When you travel to Japan, you see many plastic food samples at restaurants and food stalls here and there. These are so real and very helpful for those who don't speak or read Japanese language. There is no record that shows origin of it but it's said it started sometime around 1920s to help customers at a restaurant to order easily and quickly. If you go to Kappabashi kitchen street where you can find EVERYTHING that relates to food industry, you can find two plastic food sample shops. The samples are very expensive, all hand made and often made to order, but they do little inexpensive off-the-shelf things too such as slice of bacon book marker, sushi magnet, soft serve key ring etc that makes great souvenir !
"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 !
There are many dishes Japanese people eat over year end/new year and Ozoni is one of them. Mochi sticky rice cake in savory broth with variety of vegetables. Every region has their favorite broth and it can be miso flavor or soy sauce flavor. One thing you need to be careful when you eat this dish. Every year, there at some people who choke on the mochi and carried to hospital !
This dish is called Kaisen Don. Kaisen means seafood and Don, short term for Donburi, means rice bowl. So it's rice topped with variety of seafoods. It's available all over Japan, especially cities near fishing ports, but the most popular spot where you can have this in central Tokyo is Tsukiji fish market. There are so many restaurants where you can have this both in inner market and outer market. Inner market is basically for professionals but you can go in as far as you behave and don't disturb the workers 😉. I recommend to go there for breakfast as the market is more active and lively in the morning. Kabukiza theater and Ginza district are both walking distance from the market. So breakfast at Tsukiji fish market, some plays at Kabukiza theater and shopping at Ginza is the plan for a day !
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 !
Umami is one of the five basic flavors. There used to be only 4 basic flavors, sweet, sour, bitter and salty and a new basic flavor umami was found about a hundred years ago. Umami is created by three acids, glutamic acid, inosinic acid and guanylic acid. Each acid creates umami by itself but combining two boosts up umami more than double. Bonito flakes which is full of glutamic acid and kombu seaweed which is full of inosinic acid are used to make Japanese fish broth Dashi and this is why miso soup tastes so good. Umami is a Japanese word because it was discovered by a Japanese professor. It's often translated savory flavor, rich taste or meaty flavor but if I translate it into English literary, it means yummy-ness. So sweet, sour, bitter, salty and yummy 😋!
"Yakisoba pan" is one of the must-try junk food in Japan. It's like a hotdog but it has yakisoba (stir fried noodle) instead of the sausage. It's carb on top of carb with only a little bit of vegetable and pork. So it can't be healthy but I think it's ok to have this guilty pleasure once in a while😉. It's so popular that you can find it even at convenience stores !