I have never had Japanese food in my life before going to Japan. Unless, of course, you count that one time I had vegetarian sushi in a Chinese restaurant in Sweden where I had to use chopsticks and became the centre of general amusement. And now I am in Japan. Being a self proclaimed foodie and getting giddy at the mere thought of a good meal, I had to give it a go. From there I never stopped.
A Street Full of Edible Wonders
I’ll tell you a little secret. If you are landing in Narita airport, don’t head to Tokyo to see the sights straight away, but instead rest your head in the little old temple town. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll discover – and I’m not only talking about Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, which is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Japan. I am talking about the 800m long street that stretches between it and the train station.
Grab yourself a map from the tourist information and take a closer look at the delicacies explicitly pointed out there. That’s for a very obvious reason, they are not to be missed. Even though, I must confess I chickened out of trying the grilled eel (unaju). But if you like fish and everything seafood, you should definitely try it (and tell me all about it).
What else should be on your plate or – more like it – in your hands is all kinds of other street food. This is easy to do since the whole street is made up of street shops that have been selling their products for ages, specialising in regional delicacies and common Japanese foods with a regional twist. If you don’t know what I mean, just step by one of the many rice cracker or pickle shops. A very Japanese thing but you can find them here in all kinds of flavours and preparations.
The Usual Japanese Dish but Different
For instance, try teppozuke, a popular pickle made from uri melons that are stuffed with green cayenne that is wrapped in shiso leaves. Then, senbei are the rice crackers I mentioned. They are made from chiba and can be eaten pure or sprinkled with herbs and seeds. Then, we have the sora anpann, which is particular to Narita. These are buns made from local produce and also come in different shapes and flavours. There is even one with teppozuke. Go figure.
I bet by now you are wondering when I am going to mention drinks? Any specific one in mind? Green tea, of course. (Yeah, sake, too.) You can get that anywhere. In supermarkets, shops or even at the pharmacist. And not only do you get green tea as a drink but also in everything. Cookies, chocolate, milk powder and ice cream. But we’ll get to the ice cream later. For now, you should stack up on all kinds of Kit Kats you can find. Nowhere else than in Japan can you find Kit Kat flavours this crazy (just try lemon cheesecake).
But general grocery shopping is a whole different topic by itself. Why not have filling soba and udon noodles made from buckwheat or wheat and served by itself or with other ingredients, such as fish or soup. For dessert, try yokan. These are sweets made from gelled beans or manju, which are buns filled with sweet bean jam. Beans are all the rage here.
All about Soba and Ice Cream even in this Combination
While we are talking buns, hop over to Nagano, the famous starting place for your snow monkey adventures, and stuff yourself with oyaki, the local bun variations. Filled with beans, pumpkin, onions and other various cooked ingredients. A special kind are the sakamanjyu, which you can get – yet again – on the main street. And said main street will be your go-to place for all things foodie. It seriously took me three hours to make it from the train station to the Zenkoji Temple because of all the temptation. (What is it with foodie streets between train stations and major temples anyway?!).
Again, get yourself a local map which conveniently has the main foodie places marked and illustrated, too. Check out another pickled delicacy, called tsukemono, which I didn’t find spectacular at all. What I found worth trying, though, were the many different sweets. I recommend trying soba crepes and galletes. They even come with a mini cake or sausage and salad! What I highly discourage you to try is gelled maroons and miso ice cream. Miso really should stay in the soup. It was yuck.
On top of that, there are so many different soft ice cream flavours to choose from, why take one that is just weird? (I know right, why did I try it, then?! Someone had to.) Other weirdness to choose from are black mineral bamboo, grey sesame, blue soda and all other colours of the rainbow. I will definitely try them out the next time I get the chance. If you don’t have such a sweet tooth like me and instead like it hot, check out the shichimi togarashi shop selling different spices and even Kit Kat with the same!