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Japan is surely one of my favourite countries in the whole world, and one I will never tire of visiting over and over again. In fact, I already have plans to visit at least once a year for the next few years!
The reasons I love this wonderful nation are many and varied. I love how helpful, polite and respectful of personal space the people are. I love how everything is neat, orderly, well organised and thoughtfully planned, from the transport schedules right down to the considerate placement of more than enough hooks and platforms in restrooms on which to place your bags and keep them clean. I love the weird and the wacky, the kawaii (cute), and the abundance of beauty in everything, from the stunning natural scenery, to the care and precision in which their food is prepared and presented. Oh, the food! If there was only one cuisine that I could eat for the rest of my life, surely it would be Japanese.
So, without further ado, here are the most delicious and memorable foods I ate on my most recent trip to Japan, city by city. Some are meals at specific places, some are just simple snacks. But all have in common the fact that just thinking about them now, I am still salivating!
1. Tsukemen ramen (dipping noodles) at Rokurinsha
I first discovered this place in the basement of Tokyo Station on my first trip to Japan a couple of years ago. Just follow the signs at the station to Tokyo Ramen Street, walk all the way to the end, and join the massive queue that snakes around the corner – you can’t miss it! But to make sure you queue up at the right spot, here’s a photo of their signboard.
As an added bonus, it’s situated across the corridor from a souvenir store with an excellent selection of unique Japanese flavoured Kit Kats, so if you’re there with a friend, you could take turns doing some shopping while you wait for what is one of the most delicious bowls of noodles you will ever taste in your life – I guarantee it! Alternatively, if you’re a solo traveller like me, aim to head there outside of peak meal times. I made the mistake of rocking up the first time smack bang in the middle of lunch and had to wait 2-3 hours. This time, I rocked up between 4-5pm and “only” waited 1-1.5 hours. If you’re thinking I’m crazy, just remember that this is Tokyo, so there’s no other way around it. Resign yourself to waiting if you want the best food.
You should also familiarise yourself with the ticket machines that are widely used in Japan in order to place your order. They’re basically like vending machines. The most popular eating spots will have photos to assist tourists unfamiliar with Japanese kanji and hiragana. Just press the button next to the most appetising looking picture, insert the correct amount of money, collect your ticket, and hand it in at the counter.
So what makes the noodles so outstanding? Not only are they cooked perfectly – soft and smooth with just the right amount of bite – they’re served with a perfectly runny in the middle egg and the richest, meatiest, creamy broth that will have you savouring every bite of noodle that you dip into it. Here’s a close up shot of that hearty goodness with some noodles ready for my sluuuuurp.
And what the heck, here’s another close up shot of those succulent noodles.
Hours: 7.30-10am and 10.30am-11pm daily
Address: 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; in Tokyo Station, near Yaesu South Exit, B1F basement floor
2. Zaru udon (cold udon) at Shin Udon
This was another discovery from my first trip to Japan, and like Rokurinsha, I couldn’t leave Tokyo without making a special visit to Shinjuku, just so I could enjoy at least one bowl of these delicious noodles, which are not only handmade, but are also cut and boiled to order, ensuring a perfectly silky smooth texture, again with just the right amount of bite. Tucked into an out-of-the-way alleyway, nevertheless you’ll know you’ve rocked up to the right spot once you sight the queue patiently waiting outside the little wood and tile shopfront puffing out clouds of steam. Thank your lucky stars that this shop is not in a more prominent location, otherwise for sure the wait would be much longer than the current 30-60 minutes.
Both cold zaru udon and warm kake udon are served, along with a range of toppings and side dishes, but to truly enjoy the noodles, I suggest ordering the tenzaru cold udon and tempura set pictured above. The dipping sauce has a rich deep flavour yet somehow manages to stay light and fresh, while the tempura is so crisp, you can hear every bite from the customers seated closest to you. If you prefer a warm bowl of noodles, the kake udon is equally delicious…but take my word for it, the zaru udon will knock your socks off!
Hours: 11am-11pm Sun-Thurs (last order 10pm), 11am-midnight Fri and Sat (last order 11pm)
Address: 2-20-16 Yoyogi, Shibuya, Tokyo; 5-10 minutes walk from Shinjuku Station, not too far from Keio Plaza Hotel
3. Omakase course (chef’s selection) at Sushi Dai
So here’s the deal – this sushi is nothing short of life-changing. You will never taste another sushi as fresh or sublime, that is, and here’s the catch, unless you’re prepared to queue for another 3-4 hours to eat here again.
