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.

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)

Top of my must-eat list in Nagoya was hitsumabushi, the Nagoya style of eating unagi (freshwater eel) on rice. With the help of a tourism officer, we booked a restaurant located near Nagoya station and this turned out to be a branch of Hitsumabushi Bincho, a chain of hitsumabushi restaurants in Nagoya and also Tokyo. Most of the hitsumabushi restaurants will only serve eel so do ensure that everyone in your party is happy to eat it!

This is the tray that is presented to you after you order. A bowl of rice and eel, an empty rice bowl, pickles, a bowl of a clear broth, wasabi and spring onions, shredded nori and more dashi broth.

Hitsumabushi Set

Our kind waitress guided us through the process of consuming hitsumabushi. We first took our rice paddles and divided the bowl of rice and eel into four quadrants. We all scooped a quadrant into our rice bowls. This quarter was eaten as is, no toppings added, to really taste the eel. The method of cooking eel for hisumabushi in Nagoya does not include the usual steaming, thus leaving the eel with lots of crispy grilled edges. I loved it.

Unagi on Rice

The second quarter was to be mixed with as much freshly grated wasabi and finely sliced spring onions as one desired. Delicious.

The third quarter was topped with shredded nori and a clear dashi broth, turning the eel and rice into a sort of congee. As tasty as this was, the broth destroyed all the crispy eel edges that I so loved.

With Nori and Tea

The final quarter? We were to eat it in our favourite way of the three! A dab of wasabi and spring onions for me again then!

I loved the whole ritual involved with the meal and I absolutely loved the Nagoya style of straight up grilling the eel without the initial steaming. The meal wasn’t the cheapest in Nagoya but the price for a hitsumabushi meal was pretty consistent across all the restaurants in the guide I was given (about 3000 yen or £20 per person).

Hitsumabushi Bincho
The branch we visited was in the ESCA underground shopping avenue next to Nagoya station.

It was our first night in Nagoya – my first night in Japan really! We had arrived early in the morning after a long flight from Frankfurt and after a post-lunch wander about, we all took naps and awoke quite refreshed and ready for dinner. From our hotel in quiet Fushimi, we strolled east to the Sakae district, full of restaurants and entertainment. We were heading to the ground floor of Oasis 21 (you can’t miss its gigantic oval glass roof), under the shadow of the Nagoya TV Tower, where we’d been directed by our concierge when we asked for kaiten-zushi – conveyor belt sushi. We wanted sushi, we wanted good stuff but we also wanted a bit of fun.

Nagoya TV Tower

We eventually found Nigiri No Tokube by my repeatedly asking “kaiten-zushi?” and then following the direction indicated by the random answerer. It worked!

We chose to sit at the counter rather than at a table and a spot cleared for us within 10 minutes. The first thing we noticed was the double decker conveyor belt arranging with the top deck for sushi plates and the bottom for clean empty tea cups. We helped ourselves to disposable chopsticks, green tea powder and hot water, wasabi, soy sauce and pickled ginger all arranged on the counter. Dishes could be picked up from the conveyor belt or ordered off the menu.

Double Decker Conveyor Belt

The sushi options ranged from the classic to the very modern (with lots of toppings) and we tried a bit of everything. One major highlight was this broiled prawn nigiri. I think the prawns had been drizzled with a bit of Japanese mayonnaise before being torched and the overall flavour was of a delicious deep smokey prawn.

Broiled Prawn Nigiri

From the special autumn menu we spotted a sardine tempura nigiri and sure enough we soon saw it come whizzing down the belt at us. These non-traditional little morsels were so good we ended up grabbing another plate.

Sardine Tempura Nigiri

From the menu again, we ordered some of our favourite classics: both unagi (freshwater eel) and anago (saltwater conger eel). Each was at the top end of the price range (380 yen each), which is still cheaper than the equivalent here in London. The unagi (on the left) was the more familiar with its charcoal grilled silkiness and thick sweet eel sauce; it’s relatively easy to find in London. The anago though was totally different (not necessarily better but just different) and even more silky (if that’s possible). What a great way to compare the two.

Unagi and Anago

And back to the novel nigiri we went. A little less exciting was this salmon nigiri with mayo and thinly sliced onions.

Salmon with Mayo and Onions

More exciting was this torched salmon nigiri with a creamy sesame sauce and fried shredded leeks. There really was something for everyone at Nigiri No Tokube.

Salmon with Sesame Sauce and Fried Leeks

I finished my meal with an order of a limited edition chawanmushi that was also being advertised for autumn. There were chestnuts, mushrooms, slices of fishcakes and other goodies hidden within the gloriously silky savoury egg custard.

The Autumn Chawanmushi

We all ate quite a bit that night (a lot more was consumed than just what you see above!) and the bill for each of us worked out somewhere between £10 and £20. Plates ranged from 120 to about 500 yen (when we went, it was 150 yen to the pound sterling) which I think is about the going rate for this quality of kaiten-zushi place (main menu here and here). Japan was certainly treating us well.

Nigiri No Tokube
Oasis 21
Sakae, Nagoya
Japan