Undoubtedly, eating in Japan is a big part of the adventure of traveling through the country. Yesterday, I shared five of our most memorable meals during our Japanese travels. Here’s another five to finish up the list:
Knowing that we are headed to India next, where the cow is sacred, and being less than an hour train ride away from Kobe, we decided to splurge on the infamous Kobe beef in Kobe. Allegedly, to get the Kobe beef designation, cows are bottle fed beer and massaged. I never could get a straight answer on whether this is true, but for the price we paid, let’s all pretend that it is. The Kobe beef label is slapped on every expensive piece of beef back home, but apparently in Japan it just means quality beef that comes from one specific area in Japan. My research indicated that Kobe beef can be somewhat hard to find in Kobe, but The Google led us to Steakland Kobe, located close to the train stations. Steakland Kobe reminded me of American Japanese steakhouses more than any other place at which we ate in Japan. We took seats around a grill and watched the grill master slice up the raw beef and cook it before us. Before you even eat it, you can tell that the beef is going to be incredibly rich from the intense marbling. In the end, we’re not sure that we were big fans. Naturally, they charge insanely high prices for Kobe beef in Kobe – our meals were a whopping $143! I’m not sure if it was the crazy high price we paid or the super beefy taste that made us disappointed, but within 45 minutes of entering the restaurant, we were back standing back on the streets of Kobe, trying to make ourselves feel better about our budget-busting meal, saying, well, I guess it was worth it just once, right? Right?
Our second foray into Japanese beefland was a little more budget friendly. You can get burgers all over the world, but most of them are sorry, greasy imitations of the burgers you can get back home. Who would have thought that we would find one of the best burgers of the trip in Takayama, a small (and adorable!) town in the Japanese Alps? It is rare, but sometimes some of the best meals in a country are not the native cuisine. (I’m remembering you, delicious Italian anniversary meal in Prague). Wanting to take a break from noodles and the like, we decided to check out Center 4 Hamburgers one night. The shop is decorated in an Americana country-western theme, which right there transports you far away from Japan. The burgers were juicy and flavorful, the cheese was actually cheddar, the tomatoes ripe and fresh, the fries were crispy, and, best of all, they had Heinz ketchup. Sean still maintains that our Irish beef burger in Donegal, Ireland is the trip’s best burger, but I think this burger in Takayama is a strong contender.
While we struck out on seeing lots of koyo (autumn leaves), the best part of being in Japan in the fall was the apples. Once we got over the sticker shock of paying a couple of dollars per apple, we ponied up the money to try them. The apples in Japan are huge, juicy and sweet. As we were eating Fuji apples in Hakone, a town with views of Mt. Fuji on a clear day, it suddenly occurred to me where Fuji apples got their name. Duh.
The Japanese seem to be very particular about their apples. Most places, even roadside stands, wrap the apples individually in styrofoam netting. When we pursued the apples to find a small one we could afford, the woman selling them kept repeating in broken English, hai, hai, find a good one. No bruises.
I am drawn to any organic restaurants, cafes, or shops I see on the road like a fly is drawn to honey. We came across two in Japan, and both were tasty treats. My favorite was Myogaya, a little homey place in Takayama. It took forever to get our food because it was made from scratch by the owner. I thought it was worth the wait. The brown rice was a nutty diversion from the bucketloads of white rice we’d been consuming, and it was fun eating the variety of little organic dishes on my plate.
Meals that Look Back at You
A quintessential Japanese experience is staying at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn where you receive impeccable service, sleep on the floor on futons, walk around in slippers, and bathe at the inn’s onsen. We stayed at Kamesei Ryokan in Chikuma City, located in the Nagano Prefecture in the mountains. While the inn turned out to be a little more dated and less rural than we thought, the service from Tyler, an American, and his Japanese wife and in-laws was fantastic, and our meal was a great experience. We were served dinner on a low table in our room. We sat on the floor to eat, as Tyler paraded in dish after dish after dish. Our table was covered with little dishes by the time he was done, and he took the time to explain them all to us. The next morning, we had breakfast in a similar fashion. It was fun sampling all different kinds of Japanese food in one meal. After several weeks in Japan, we even felt brave enough to sample one of the dishes containing little tiny squid, with their little beady eyes staring back at us.