Food in Kobe, July 20th 2014

Soon I will be publishing a post about a trip to Kobe I took with my girlfriend Sayaka. This post, however, is focused on the food we ate in Kobe, as in the space of one day we managed to eat a lot. Read about the rest of the trip here.

We started as soon as we arrived, at the Peruvian Festival. We joined the queue, unsure which language to speak, or what we were really ordering. We picked up two plates, sat down and dug in.

The first dish was a large chicken breast, fried and lightly salted. Simple, but very delicious. On the side was rice mixed with coriander and what I think was sweet corn and a small serving of onion salsa. The salsa and rice gave a bit more flavour to the dish, in contrast to the chicken.

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The second dish that we had (we were sharing, like I’m not going to try some of every food she orders…), was a very odd looking thing. A beef curry with carrots, and sides of refried beans, plain white rice and again, salsa. This dish was the opposite of the first, with the beef being incredibly flavoursome while the sides were more basic, with simpler flavours. However, once again they came together nicely.

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We washed that down with some Cristal, imported Peruvian beer, with a strong taste to it, as we sat and watched the dancing. I wasn’t sure if these dishes came from a restaurant, or were home made by members of the community in Kobe. I didn’t see any business cards nearby. However, the food was great, if not a little expensive. I didn’t expect Peruvian food to be like that at all, as I thought it would be closer to Spanish or Mexican food (despite the refried beans and the rice).

Some hours later, and a few more drinks in, we sauntered, by mistake to the Minami Matsuri. A mixture of tipsiness, lots of walking, and amazing smells coming from the stalls made us hungry again. We found a small Thai stall, serving food that they have on the menu at their restaurant in downtown Kobe. We picked up a plate of Thai green curry with chicken and bamboo, and a side of rice. Now, it was a fairly hot day in Kobe, despite being overcast and at times a little rainy. So eating an incredibly hot Thai curry didn’t help. It wasn’t long before we were both sweating, gulpin down water and furiously fanning ourselves.

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The spice aside, the curry was actually very nice, with the softness of the chicken contrasting the crunch of the bamboo, both soaked in a creamy sauce, and rice on the side to help a little with the heat. We took our time eating it, sitting by the grass as we watched families and couples stroll past, the distant sound of samba music drifting in the air.

By evening, we had found our way to Kobe’s Chinatown, bustling as the evening set in, with people coming in and out of restaurants as touts barraged us with noise from every corner, every street and every shop doorway. Unfortunately, the nationally famous pork bun shop (Nikuman in Japanese, Cha Siu Bao in Chinese) had already shut for the day, undoubtedly having sold out. Well we were in Chinatown, so why not get Chinese food? Sayaka chose a restaurant, seemingly at random. We were quickly seated in the fairly quiet place, and the purple clad waitresses took our orders. We decided to both get a set menu, as it was easier and good value for money, coming with a bowl of noodles, and a 10-piece roll and dumpling set and a piece of fried chicken. I can’t recall all of the 10-piece set, but all the regulars were there: spring roll, pork bun, pork dumpling and so on. Sayaka had a simple pork noodle soup, while I had shark-fin soup (I know, it’s unethical to eat it). The dumplings and rolls were actually better than the main dish. Shark fin soup has no depth of flavour, and the only flavour that is there, from the shark fin, is very rich. After a few mouthfuls it starts getting boring, and a few mouthfuls more it becomes difficult. Sayaka’s pork noodle soup tasted much better, though again fairly simplistic in the flavours, a simple watery pork stock, a few slices of pork and some onion.

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All in all we had a lot of good food and good drink in Kobe. It’s a very multicultural city (compared to most in Japan), and the food shows it. It also beat my record for number of different nationalities food I’ve eaten in one day!

Yakiniku

Aah yakiniku. I’ve spoken about it briefly before in my Food Recap a few months ago. But seeing as I went again on Thursday, I though I would write a bit more about it. I went with some friends, Yuusuke, a Japanese student at KGU, and Oleg & Roman, two Australian-born Russians, here visiting friends.

Yakiniku literally means “grilled meat”. There are yakiniku restaurants all over the Japan, but it’s a little bit different to what you’d get from a mixed grill back in the UK. Now, my local yakiniku is called Chifaja (which doesn’t mean anything). Entering the restaurant can be an assault on the senses. It’s loud with large groups of friends or colleagues eating, drinking and talking. The smell of cooking meat and smoke fills the air. It’s incredibly warm inside, and there are plumes of smoke coming from each table. Occasionally you will see a flash of bright yellow flames and the sound of sizzling.