Taking my cue from various online resources, I rocked up at Tsukiji Fish Market at around 4am, hoping to snag a spot at the world famous tuna auction – I missed out by a mere 15 minutes, I was told. Having splurged on a cab to get there at this early hour (as public transport wasn’t up and running yet), I decided I might as well make full use of my cab fare and effort by sampling whatever was on offer at the much sought after Sushi Dai. Knowing that I was there even before the shop had even opened to the public, surely I would be front in line. How wrong I was! Roughly 1 hour before opening time, I found myself at the back of an already sizeable queue that snaked around the block. Standing there in the dark and cold, I repeatedly found myself thinking, “This better be worth it!”
And boy, was it ever? For the first and probably the last time ever, I tasted sushi the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Each piece is placed directly onto the counter before you only when you are ready to pick it up, meaning the rice is still slightly warm and the fish is perfectly fresh and moist. So fresh, in fact, that the flesh melts in your mouth. The sushi is perfectly moulded for maximal compact flavour yet each grain of rice remains distinct. The perfect amount of wasabi and seasoning is already added, so that there is no need to dip the sushi into the usual wasabi/soy sauce mix. Just pop each piece in your mouth and float into sushi heaven!
Hours: 5am-2pm Mon-Sat
Address: Tsukiji Ichiba Building 6, 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
4. Okonomiyaki at Sometaro
Okonomiyaki is a substantial Japanese pancake filled with an assortment of delicious vegetables, seafood, egg, and sometimes noodles. What’s not to like? By far the best okonomiyaki I’ve ever tasted can be found in this unassuming traditional Japanese shop in a quiet street in Asakusa.
Hours: 12-10pm daily
Address: 2-2-2 Nishi Asakusa (west Asakusa), Taito-ku, Tokyo
Read more about my experience and how to find the shop here.
5. Shinkansen bento
I won’t lie – this isn’t the best sushi you’ll taste in Japan. But it’s served in a shinkansen shaped container that you can take home with you as a souvenir, while you’re (hopefully) riding the shinkansen. It really doesn’t get much more exciting than that. Just look at how delighted I was with my meal!
We found them at Ekiben, situated at the platform where you catch the shinkansen at Tokyo Station.
Hours: 5.30am-11pm daily
Address: 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
6. Uni (sea urchin) rice porridge at Uni Murakami
If you’re heading to Hakodate, make sure you make a reservation for this place or you’ll leave disappointed! As to be expected from its name, this restaurant specialises in sea urchin, which you can enjoy a myriad of ways including as a gratin, tempura style, or as an uni don rice bowl. We tried them all, and the collective favourite was the rich, sweet, creamy rice porridge. Next time, I’m getting a whole bowl to myself!
Hours: 9am-2.30pm and 5-10pm daily in summer (1 May-30 Sept), 11am-2.30pm and 5-10pm in winter (1 Oct-30 April), except closed Wednesdays
Address: 22-1 Otemachi, Hakodate; in the Hakodate Asaichi morning market
7. Crab ramen at Ramen Kamome
Also located within the Hakodate morning market (in fact, you don’t really need to leave this area if all you’re after is good food!), you’ll find this little ramen store that’s run single-handedly by the owner and serves just up to 8 customers at a time on counter stools. The miso-based soup is slightly lighter than usual, but delivers richness in flavour by the spadeful. Spades full of crabs, sea urchin, squid, scallops and shrimps, to be precise. If you love seafood, this is another meal that shouldn’t be missed!
Hours: 6.30am-3pm daily
Address: 8-8 Wakamatsucho, Hakodate; in the Hakodate Asaichi morning market
8. Cuttlefish sticks with black sesame seeds
I never saw these anywhere else, so if you come across them in the Hakodate morning market, make sure you pick up a few packets. Growing up in Malaysia, I loved very similar tasting fish sticks, however the addition of a layer of black sesame seeds is ingenious in imparting a lovely textural contrast as well as a slightly sweet and exceedingly fragrant flavour.
9. King crab steamed buns
I almost left Hakodate without trying these because I felt that I had eaten too much already. What a shame that would have been! Please do not walk by these, and make sure you splurge on one filled with king crab and not snow crab or a mixture of crab and potato. The dough is soft and fluffy, and the bun is packed full of delicious sweet crab meat.
