You may know miso soup but do you know Tonjiru ? Tonjiru is a type of miso soup with various vegetables and pork while miso soup is usually with one or two ingredients and no pork. Government of Japan used to encourage us to take more than 30 different ingredients per day, 10 per meal. This was to improve nutrition balance and also to avoid risk of cancer by not eating only a few specific ingredients for a long time. This guideline was removed long time ago because it can end up with consuming too much calories but I still loosely stick to it by using as many different ingredients as possible. Tonjiru is a great dish to hit the goal. My version of tonjiru contains Chinese cabbage, daikon, carrot, sweet potato, spring onion, burdock root, konnyaku, shimeji mushroom, satsumaage fish cake, tofu and pork which is 11 ingredients already ! A bowl of rice, grilled fish along with tonjiru will make perfectly balanced meal !
When I chat with my guests, I sometimes notice they try to do both east side and west side of Tokyo in one day, like putting Asakusa in east side and Shibuya in west side together. Asakusa and Shibuya are only 30 min apart using metro so it's not totally stupid thing to do but it's definitely better to spend one day in east side and another day in west side. East side where the TOKYO KITCHEN locates seems less popular among tourists compare to west side where Shibuya and Shinjuku are but there are a lot to see ! For some people, west side can be a bit overwhelming with too many people while east side is relatively quieter and slower. So DO SPEND one day in east side ! Places you can try in east side are, Asakusa for sure, Ueno, Yanaka, Ginza, Tsukiji, Akihabara, Kanda and such. I will write about each area when I feel like it.
It is said there are over 400 words to explain texture of food in Japanese language. In English, fresh vegetable like lettuce and crackers are both "crispy" but in Japanese, lettuce is "shakishaki" and crackers are "sakusaku". There are many more just for "crispy". Karikari for deep fried crispy, poripori for firm crispy like pickles, paripari for dry crispy like hard rice crackers, not like the light ones in the picture. Same for "soft". Torotoro for creamy soft like custard, Fuwafuwa for fluffy soft like white bread, hokuhoku for floury soft like baked potato. Many of those texture words are onomatopoeia to describe the sound when you bite and that's why these are repeat word.
But why are there so many in Japanese ? It seems there are two main reasons. #1. There are inherently more onomatopoeia in Japanese language compare to other languages and onomatopoeia is not only for children. These are used a lot in daily conversation just like normal adjective, adjective verb and adverb. #2. Japan is a long mountainous country from north to south, surrounded by ocean. This means wide variety of seasonal ingredients are available. Japanese people traditionally try not to over cook those ingredients to enjoy and maximize the texture of each ingredient. We even appreciate textures that are unpleasant for western people such as "slimy" or "stringy".
Food matters a lot here !
You will be surprised to see the variety of flavors when you go to chips section at supermarket or convenience stores in Japan. It's not just salt & vinegar and sour cream & onion. You can find those basic flavors of course but you can also find Japanese flavors such as Teriyaki chicken, Wasabi and Soy sauce & mayonnaise. Try some and I'm sure you'll like them all !
I posted about a breakfast at Denny's the other day and today I'm writing about one other breakfast option you can try. Yoshinoya is very popular beef bowl restaurant chain who has over 1000 restaurants in Japan and 700 in other countries. Their main meal is beef bowl called Gyudon but in the morning, they do some breakfast combos. The one in the picture is grilled salmon combo and you have rice, soup, grilled salmon, nori seaweed and spicy cod roe and it's only 590 yen ! There is another beef bowl restaurant chain called Matsuya and they also have similar breakfast. They are all over Tokyo and you will bump into one in every 10 minutes. Add this to your "to-try" list !
I understand you want to avoid anything western when you are traveling Japan but if you do that, you are missing out ! Some of my guests stay at air bnb and they often struggle finding place for breakfast. All they can find open is either Starbucks or convenience stores. When they ask me if there is any other place they can try, I always recommend them to go to Denny's. Yes, the American restaurant chain, Denny's. Denny's do very good breakfast from something western to something Japanese. The one in the picture is traditional Japanese breakfast available at Denny's and it's only 592yen ! Concerned about the quality ? Don't ! You get the meal that looks exactly the same with the picture !
Taiyaki, fish shaped pancake with bean jam filling, is very popular sweets you can find in Japan and one of my most favorite traditional Japanese sweets. The bean jam filling is called An or Anko, which I'm addicted to, and it's used in many other traditional Japanese sweets such as Dorayaki (disk shaped pancakes sandwich with Anko in between). Although Anko is the most popular filling for taiyaki, you can find other fillings like custard, chocolate cream and matcha cream. But I want you to try the Anko one. In western countries, beans are supposed to be savory but sweet beans are good too !
Yes and no depending on what you choose. Japanese food is acknowledged as a very healthy food but some contains a lot of sugar. Let me give you a few examples. To make the most famous and popular Japanese food Sushi, you need to make sushi rice. To make sushi rice you need to make sushi vinegar and a lot of sugar is added in the vinegar. So sushi is combination of carb (rice) and carb (sugar) with a little bit of protein(fish). Another example is teriyaki. Teriyaki sauce often contains a lot of carb, either sugar or honey, and sometimes thickened with starch which is another carb. So sugar is the reason those two dishes became very popular outside of Japan. People are addicted to them because of the sugar. But I think sugar itself is not a bad thing. It's us eating too much of it. Eating sushi once in two weeks won't hurt you but eating it every other day... you can guess the result.
Good news is, there are a lot of very healthy Japanese food too ! Nabe (Japanese hot pot) would be a very good example. Loads of vegetables and as much protein as you like, with less carb. Several years ago I lost nearly 20kg by replacing food that contains a lot of carb with Nabe.
Conclusion : Choose how much/how often of what to eat carefully !
I sometimes get this question from my guests because you don't see any grocery store or supermarket when explore Tokyo. This is just because where tourist explore is not a residential area. Shinjuku and Shibuya are very busy shopping area, Imperial palace is right next to Nihonbashi financial district and Marunouchi business district, Tsukiji fish market is sitting next to Ginza district which is also shopping area, and not many people live IN the area, but AROUND. When tourist visit those places, they just take metro and pass residential area in between where you can find grocery stores on trains. Asakusa area though is a nice combination of commercial area and residential area. It's a very touristy place with Kaminarimon gate and Sensoji temple but it's not strictly touristy. People still have their life there. You can find a grocery store right across the street in front of Kaminarimon gate and there is a supermarket in the middle of the chessboard like shopping area near Sensoji temple. So there ARE grocery stores and supermarkets in Tokyo but you just don't see them !
Many of my guests are surprised at how people behave on trains in Japan. No eating, no drinking, very VERY quiet, almost complete silence. People are either sleeping or looking down their iPhone. And the answer to the question depends on the situation. If you have something that creates big noise and strong smell on a crowded train, that is definitely a big no no but when it's a piece of chocolate or candy, it's fine. I sometimes see someone eating onigiri rice balls for breakfast on a rather empty train very early in the morning. I personally think it's ok as far as they don't make big noise or smell but I wouldn't do that myself because some people may not think it's ok. There is no sign that says "no eating/no drinking" but people just care about others and try not to make other people uncomfortable. So the best you can do is, don't do when you are not sure !
By the way, this unwritten "no eating/no drinking" rule only applies to local trains. I will write about the rule on Shinkansen bullet trains some other day !