All that good eating in Japan started on the flight there. After a short hop with Lufthansa to Frankfurt, we changed for a flight to Nagoya. Our dinner was fried chicken (karaage) served with rice; sure it was a bit soggy but it was tasty. The cold green tea soba, served with a dipping sauce, was excellent and I’m convinced it’s one of those foods that are perfectly suited to high altitude cuisine.

Dinner

While another colleague was flying with BA and snacking on cups of instant noodles, we were chowing down on salmon onigiri and Milka chocolate bars. Our plane was full of Japanese people heading home and all of them were sleeping but…we weren’t. We were hungry and we ate so many onigiri that we became experts at opening the fiddly little plastic sheets that kept the nori crisp.

Snacks

In Nagoya, we tried a massive matcha kakigori at a little shop that specialised in matcha desserts in the underground shopping arcade underneath the station.

Matcha Kakigori

We couldn’t leave Nagoya without eating one of their most famous dishes – tebasaki! Chicken wings! The most famous place to eat tebasaki is at Yamachan; we didn’t realise this at first but we did soon recognise their fabulous half man-half chicken logo everywhere in the city. We called him ‘Chicken-Dude’; I believe that the man is their actual CEO.

Box of Wings

We would buy boxes of chicken wings to take back to our hotel and eat while we worked. These deep fried wings were just barely greasy and coated in the most tantalising spice mixture. I tried to find a way to take home this spice mixture and failed – this company wasn’t parting with any secrets!

Tebasaki

Later as we were leaving Nagoya, a colleague also bought a bag of Yamachan branded dried cuttlefish from one of the nearby restaurants for a snack. This was insanely delicious. Seriously, get some.

Yamachan Dried Cuttlefish

One night after work in Nagoya, a few of us were taken to Kisoji for a work dinner – it was shabu shabu time! I never would have found this place on my own and I certainly wouldn’t have known what to order.

These were the platters of beautifully marbled beef that arrived.

Marbled Beef

We swished the slices around in the hot water before dipping them in either a soy-ponzu sauce or a sweet sesame sauce. There was an equally beautiful platter filled with lots of vegetables and tofu to cook in the broth.

Dipping Sauces

To finish the meal, we had both bowls of rice and kishimen, a flat thick noodle particular to Nagoya, cooked in the final broth. Gorgeous.

We even had the opportunity to try very traditional Japanese sweets for dessert. Here was some warabi mochi, a jelly made of bracken starch and tossed with soybean flour (kinako) and served with a brown sugar syrup…

Warabi Mochi

… and kudzu kiri, jelly noodles made from the starch of the kudzu (Japanese arrowroot) plant. I loved the different textures and flavours in the two desserts.

Kudzu Kiri

After our trip to the onsen, we stopped at MOS burger for a snack before heading back to the hotel. This was our order presented in the most beautiful way… and it’s just a fast food joint! The food was good too! I’m starting to think that Japanese fried chicken is one of the best fried chickens in the world…

At MOS Burger

Did I mention that we took a very jet-lagged day-trip to Kyoto? A day is definitely not enough but we got a taster and we all hope to return. There was just enough time to visit Kiyomizudera…

Kiyomizudera

… and Kodaiji. How beautiful were they?! I’d love to see more of Kyoto.

Untitled

And enough time to sit down at one of Kiyomizudera’s many temple tea houses. As it was a sweltering day, we decided to split a bucket of cold tofu, which I believe is one of the specialties of Kyoto. The bucket was full of cold water and we fished the tofu from it. There was also a small pitcher of a soy and dashi sauce that sat in the bucket, cooled by the water, and we poured over its contents onto the tofu and topped it with ginger and spring onions too. Delicious and refreshing!

Cold Tofu

In Tokyo, some of the best things to eat were found in the markets around Tsukiji. Between us all, we split this huge portion of unagi on a stick (well, multiple sticks) – fantastic stuff!

Unagi on a stick near Tsukiji market

On our way to the Imperial Palace, we stopped into a shopping mall opposite Tokyo Station and found this little place in the basement – Machimura Farm from Hokkaido. It sold mainly fresh dairy products and cakes and confectionary featuring those dairy products. We all tucked into the most delicious soft serve ice cream I’ve ever had. It was just the flavour of the milk (which I normally detest) but this was just gorgeous.

Ice Cream

On our last day, we stopped into a random old-fashioned restaurant run by a few little old ladies near Kappabashi-dori. The place was insanely cute and homey and we only managed to order thanks to the plastic food outside! My tempura and soba was perfect and huge too.

Soba and Tempura Set

Near Sensoji in Asakusa, I spotted a stall selling sweet potato sweets. And there was a small queue! I hopped onto the end of it, keen to try a sweet I’ve only seen in pictures. This is what I got – what the Japanese lady serving me called…sweet potato. It’s mashed steamed sweet potato mixed with egg and sugar and I’m not sure what else, reformed into the shape below and baked. And it was delicious. Not too sweet and extremely tasty (well, if you like sweet potato).

Sweet Potato

Sigh…and that’s the end of this Japan series! All my photos from this trip (not just food!) can be found in this Flickr photoset.

