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Monday, 20 February 2017

14 must-eat dishes in Japan that aren’t Sushi

If you’ve ever seen a masterful sushi chef at work, it’s a beautiful sight—the way he slices through each piece of fish with exacting precision before he molds the glistening strip of seafood to a ball of vinegared rice. Concentrated and quiet, it’s like he’s putting on a performance. And as beautiful as it is, perhaps you’re not a fan of the raw delicacy (the texture, the fishiness—it’s okay, we get it), or maybe you can’t imagine having it day in and day out on, say, a weeklong trip to Japan. Fret not because while raw fish may be the star of Japanese cuisine, there is so much more that’s ready to be devoured. Here, a look at 14 must-eat dishes that aren’t nigiri or sashimi.

Udon

A thick white noodle made of wheat flour, udon can either be served cold with a dipping sauce, stir-fried, or, most frequently, in a hot, mild broth made of mirin, dashi, and soy sauce. Accompaniments range from sweetened deep-fried tofu (kitsune udon) to tempura shrimp and vegetables. One of the best bowls can be found at Yamamotomenzou in Kyoto, where the silky smooth noodles are handmade and have the perfect amount of chewiness to them. Make sure to finish off your meal with their homemade almond jelly—it won’t disappoint.

Sukiyaki

Tender, thin slices of beef cooked in sugar and soy sauce with vegetables in an iron pot, kansai-style sukiyaki is addictive, and so, so scrumptious. Remove your shoes and take a seat on the tatami floor at Iroha Kitamise in Kyoto and prepare yourself for a delightful meal.

Oden

Boiled eggs, daikon, fishcakes, shirataki (noodles made from konnyaku), and different sorts of tofu are stewed in a light, soy-flavored dashi broth to create this ultimate Japanese winter comfort food. Pick and choose which ingredients you want, add a few ladles of soup, and enjoy. You can find it in markets, but convenience stores like Lawson and 7-Eleven have some pretty impressive oden as well.

Tonkatsu

Whether you choose to eat it with Japanese curry, over a bowl of rice with egg and vegetables katsudon-style, or just by itself, tonkatsu will change your mind about fried pork cutlet. In Tokyo, highly lauded Maisen lets you choose from a variety of hog breed and different cuts of meat, including kurobuta, the holy grail of pork, but Tonki, which takes a homier approach, is right up there with them on the list of where to order this panko-breaded delight.

Hitsumabushi

Similar to unadon, hitsumabushi is a specialty of Nagoya, Japan, where the eel laid over a bowl of rice is divided into four sections. First, you eat the unagi as it is, then you add the seasonings provided (such as seaweed, scallions, and wasabi), which is followed by combining it with dashi broth chazuke-style before you devour the last portion whichever way you most preferred it. Atsuta Houraiken has three locations where you can enjoy a set of beautifully grilled eel.

Ramen

This noodle soup dish is probably just as popular as sushi these days. Typically served in a meat-based broth and garnished with scallions, seaweed, beansprouts, fatty pork chashu, and a soft-boiled, soy sauce–marinated egg, it’s exactly what you want on a cold winter day. There’s of course the popular chain Ichiran, the world’s first Michelin-rated ramen joint in Tokyo that spoons out a dollop of crushed black truffle into your bowl; Shingen Ramen in Sapporo for a miso-based broth that Hokkaido prefecture is known for; Ginza Kagari in Tokyo, which specializes in a rich chicken-based stock; and Ramen Sen no Kaze, tucked away in an alley behind a shopping arcade in Kyoto that makes a full-bodied, creamy tonkotsu soup so good it’ll touch your soul.

Tempura

Not all fried food is created equally. When it comes to tempura, the key to a successful dish is a batter so light that it creates an incredibly fluffy, but crunchy coating around the seafood or vegetables being briefly submerged into hot oil. Dip the golden bites into tentsuyu with grated daikon or sprinkle a little matcha salt for some added flavor. If you’re in Tokyo, pay a visit to Kondo for the full experience, where chefs fry everything in front of you, served directly from pot to plate.

Hittsumi-jiru

A dish representative of Iwate prefecture, the star of hittsumi-jiru is the pieces of dough that have been pinched into wide, uneven strips of uniquely chewy goodness. At Morioka Mikoda Asaichi, a morning market dedicated to selling fresh produce, you’ll find a tiny stall where husband and wife dole out bowls of this hearty noodle soup filled with scallions, tofu, mushrooms, and shredded carrots and burdock root. It’s exactly what you’ll need to battle the cold morning air.

Yakitori

If you can skewer it, then you can make yakitori out of it. Not all grilled meat is created equal, however. Tokyo’s Toriyoshi is a high-end version of this late-night izakaya favorite. The menu focuses on a variety of fowl (and its parts) and seasonal vegetables. It's cooked directly over charcoal, and you can’t go wrong with duck, okra, quail eggs, or even the liver with an egg yolk attached to the end. The chawanmushi, an egg custard with seafood and vegetables mixed in, is also another must-order item here—delicate and silky, it’s the perfect accompaniment to your meal.

Okonomiyaki and takoyaki

Both specialties of Osaka, okonomiyaki and takoyaki are savory flour-based foods that are somewhat similar. The fomer is pancake-like and prepared on a griddle, filled with ingredients like octopus, squid, pork, and cabbage, and topped with a sweet sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, seaweed powder, and bonito flakes, while the latter is about the size of a golf ball, typically stuffed with octopus, and has the same toppings as its flat counterpart. For okonomiyaki, Chibo and Ajinoya have some of the best in town whereas takoyaki is more of a street food and stalls are ubiquitous, however Wanaka’s are particularly tasty.

Onigiri

Rice balls molded into a triangular shape and wrapped in seaweed, they’re somehow so simple yet so delicious. Eat them plain or filled with ingredients like umeboshi (pickled plum), ikura (salmon roe), karaage (fried chicken), kakuni (braised pork), and shiozake (flakes of salted salmon), they’re the perfect snack when you’re on the go. To find onigiri, head to a convenience store or to the basement level of a department store or major train station, where a wonderland of food awaits you.

Matsusaka beef

Despite it being more expensive and receiving accolades greater than Kobe, Matsusaka is relatively unknown to many. The cattle must be of kuroge washu (Japanese Black) breed and be a female virgin cow that lives in the Matsusaka region. With a high fat content and beautiful marbling, the meat is so tender that it just melts in your mouth. If you can’t make it to Mie prefecture to relish the high-grade beef in its namesake city, make a reservation at Matsusakagyu Yakiniku M, Hozenji Yokocho in Osaka, where you can grill each morsel over a gridiron yourself. Whether you decide to order a preset course or à la carte from the 12 different cuts available to you, just don’t forget the garlic rice as a side.

Warabimochi

We couldn’t forget dessert now, could we? Unlike what you typically imagine when you think of mochi, warabimochi is jellylike rather than dense and chewy. Made from bracken starch, the confection is first covered in kinako (roasted soybean flour) before being dipped into kuromitsu (black sugar syrup). Gion Tokuya in Kyoto has some of the best warabimochi, and also has green tea–flavored kuzumochi—served with green tea kinako and azuki (sweet red bean) paste—if you want to mix and match.

(Source: Vogue)

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