I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit Japan for ten days. This place was out of this world. As soon as the wheels hits the tarmac and you file out of the plane, you feel the sense of organisation. Coming from Cairo I was shocked at how systematic and easy it was to do things. From filling out a landing card to navigating your way around the city, Japan was definitely another planet, and the people, another species.
We landed in Osaka, a modern Japanese city, home of excellent food. I crave food all the time. As soon as I finish breakfast im thinking about lunch, when I eat lunch I’m thinking about what to have for dinner and when I sleep I’m…well you get the picture.
Osaka is mainly famous for its pancakes and in the handy Lonely Planet guide that I used to navigate the city, it says that “the phase kuidaore (eat ’till you drop) was coined to describe Osakans’ love for good food.”
When you first arrive in Osaka, head down to Dotombori Arcade, but be prepared to be wowed on many levels. The place is a maddening crowd of shops, restaurants, Arcade pinball machines, tourist groups and advertisements screaming right in your face to buy this cream or eat in this restaurant because they have the best sushi. My head was spinning at all the information that is available. In an article in the Guardian in 2005 it says that in an entire day you’re likely to see 3,500 marketing messages. In Japan it must be triple that. I became a shopping whore during my time there, so it must have worked.
Dotombori is like the Leicester Square of Japan. Its dirty, sleazy, full of annoying tourists that congregate in large groups and unrefined restaurants in abundance that are over-priced.
When it comes to food, the Japanese know how to do it. It’s not just about the way it tastes, but the presentation of the food is very important. It’s the little details that count. When I have a curry at home it looks like a splatter of spices placed in a plain dish with plain bread and served in mis-matched bowls. That’s the no frills approach to food. When the Japanese do food they like to go the whole hog. A bowl of noodles isn’t just wheat flour floating in a brown broth, but a masterpiece of yellow dough surrounded by an array of fish and vegetables cut into fancy shapes, all served in stylish bowls. The portions are small, not friendly to a western belly, so you might need to order a few dishes each.
I even tried some Sashimi, which is raw fish (Tuna and sea bream). Yes i can’t believe I had some, but I even surprised myself as it was tasty. You need to make sure that you order this from a good restaurant as fish that isn’t fresh will just make you ill. Each meal is usually served with endless cups of green tea. You nearly reach the end of your supply, and in an instant the waiter rushes over with their jug to fill replenish your cup. You don’t even have to ask them, they just know. Service is just as important as the food, and I found the Japanese to be very attentive and helpful.
My only problem with the food was eating it with chopsticks. I still didn’t get the hang of it, instead having to adjust them again and again. I think I should youtube a tutorial on using chopsticks for dummies.
A delicacy I loved was octopus tentacles served in a ball made from batter. The octopus is placed in a deep rounded mould and batter is then poured into the moulds. When one side is done, using the wooden handle, the metal plates moulds are flipped over so that the other side can cook. The gooey texture of the batter and chewy octopus was delicious.
In Koyoto we had a savoury dumpling of vegetables served with green tea. Notice the quaint and stylish presentation.
Even the breakfast at the design hostel we were staying at was stylishly served, resembling a Monocle magazine picture spread. Home made bread served with apple jam, plain yoghurt, fresh orange juice and English Breakfast tea.
McDonalds got in on the act and transformed a plain milkshake into a green tea flavour which tasted nothing like tea, more like bubble gum.
Even the fake food that was used as a visual menu looked good enough to eat