in California), so we decided to take the opportunity while in Giverny. The soft pâté was rich in an unexpected but pleasing way.
At Bistrot Paul Bert, we tried a few classic dishes that were perfectly executed.
By far our favorite meal of the trip was at Le Mouton Blanc, the hotel we stayed at in Le Mont Saint-Michel. The charming atmosphere, great service, and fantastic food and wine made the evening romantic and memorable.
Throughout our trip we tried just about every classic French dessert, and they never disappointed. Each restaurant we went to had impeccable presentation and offered a welcome variety.
Of course we couldn’t return home without bringing a treat back with us. We wish we could bring back more of the amazing cuisine from our trip (particularly the bread which was consistently amazing), but delicious French macarons would have to do the trick.