Japanese food – day in, day out

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One of my top three meals here in Japan, so far. Soba from Kyoto.

One thing we have been waiting for since we started this trip was JAPANESE FOOD!  We love our sushi in this family. Well, Kiddo liked it as an infant but now she wont eat raw fish. She loved ikura, or salmon roe, though. Anyway, we are known to get a chunk of raw salmon, slice it up with Hubby´s sashimi knife, and serve it with sushi rice and roasted nori. We have tried making miso soup, but never quite get into it really. Every time we are in Portland, we eat Japanese food (sushi, izakaya, noodles) as often as we can.

It is, therefore, hard for me to admit that we have been getting a bit tired of eating Japanese food for every meal.

In the beginning, I was diligent. If we had a choice between a western and a Japanese breakfast, I would choose the Japanese (although, to be fair, the Western ones never looked quite as good). I tried all the weird fishes, ate all the strange textured sides, and even ate Japanese treats in the store.

About 7 days into the trip, we had a breakdown. Hubby was in the midst of a stomach bug. Kiddo was refusing udon noodles and edamame, which are (were?) quite possibly her current favorite foods. I was craving a taste in my food other than vinegar and bitter and sweet starchy vegetables and soy sauce. Hubby and I were craving a huge green salad, not with miso dressing.

Then we went to Royal Host for club sandwiches, salads, and fries. It was amazing. It sort of regenerated us. We did the same thing about a week later in Kurashiki with pizza. It was delicious!

Some of the Japanese meals we have really enjoyed include: tempura at the tempura restaurant in Tokyo, soba at the really old soba restaurant in Kyoto, Yakitori in Ginza, several good bowls of Udon, the Kaiseki meal we had in Kurashiki, a couple of really tasty and delicious bento boxes from the train stations, and lots of tasty sweets all over Japan.

Unfortunately, we have also had some unlucky Japanese meals. We are wondering if our taste for sushi is a bit off, because twice now we have been served fish that tastes a bit crunchy. Is this how the Japanese like it? Where is all the creamy salmon and silky tuna? We have had two good tuna sushi experiences, but lots of the other things we have ordered or been served has been mediocre in the sushi department. I think part of it is that we are going to the wrong places, but I also believe that part of it is that Japan is huge and not every sushi bar on every street in every city can stock the freshest, tastiest, top grade fish. So at a lot of places, you get stringy white fish. Gross. I would rather eat something else!

Some of the other weird meals included bland steamed buns (remember, steamed buns are not Japanese, they are Chinese, so maybe these buns are made for Japanese tastebuds?) and some weird lukewarm udon noodles served with a thick, fishy brown sauce for dipping the noodles into. Again, what city in the US (or Norway for that matter) can you NOT go into some random food stand or shop and get something that is bland, tough, lukewarm, chunky, or otherwise not what you expected or not at all appealing for you? I believe there are tons of less than stellar restaurants and less than stellar food out there. Japan is no different, PLUS you have the fact that we don’t have Japanese adjusted taste buds. So where we might find a dish extremely “fishy”, for them, it would be mild, or exactly what they are looking for.

We wanted to be really good at eating amazing food in Japan. A couple of things got in our way:

  1. Bad timing. Kiddo is hungry now, or Kiddo needs a nap now, or Kiddo napped for 3.5 hours and now all the shops are closed.
  2. Sprawl. A restaurant we are thinking of trying might be a 15 minute cab ride away, which costs money and doesn’t usually sound appealing, especially for dinner, when Kiddo is liable to be antsy and not want to sit. We would rather find a place close to where we are staying.
  3. Laziness. We just don’t feel like venturing far, especially after a day of being out and about, or being on the train, or whatever. We have been at this for months, now, people!
  4. Hunger pangs. Oftentimes I get famished in the course of about 3 minutes. I need to eat NOW otherwise I will turn into a mean…witch.
  5. Language barrier. We are not shy about asking, but sometimes we walk by tons of places that are probably restaurants, but there is nothing in English, we don’t know what kind of food it is, and we just don’t feel like stopping at every single one wondering if we are walking by a gem or just a random Japanese pub.

What I like about our experience with Japanese food on this trip is that it taught me more about what flavors and textures are used in Japanese cooking in general. I learned that I actually like tripe stew, for example, when it is cooked with the different textures of a starchy Japanese vegetable. I like pickled sugared ginger a lot, especially when it is served with fatty, salty fish. I actually really like the taste of plain white rice. It tastes like rice. It doesn’t need to be doused in soy sauce. I feel very Japanese and it makes me happy 🙂

I will definitely the noodles back home in Norway. There is only one place that I know of that serves Udon, and it is wrong – they serve it in chicken boullion with chopped peppers and carrots. And soba? Forget about it. I will miss the teriyaki sauce on fish and chicken that is not sickly sweet. I will miss the excellent tempura you can get here, that makes regular tempura look like KFC.

I wont miss the Japanese breakfasts of vinegary, fishy greens, sweet vegetables, fishy rice, and weird soups. (Though I will miss the Muji breakfast of braised greens, pickles, egg, rice, and miso soup.) I won´t miss their spongy bread, and how sometimes potatoes are served as they are a vegetable, beside rice. Really? How many carbs do I need? (I will miss their amazingly sweet sweet potatoes, called Satsumaimo, mmm!) I wont miss the fact that vegetables are usually fishily braised, or pickled, even though I do love the pickles – its just not possible to eat a large enough serving of them to get my veg itch scratched.

Hubby´s stomach is still in turmoil – must be a bug of some sort – so he is not up for too adventurous things. Mostly he has been surviving on Coke and probiotic yogurt drinks from 7-11. Despite this, I hope to make the most of the last 9 full days of eating we have in front of us. As different as it is to eat here, it is that much more special that what we can get at home. 

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