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Food in the Motherland – My Trip to Japan

Today we have a guest blogger, Tony Kawaguchi, a Honolulu resident sharing with us his recent trip to Japan. Enjoy!

Tony Kawaguchi

Food in the Motherland – My Trip to Japan
By Tony Kawaguchi

It had been about 10 years since I had visited my home country of Japan, and since my wife had never been, we were excited about the trip. We got on the plane at Honolulu Int’l Airport with the kids and grandma, with 3 things on our agenda: Tokyo Disneyland, visit family, and eat as much good Japanese food as possible.

Japan is full of good food. Food is absolutely everywhere. Walking along the streets of Kyoto and Tokyo, it seemed as if three fourths of the businesses were restaurants. Many look like this traditional old building (see top photo), with plastic display food out front so you can see what you might be eating. If it doesn’t have plastic food in front, it’s probably not a restaurant. Only the very high end places don’t have plastic display food.

The great news is that Japan has become very cheap! Yes it’s cheaper to eat in Japan than to eat in Honolulu. Our average ramen meal was about $4, and our average chicken or pork meal was about $6. Even though the exchange rate was terrible, at about 90 yen to the dollar, meals were still very cheap. 10 years ago it was about double the cost, so go now while their economy is still really bad.

Is this Katsu real or is it plastic? This one happens to be real, and it happens to be awesome. A tiny hole in the wall, as most restaurants are in Japan, like 95% of them seat under 20 people. The Katsu (breaded pork) in Japan has lighter breading and less fat than in Hawaii. I’m not sure why but for some reason here in Hawaii the pork is not as lean and not nearly as tender. These katsu medallions were so tender you didn’t need a knife and barely needed to bite. Amazing flavor and great texture. The breding was light like cotton candy or something.

We happened to be in Japan during “Silver Week.” I never figured out what that is, but apparently it’s some kind of Buddhist holiday. Well fortunately for us, it meant that there were dozens of street vendors out in the temple grounds in Asakusa, Tokyo. The Festival at Sensoji Temple proved to be a Foodie’s wonderland. Tako yaki (fried octupus), and Okonomiyaki. (O-ko-no-mee-yah-kee) Say that three times fast…

This guy was making Hiroshima Okonomiyaki, which unlike versions from other regions, contains bacon. It is basically fried pancake batter with a lettuce base, fried egg, some kind of fish, shrimp, bacon, and a very thick sauce similar to yakitori sauce.

Here is the finished product. I actually didn’t like how much sauce it had, but the taste was great. It would have been perfect with less sauce. There were at least a dozen vendors making different variations of this, but we only tried a couple. Great food for about $4 each. We split each one among our whole family so we could all try different regional Okonomiyakis.

There are also some psuedo western style restauarants, like this one called “White Lover.” I have no idea what they were intending to say with that. People who love white things? An intimate relationship with a haole? No clue. I looked at my wife and said, “Honey, you are my white lover.” (She’s haole.)

Speaking of my wife, here she is at her favorite find. This chocolatier was in Ginza, Tokyo. It had about 4 million of the most amazing types of chocolate mixed with Japanese chesnuts, azuki beans, and pounded rice. They gave us at least 10 samples of things, so of course we were obliged to buy something. We bought dark chocolate bark filled with almonds. Incredible. There are little bakeries and confectionaries everywhere in Japane. Literally every 5th block or so has one.

This little $2.50 snack was our second favorite. It’s a mochi outside with sweet bean inside, and they had 20 different flavors filled with chocolate, green tea, etc. Below is what it looks like inside. Absolutely amazing. We brought some home and are still eating it. Wondeful little snack that they were calling “crepes.” But no, they are not crepes.

Finally, I thought this would be funny to my friends back in Hawaii. Roco-Moco? Hmmm sounds familiar, but not sure it’s quite right. This is a menu at the Tokyo train station. Funny, do they think a lot of people from Hawaii come there looking for breakfast? Oddly they only serve it beginning at 11am. Funny thing about Japan – almost nothing is open until about 10am. The only breakfasts we could find were Denny’s and McDonalds. I guess everyone sleeps in and works late, because even the trains are emtpy until about 8am.

If you love Japanese food as most people in Hawaii do, I highly recommend a visit to Japan. Walking around Asakusa, Kyoto, Ginza, and Yokohama, there were so many great places to eat that I wished I could eat 10 times a day. :::

Tony Kawaguchi lives in Honolulu, and normally blogs about Hawaii Real Estate at www.AlohaTony.com.