I’d heard good things of the ramen at Ippudo and even a Tokyo-native colleague recommended it to me before I set off to Japan. However, with busy times in the office prior to our trip, I didn’t have time to look up its locations and just decided to mostly wing our eating when we were there. Imagine my surprise when we passed an Ippudo in Ueno while we were walking back to our hotel the previous night! There and then we decided that our last dinner in Tokyo would be ramen.

The next night, we duly made our way there and waited for only about 10 minutes before a table freed to accommodate the four of us.

I had to try the Akamaru New, noodles in a tonkotsu broth but with ‘koyu’ (a fragrant black garlic oil) and ‘umami-dama’ (a savoury spice ball). I also added an egg to my order.

Akamaru Ramen

This was some amazing tonkotsu broth, all creamy and rich and porky. I would have liked the noodles to be a bit firmer but I didn’t know then that I could have requested a specific noodle firmness. The slices of pork charshu on top were brilliantly melt in the mouth tender. This was an amazing bowl of ramen.

I didn’t pay too much notice to the condiments on the side as I found my soup to be perfect just as it was. But there was vinegar, soy sauce, pepper, chilli oil and sesame seeds to add to your ramen to make it perfect for you.

Condiments

Further condiments included raw garlic, pickled ginger and all the spicy beansprouts you’d like to eat.

Condiments

Having some gyoza on the side was surely mandatory, this being our last full meal in Japan. Ippudo’s mini gyoza with spicy yuzu paste went down a treat. Yes, I think I cleared almost this entirely plate myself – oink oink. They were excellent.

Mini Gyoza with Spicy Yuzu Paste

Brilliant. Best ramen I’ve had in a while. Please come to London, Ippudo (I mean, c’mon, you’re already in New York!).

Ippudo
Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo 3-17-5
(but there are lots of branches throughout Japan)

After work finished, we had most of a day free in Nagoya; that night, we were going to take the shinkansen to Tokyo to spend our last few days in Japan there. Our original plan was to try an onsen in the morning, followed by a visit to Nagoya castle and then back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and head for Nagoya station to catch the train. That plan didn’t really materialise, especially when we realised what an amazing, awesome, fantastic, magical, relaxing place the onsen was.

Only I’ve just discovered that there’s a major difference between onsens and sentōs. Onsens refer to public hot spring baths in Japan whilse sentōs are public bath houses that don’t use waters from natural thermal sources. Both have the same strict set of rules for their use. Ours, the Yu-no Shiro Ōsone onsen, is called an onsen but is in the style of a supersentō, a large scale bathing facility with multiple pools and facilities.

This was the onsen we visited near Ozone station in Nagoya. We entered and removed our shoes where we store them in provided lockers. We then traipsed upstairs along tatami lined stairs and floors to the main reception where we had to wait for an English speaking receptionist to help us work the Japanese-only vending machines. We all bought tickets for entry and tickets to rent towels and a pajama-like outfit to wander around the public areas – the total was about 1000 yen for each of us.

The Supersento

Our small group then split up (male/female) and were guided to the changing rooms and shown how to use the lockers and where the showers were. There were plenty of signs with rules all around. One must wash before entering any of the baths. No one with tattoos allowed. Children must be accompanied by adults. One must be fully naked in the baths (this was a confidence booster)!

Of course, I have no photos of the actual baths themselves! There are lots of photos on their website though (my favourite had to be the carbonated bath, with all the little bubbles accumulating on your body!).

After a couple of hours trying each and every bath and sauna (there was a huge TV in the sauna!), we regrouped for lunch in our pajama-like outfits at the self-service restaurant downstairs. It was then that we decided that we’d much rather laze around all day in this magnificent place than go visit a castle. Ahem.

Anyway, here was the self-service restaurant, one of the extra facilities at the onsen.

Self-Service Restaurant

Meals had to be purchased via vending machine. You’d select your meal (we ordered by matching up the words and prices in the picture menu and on the vending machine), pay your money and get a ticket that you’d then pass to a lady in the kitchen. She’d prepare your meal, shout out your number and you’d go and collect it.

Buy your tickets here for your meal

I wanted just about everything on the menu – there was sushi, sashimi, noodles, stuff on rice, etc, etc. I eventually chose the miso katsu lunch set (only 650 yen!) which included the miso katsu, a massive salad (and a whole range of amazing Japanese salad dressings to try), rice and a bowl of hot udon noodle soup. Oh, and pickles. Gotta have the pickles.

Miso Katsu Set

This was another Nagoya specialty, the deep fried cutlet covered with a very thick and very rich red miso sauce. It’s very strong in flavour and I loved it!

Miso Katsu

I wish you could have seen the tea dispensing machines! All the free hot or cold toasted or green tea you could drink!

We were looking for dessert after our meal and the lure of this ice cream vending machine was just too much for us.

Ice Cream Vending Machine

Squeezy cider sorbet!

Squeezy Sorbet!

Apart from the restaurants and vending machines, there were multiple rest and sleep areas and this was one of the rest areas – each sleep bed had its own personal TV screen!

