11 Apr 4 Unique Japanese Foods
Coming from England, a land known world-wide for its bland, beige, sloppy brown dishes (that English people love), the experiments in flavours that can be found in every conbini (convenience store) zapped my taste buds into paralysis. It was like finding out there are new colours and swimming in them.
Since my trip to Japan, a day hasn’t gone by where I haven’t thought about these flavours, for better or worse. Some of them I long to be re-united with, others turn good dreams into nightmares. The theme that combines them? You won’t taste them anywhere else. Although, the Japan Nakama App might have some clues as to where you could find them in London.
1. Meiji Meltykiss: Matcha
I came across these when my AirBnB was double-booked in Tokyo. The owner of the flat came zooming round on a moped and apologetically handed me a bag of goodies and ¥30,000, before opening up the flat next door and waving goodbye. As well as meeting the kindest AirBnB owner on the planet, I was introduced to Meltykiss: Matcha.
The flavour of matcha is common all over Japan and while it is possible to get in other countries, you will have some difficulty. The texture of the matcha-centered chocolate cube was entirely new to me as well. It was soft, smooth and lightly dusted with cocoa. The apology goodie-bag also contained Strawberry flavour Meiji Meltykiss, but strawberries exist everywhere, so that product doesn’t belong in this article.
2. Tonkotsu Ramen
After a night out in Tokyo’s infamous Golden Gai, I plonked my sorry-self down in a ramen joint and ordered something I couldn’t read off a touchscreen. A few moments later, a pair of hands poked through a square in the wall and lo-and-behold, my ramen had arrived.
It was definitely my own fault for not being able to read Japanese at the time. The restaurant had zero human interaction (apart from a mysterious pair of hands). What I ordered can only be described as a mistake. The noodles squelched in a thick broth of pig fat, off-yellow oil droplets glistening in the buzzing electronic light. I braved only a few admirable shlurps before the eclectic mix of sake, Sambuca and beer began threatening me with a social revolution, a mass movement from my stomach onto the streets of Tokyo. I gave in to the baying crowd’s appeals and left my bowl of congealing pig fat uneaten.
3. Pizza Man
This conbini classic sits nice and fat on a hot-tray next to the till amongst other warm, doughy delights. The endearing quality of the idea behind this one is what enthralled me more than its plump, gently heated counterparts. It’s essentially a pizza in steamed-bun form, or at least it thinks it is. It doesn’t taste like pizza at all.
This is the flavour of Japanese festivity. At the base of Fushimi Inari-taisha, Shōgatsu 2016, lines of stalls squeezed sweet red bean paste and a sweet pastry into fish-shaped molds. Watching the long queues of people, young and old, waiting to give their money to the shrines and ask the kami for a fruitful year, I nibbled on my sweet fish-shaped treat. My experience of the temples and festivities in Kyoto at new year is recalled in fireworks, spiritual statues in shrines and the flavour of anko. It’s a very sweet snack that I can’t really describe by means of other flavours here in England – because there’s nothing like it.