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Only in Japan


torakris
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With Japanese restaurants popping up all over the world it is getting easier to find Japanese foods other than sushi near our homes. However there are still some foods that haven't quite picked up in popularity yet out of Japan.

What only in Japan foods would you recommend to a visitor?

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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My first two votes would be for monjya-yaki and various seasonal daifuku. :biggrin:

Monjya-yaki is okonomiyaki's runnier cousin and is a Tokyo speciality

Monjya!

Daifuku are often described as stuffed mochi, the most popular ones (that are also available all year round) are filled with a red paste (anko) or have beans in them (mame). There are some incredible ones though that pop up for limited times throughout the year.

Daifuku! the thread

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Monjya-yaki is okonomiyaki's runnier cousin and is a Tokyo speciality

What's the difference between the two?

monjya-yaki is really quite runny, it is more like eating the raw okonomiyaki batter than eating okonomiyaki....but it really is good. :hmmm:

here is a description of how it is made as well as a list of other types of okonomiyaki.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. Seems to me that most of the okonomiyaki I have encountered outside of Japan is the Kansai or Osaka style.

Some of the kakigori desserts, especially those with the sweet bean paste.

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The vast majority of Japanese restaurants in the US are still specializing only in Sushi, Tempura or Teppanyaki...especially when you're not located in a major city with a large Asian/Japanese population.

When we have relatives come over to visit from the states, we always introduce them to other types of restaurants where the locals eat. We normally hit a neighborhood Izakaya for pub food Japanese style....we especially like the Karaage variations. We'll also go to a Yakiniku restaurant, maybe CoCo Ichibanya for curry, our favorite local Yakitori parlor and a Tonkatsu house for some pork. Being in Okinawa we'll stop by some small Soba Soup joints and also hit up a late night stand for some Taco Rice. A visit to MOS burger is always good as well as a visit to McD's to show them the difference in customer service levels between here and back home. One other type would be various Bento Boxes from the local shop or nearest Family Mart. While obviously not fine dining, it does give them a better glimpse into living here and the variations of cuisine available.

With Japanese restaurants popping up all over the world it is getting easier to find Japanese foods other than sushi near our homes. However there are still some foods that haven't quite picked up in popularity yet out of Japan.

What only in Japan foods would you recommend to a visitor?

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Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. Seems to me that most of the okonomiyaki I have encountered outside of Japan is the Kansai or Osaka style.

Some of the kakigori desserts, especially those with the sweet bean paste.

I agree, Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. I think that it would be quite attractive to the western palate (maybe a few alterations in the ingredients though like lots of beef )

"Live every moment as if your hair were on fire" Zen Proverb

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Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. Seems to me that most of the okonomiyaki I have encountered outside of Japan is the Kansai or Osaka style.

Some of the kakigori desserts, especially those with the sweet bean paste.

buffy,

Welcome to eGullet and the Japan Forum!

I hadn't thought of kakigori, if you travel to Japan during the summer months I also highly recommend it. There will probably be stands in any of the touristy areas. :biggrin:

the kakigori thread

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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I think all my options are cheap ones. I've always been an impoverished student while in Japan, and could never afford the really expensive stuff.

Yet another vote for MOS burger. I didn't see this on my last visit a year ago, but they also used to have a very odd selection of drinks, which kept changing. I remember way back there was a cheddar cheese flavored milkshake :shock: , and a couple of years after that there was an aloe vera milkshake which had aloe vera chunks in the bottom, and which was topped with cornflakes. How you were meant to drink/eat it, I don't know, as they only gave a straw with it and no spoon...

So, MOS burger, and if the drinks are unusual, its an added bonus.

Also, a fairly cheap option: go to a large supermarket such as Co-op or Daimaru Peacock find the section with cheap snack foods (the packs that are around 100 yen each), and choose from among karinto, candied sweet potato chips, the various senbei, etc. Some of these are so cheap that I never see them exported out of Japan. Maybe it just doesn't bring enough profit. There are these sweetish flat cookies with peanuts in that I gorge myself on every time I'm back in Japan.

Of course, you can go more upmarket with the snack foods, and choose from the more expensive selections, such as various types of dried cuttle fish, and so on.

Of course, there are also places specializing only in snack foods and sweets, it doesn't have to be at a supermarket. But it pays to visit as many places as possible (such hardship :wink: ) because they all seem to have a different selections.

Also, various types of hard candy. Last year I came across ginger candy, which was :wub::wub::wub: , and also there are the tea candies that come in various flavors such as Assam, Darjeeling, etc. And of course, the Okinawan black sugar candies are great too.

