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 !
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 !
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 !
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 !
"Itadakimasu" is the phrase Japanese people say when we start to eat. It literally means "I'm going to eat" but it also means appreciation for the food, for the chef, for farmer and fisherman, rain, sun, river... everything that relates to the food you are going to eat. So it's a broader term for "Bon appetit". You don't need to say it loud and clear, you sort of chant it to yourself. It's sometimes difficult to remember for non-Japanese-speaking people so here is how to remember. "It's a ducky mouse !". Say this as smooth as possible and it will sound like Itadakimasu !
Many of my guests are surprised to find a lot of bakeries in Japan. There are roughly three types of bakeries. French-French bakery, French-Japanese bakery and Japanese-Japanese bakery.
French-French bakeries such as PAUL are very popular here. They do all the classics, buttery croissant, baguette and brioche. You can find them often in the food floor of department stores.
French-Japanese bakeries are the ones owned by Japanese boulanger who have worked at French-French bakeries in France or Japan. They do the classics but they also do Japanese bread such as Anpan (buns with bean jam filling) and cream pan (buns filled with custard). You can find them in commercial area around stations and their names are often "Boulangerie (something)".
Japanese-Japanese ones are often mom-and-pop style bakeries just around the corner. They do less classics and more Japanese. If you want to try some bread available only in Japan, this is the one for you. Yakisoba pan (hotdog bun with stir fried noodles), Korokke pan (hotdog bun with potato croquet), curry pan (bread with Japanese curry filling... so many you can try ! .
Why do Japanese people eat KFC on Christmas ? Over 40 years ago, a foreigner living in Japan wanted to have turkey for Christmas but back then it was almost impossible to find it in Japan. So he decided to go for chicken instead and went to KFC, which was recognized as a trendy western food that came all the way from US. This gave KFC PR team the idea of promoting their fried chicken as a "Christmas feast". They put Santa's costume on the statues of Colonel Sanders standing in front of their restaurants and the promotion worked very well. The fact that big oven to grill a whole turkey or chicken isn't equipped in Japanese kitchen accelerated the movement. You can find a long cue in front of KFC on Christmas Day in Japan !
Shiseido is well known for its cosmetics but did you know they do cookies, cakes and chocolates very good as well ? They have restaurants and cafes called Shiseido parlour and their sweets are available at food floor of major department stores. Popular products among wide range of their lineup are bite size square cheese cakes and signature cookies with the "hana tsubaki" camellia logo stamped on them. I sometimes buy them for myself but these are perfect for souvenir or gift as everything is wrapped in a beautiful box or can just like their cosmetics !
Yakitori restaurant is one of the must-go place if you travel to Japan. Yaki means to grill and Tori means chicken so Yakitori literally means char grilled chicken, on skewers to be specific. You can choose either salt or soy sauce glaze for the seasoning. Every part of chicken other than the feathers is used for yakitori. Breast, thigh, wing, heart, liver, skin, muscle, neck...even cartilage. Cartilage might be a bit difficult for people who have never tried it before but it's my favorite. The texture is so unique and you almost feel like you are eating eraser or plastic but the funny texture is the beauty of cartilage. You might dislike it at the first bite but you become addicted to it when you keep going. Give it a try !
Yes and no. "Bread crumbs" is a broader term to indicate bread crumbs in general and Panko is a type of bread crumbs. Panko is a lot coarser than standard bread crumbs. It creates crunchier texture especially when it's deep fried. We use panko when we make Tonkatsu (Japaneee pork cutlet) for the super crunchy texture. Standard western bread crumbs are also available in Japan, sold as "hosome" meaning finely crumbed and we don't use it to make Tonkatsu. Tonkatsu has to be breaded with panko.