When people think of Japanese food they tend to think of sushi, ramen, or the popular hibachi grill restaurants in America. While yes there is sushi and plenty of ramen it’s much different than what you would find in America. No california rolls, or deep-fried volcano rolls. Sushi in Japan is usually just rice with a strip of raw fish on top. If you go to a rotating sushi bar, you can usually find some weirder ones like corn-mayo or fermented soybeans (natto).
One unexpected way food is served in Japan is that soba is usually served cold. In the summer, you can even get it served to you with chunks of ice in it. For New Years Eve in Japan it’s traditional to eat soba before midnight as the noodles represent a long and healthy life.
These noodles were served cold with dipping sauce. 100% buckwheat for only about $2.50.
Soba can also be served hot though. This is more a more popular option during the winter. In Kyoto I was able to find a shop that served cha-soba, or green tea soba.
One of my favorite food experiences so far was trying Traditional Buddhist vegan cuisine at a temple in Kyoto. Usually you have to make reservations for these types of restaurants but I got lucky and happened across it just as it opened for lunch. The meal is made of seasonal vegetables, soy, and light flavors that are used to balance out each other to create a perfect meal. On the side were were served 3 more plates of food. To be honest, I’m not sure what half of the food was specifically but sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Now for the fun part: Desserts
Starting with the simple things, this is fresh hot dango. Dango is just boiled dumpling on a stick covered in sugary soy sauce. I ate this in the streets of Nara park and had to fend of hungry deer while eating this.
The next one is zenzai, another traditional dessert from Japan. This is a sweet (hot) red bean (adzuki) soup with warm fresh mochi dumplings in it.
The last is Amezake, which mean sweet sake. Amezake is non-alcoholic so it’s suitable for children as well. Mine was a hot matcha flavored Amazake with mochi dumplings in it. It’s said to help cleanse intestines and clear one’s skin.
I encourage you when traveling to order a dish that is either something you’ve never heard of or something where you don’t know what the ingredients are or even something you think you wouldn’t normally like. Before coming to Japan, I never ate rice or drank tea and now it feels strange when I’m not able to eat rice or drink tea for the day. I also never liked mushrooms in America but in Japan, the mushrooms that are more commonly used here are longer and thinner and is actually something I don’t mind eating.