If you’re looking for the ultimate list of the best dining experiences in Japan, you might be disappointed. With so many diverse foods and eateries ranging from informal to exquisite Michelin-starred restaurants putting together any kind of “best of” list would be mission impossible.
So what you have here is only my personal account of the most memorable meals we have had in the 12 days we’ve spent there. That I was able to come up with ten of them is another proof of the variety and quality of Japanese culinary scene. I can officially proclaim Japan as my new favourite foodie destination.
Ramen at Ippudo, Ginza, Tokyo
Our first meal was an instant success: ramen at the busy Ippudo restaurant in Ginza. Despite being a chain restaurant, their ramen is top-notch. A seemingly simple dish yet so rich and flavourful that it immediately makes you feel at home. With a plate of gyoza dumplings it’s the perfect comfort food for a rainy day.
Breakfast at Tsukiji Market, Tokyo
Technically, we had two breakfasts. We booked a guided tour of the inner market with a Japanese chef through AirBnB Experiences. Yet the fact that it was called “Breakfast at Tsukiji Market” somehow slipped my mind. So just before the tour we had some miso soup, grilled salmon and rice followed by some more fish, rice and soup about an hour into the tour. Needless to say, we skipped lunch that day.
Tempura Kondo, Tokyo
It’s not easy to book a table at this Michelin two-star restaurant and we had to use the help of my Japanese friend (thanks Ayumi 😊). It’s not easy finding it either. But it’s worth the effort and the price, which, compared to Michelin starred restaurants in Europe is really good value. Or else I would still think tempura is simply fried veggies and fish. Here, it’s elevated to an art form.
Yakitori at Ganchan, Roppongi, Tokyo
Yakitori is supposed to be simple snack food to nibble on while having a beer or two after work. We followed TripAdvisor recommendation to this tiny hole-in-the wall place in Roppongi where the chef’s menu was anything but simple. It started with bacon wrapped asparagus, continued with chicken, beef and all kinds of veggies everything neatly skewered and grilled over charcoal. We enjoyed every single skewer even if we smelled like two seasoned pitmasters afterwards.
Kaiseki dinner on the floor, Kawaguchiko
Sitting on the floor while eating is not the most comfortable position for a tall person who’s not practicing lotus pose regularly. Now imagine that you’re also wearing the traditional yukata robe while doing this. I guess the true reason why the kaiseki dinner was served in the privacy of our room was that we wouldn’t make complete fools out of ourselves in front of other guests.
You really can’t go wrong with sushi in Japan. No matter what kind of raw fish you’re used to eating back home, the variety and quality in just any sushi place is guaranteed to knock you off your feet. We only ate sushi twice. Both times we couldn’t stop ordering and ended up with a bill that surprisingly didn’t break the bank. In fact, it was far better value than what we usually pay back home.
Yakiniku at Gyu-Kaku, Kyoto
After searching for our tiny AirBnB house in the confusing alleys of Kyoto for over an hour (in rain!) I could think of nothing but food. We stumbled into this Yakiniku restaurant with the aroma of freshly grilled meat wafting around the corner, clueless of what to expect. We ended up eating some of the most delicious meat we have ever tasted. That we had to grill it ourselves over a portable grill on the table was part of the fun.
Bento box on the go
Do not under any circumstances board a long-distance train in Japan without buying some food for the trip first. As soon as you leave the station, passengers around you will start opening their bento boxes and munching on delicacies like sushi rolls, sautéed beef and all kinds of vegetables. If the smell of food makes you drool all over the place like me, you better come prepared. Grabbing the first bento box you can find at the train station is a fairly safe bet that you will have a better than average meal to go.
Chinese lunch in Kyoto
Little did we know that we would be eating Chinese when we asked our Kyoto friend to take us to her favourite restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, I like Chinese food, but I would never choose it over Japanese. But I guess one gets spoilt for choice with all this great food and wants something different, for a change. It was a fun experience though, and I am positive we were the only tourists there. Ever.
Last ramen at Tokyo Station Ramen Street
The last mention goes to Tokyo Station ramen street. This one not so much for the quality of the food (I preferred the ramen at Ippudo), but for the fact that we were able to plan the timing of our dinner to the minute, according to the arrival of our train from Himeji some 570 km away. But wait, there’s more: We met with our friend who happened to be on holiday in Japan at the same time and arrived from Nikko, also on time. This speaks volumes not only about how small the world has become but also about how straightforward the whole travel in Japan really is. Another reason – besides food – why I love this country.