So why all the smoke and fire? The best way to explain yakiniku is DIY barbecue. They bring you uncooked meat, seasoned and chopped, or vegetables, or whatever you want to cook. Then, in the centre of each table is a small, circular grill with an open gas flame. But there is more to it than just that. This yakiniku has two things in particular: tabehoudai and nomihoudai. These words mean “eat as much you like” and “drink as much as you like” respectively. For a little under ¥3000 (£17), you can eat and drink as much as you want for 90 minutes.

And good God we gave a good go of it. Plates and plates piled with different meats: beautifully marbeled chunks of beef, chicken marinated in herbs and garlic, pork dipped in egg. And then bowls of salads and soups. And of course beer. But yes, the food was the focus. We had so much meat that we couldn’t cook it fast enough! Our grill went up in flames twice from dripping fat catching alight, causing a very brave waitress to rush over, removing the old grill using a tool with one hand, while transferring our meat onto the new grill with the other. We. Ate. A. Lot. Oh, and did I mention there was ice cream as well?

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However, there is a catch to this. Anything that you don’t eat, you have to pay extra for. By the end of the meal, it becomes a serious team effort to finish off the last couple of pieces of meat, almost grimacing at the amount you have already eaten.  I waddled all the way home.

Conveyor belt sushi @ Kappazushi

16/02/14

Last weekend (Saturday 9th), Bettina and I decided to head out for sushi. Not far from where we live, maybe a 10-minute cycle ride, is a chain restaurant called Kappasushi (かっぱ寿司). Kappasushi is a cheap but good conveyor-belt sushi chain here in Japan.

In Japanese, 回転寿司/かいてんずし/kaitenzushi is the word used for conveyor belt sushi (lit. go around sushi). The nearest kaitenzushi restaurant to me is a chain restaurant called Kappasushi (a kappa is an amphibious creature from Japanese folklore, sort of like a turtle-man-monster).

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With most dishes costing only ¥105, you can get quite a lot of food for a fairly low price. Before I had even taken off my jacket, Bettina had already grabbed herself 4 plates from the conveyor. I myself started with some prawn nigiri  (the kind of sushi with a block of rice and then a topping, usually fish), followed by salmon and tuna:

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Prawn nigiri
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Most people would in the West would have already been to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant before, such as Yo! Sushi in the UK, so the conveyors won’t be much of a surprise to you. But one thing that many conveyor belt sushi restaurants have in Japan that I haven’t seen in England are the sushi trains.

Of course, anywhere you eat sushi, you can order specific items from the menu from your waiter or waitress. But in Japan, they do away with the hassle of human contact. Instead, every table has a touch screen menu, where you simply choose what you want and push “order”. Then once your order is ready, a small yellow train shoots along above the conveyor belt, stopping at your table, ready to eat.

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Sushi train
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Being so affordable, over a dozen plates cost me only around ¥1900 (a little over £11). For a quick, easy and tasty meal, I’d recommend one of Japan’s hundreds of conveyor belt sushi restaurants.

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McDonald’s Japan’s New “American Vintage ’50s”

From the start of January this year, McDonald’s Japan has started selling a new series of burgers inspired by America in the past. Right now we have the “American Vintage ’50s” series, which will be followed by meals inspired from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

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So last week, during a short break between my classes, I dropped into the local McDonald’s for a quick bite to eat. Seeing they had these new burgers being promoted, I thought I should give it a try, and I had high expectations, remembering the American series that we had back in England a couple of years ago.

I picked the “Diner Double Beef (ダイナーダブルベーフ/daina daburu bi-fu)” set, the burger of which you can see on the left of the picture above. The “set” as they are called in Japan, or meal as we would call it, cost ¥770, which is of course the burger, a drink and a box of fries with cheese sauce and “bacon topping”. So not much more expensive that a usual set in McDonald’s Japan.

Once I’d found a seat, I opened up the fries, and squirted on the “cheese”. It was not cheese. It was some plastic tasting, foul smelling imitation cheese, and the “bacon topping” did not help the flavour either. The idea is a brilliant one, cheese covered chips from McDonald’s, but the execution is terrible. From now on, I will be wary of anything in Japan called cheese, as well as “cheese” from any American company.

