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Food Tales

In Japan, the Art of Discovering Good Food in Every Price Range

Travel, for me, is about fun. And part of the fun is discovering new and wonderful food. It’s NOT fun if I simply take as Bible truth another blogger’s “Top 10 Food You Must Try in Japan” or other similar lists. Food appreciation is subjective at best.

It is with that philosophy in mind that, aside from M which was recommended by someone we personally knew and whose taste in food we trusted, we embarked on a food discovery in Japan.

We did not have an itinerary for our meals. We did not have a list of “must eats.” In fact, we skipped ramen, okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Rather, we ate according to what, at the time, were unspoken rules. Looking back, there were three dining rules that we lived by in Japan.

We trusted our eyes and nose

Whenever we felt hungry, we simply surveyed the food sellers in our midst, from pricey-looking restaurants to holes-in-the-wall, and decided based on what our eyes and noses told us.

We listened to the locals

We listened to the recommendations of locals. Yes, locals, and not tourists like ourselves. In my book, the locals are the real authorities because they have a real feel of their city. It was through a tip from a tour guide that we were able to enjoy a tasty yet inexpensive dinner at the Muji food court.

We watched the children

We paid attention to what local children were nagging their parents to buy for them (perhaps, this is just an extension of listening to the locals) and discovered dango.

Beyond eating, there’s food shopping

But discovering food, for me at least, goes beyond eating. I like bringing home food as souvenirs. All the Kit-kat flavors that are not available in my country, I bought at Don Quijote along with boxes of mochi and cookies.

Dizzying array of food. Food Court, Takashimaya
Dizzying array of food. Food Court, Takashimaya

Then, at the basement of the Takashimaya Department Store, I went on a shopping spree. Takashimaya is connected to Swissotel by a tube so it was easily accessible. I went down to the basement late in the morning, scanned the food court and wished I hadn’t eaten such a heavy breakfast at the hotel. Gee, the amount of cooked food was dizzying. The few seats in front of some of the stalls were occupied and there were waiting lines too. Later, I told myself. First, the shopping.

Grocery shopping at Takashimaya, Osaka
Fitting my Takashimaya grocery finds in my luggage

I bought three different kinds of green tea and cooking ingredients.

Dried seaweeds, dried seaweeds mixed with vegetables, furikake in every imaginable combination… Insofar as Japanese dried fish goes, I had only experienced bonito flakes. But, at the Takashimaya grocery, there were at least five kinds of shaved dried fish in different colors. Even the sizes of the shaved pieces varied. They all cost less than 50% of retail prices back home.

And the tea… Oh, my goodness, the tea! Forget teabags and all the tisanes that foreigners sell in their home countries as tea. There’s nothing like pure tea and Osaka is a fantastic place to buy it. And the trick to choosing which tea to buy? Have a taste first. The tea sellers at Takashimaya offer brewed tea in small paper cups. Taste them all before deciding which you like.

It was while browsing the shelves at Takashimaya that I finally understood what the pink rice that we enjoyed at Robert and Muji was.

The pink rice is not really pink. It is just regular Japanese rice cooked with adzuki beans which give the rice grains a beautiful color. The rice and bean mixture can be bought in boxes. Ready to cook. Just dump into the rice cooker, add water and cook. But the boxes of premixed rice and beans were expensive as hell. I might as well do my own mixing and cooking back home for the fraction of the price.

Did we ever get to sample the cooked food at the basement food court of Taskashimaya? Yes, we did.

From the Food Court, Takashimaya, Osaka
My last dinner in Osaka from the Takashimaya Food Court

We went back in the evening after shopping at the 0101 Mall across the street (tip: the 100 yen store there is fantastic!) not knowing that, an hour or so before closing time, the cooked food stalls sell their stuff at highly discounted prices. What luck!

Was the food good? Oh, yes! Thinly sliced beef that tasted like the meat was cooked with soy sauce and sweet rice wine (like teriyaki) and, underneath, just enough rice to enjoy the meat with. All those veggies in the box? None were undercooked nor overcooked. The wedge of eggplant was especially good. I have to discover the trick to cooking vegetables perfectly. I really do.

And that rounds up the stories from the 2018 Japan trip. I will be posting Japanese-inspired recipes (some using the ingredients I bought at Takashimaya) over the next couple of weeks until I leave for my next trip — see you soon, Saigon!

A few more Japan stories and some Japan-inspired recipes coming up before the Vietnam trip.

Written By

I travel to eat, drink and learn new cuisines. I do some shopping too. Between trips, I write travel stories and share travel-inspired recipes. That is my idea of retirement with purpose.

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