10. Sakura (cherry blossom) soft serve cone at Goryokaku Tower
I love the delicate flavour of sakura, which is something like a subtler, more sophisticated version of strawberry. You can’t go wrong ordering anything in sakura flavour, but this soft serve cone that I purchased at the observation level of Goryokaku Tower was simply to die for! Oh, and let’s not forget that view!
Once you’re done enjoying your ice-cream and the view of the star-shaped fort below, head downstairs to the souvenir store and purchase some sakura latte. I only wish I’d brought home more than one pack!
Hours: 8am-7pm from 21 April-20 Oct, 9am-6pm from 21 Oct-20 April
Address: 43-9 Goryokaku-cho, Hakodate
Admission fee: 900 yen for adults, 680 yen for junior and high school students, 450 yen for elementary school students, free for children under 5
11. Snaffles original cheesecake
You can find these at various locations in Hokkaido (and even in Singapore!), but this chain of patisseries originated in Hakodate…so why not get it from the source? They sell an assortment of delicious looking pastries and cakes, but please do not leave without trying their original cheesecake. We sampled both the original and chocolate versions, and found that the addition of chocolate made the cheesecake that little bit denser. The original version, on the other hand, is like biting into a cloud – smooth, light, fluffy, creamy, perfect!
We purchased ours from the gourmet food level of the Marui Imai store on our day trip to Goryokaku Park.
Hours: 10am-7pm daily
Address: 32-15 Honcho, Hakodate
You can also get them at the Hakodate train station.
12. Hokkaido sweet corn
There’ll be no shortage of corn and corn-based snacks as you travel around Hokkaido, but I personally only came across this pale, almost white, variety at the Hakodate morning market, which is a shame because fresh was my favourite way to enjoy Hokkaido’s corn. This was another treat I almost bypassed altogether owing to feeling like I had already over-indulged just 3 days into my trip, and because…you know, just how good could a cob of corn be? Lucky for me, they sell it conveniently already parboiled and vacuum packed for easy transport. It wasn’t until I was sitting down resting my feet at Nakajima Park, after having walked in a very circuitous fashion all the way there from Sapporo Station, that I pulled out the cob and found myself biting into the sweetest, juiciest, most succulent and – this really is the only word for it – crispiest fresh corn I have ever tasted. Do yourself a favour – buy more than one to take on the road with you!
LAKE TOYA, HOKKAIDO
13. Scallop katsu curry at Sendoan, Wakasaimo Main Store
The Lake Toya region is known for scallops, and at Sendoan, you can enjoy them crumbed and fried to a delicious crispness with a generous pouring of rich thick salty sweet Japanese curry sauce. Served on a bed of fluffy rice, this is comfort food at its finest. And with the glorious view of Lake Toya right outside the floor length windows, life just doesn’t get much better than this.
If you can still fit anything else in, pop back downstairs to the souvenir store section of the building for the most generous selection of food samples (read: free dessert!) I have ever come across anywhere in Japan so far.
Hours: 11am-7pm daily
Address: 1-4-4 Toyakoonsen, Toyako-cho; towards the western end of town not far from the lakeside promenade
14. Crab feast at Kani Honke
There are more than one Kani Honke store, but the one we went to and the one you surely can’t miss is situated just a few blocks south of the main train station. Just keep walking until you see the giant crab mounted onto the building front. Be warned though, such prominence combined with such great food can only equal popularity – we suggest pre-booking.
On offer, there’s hair crab, snow crab and king crab. These can be enjoyed boiled for you to savour their natural sweetness, or in all manner of other guises including a hot pot, sashimi or sushi, omelette, dumplings, tempura, tofu, or my personal favourite, the utterly delicious fried crab meat on shell (like a gratin with a crisp and flaky buttery topping). But really, everything on offer is good, so I would recommend turning up with a few friends so you can order as many dishes as possible to share between the lot of you.
Hours: 11.30am-10pm daily except closed 31 December (Ekimae store, ie in front of the train station)
Address: 1-18 2-chome Kitasanjyo-Nishi, Chuouku, Sapporo
15. Shiroi Koibito cookies
Here’s the thing – you can get these cookies anywhere, including tax-free at the airport for exactly the same tax-free price you pay at the factory in Sapporo. But it’s infinitely more fun to spend half a day walking the part Disney, part Willy Wonka grounds of the Shiroi Koibito factory. The best thing? If you don’t go on the factory tour, it’s FREE!
