I was so nervous heading to Japan for one reason: the food.
I had heard stories that all there is to eat there is fish, fish, fish. Now, I like myself some very select fish such as tuna, salmon, mahi mahi and that is it. I tried some fish at a wedding recently, i think halibut, and I didn’t hate it. But I didn’t really like it either. I also only like my fish in sushi form, or cooked a very particular way. To say i’m picky would be something of an understatement.
I can blame this directly on my mother. I grew up in a house where no fish was ever served because it’s the one food my mother will not eat. My uncle either. Apparently they have an aversion. So no fish sticks for us, no sushi, no salmon. Only thing we ever got was tuna from a can. I know, i don’t get it either. But it’s all she’ll eat.
By the time I got to college I was talked into trying fish sticks, and i hated them. I also got talked into sushi, and my first love in the sushi world was a philly roll. After that it was short hop to bagels and lox a.k.a. the food of my people.
As an adult I am trying to expand my horizons on a fishy level, because I know how healthy it is for you, and people seem to love the stuff. But I knew that the japanese took it above and beyond what I was going to be able to handle. Luckily, it was not as bad as I thought, but I did get dinged a few times but a mouthful of hidden fish. Let’s take a look at my food journey.
It begins with 7-11. Don’t laugh, but the 7-11s over there are amazing.
Our first night was at a hostel by the airport in the town of Narita, and we took a morning bike ride to the only thing open, and wow was it stocked full!
They had some amazing food there. We were searching for breakfast and found so much sweet bread, including bread wrapped around corn and hot dogs (on a warm shelf mind you) and random assortment of foods on the cold shelf.
Half the stuff I didn’t recognize (obviously) although Pocky is one of my favorite treats my sister brought back from Japan about 15 years ago.
After our bike ride we headed back to the airport to catch the express train to Tokyo so we could take another train to Kyoto, our first stop on the trip. While waiting for the express train I was desperately in need of caffeine due to jet lag issues and I saw the cutest little can of coke. I bought it, and it had a twisty top! A twisty top can! I drank the soda, and frankly it was so much better than the coke we can find here. I don’t know why, but I became obsessed with the twisty top cans. I even brought one home. It was empty though. Sadly, I drank it before I could put it in my luggage.
After we made all our trains, I realized all i’d had to eat was a roll and some cheese in the morning and the can of coke. I was famished and we still had a 2 1/2 hour train ride to Kyoto. Luckily, the trains over there have rolling push carts that come through. I ordered a sandwich and she asked if I wanted beef or something else. I chose the beef.
It was good. Really good. Very onion-y, almost tasted like a meat loaf sandwich. But first they fry the meat loaf. So far I had been surprised by not only the quantity of the food, but how unhealthy a lot of it was. Chips, fried things, etc.
Not that I object to fried food. I just expected something different I guess. NOt quite the level of the roasted insects on the streets of Cambodia, but definitely more rice options.
After landing in Kyoto, we decide to explore the town. First up, the local grocery store. This is ALWAYS one of my favorite things to do in a foreign country. Top of the list why, is because you can get cheaper water than when you just wander around. And I do visit a lot of countries where I can’t drink the water, although Japan’s water was just fine for me.
But really, the reason I love it is that you get a glimpse into the average person’s eating style. Some countries it is all fresh produce everywhere, and prepared foods and very little packaged. Some countries it is the opposite. Japan was a good mix. They have alcohol on the shelves in the store (or is that maple syrup?). They had a guy outside frying up some octopus balls.
They had a great assortment of weird chips. I love weird chips.
I remember in China my friend Rachel and I tried SO MANY types of chips. Amazing flavors. These chips were labeled cheese, but really had more of a smoky flavor. Maybe like smoked gouda or something. I polished them off right quick. Calories don’t count in foreign countries. It’s a fact.
Wandering some more we went into another 7-11. Mostly we were doing a cost comparison of water, but we saw the most amazing thing when we got in there.
It’s a hot shelf! The cans on that are all coffee or some other kind of hot drink, and the can is hot to the touch! What we learned later (since neither of us drink coffee) is that the vending machines also have hot coffee. Hot! I was amazed. I need to bring this technology here and make my fortune. Put soups on it for the lunch rush. Coffee and tea on it at gas stations and such. Grab it and run, quicker than filling up a cup. No stealing my idea!
Anyway, we spent the rest of the day wandering Kyoto and found ourselves at a cross-roads about what to eat for dinner. We were in the shopping district kind of area and people were on the street corners with menus trying to persuade you to come up and eat. After wandering a back alley and not recognizing any of the food (except pizza which was $12 for some nasty looking thing) we decided to go with a menu hawker. Bad idea. Our first clue was that the restaurant smelled like smoke. People are allowed to smoke there, and this place had zero no smoking sections. We were both so starved we said we’d try it out. Luckily, we got a room with a window and opened it for some fresh air. We locked up our shoes (because you can’t wear shoes inside in Japan, even restaurant people were wearing slippers) and sat at the table. Our waitress came in and left us again and all we had was a computer screen. So we played around and realized this was how you order.
It took a while but we each finally got our food. I definitely made the better selections. I got fried cheese, which was amazing, and these “korean pancakes” which were good. Not fishy at all. Melissa’s noodles were fish free, except for a mountain of what looked like fish shavings on the top. After we pulled it off she was able to eat it. But the fish shavings were gross. You can see them piled in the basket.
Not only was our food overpriced, but when we got to the register we had an extra charge on the bill for “seating”. Apparently restaurants charge very “little” for food (by Japan prices I guess?) but they make it up by charging you to sit at the table! We paid but avoided all restaurants like that again. Total trap. Although we really were some of the only white people there so my guess is it was more about the style of restaurant that they charge you for.
To be continued…