When you think of Japanese food, injection what comes to mind? Chances are you’ll be dreaming up a delicious image of various types of sushi, bulimics sashimi, and ramen. And if you join us on one of our three cycling tours through Japan, you will most certainly encounter these dishes along the way. But there is so much more to discover too, so here are a few examples of the rich variety of food that Japan has to offer. Get your chopsticks at the ready.
Photo by verygreen
Dumplings appear in all sorts of forms around the world, but if there were an Olympic-sized dumpling competition (if only this were a real thing), it would be pretty hard to beat Japanese-style gyoza. Although they originated in China, they now feature as a delicious accompaniment to ramen and other popular dishes all over Japan. While you can find vegetarian versions, the dumplings are traditionally filled with pork, garlic, spices, cabbage and intensely aromatic sesame oil, then steamed and fried. Once you try these served piping hot and dipped in a salty, tangy, spicy sauce you’ll understand why we are so confident that gyoza could win this hypothetical global dumpling contest.
Put simply; Okonomiyaki is a type of Japanese pancake that translated means ‘what you like’. Aside from the obligatory shredded cabbage filling, it can be topped with whatever is at hand including pork, octopus, shrimp or simply an assortment of veggies. The pancake is almost always finished with okonomiyaki sauce (similar to Worcester sauce), dried seaweed flakes, bonito flakes, Japanese mayonnaise, and pickled ginger. This is the perfect candidate for a filling lunch break on one of our cycling tours, and it beats an omelette any day of the week.
Kushiyaki is a generic term for grilled meat or vegetables served on skewers, but this Japanese specialty is anything but generic. The smoky charred flavor that comes from the skewers being cooked on a charcoal grill is almost indescribable. Grilled chicken skewers – known as yakitori – are the most widely available and can often be found in small specialist shops known as yakitori-ya. But if you’re feeling more adventurous, kushiyaki is commonly available in many different forms such as skewers of thinly sliced beef tongue, pork belly, Japanese mushrooms or asparagus wrapped in bacon. You’ll usually find kushiyaki in informal Japanese-style gastropubs known as izakaya. Be sure to try a variety of kushiyaki accompanied with Japanese pickles, sashimi and washed down with a refreshing beer or sake – to immerse yourself in the culture, of course!
If you find yourself on one of our tours through Kyushu, be sure to try champon while you’re exploring Nagasaki. This is a special regional noodle dish that was originally created as a cheap and nutritious meal to serve the high number of Chinese students that populate the area. As it happens, on top of being healthy and filling, champon is also absolutely delicious. While the ingredients can vary depending on the season, the soup is usually made from simmered pork bone and piled ramen noodles and a huge variety of fresh vegetables, meat, and seafood. Oh, and while you are in Nagasaki, don’t forget to try their regional Wagyu (beef), which in 2012 won the Japanese ‘Wagyu Olympics’. (Wow, so maybe there is hope for a dumpling Olympics after all…)
Of course, we must mention the sweeter side of things if this article is going to round off nicely. Curiously, we haven’t mentioned rice even once yet despite it being a staple in the Japanese diet. So here, we present it to you in dessert form as a rice cake called mochi. Sticky and sweet, mochi is traditionally eaten as part of the New Year celebrations, but it can be enjoyed all year round in many different varieties. You can even find mochi ice cream, which comes in many flavours including strawberry, vanilla, and green tea. And as everybody knows, if it’s green tea flavoured, then it’s healthy…so eat in abundance!