Rest Area

While the boys chose to snooze off their lunch, I headed back up to the baths for another hour.

Just before leaving the onsen though, I managed to get a massage in one of the ridiculuosly high-tech massage chairs (just visible at the bottom of the restaurant photo). Sure I could have scheduled a proper massage (that facility was also available) but this 10 minute massage only cost me 200 yen. And with that massage, I also had a coffee milk from this Meiji milk vending machine.

Milks Vending Machine

Awww yeah, that’s some tasty coffee milk.

Delicious Coffee Milk

What a fantastic and relaxing day that was. We still talk about it and dream about opening up a bathhouse in London! We were the only non-Japanese people there that day and they clearly don’t get many tourists but don’t let that put you off! They’re very welcoming and it really is one of the best things to do in Japan.

Yu-no Shiro Ōsone onsen
Ozone-Cho, Higashi-ku
Nagoya 28-7 Higashiozone
(within the Ozone Castle Town)

Whilst travelling is probably the only time I’ll ever be happy waking up super early. It was particularly so in Japan when every morning, I’d get to exchange my breakfast ticket for, well, an amazing breakfast.

At our hotel in Nagoya (Hotel Trusty Nagoya near Fushimi) offered four breakfast sets each morning and your choice had to be made the night before. There were two Japanese sets and two Western sets, and of each style, one was complimentary with our hotel stay and the other could be had for a small supplement.

This was the first Japanese set – tororo gohan, or mountain yam rice. Rice, nori, a bowl of soup, an onsen egg, raw grated tororo, pickles, hot tea and soy sauce.

Tororo Gohan Breakfast Set

The soup was clear and very savoury with thin slices of pork and root vegetables.

Soup

The tororo had a slightly slimy texture that was not at all unpleasant (well, if you find okra too slimy perhaps this would be a bit too much in the morning). It was delicious! I think one could mix this and the egg into the rice and it truly was scrumptious. Altogether, it was a brilliant start to the day.

Grated Tororo (Mountain Yam)

The other Japanese set was a full Japanese breakfast, complete with grilled salted salmon, soup, braised vegetables, fruit, pickles, a huge slice of tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette), hot tea and rice. Again, this was fantastic – I love a good savoury breakfast.

Japanese Breakfast

I had to try one of the Western breakfast options (Nagoya is apparently famous for them) and decided on the simpler one that was included in our room price. I loved that super thick fluffy toast and was glad that I did try it! The sausages were more like hot dogs and the soup tasted tinned but the potato salad and vegetable sticks (salad is a breakfast food in Japan) were very welcome, as were the fruit and yoghurt.

Western Breakfast Set

If you’re curious, the other Western set (the one that cost extra) included a fancier salad and pizza bread!

Our hotel in Tokyo (Hotel Park Side in Ueno) offered a small breakfast buffet full of both Japanese and Western options. The quality of the ingredients was not as great as in Nagoya but it still beats a lot of breakfast options here in London!

Breakfast in Tokyo

Here we had components for both a Japanese and Western breakfast and I combined the two a bit. Rice, tofu, miso soup, nori, an onsen egg, and braised vegetables and bacon (oh yes!).

I also tried my first natto at breakfast in Tokyo and …. I found the strong flavour a bit challenging! That’s not perhaps my favourite breakfast food. But thumbs up to the Japanese breakfast in general!

We were in Nagoya for a work conference and for each day of the main conference, we would each pick up a bento box and juice/tea box for lunch. Now these were clearly mass produced bento boxes (they would have required about 1000 bento boxes per day) but the quality and variety of the food in each box was astounding.

On the first day, we received this beauty. It was a bit rice heavy but the fried fish, prawn (I got a second because my colleague couldn’t eat hers) and little hamburger were lovely. Everything was delicious.

Day 1 Bento

Our second bento was in the most beautiful box that I even managed to keep and bring back to London (after emptying out the food covered dividers!). Again there were three lots of rice but this was improved by having one of the rices cooked together with carrots and mushrooms. The sweet included in the top right corner was a curiosity – two large beans cooked in syrup! In the top left, there was an excellent braised tofu bundle filled with vegetables. Of all the bentos we had at that conference, I liked this one the best.

Day 2 Bento

The bentos handed out on the third and last day had one of its rices in the form of a Nagoya speciality – tenmusu, an onigiri with a prawn tempura in it.  This last box was a bit fried-heavy (the tenmusu, the prawn, pork in the middle and karaage in the top left corner) but just look at the designs printed on the food dividers!

Day 3 Bento

We even got a taste of ekiben, the railway bentos that can only be purchased at train stations or at special ekiben fairs. After our time in Nagoya, we took the shinkansen to Tokyo and while I bought this katsu-sando (most convenient for a train journey where you’ve not got a tray because your suitcase is in the way)….

Tonkatsu Sandwiches

….my colleague purchased this chicken yakitori ekiben that’s one of the specialities of Nagoya. He said it was brilliant.

Alessandro's Ekiben

I only wish there had been more time and more stomach space for me to try more bentos on this trip!