Whatever traditional sweets are in season. Warabi mochi if spring, etc.

Hmm, I think there's a theme of mostly junk food here. Japanese snacks and junk food are so outstanding. :wub:

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MOS burger is great for fast food, but for something a little different I'd reccommend Pepper Lunch (a hi-tech-sizzling-hot-plate of beef cooked right in front of you). The quality of the beef is great for the price, and the hands-on factor makes it interesting. Although, I think this place is quickly becoming popular outside of Japan.

I found that Izakayas are a great place to try Japanese food that you can't find anywhere else, and the smaller portion sizes mean you can try a lot.

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MOS burger is great for fast food, but for something a little different I'd reccommend Pepper Lunch (a hi-tech-sizzling-hot-plate of beef cooked right in front of you).  The quality of the beef is great for the price, and the hands-on factor makes it interesting.  Although, I think this place is quickly becoming popular outside of Japan.

beetee, I think it was you who mentioned this place before. I checked their homepage (link to the menu) and I see they have finally opened one by me. :biggrin: As well as two in Singapore. I will have to go check them out.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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There is actually one Pepper Steak franchise location in the US as well, in Milpitas California in Silicon Valley. I'm interested in the hi-tech sizzling hot plate mentioned by BeeTee. The picture shown of the hot plate in the US branch looks to be cast iron. As there website is only in Japanese, are there any locations here in Okinawa?

This may be best in a whole new thread, but what does the group feel would be great local Japanese franchise concepts ready to be exported to the "west". I know MOS burger tried and there are a few CoCo Curry Houses in Hawaii. Beard Papa's are very popular in NYC and are expanded into Los Angeles. Being in the business, I feel the bento box shops like Hokka Hokka Tei would do very well stateside. Anyone have any other ideas?

MOS burger is great for fast food, but for something a little different I'd reccommend Pepper Lunch (a hi-tech-sizzling-hot-plate of beef cooked right in front of you).  The quality of the beef is great for the price, and the hands-on factor makes it interesting.  Although, I think this place is quickly becoming popular outside of Japan.
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There is actually one Pepper Steak franchise location in the US as well, in Milpitas California in Silicon Valley.  I'm interested in the hi-tech sizzling hot plate mentioned by BeeTee.  The picture shown of the hot plate in the US branch looks to be cast iron.  As there website is only in Japanese, are there any locations here in Okinawa?

There's one in Naha, from what I can tell. At Okinawa Appuru Town (Apple Town?) which is at Omoromachi 3-3-1. Open 11am-10pm.

There's one in the Carrefour next to the Costco in Amagasaki. I think I might try it my next trip out there....if I can tear myself away from the Bulgogi Bake!

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Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. Seems to me that most of the okonomiyaki I have encountered outside of Japan is the Kansai or Osaka style.

Some of the kakigori desserts, especially those with the sweet bean paste.

I agree, Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. I think that it would be quite attractive to the western palate (maybe a few alterations in the ingredients though like lots of beef )

I'd have to agree with you there dougery. I tried my first okonomiyaki yesterday and it was difficult for me to finish....too much veggies, it was like eating a big salad :raz:

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A few things difficult to find in the US from the top of my head:

Umi budo (sea grapes) from Okinawa.

megumi_umi.jpg

Many kinds of yoshoku dishes like tongue stew, a good omu-raisu (never found a good one in the US) with a good homemade demi glace or beef hayashi, or a really good homemade hayashi rice for that matter.

photo_01.jpg

Fresh wasabi. While some places in the US (in NY and LA) might have access to fresh wasabi (for a price), it's much more common in Japan and worth seeking out, if you've never had it with your sushi.

Fresh Ayu:

0725y.jpg

Fresh unagi (not the frozen stuff) at an unagi-ya -- kabayaki or unaju.

Chicken sashimi

Horse meat sashimi (mostly in Kyushu)

Fugu

Whale meat

Matsutake mushrooms

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Based on what we can't get here (Vancouver, Canada), my top choices would be:

1. Good tonkotsu ramen

2. Tempura restaurant (just tempura), counter style and made to order

3. Unagi restaurant (again, just unagi)

4. Teuchi soba (preferably somewhere deep in the country in Nagano Pref.)

5. Houtou noodle soup/stew (a specialty of Yamanashi Pref.)

6. Mini croissants at your favorite depachika, hot out of the oven

This is aside from the obvious ones like good sushi, sashimi and fresh fish. I've tried monja yaki several times and never found it appealing.

Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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My usual objectives include:

1) 1 ryokan dinner, and 1 ryokan breakfast, somewhere rural. Some are spectacular, some less so, but it's not going to be repeatable in most of the U.S.

2) Really good soba. My favorite were nothing more than mori-soba in a small farm-operated restaurant in Nasu.

3) Some yuba restaurant, especially in Kyoto. Tofu restaurants in Tokyo will also usually have some sort of yuba offering. (Tofu and yuba restaurants are not particularly vegetarian; just expect very fresh tofu prepared in simple and elegant ways).

4) Some kind of izakaya.

5) occasionally a "genmai" restaurant, which means "brown rice" but refers to a non-ascetic version of macrobiotic, and sometimes organic, cuisine. Usually they offer excellent lunch deals, too.

6) okonomiyaki or monja-yaki.

7) depachika confections and cakes.

8) Wafuu gelato or ice cream (matcha, satsumaimo, kabocha, amaguri, ume, anzu aka apricot, kurogoma, etc.)

9) A place that serves mitsumame or anmitsu, preferably with ice cream, a little gold leaf and various fruits, drizzled with a bit of black sugar syrup (kuromitsu).

10) fresh senbe shops, easiest in tourist craft villages like Takayama or in cultural centers like Kyoto.

11) Some place that serves fresh korokke.

12) okayu restaurants, though I can probably count the times I went to one on one finger.

13) places with really short menus. (tougher for me, since I'm vegetarian, but usually very good).

I often also eat in, without really trying:

1) some old-school obaachan style sugary Japanese-style bakery. Not really a hearty endorsement, but I'm sure you'll find at least one by accident.

2) some slightly more fancy contemporary French-influenced bakery with lots of laminated doughs and breads, slightly less heavy on the sugar and the mushy, but often featuring Japanese fusions that you won't find back home.

3) tempura specialty restaurants. (unlike the U.S., tempura places aren't just a way to get rid of fish unsuitable for sushi at a serve-everything restaurant).

4) Italian restaurants, some of which beat my experiences in Europe, and many of which are way more inspiring than average Italian restaurants in the U.S.

5) Indian restaurants, but this is solely out of a need for variation. Most aren't that good, and many use frozen vegetables for cost-saving reasons and japonica rather than basmati rices.

6) Sweet crepe stalls

I often grab:

1) something from a mame-ya-san; primarily coated peanuts with different flavors, sometimes also offering agemochi or arare.

2) Some snacks from an omiyage-ya-san to take back home, but most real daifuku or other short-lived confections I only pick up on my last day in the country unless I plan to eat them in Japan.

3) Whatever mass-produced snacks that I haven't yet seen in Uwajimaya in Seattle recently, including various flavored potato chips or Pocky-like nibbles.

4) pickled vegetables from specialty shops, usually after sampling nearly everything.

I usually avoid:

1) most "family" restaurants, because I don't have children and I don't usually enjoy the food.

2) Restaurants with robotic signage.

3) Curry shops. But this is just me; a lot of people really like having rouxs from a box served to them in a hurry and cheaply. Note this is not the same thing as an Indian restaurant.

4) Roppongi. Where are those 6 trees anyway?

My friends often push me to eat, but I usually don't find myself terribly excited by:

- eki-ben (train station bento).

I often specifically crave, even though few/no restaurants particularly specialize in them:

1) nama-fu

2) dengaku-tofu or dengaku-nasu

3) yudofu

4) yaki-onigiri (grilled rice balls brushed with soy sauce or a miso-based sauce).

5) ochazuke (rice with condiments and tea)

6) yaki-imo (baked sweet potatoes, usually from yatai or pushcart street vendors)

7) matsutake, in the fall

8) warabi and zenmai, in the spring

9) temple amazake, in the winter, thick and creamy though not much alcohol content

10) Asakusa agemanjuu

11) dango (streetside vendors, preferably staffed by some obaachan or else a husband-wife team).

(corrected #8 on the "crave" list)

Edited by JasonTrue (log)

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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I have nothing to add- everything's been covered!

I like Jason's idea of what to avoid. I really agree with the first one, family restaurants. Unless you're traveling with kids, there's no reason to go.

But I have to disagree with the last two. I love Japanese curry and no matter how it's made I think it's a must-eat. If you don't get to try some in a Japanese home, then a chain is just fine. I recommend Curry House Coco Ichibanya. As a bonus, the picture menu makes ordering really easy.

