Japan 2013: Food That Japan Has Ruined For Me. Forever.

After visiting Japan, I now have a list of cuisines that I can never truly enjoy again till my next visit there.

1. Yakitori

I love eating food on sticks: satay, kebab, even fishballs. I’m not a food snob so I’ll admit how much I love Tori-Q, the fast food chain that sells yakitori in food courts and mall basements. But ever since eating that unforgettable yakitori meal in Kyoto (referenced in my previous post), I am so done with yakitori restaurants in Singapore. Nothing can ever match up to the beautiful simplicity of lightly-seasoned beef and pork, skewered and grilled. And if the skewers arrive dripping with teriyaki soy sauce, get me outta there – good grilled meat doesn’t need that much seasoning to be tasty.

Even the salad came with beautiful seared beef..

Even the salad came with beautiful seared beef..

2. Teppanyaki

We had two teppanyaki meals in Japan. A mid-priced one in Dotonburi in Osaka, and a fancy one in Ginza in Tokyo.

The Dotonburi restaurant cooked many menu items on sticks, which I thought made it yakitori and so was briefly confused. But apparently food on sticks is only called yakitori when it’s grilled. Highlight: fat juicy asparagus spears wrapped in bacon, cooked on the teppanyaki hot plate and covered in a kind of creme fraiche just before serving.

Each asparagus measured in at just under 20 cm in length, too.

Each asparagus measured in at just under 20 cm in length. So, so good.

The Ginza restaurant (Teppanyaki Restaurant YAMATO, Mikasa Kaikan 7F, Namiki St, 5-5-17, Ginza Tokyo, Japan) meanwhile was a posh teppanyaki joint where each table had its own private chef. I don’t have the words for how amazing this meal was. It started with an appetiser of cold clam and duck, followed by sauteed squid and half a lobster, then some amazing sirloin steak before finishing up with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream topped with a strawberry sauce that had been flambe-d with raspberry liquor. If there is food in Heaven, I want it to taste like this meal.

Everything looked so good even before it was cooked. (The boyish-looking chef was a bonus ;) - he also helpfully kept a book handy which helped explain the ingredients in English.)

Everything looked so good even before it was cooked. (The boyish-looking chef was a bonus! He also helpfully kept a book handy which helped explain the ingredients in English.)

And after cooking...

And after cooking…

3. Tuna sushi

Full confession: I never liked raw tuna until visiting Japan. Non-fatty tuna (maguro), even in the nice restaurants, struck me as meaty and chewy without much flavour – a little like a rare steak. And the fatty tuna (otoro) I’d come across so far didn’t strike me as anything special, just a little softer than maguro but not particularly tasty.

And then we had our first sushi meal in Japan. My eyes were opened. The maguro was firm, not tough, and had a delicate marine flavour. The otoro, meanwhile, exploded into flavour like a well-marbled slab of pork or beef.

At one of the Tsukiji restaurants. Awesome tuna is awesome; srs chef is srs.

At one of the Tsukiji restaurants. Awesome tuna is awesome; srs chef is srs.

It’s probably fortunate that I don’t go for tuna sushi while at home. The tuna we ate in Japan shall forever remain a Japan-only memory.

4. Beef

This is particularly tragic one because I have loved beef since a very, very young age. Steak has been one of my favourite foods since the day I first mastered knife and fork. The thing about beef in Japan, though, is that it is in a league of its own. James and I found out over the course of the trip that no one seems to care very much about Kobe beef in Japan – so many regions are known for cattle that make excellent beef, and Kobe is just one of many.

Not that we only ate the good stuff. We ate all kinds of beef: from random stuff sold on sticks in touristy areas to top-grade Miyazaki beef at Harijyu, a well-known restaurant in Osaka. And one thing they had in common was that they were all really, really tasty. The cheap cuts were cooked and seasoned so beautifully well that the flavour made up for the toughness. As for the Miyazaki beef – so marbled was it that I doubt they had to cook it in any oil at all. It wasn’t just juicy, it was soaked through with tasty, tasty fat. (Chalk up one more for the foods I hope they serve in Heaven.)

Cheap beef: touristy snack at Osaka Castle, James included for scale. (Pratchett fans: insert own CMOT Dibbler joke here.)

Cheap beef: touristy snack at Osaka Castle, James included for scale.
(Pratchett fans: insert own CMOT Dibbler joke here.)

Expensive beef: Miyazaki sirloin at Harijyu in Osaka. The presentation is hopelessly '80s kitsch but don't let it fool you - the beef is the Real Deal. James had the sirloin which was apparently almost *too* fatty.

Expensive beef: Miyazaki sirloin at Harijyu in Osaka. The presentation is hopelessly ’80s kitsch but don’t let it fool you – the beef is the Real Deal.
James had the tenderloin which was apparently almost *too* fatty.

5. Ikura

Ikura don with more ikura on the side. HEAVEN.

Ikura don with more ikura on the side, again at Tsukiji. HEAVEN.

My foodie buddy Ryan summed it up best: “The ikura we get in Singapore = sawdust”.

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