Welcome to the third installment of Ellen Eats. This is easily my favourite EE yet, it’s the Japan edition!
I absolutely adored Japan. It has been my favourite travel destination of 2016, and considering I also visited the Maldives and the Philippines this year, that is really saying something. My only wish is that my visit lasted for much longer!
In my one week in Japan, I travelled through Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Lake Kawaguchiko, and in that time, I tried so many delicious foods, so lets get started!
Gion District, Kyoto
After a busy morning exploring Fushimi Inari Shrine and getting to know the Japanese Railway System, I had worked up an appetite of epic proportions. After exploring the back streets of Gion – Kyoto’s Geisha District – and finding most restaurants closed, eventually it was just a matter of finding somewhere actually open!
I have no idea what this restaurant was called, I couldn’t even tell you what street it was on, but it served me a refreshing fizzy drink, hot tea and sticky rice topped with a runny kind of scrambled egg. It sounds like it should be really gross, but it was actually pretty tasty. Definitely not my favourite Japanese dish, but it filled the space in my tummy and didn’t contain any weird seafood like eel or sea urchin, so from that point of view, it was perfect.
After a wonderful early morning beating the crowds to explore beautiful Arashiyama bamboo forest, I had developed a minor case of the munchies. Not only that, but it was blisteringly hot and I was craving something that would cool me down and help minimise the amount of sweat pouring from my skin.
Naturally, ice cream was the answer. Ice cream is popular everywhere, but I saw more ice cream stands in Japan than I did gelato shops in Italy, which is really saying something!
Now, this ice cream was no pistachio gelato from that tiny shop five minutes away from the Duomo in Firenze, but it was still pretty good and certainly hit the spot on a muggy Japanese day.
Shin-Osaka Station, Osaka
My first encounter with a bento box (the first of many) happened at Shin-Osaka Station. I was a hungry little backpacker, the craving for sushi was intense, but I had a shinkansen to catch! Luckily, at every major train station, bento boxes are easy to come by. I bought this one for ¥800 which is about $10 AUD. The handy little boxes come with everything you need (chopsticks, ginger, wasabi, soy sauce) and are incredibly convenient to just grab and jump on a train with.
The sushi in this box was of a surprisingly high quality and except for the fish egg thing (not my cuppa tea) I loved every bite and every morsel.
Unknown Back Alleys, Hiroshima
After a big day exploring Kyoto and another shinkansen ride to Hiroshima, I was so hungry that I honestly would have eaten anything. I would even have eaten fermented shark, even though I have already experienced that disgustingness firsthand!
While getting McDonald’s or a sushi train meal would have been a quick and easy way to fill the gap, I was in the mood for something a little more authentic.
We stumbled upon a small series of back alleys with a tonne of tiny restaurants all built practically on top of each other – most of which looked chock-a-block full of locals. Eventually we stumbled upon a restaurant called Baltan – and it was one of my favourite dining experiences of the whole trip.
The place was by no means touristy. There was only Japanese menus, no pictures of the foods on offer and none of the staff spoke more than a few words of broken English.
We had absolutely no idea what was on the menu and what we were ordering. Luckily, we had found the greatest waiter in existence. This cutie (pictured below) was so keen to help us that he downloaded an app on his phone to help us order and translate for each other! With his help, we were able to order a bunch of food and drinks, and he was genuinely eager and interested to help. I apologised for my lack of Japanese and he responded by profusely apologising for not speaking English – such a sweetheart!
Cold beer, delicious sake, vegetable tempura, amazingly fresh sashimi and fried chicken were what was on offer, and pretty much everything was wonderful. I left Baltan semi drunk and supremely happy. When I return to Japan I will definitely be visiting again for another amazing meal.
Hiroshima Station, Hiroshima
To me, Japanese train rides have become synonymous with bento box consumption.
I purchased this particular box at Hiroshima Station before a long train ride to Tokyo. I had absolutely no idea what was in the box (gotta love that immersion in foreign language and culture) but it looked good and I was hungry!