And Roppongi isn't that bad. Maybe not a must, but like it or not it is packed with restaurants and bars, some of them excellent. I know many tourists love the robatayaki restaurant Inaka-ya, and Roppongi Hills has brought some great places. Last month we had a wonderful lunch at Sunbou, and The Oak Door would be a great place for visitors who want a little break from Japanese food.

My pick for places best avoided: Old-style chain cake shops like Fujiya. If you find a cake shop fronted with a life-sized bobblehead of a scary-looking little girl, keep away.

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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I know many tourists love the robatayaki restaurant Inaka-ya, and Roppongi Hills has brought some great places.

My pick for places best avoided: Old-style chain cake shops like Fujiya. If you find a cake shop fronted with a life-sized bobblehead of a scary-looking little girl, keep away.

Good call on the robatayaki. Something we do not have in our city at the moment. I also vote for the humble neighbourhood teishokuya as an alternative to family restaurants. A gruff, silent owner is a plus.

I would also kill for a Cozy Corner cream puff right now. Mostly because I haven't had one in about 6 years.

Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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As I think I said in my message, the curry shop think is a personal preference, not something proscriptive. I have even had nice food at a (slightly more Indic than average) Japanese curry shop in Nishi-Shinjuku, not far from a scary-looking "Jonathan's" location that marks the street to the weekly apartment I usually rent when visiting the Kantou area. I firmly agree that it's a good idea to try Japanese-style curry shops, or almost anything else, at least once, although my own experiences have been reliably mediocre.

I have had exceptional experiences in Roppongi, too, but I just don't really like the vibe there. If I wanted to go to another country and see a bunch of Americans, Australians, Germans, and British people, I'd choose any urban or tourist center of Canada. On my first visit to a now-defunct Sri Lankan restaurant in Roppongi I had a mostly stellar meal, and I've been to a quite interesting Starbucks-ized Vietnamese coffee shop concept, and I have had a Chinese meal in Roppongi Hills that I wouldn't be able to easily replicate in the US, or Hong Kong or Beijing for that matter.

I think a friend's mother took me to Fuji-ya in Ginza, but I've mostly avoided the other branches. I might have been to one in Ueno, though it could have been something else; I think they scolded my friend for us taking photos of each other. I remember the cakes not being as exciting as the setup I was given by my friend's mother.

Other things that don't have substantial presence in the U.S., at least in a restaurant form, include:

-Kushiage-ya-san

-Nabemono

-Shochu bars, so far

-Oden (the one place in Seattle that did this quit serving oden and focused on booze)

I was thinking I can only eat really good mozuku in Japan. All of the ones sold here seem to be pre-sauced and loaded with unnatural-sounding ingredients.

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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Thanks Prasantrin! I was able to find Okinawa Appletown, which is actually a small shopping mall located in a new shopping/entertainment area built on an old military housing area north of Naha. As a double bonus for my kid's, Appletown is also the location of Okinawa's second Toy's 'R Us store!

We made it up to the second floor and found the Pepper Lunch restaurant. After deciphering the automatic meal ticket dispensing machine, we sat down to wait for our meal to arrive. Very quickly our crackling hot cast iron bowl was delivered to the table, where the waitress explained the two sauces available and to use a spoon to mix, not the chopsticks I had at the ready. We ordered the house special beef bowl. A large mound of rice in the center topped with buttered corn and chives, surrounded by very thinly sliced raw beef. We added a bit of the first tonkatsu type sauce and began to stir to cook the beef and mix it all together. The kid's loved the interactivity of the process as I warned them off getting too close to that hot bowl. I used the second sweet steak sauce and it all combined nicely. Especially good was the crispy rice that formed on the bottom of the bowl, much in the way a good Bibimba does. Overall a fun meal experience, very inexpensive, hearty and very family friendly.

There is actually one Pepper Steak franchise location in the US as well, in Milpitas California in Silicon Valley.  I'm interested in the hi-tech sizzling hot plate mentioned by BeeTee.  The picture shown of the hot plate in the US branch looks to be cast iron.  As there website is only in Japanese, are there any locations here in Okinawa?

There's one in Naha, from what I can tell. At Okinawa Appuru Town (Apple Town?) which is at Omoromachi 3-3-1. Open 11am-10pm.

There's one in the Carrefour next to the Costco in Amagasaki. I think I might try it my next trip out there....if I can tear myself away from the Bulgogi Bake!

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