While you’re there, don’t forget to sample some of the fresh parfaits and cakes. And make sure you get some of the Mi-Fu-Yu (millefeuille) to take home as well. I tried the green tea and sakura, both of which had lovely complex intense flavours and a delightfully crunchy, flaky centre. The Shiroi Koibito cookies, on the other hand, are delicious in their buttery crispness with just the right amount of chocolate sandwiched in between. The Hiroba biscuits are quite good too, with the bonus that they come in different flavours like orange, cheese or black sesame, but if you ask me, the original Shiroi Koibito cookies have them beat in texture and more-ishness. Next time, I’m bringing home a lot more than one box!
Hours: 9am-6pm (last admission 5pm, shop closes 7pm)
Address: 2-jo 2-chome Miyanosawa, Nishi-ku, Sapporo; take the Tozai subway line from Odori station (about 20 minutes) to Miyanosawa station (about 7 minutes walk to the factory), then consider doing as we did and taking the bus from Nishimachi kita 20-chome bus stop (about 7 minutes walk down the road right in front of the factory) to Otaru for a jam-packed gourmet day (see below)
Factory tour cost: 600 yen for high school students and older, 200 yen for junior high school students and younger, free for 3 years and under
16. Squid noodles and sushi set at Masazushi Honten
I hadn’t been game to try an entire serve of squid noodles in Hakodate, so jumped at the chance when I saw that a small portion was on offer here as part of a sushi set. As it turned out, the sushi, though tasty, was nowhere near as good as what’s on offer at Sushi Dai in Tokyo (I told you this place is life-changing!), so the dish that really stood out for me was the squid. Extremely fresh and sliced finely, they really did taste like cold soba noodles, with no hint whatsoever of the sliminess that I’d been expecting. Served with a light dipping sauce, this was an incredibly refreshing dish. I only wish there had been more!
Address: 1-1-1 Hanazono, Otaru; diagonally across the road from the Otaru Canal Cafeteria (ie across the road from the canal walk)
17. 6 or 8 layer ice-cream at Kitaichi Glass No. 3 Terrace
This obscure little snack shop is tucked right at the back of a dark alleyway, but there are signs on the main street to show you the way once you’re in the general vicinity. Since one of the 8 layers is simply a chocolate/vanilla swirl, and another one is lavender/vanilla, we decided to dial down the calories a little and only indulged in the 6 layer version. They are, from top to bottom: chocolate, milk, rockmelon, lavender, green tea, and raspberry. All were amazingly smooth and delicious in that light, delicate, not overly sweet way that the Japanese have mastered, though the green tea was not as intense as I usually like. I was surprised to find myself enjoying the natural flavour of Hokkaido milk the most. Rockmelon was also a surprising standout, as it’s not one of my favourite fruits.
Hours: 11am-5pm daily
Address: 7-26 Sakaimachi, Otaru; at the end of a little alleyway off the main Sakaimachi Dori street, in the vicinity of the Le Tao Head Store
18. Cake and coffee/tea set at Gin no Kane
OK, so there’s nothing particularly gourmet about the cake and beverages at this store, but, since the Japanese do not serve substandard food, all are perfectly respectable in terms of flavour and texture. In fact, I actually really like Japanese coffee for its light, slightly caramel tones – no bitterness or acidity whatsoever. However, the standout here is that, not only do you get to eat your cake, you also get to take it home. Literally. The cup and saucer, that is, in a sturdy box. Oh, and did I mention your one free refill of hot drink? You’ll find that this is much appreciated if you’re there during a cooler time of year, as we were (at the end of April!). All this for the bargain price of 870 yen (about AUD10 or USD7.50). There are various designs, so I’ll definitely be back the next time I’m in Otaru to add another mug and saucer set to my collection.
Hours: 9am-5.30pm daily
Address: 1-1-2 Irifune, Otaru; across the road from the Music Box Museum and the main square at Sakaimachi Dori
19. Le Tao chocolates, Gra Maalu, Ironai cheese biscuits, and double fromage cheesecake
Cheese and crackers, chocolates, fruits and nuts? They sure do have a good theme going at Le Tao, which originated in Otaru, but can also be found at the Daimaru store in Sapporo, as well as the New Chitose Airport. There are plenty of free samples as you walk from one Le Tao store to another in Otaru (yes, there are quite a few!), which worked out perfectly for us as we had no room in our already full stomachs to eat an entire cheesecake. The little portion we tasted was as smooth and creamy as promised, and at least on par with the cheesecake from Snaffles. Gra Maalu is a crispy but light combination of granola and feuillantine with either nuts and cocoa or dried fruits and white chocolate. We all know I love a bit of crunch, so this snack was right up my alley. The Ironai biscuits are similar to the Shiroi Koibito cookies, except that the chocolate filling is replaced with cheese, giving it a more savoury note. And finally, you’ll find no shortage of unique chocolate combinations at Le Tao. They’re especially famous for their Niagara chocolates, but I personally wasn’t too fond of the wine and chocolate pairing. If you ask me, I’d suggest picking one (or more!) of their chocolate bars containing various cheeses, fruits and nuts. The camembert was a particular standout for its creamy yet slightly crumbly texture and the well-balanced salty sweet flavours.
