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.
There’s something unspeakly fascinating about Japanese food. And it’s not just in the refined Sushi and Sashimi that we’ve all been made aware of.
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. Here are 4 unique Japanese dishes you must try when travelling through Japan!
I came across these when my AirBnB was double-booked in Tokyo. The owner of the flat came zooming around 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-centred 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.
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.
You’re in luck btw, just because you haven’t jetted off yet to the land of the rising sun. We have some Ramen restaurant recommendations to try in London in the meantime.
3. Pizza Man
When travelling, there’s no better way to explore your local express unique Japanese dishes than in a konbini. aka Japanese convenient stores. Pizza Man is a konbini classic that sits nice and flat 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 moulds. 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. This very sweet snack is one of those unique Japanese dishes that you don’t normally find in the UK. I can’t really describe anything of comparison here in England – because there’s nothing like it.
If you experienced some unique Japanese dishes that I didn’t cover, mention them in the comments and we’ll make sure to hit them up on our next trip.