It ended up being a few different rices with chicken, fried pumpkin and prawns and honestly, it was bloody good. I am not usually much of a meat eater (definitely more of a seafood gal) but this was absolutely awesome.
Bento boxes can also be purchased warm. My friend Kaisha bought this kinda chicken curry box which smelled pretty wonderful. Such good train food!
Travelling from Tokyo to Lake Kawaguchiko was motivated by the (naive) hope that we would get some good views of Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, Mt Fuji is a shy mistress and decided to hide beneath a thick blanket of clouds, which is apparently more common than not.
Despite the lack of Fuji viewings, a girl has still gotta eat! The culinary options in this holiday town ended up being rather limited and incredibly westernised (not what I want in a Japanese adventure) but I did end up finding some pretty delicious green tea ice cream. Tasting kinda like vanilla infused with tea, this ice cream went down an absolute treat on another scorchingly hot day.
On the way back to Tokyo from Lake Kawaguchiko, I had to spend a little while at Otsuki Station waiting for a connecting train. Unlike the big hubs of Shibuya and Tokyo Stations, Otsuki is absolutely tiny – not much to see or do at all. Luckily, in true Japanese style, even at the smallest of railway stations, you can always rely on the fact that there will be at least one vending machine on the platform.
The Japanese are famed for their outlandish vending machines (umbrellas anyone?) but majority of the machines at railway stations are just full of assorted drinks. This was one of the few that varied a little!
A coffee vending machine – also known as the culmination of my caffeine addicted brains fiendish dreams – appeared to me at a time when I was seriously caffeine depleted and 10/10 fixed what ailed me.
The machine served both hot and cold coffee, and with the mercury rising to above 35 degrees centigrade, an iced coffee was an easy choice.
Costing ¥120 ($1.50) my iced coffee was surprisingly tasty, perfectly icy and best of all – I didn’t get food poisoning. What more could you want?!
Roppongi is a sub-district located within the Minato district of Tokyo. For me, travel to this area was motivated by the presence of a certain cafe filled with baby hedgehogs (click here if you want to die from cuteness overload) but it is also well known for its shopping and lively nightclub scene.
I had arrived at Roppongi a little early for my cafe booking and needed to kill some time. I wasn’t overly hungry but I had a little tummy room to spare and a smoothie sounded absolutely perfect.
For the life of me I can’t remember what the name of this place was but damn its mango smoothies were delish – exactly what this traveller was hankering for.
Look at all those chunks of fresh mango – so good!
In a lot of restaurants in Japan, you don’t place your orders with a waiter/waitress like you would in a typical restaurant. At this little hole-in-the-wall noodle joint near Shibuya in Tokyo, to place an order you had to use a sort of vending machine. You put your money in, click the buttons of what you want (written in Japanese but often with pictures alongside), wait for the machine to produce a ticket and hand the ticket to the chef who will then make your order. It is actually a very seamless process, and did make ordering much easier than I had expected it to.
I ordered a beer to go with this big bowl of brothy noodles. It was a soy sauce broth base, served with perfectly cooked egg, tender pork, shallots, seaweed and thin egg noodles.
It was absolutely fricking delicious. Unfortunately, the bowl was massive and I couldn’t finish it, but if I had the room to spare you better believe I would have devoured the lot.
Side note: When you visit Japan, audibly slurping your noodles is considered polite, so much so that not slurping your noodles is downright rude. Get slurping!
Piss Alley, Tokyo
Piss Alley is made up of six small alleyways near Shinjuku Station and is packed to the brim with small eateries. It is also full of a lot of hilariously drunk Japanese businessmen blowing off steam! Sit yourself down in one of the countless little restaurants, order some noodles and let your tastebuds be transported to a pretty wonderful place.
I have no idea what these noodles were exactly, but after a few hours spent drinking in one of Tokyo’s strangest bars (click here to read more) I had to sober up a bit and these noodles were exactly what I needed.
I came back from Japan a few kilograms heavier but I really couldn’t have cared less! I ate my way through an amazing country and wouldn’t take back a single calorie…
…except maybe the 7-11 sushi.