Asia is a wonderful place to visit if you’re a food lover. From one country to the next the food is varied and usually really good. You don’t have to go to expensive restaurants either, lots of the best food in Asia is served from small stalls on the side of the street and whats more, it’s also really cheap.
From India to China, Thailand to Singapore, each country has it’s own unique style of cooking that is influenced by both the availability of fresh ingredients and the ethnic make up of the country in question. The more diverse a country’s population, the more varied the cooking style as a fusion of cultures results in a wider variety of cooking.
While I’ve really enjoyed the food in every country I’ve visited, for me Japan stands head and shoulders above the rest. This is for a number of reasons but primarily the quality of ingredients used and the attention to detail with which the food is prepared. An incredible attention to detail is not something exclusive to food preparation but rather a way of life in Japan. I’ve never experienced a culture where the people take such care and pride in everything they do, no matter how small or trivial the task may be.
During my two weeks travelling around Japan I ate some of the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted in my life. With so much variety it was a difficult task to choose my favourite meals but I’ve managed to narrow it down to my top three Japanese dishes. Two of the three dishes are cheap and easy to find while the third is something a little bit more unique, special and a little bit expensive. So without further ado.
My Top Three Japanese Dishes
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake. There are dozens of variations on the recipe as the name itself comes from the word “okonomi” meaning “what you like.” My favourite was the version made in the city of Hiroshima, is sometimes referred to as “Hiroshimiyaki” a portmanteau of the two words.
In this particular variation batter is poured onto a hot plate to make a crepe. On top of the crepe a large pile of shredded cabbage and bean sprouts are added, then fresh prawns, octopus and strips of bacon. After a couple of minutes the mound of food is flipped over in order to cook the meat and fish.
To the side of the main event a portion of noodles are cooked up and an egg is fried. Once the meat and fish are cooked the pile of food is placed on top of the noodles and in turn on top of the fried egg. The dish is then served up with cheese and special okonomiyaki sauce on top. It’s probably not the healthiest dish you’ll ever eat my goodness it tastes amazing. Any dish that combines so many of my favourite foods is bound to be good!
It would be impossible to compile any list of top dishes in Japan without including sushi. Sushi is one of my favourite foods and in many ways is the perfect meal as it’s delicious, healthy and very cheap (in most places in Japan). A uniquely Japanese dish sushi consists of top quality sliced fish (usually raw), vegetables and vinegared sushi rice.
Presentation style varies and once again is treated like an art form. Sushi rolls (makizushi) consist of a thin layer of rice on a seaweed base, filled with fish and/or vegetables and then rolled up and sliced. There are a number of variations on this depending on the thickness of the roll.
The other most common variations is called nigirizushi which consists of a hand pressed rectangle of rice, a small brush of wasabi topped with fresh fish (as seen in the photo above).
To eat, sushi is typically dipped in soy sauce, wasabi and topped with pickled ginger.
If you’re looking for good value, cheap sushi in Japan, check out the conveyor belt sushi bars at train stations all over the country. Or for something a little more special try any of the sushi restaurants located next to the world famous Tokyo fish market. The sushi breakfast they serve up will without a doubt be the freshest sushi you’ve ever had.
1. Kobe Beef
For me there was no contest, as good as all the other dishes were, Kobe beef was by a distance the tastiest food I had during my time in Asia. Kobe beef or Wagyū as it is known in Japan is different from other types of beef for the fatty marbling through the meat achieved through the selective breeding and special diet of the cattle.
Although you can find Kobe beef all over Japan I travelled to the city of Kobe, less than an hour by train from Kyoto, especially to try it. The port city is famous for being the home of Wagyu beef and there are dozens of top restaurants to choose from. After finding a good restaurant, taking my seat and in front of the chef and placing my order the show was ready to begin!
Cooked by a specialist chef known as teppan-yaki-ya, the beef is cooked on an iron hot plate right before your eyes. The steak requires no oil or butter, just a little seasoning. Once put on the hot plate the marbled fat melts down through the beef adding flavour and preventing it from burning. The chef cuts the beef into small cubes, cooking the meat for a short time on each side.It was really interesting to watch but even better to eat.
The dish was served with soup, salad and some other side dishes but to be honest it was all about the beef. You dip the cubes of beef in salt, pepper, soy sauce and wasabi before eating. The flavour was unlike anything I’ve eaten before.
Compared to the price of the other two dishes Kobe beef is very expensive but for a treat or special occasion it is definitely worth it.