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It seems I am not the only one who didn’t enjoy the chips, as shown in this article by RocketNews24.

The burger itself was average at best. Two beef burgers, a fried egg and onion, with a black pepper sauce. The burgers were pappy, the sauce has a strange chemical taste to it and the egg was tasteless. But the black pepper sauce at least gave it some flavour.

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It’s safe to say that I won’t be eating that particular burger again. However, I’ll still be keeping my eye out for the next in the series, especially as I’ve read in the past about tasty looking burgers coming out of McDonald’s Japan.

Sukiya/すき家

Ah Sukiya. It’s cheap, it’s basic and it fills your stomach. Faster and cheaper than any western fastfood chain as well. The students saviour, open 24 hours a day all over the country.

Anyone that has been to or is living in Japan will already know about this chain of restaurants. So this post is more for the people that don’t know.

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This is what I usually order. Chizudon to ontama. That first word literally means “cheese bowl”. See Sukiya specialises in a bowl of rice, with some sort of meat topping, usually beef and onions. I get mine with cheese on top. Ontama means a par-boiled egg, which I like to mix together, making a sloppy cheese, beef and onion on top of my rice.

Many westerners may be put off of an egg that is only part cooked, but it is quite normal here, and perfectly safe to eat. In fact it is more common to see people mixing in raw eggs. Don’t knock it until you try it!

So for this large bowl of rice, meat, cheese, onion and egg, what will it cost you? All of that is less than ¥500 (£3). Dirt cheap, easy, quick and healthy. If you’re in Japan and want something quick, check out your local Sukiya!

Food Recap

06/01/14

So I want to get into writing more about food for my time here in Japan, and so far I have largely neglected writing about it (despite having an entire blog dedicated to it). I often completely forget to take photos of the food I’m eating, usually because I’m so desperate to get stuck in! But there are a few photos I have taken, so I present them to you here:

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IMG_0544This one is from back in September, from a restaurant called Daikichi. It is exactly what it looks like: grilled chicken. Grilled chicken, called yakitori in Japan, is incredibly popular here. This is of course just a simple chicken wing, but you can get all sorts of chicken, from breast, to skin, to heart and liver. My favourite is probably the heart, is has a very rich flavour.

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This one I wrote about a while ago. Very simple: orange sorbet and coca-cola. Seems like a very strange thing to have really, and not very Japanese. To read the full story, go here.

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This one is pretty cool. When two friends and I went to the Osaka Aquarium, we found this kind of restaurant. Imagine a place that, for about Y2000, gives you all you can eat for 90 minutes. Everything is on a big buffet. But, nothing is cooked. WHAT?! No, it’s not a sushi/sashimi place. As you can see in the picture above, you take the raw food to your table, cover it in batter and breadcrumbs, then deep-fry it in your own, private fryer. It tasted great, but after 4 or 5 plates of deep-fried meat and vegetables, the oil in your belly starts to build up! Still, if you’re in Japan and have done all the other big foods, don’t miss this one.

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Okonomiyaki. I always find it hard to explain what okonomiyaki is to someone that’s never had it before. Split the word in two and his is the literal meaning: okonomi is whatever-you-like, and yaki is grilled. Here’s wikipedia’s explanation of my local kind of okonomiyaki:

Kansai- or Osaka-style okonomiyaki is the predominant version of the dish, found throughout most of Japan. The batter is made of flour, grated nagaimo (a type of yam), water or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage, and usually contains other ingredients such as green onion, meat (generally thin pork belly, often mistaken for bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, mochi or cheese.

I’ve had these several times in Japan, and they’re always good. And so filling! In fact, just around the corner from my apartment is a pretty good okonomiyaki restaurant. (Sorry for the bad photo, this one was an “action shot” as I was so hungry at this point, I couldn’t wait”.

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Another DIY meal. Aaah, yakiniku. Literally “grilled meat”. At this place, like before, you pay for a set time, 90 minutes, and then its as much as you can eat. You can get vegetables and the like, but the main attraction is the meat. Unlimited beef, chicken, pork! As long as you finish it all. And you cook it on your own little flame grill like the one above! Cook it to your own personal taste, dip in a bit of sauce and you’re sorted!

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Yakisoba. I bet you can remember what yaki means by now, right? If not: yaki is grilled, and soba is the kind of noodle you can see above, made from buckwheat. The one above is a mixed yakisoba, with egg, octopus, prawns, chicken, pork and cabbage. One of my favourite Japanese dishes, yet oh so simple! This one was bought at the same time as the okonomiyaki above. For the story of when we went to get these dishes, look here.

