Japan

Japan is a foodie paradise.

Tokyo has the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world (230!), beef from Japanese cattle (wagyu) is coveted in the West’s fanciest restaurants, and a Japanese chemist was the one who first coined the word umami. Japan’s cuisine has even been added to UNESCO’s list of intangible world heritage.

After a recent trip to Japan, I’m taken by the quality of food, no matter where you go. From noodles to sushi to wagyu, these were some of my favorite meals.

Below are some of the various dishes I tried:

  • Udon noodles
    • Thick, chewy noodles that vary throughout Japan, including stir fry yaki udon and curry udon originating from India.
    • The curry beef udon noodles from a small shop in the backstreets of Kyoto were my second favorite meal in Japan. I couldn’t stop until I drank the entire bowl.

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  •  Ramen
    • While you may think you know ramen, nearly every region in Japan has its own variation, with different kinds of broth, ingredients and noodles.
    • Best ordered from a vending machine, or in the ANA lounge in Narita airport.
  • Soba noodles
    • Thin buckwheat noodles served either dry (with a cold dipping sauce) or wet (in a hot broth). Also often ordered from a vending machine.
  • Wagyu beef
    • There are actually different kinds of Wagyu beef, ‘wagyu’ being the word for Japanese cattle.
    • In Osaka, I ate at Matsusakagyu Yakuniku M, which, as the name suggests, specializes in matsusaka beef, which only comes from heifers of a black cattle breed in the Matsusaka region in Japan. It’s considered one of the top three beefs in Japan, alongside kobe and omi. This was the best meal of my life. It needs nothing more than a pinch of salt and a drip of soy sauce.
  •  Sushi
    • Walking into Daiwa Sushi at 5:30am as the sun is rising over the Tokyo fish market, I took a seat at the empty bar and ordered omakase, or chef’s choice. What proceeded were different kinds of tuna, uni, eel and squid nigiri, miso soup and tamago (an egg omelette – it was breakfast, after all). The experience was quick and fantastic, though there are numerous spots for fantastic sushi in Tokyo.
    • If you are able to perform miracles, go to Sukiyabashi Jiro of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame. The famous locale was recently dropped from the Michelin guide for being too exclusive. Seriously, if you aren’t Barack Obama or friends with the chef, forget about it.
    • At AWOMB in Kyoto, you can try a very different sushi experience – a kind of ‘DIY sushi’ that comes with detailed instructions on heating up your broth, taking your rice and seaweed, and mixing various seafood, sauces and vegetables to create a combination that absolutely wows your senses. This was a unique experience that I highly recommend.
  • Takoyaki
    • A popular street food dish in Osaka consisting of octopus, mayo and dried bonito flakes.
  • Yakitori
    • Skewers, often chicken. Even though I went to a Michelin-starred place in Tokyo, yakitori is not the most exciting food, in my opinion. Chicken can only get so exciting.
  • Other popular dishes include karaage (Japanese fried chicken), tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and tempura (battered and deep fried veggies or shrimp).
  • And finally, Japanese pancakes
    • These baby-soft, melt-in-your-mouth, jiggly pancakes have become an internet sensation. While you wouldn’t eat this for breakfast every day, they’re worth trying.

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Where to eat in Houston:

  • Uchi
    • Everyone’s favorite spot in Houston and Austin, especially if someone else is paying.
    • What to get? Uni, wagyu nigiri and anything else you can afford
    • And for an Uchi / Franklin’s BBQ collaboration, try Loro in Austin!
  • Kata Robata
    • Listed as the #1 restaurant in Houston, per Alison Cook for the Houston Chronicle.
    • The first time I went here, I was not impressed. Their dishes are hit and miss, so it’s important to choose the right ones.
    • What to get? O-toro nigiri (melts in your mouth like butter), ceviche, kobe beef skewers, grilled oyster mushrooms, pork miso gyoza, pork shumai, ocean picante roll, green tea soufflé cheesecake and warm blueberry cake
  • Blackbird Izakaya
    • A cute restaurant in the Heights with surprisingly good izakaya food, which is the Japanese equivalent of bar food and so much better than our own.
    • What to get? Foie hot pot, ramen, ceviche and skewers

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