Japan was one of my most favorite countries so far! We had the best time exploring everything we could, riding the bullet trains, and eating everything we could find. I took more food pictures here than anywhere else. With that being said here is what we tried in no particular order:
Vending Machines: They are everywhere. Drinks, snacks, sandwiches, sushi....I was most fascinated that these machines would have both cold and hot items all in one machine. Maybe I am easily impressed.
Sushi: Surprisingly enough we only ate sushi a few times. The sushi here is different than what we eat back in the states. There is no fancy crazy or dragon rolls (large rolls with sauces and other add ons). The sushi here was very simple and mostly just nigiri (rice ball with fish (or other sushi meat) on top. Oh man was it good. It didn't need any sauce or add ons.
One of our favorite places was a sushi convory belt restaurant in Hiroshima. The sushi here rolls by you and you pick up what you want and pay by plate. Each sushi is priced by the color plate it is on. This is where I fell in love with tuna belly. Hands down best sushi ever. About 27 plates later we we full.
Ramen : We had Ramen a few times. It was cold in Japan so stopping for ramen was much needed. Every place we tried was yummy and just a little bit different with the items you add into the soup for flavor. I feel like you can't mess ramen up....unless its in a 20 cent package.
Foods at the temples: Most of the walkways leading up to the temples were lined with vendors. They were selling all sorts of interesting things. We tried Octopus balls with sauce and fish flakes (not a fan), fried noodles, chocolate covered bananas, scallion pancakes, mochi balls with cherry blossom sauce, chocolate covered waffles, and crab on a stick. A few lunches and dinners were eaten on the streets for super cheap.
Fry your own food: Near our hotel in Tokyo was an all you can eat and fry restaurant. At your table you had your own fryer. The buffet was full off raw veggies and meats on sticks. You filled your plate up, battered them yourself, and cooked them in your fryer at the table. We stuffed ourselves to the limit. While it was a fun thing to try we left pretty miserable and smelling of grease. Our least healthy meal in Japan.
Sake: We had our fair share of sake (rice wine) while in Japan. While in Fujisan, it was too cloudy to see Mount Fuji so we stopped at a sake brewery for a tasting. The sake here was fantastic. They had different grades or cleaner tastes. We learned that cheap sake is consumed warm and higher quality sake should be consumed cold.
Yakitori Alley- This was one of my favorite experiences. I had read about this alley, called Piss Alley- nice name right?, where the smallest spaces are turned into eateries. You can barely walk two people side by side down the alley and each space has a cook with a counter that can hold about 5 or 6 people inside. We randomly picked the best smelling place that had seats open. The picture below is literally the size of the place. We squeezed in and ordered a few skewers. Yakitori is really just meat on a stick grilled. But so good dipped in the yakitori sauce. Who knew this could be so tasty.
Traditional Japanese Dinner: We stayed at a traditional Japanese Ryokan (Kamesei Ryokan) near Nagano for a few nights. During our stay we were treated to a traditional Japanese dinner. This dinner had 11 different courses. We tried bioluminescent squid (squid that glows), Horse sashimi (raw horse), tofu balls, Clay pot of soup, whole fish (you eat it all: bones, head and tail), pickled veggies, flowers. Everything was so amazing. Even the horse. This wasn't a meal for the non adventurous. I'm actually surprised with myself by trying everything.
Dumplings from the creepy alley : While in the small town of our Ryokan we were given a recommendation of the best dumplings in town. One evening we took the few block walk towards the "ghost hotel" (an abandon hotel on the edge of town) and made our way down the dark creepy alley. There was a lone lantern lit outside what looked like a home. We opened the door and a little old lady greeted up and sat us at one for the five tables. She took our order and then proceeded to cook in the side room. Yep, she was the hostess, waitress, and cook. One woman shop. We tried everything on her menu. Dumplings and gyoza. Everything was so good we tried everything again. The dumplings were eggplant, mustard spinach, garlic chives, and red bean. Mustard Spinach was the best!
Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki: Okonomiyaki is a Japanese Layered Pancakes. It is fried noodles, shrimp, cabbage, garlic, cheese and egg all cooked on a griddle. These are ordered and grilled up at the bar and then brought to your table and laid on your own mini griddle to keep warm. This wasn't my favorite dish but the concept and experience was fun.
Cooking class- While in Osaka we decided to take a street food cooking class with Eat Osaka. After our yakitori experience we knew we needed to find out how to make the dipping sauce. We learned how to make Yakatori meat and sauce, udon noodles and Okonomiyaki chopstick pancakes. Everything turned out great and our instructor was super sweet. We even got to use the world famous Osaka hand crafted knives. These knives were beyond amazing. SO amazing that we went to the store and bought our own.
Grill your own beef- While in Kobe we wanted to try Kobe beef. Small problem, every place was booked up or didn't take walk ins. So we got the next best thing: Matsusaka Beef. We heard this is superior beef to Kobe beef. For lunch one day we found this great grill your own beef place. We ordered the Matsusaka sampler platter and went to work trying the different cuts. Everything was perfect. The more marbled the more delicious. We also had the most amazing garlic rice in a hot pot. Oh my word we had to order a second one before the meal was over.
From the looks of it we tried everything we could possibly try. My favorites were the sushi, yakitori, and Matsusaka beef meal. I will figure out how to make that garlic rice at home!