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Ramen. I’ve put these two together as they’re practically the same, just with slightly different sauce/soup. Ramen was originally a Chinese style of noodle, but now is more commonly associated with Japan. Every broke university student has eaten ramen at one point or another. But this is the proper way to eat them. The top is miso ramen, ramen with miso soup, mixed vegetables and pork. The bottom photo is shiyou ramen, or salt soup ramen. That doesn’t sound appetizing, but trust me, it is. It isn’t overpoweringly salty, yet brings out the flavours of the other ingredients.

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Sorry for the terrible photo on this one, I was struggling to keep this down. This thing here, I really didn’t like. I can’t remember it’s name, my friend (an English girl) ordered them. She loved them. I am really really not a fan of raw, cold, slimy sea snails.

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Beer. It had to come in here somewhere. Now, I used to absolutely love Japanese beer. It is still good stuff. But after only drinking Japanese beer for 5 months, it’s getting boring. Anyway, not the point. This beer here is not a good beer, it’s just big and cheap. That there is bigger than my head, and costs Y280 (under £2). The glass on the left is a little under a pint. A much tastier beer is something from the Minoh brand, which has various different beers including Pilsner, IPA, Stout and Weissen.

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And that’s some of the food I’ve been eating so far. From this time on, I’m going to try much harder to remember to photograph my food, and write about it on here. If there is anything you think I should try, let me know!

My First Meal In Japan – June 2011

          Sometime on that rainy Wednesday afternoon I arrived in Japan and made my way across Tokyo to my hostel, somewhere North of Ueno. I immediately trundled to the other other side of Tokyo and spent a couple of hours in Shibuya. Unfortunately, jet lag hit me pretty hard, and I was exhausted by 4:00 pm.

So I went back across Tokyo. Again. By the time I hit Ueno, I had gotten hungry, so I started to look for something to eat. Just outside the station, off of Showa Dori, I stumbled across a small, quiet restaurant. Not being able to speak or read Japanese at the time, I had no idea what kind of food it was. I know now that it was a yakiniku, or grilled meat, restaurant, where you get your own charcoal grill and cook your own meat.

          However, being oblivious to all of this, I ordered something off of the lunch menu that looked good, but still not entirely sure what it was. I literally pointed at the menu and smiled.

Now what I got, was pretty impressive. It was a large bowl of lamb noodle stew, with tofu, mixed green vegetables and sesame seeds (sorry that I can’t go into more detail, I couldn’t read the menu at the time and I’m remembering this from over two years ago), with a large bowl of steamed white rice on the side, a light lettuce and sesame salad, a small portion of kimchi and what I think was pickled cabbage. And a large bottle of Asahi Super Dry:

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          A meal like that in England would set you back at least ¥2,000 to ¥3,000 (somewhere between £15 and £25, depending on where you go). I got all this, at lunch time in the center of Tokyo, for a mere ¥700 (£5-£6). Probably the best value meal I have ever had.

The atmosphere, though quiet at the time, was nice and relaxing, away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets outside. The food was absolutely delicious as well. And of course, who could complain with a price like that. I liked the place so much that when I was in Tokyo again two months later, I took a friend there on my recommendation.

And that’s the story of the first thing that I ever ate in Japan. And what a great start it was.

Flame Grilled Quail

Happened: 30/12/13
Written: 06/01/14

I’ve got a quick one for you today, but something I want to write to start off my new “Food” section of this blog, something I’d intended to do for a while but I’ve never gotten around to it.

Now, this isn’t something I ate, unfortunately, but it something I saw earlier in the week that I wish I had bought to eat!

Near Fushimi Inari Taisha (Shrine) in South-East Kyoto, we walked past several stores with men standing outside with barbecues roaring. On each barbecue were several little quails, skewered onto kebab sticks, and were being flame grilled in the open air. Really basic but the smell was great. None of us stopped to by them for a few reasons, being in a rush, having already eaten, being very hungover and so on.

Perhaps if I go back to that area any time soon, and they still have them outside, then I might pick them up then. Or if I see them anywhere else in fact!

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I couldn’t get a close up picture of the food, I didn’t want to be rude and take a photo without buying anything.

Next time, I won’t make the same mistake. No matter the circumstances, I’m going to try food like this!