Hours: 10am-6pm daily (roughly, varies according to season)
Address: 7-16 Sakaimachi, Otaru (Head Store)
HOKKAIDO in general
20. Fresh Hokkaido milk
I’m dead serious. Do NOT leave Hokkaido without trying at least one glass of pure unadulterated fresh Hokkaido milk. I have no idea what they feed their cows, but they must be happy little campers to produce such naturally sweet, creamy delicious milk that had me slurping every last drop and grinning from ear to ear.
JAPAN in general
21. Royce potato chip chocolate and Nama chocolate
Only the Japanese could think of coating a potato chip with chocolate. I see you giving me those looks, and I know, trust me, I was dubious too when I picked up my first box. But this bizarre concoction works in a way that at first sounds unpalatable, but when you really think about it, is actually quite ingenious. You have the crisp potato chip with a slightly creamy, crunchy chocolate coat – textures, tick. Then you have that balance of saltiness with the subtle sweetness and ever so slight bitterness of Japanese chocolate – flavours, tick. If you’re still not sold on the concept, there’s only one way for you to find out, and that’s to go pick up a box for yourself. But be warned, this is one snack that’s extremely difficult to stop eating once you’ve started!
While you’re there, pick up a box of Nama chocolates too. They’re Royce’s unique blend of chocolate and fresh cream, which is why they need to be stored in a refrigerator. The addition of cream gives it an extra soft, extra light flavour. It was certainly enjoyable and well worth trying, but I personally still prefer the firmer texture and more robust flavours of Laderach Swiss chocolate.
22. Strawberry cheesecake and beni-imo purple potato Kit Kats
Speaking of chocolates, you can’t leave Japan without trying one of their crazy Kit Kat flavours. And now that matcha green tea flavoured Kit Kats are so easily found internationally, this doesn’t count. After having sampled wasabi, hojicha, rockmelon, apple, sake, cranberry almond, and possibly a few others, the ones I’d recommend personally are beni-imo purple potato for something a bit more unusual, and strawberry cheesecake for something more familiar.
You’ll never find strawberries as perfect as in Japan. So perfect, in fact, you’ll want to poke them to see if they’re real or made of plastic. True story. At least for me. Not only are they meticulously packaged, each strawberry virtually the same colour and size and gently nestled in their box in neat rows, they’re also always super fresh, super juicy, and so sweet it’s like eating candy. Speaking of which, if you come across a street stall selling strawberries dipped in sugar syrup with a Ritz cracker attached, make sure you try it. I know it sounds weird that a fruit already so sweet would need more sugar. Trust me on this one. The sugar syrup cools to form a crunchy coating, while the cracker adds crispness and a hint of salt. Another masterful demonstration of perfect flavour and textural combinations by the Japanese.
24. Matcha (green tea) and matcha flavoured treats
And finally, if there’s one country I don’t need coffee, this is surely it. I love matcha as a drink, be it hot or cold, and also in every form and guise I’ve ever come across it, from chocolate to cupcake, ice-cream to parfait, macaron to mousse, creme brulee to creme patissiere. In my book, the darker and richer the better. Which means that I’m super excited to try the no. 7 intensity matcha flavoured ice-cream at Suzukien the next time I find myself in Tokyo.
Hours: 10am-5pm daily except closed every third Wednesday
Address: 3-4-3 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
What are your favourite foods to eat in Japan? Any suggestions for my future trips there, including cities/regions other than Tokyo and Japan, would be greatly appreciated!
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Darwin, April 2020
Russia, May 2020
Baltics, June 2020
Poland, June 2020
New York, July 2020
Costa Rica, July 2020
Uluru, October 2020
Hamilton Island, October 2020
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Australian Traveller that loves to "Roam" our globe, creator of ENDLESSROAMING.COM sharing the experience through word and photography. Currently residing in my home of Newtown Sydney but hope to be back on the road late 2020. Feedback / questions are more than welcome, happy travels
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