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.
44 thoughts on “ELLEN EATS | JAPAN”
Wonderful. Love everything Japanese especially the food and it’s great to see you experience it all.
The food was easily one of my favourite parts of travelling through Japan. Definitely my favourite destination for food this year!
Absolutely beautiful food and great commentary as always!
Thank you! I loved writing this post, Japanese food is so much fun!
I love your blogs and Japan is definitely on my list .thank you for sharing wonderful articles and beautiful pics …
Any plans to visit soon?
I posted a whole gallery on the food of Japan from my twelve days. I even ate the salmon and the runny eggs and sea urchin when served to me. I grew up a finicky eater, but when someone asked if I found anything to eat in Japan, the answer was a resounding “you bet!”
You and me would get on very well indeed! I had the same attitude in japan – I wanted to try anything and everything!
Love the blog, especially your travels in Japan. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to live in Japan for 3 years. Several of your stops were places I visited. Kyoto is my favorite city of all time. Visitors would be surprised at the variety of foods. Different regions also have specialties. I lived in Fukuoka in southwest Japan. There was a lot of Chinese and Korean influence in the cuisine of Kyushu.
Okonomiyake was a favorite food to try all over Japan. Each region did it a little differently. Okonomiyake is a cabbage pancake with all sorts of different ingredients. While it sounds horrible, it actually is quite tasty. I have even made it in the United States.
Eating out is a Japanese pastime. Fukuoka was famous for its yattai, or outdoor eateries. Food trucks have become very popular in the US, and this is similar. Vendors would set up tables, chairs, lights and tents on the sidewalks and grill up food on the street. With plenty of beer and sake flowing, this was a great way to spend time with friends after work.
Bento boxes (like the ones in your blog) were also tasty. The best bento boxes I found were in the basements of large department stores in the cities.
I’ve got to chime in and agree with you that Okonomiyaki is delicious! I found that the portians were enormous too – it certainly fills you up!
I am making note of all of these tips for when I return to Japan! I cannot wait to try even more amazing Japanese food.
Making me crave Japanese food and another adventure. I love going to local spots for a true flavour of a place.
They truly are the best places to experience foreign cuisine!
Making me want Japanese food and another adventure that is not so. Lose to home!
I love eating at local places, the food is always so much tastier, socializing more fun, translations hilarious. Thank you for your Japanese epicurean adventure.
My pleasure! Thank you for reading, I loved writing about my Japanese cuisine binge!
How long did you stay in Japan? I think either Cuba or there will be 2017’s big trip!
Only a week 🙁 I honestly could have stayed for several months!
I reread the post when I had more time and realised you mentioned how long you’d spent – oops! I think I wanna teach English in Japan, see how it compares to China. It seems you saw a fair bit in one week!
Seems very good!
It really was! Japan is such an amazing culinary explosion!
The most amazing thing about Japanese food is that you can eat so much and not get fat…yummo
I actually put on weight in Japan! I think I possibly overindulged just a bit too much haha
So easy to do…the food is irresistible!
Setting serious travel goals for amateurs like me! Loved reading it and ogling at the pictures!
Glad to hear it! Hopefully you can get to Japan in the near future!
Our bento boxes look so mediocre in comparison. Although I still like to get one when I’m waiting for a train. Something about trains and bento just seem to work.
Heck yes – so true! I have not yet found a true bento box while in Australia – hopefully that changes soon!
I think that’s surprising considering that Australia is much closer to Japan than Canada is. And I imagine the seafood would just be spectacular anywhere near the coast.
These pictures of Tokyo take me back. Love it. And I’m going to keep asking you this until you answer me: HOW IN GOD’S NAME ARE YOU TRAVELING LIKE THIS??!?!?? 😉
As I have said before – have patience haha
Sounds like Japanese hospitality and the eagerness to help foreign tourists definitely puts our own ‘first world’ countries’ attitudes towards foreigners to shame!!
You are so right! Japanese people are easily some of the most welcoming and hospitable people I have ever met. The rest of the world could learn a lot from Japan!
I’ve got to agree with you that Japanese bento boxes are AMAZING! But I’m pleased to find someone else who couldn’t stand the salmon roe either. I really couldn’t stomach that, and I don’t quite know how to describe the taste.
I’d certainly also add street foods like Takoyaki and Taiyaki to the list! The shaved ice looked amazing too, not that I ever got round to trying it.
I didn’t get a chance to try those! I will have to when I return to Japan!
Definitely do, they’re so good!
Oh Japanese food is amazing! When I visited Kawaguchiko I managed to try corn ice cream… don’t think I’ll ever have it again, but it was certainly an experience!
Omg corn! What did it taste like?
It actually did taste like corn… it wasn’t really a good thing!
Tokyo, and Japan, needs to be atop every travelers list. I have been dreaming of a return ever since my first short stint (3 days) back in 2013. Sensory overload.
Sensory overload is the perfect way to describe it – such a wonderful place!
The food in Japan is amazing. Loved your post. Did you try okonomiyaki in Hiroshima?
Thanks for posting this, and about your trip to Japan, I have another trip about to get booked, thanks to you 🙂