If you’re a Kama’aina or Hawaii expat and you have a great story related to food in the islands that you’d like to share as a guest blogger here on The Tasty Island, you’re more than welcome to eMail me for consideration.

Mahalo,
Pomai
The Tasty Island.

19 thoughts on “Food in the Motherland – My Trip to Japan

  • September 30, 2009 at 11:27 am
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    Thank you, Tony and Pomai, for a wonderful “foodie” blog on Japan! All the food looks amazing; love the mochi and katsu. (It’s definitely not a good time to check food blogs before lunch; you just get more hungry!)

    I’ve never been to Japan so it’s high on my list of places to visit. I learned about Japan when I took Japanese language in high school and college – just love the language, culture and food!

    Reply
  • September 30, 2009 at 2:41 pm
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    Awesome, Tony…. anyone who’s traveled and eaten in Japan knows that it’s some of the greatest food on the planet. Combined with the wonderful people who live there…. it doesn’t get any better. When I first went there, I used to ask what everything was, because I’m a bit of a foodie, and curious about all this great food that looked like art. Now, I just go and eat like a maniac…. because everything is delicious.

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  • September 30, 2009 at 2:48 pm
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    Been to Asia a few time for business and Japan produces is sure different and wonderful looking from the American type like green onion is like the size of leek and their carrot very big also . Grill rice cracker is so special for gifts too. Plan to film Japan Disneyland for show and husband make a movie later.

    With visit Yokohama again since was nice last time to show more of oversea Chinese and their food for show.

    Reply
  • September 30, 2009 at 10:02 pm
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    Been to Asia a few time for business and Japan produces is sure different and wonderful looking from the American type like green onion is like the size of leek and their carrot very big also . Grill rice cracker is so special for gifts too. Plan to film Japan Disneyland for show and husband make a movie later.

    With visit Yokohama again since was nice last time to show more of oversea Chinese and their food for show.
    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

    Reply
  • September 30, 2009 at 10:39 pm
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    Nice to meet you.
    I’m Japanese.
    I live in Tokyo.

    You wonder ”White Lover”,
    Maybe, Its name come from famous cookies’ name.

    The cookies is famous souvenir in Hokkaido.
    http://www.ishiya.co.jp/item/shiroi/

    Reply
  • October 1, 2009 at 5:27 am
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    Great post, Tony! I’ve only been to Japan a couple of times on business and never really had a chance to walk around extensively. Eaten at several types of restaurants in Ginza (German, Chinese, Japanese, French) but of course my favorites were the noodle shops. I went crazy in those confectionaries and chocolatier shops!

    (snicker snicker, white lover….heeheehee)

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  • October 1, 2009 at 7:31 am
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    I never been to Japan but love to watch Japanese tv serials on it. Always wonder do they like ja jaing mein? I see it on a serial call Lunch Queen. With oversea Chineses living there it so mixed with many cultures I gather. My classmate was from Japan told me so much her homeland.

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  • October 1, 2009 at 7:22 pm
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    Truer words have never been spoken…”The breding was light like cotton candy or something.” It’s so descriptive, it’s like I just ate it myself.

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  • October 2, 2009 at 4:06 am
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    Thanks so much for the great guest post! What a great twist. Given that Japanese is one of the cultures having deep roots in our local food, seeing a slice of real Japanese food life is really neat. I also appreciated seeing the photos of the buildings…so different from “traditional” or “older” buildings we have in Hawaii and here on the Mainland. Best to all.

    Reply
  • October 2, 2009 at 6:50 am
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    Tony, domo arigato gozaimasu for the great write-up.

    That ‘Roco-Moco’ is indeed a kick! I can just see Vito Scotti, the actor who played the Japanese submariner on Gilligan’s Island pronouncing it like that. See what I’m talkin’ about in this YouTube clip:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SD4Y_3hrd98

    What’s next in Japan? Perhaps a ‘Roco-Moco Dulive-Inn’. lol Seriously though, looking at the photos on the menu, I do like the idea of adding takuwan, beni shoga and fries to the dish. I bet that combination tastes really good! That also looks like a drizzle of mayonnaise on top of the ‘ANYTIME Roco-Moco’. And a ‘Loco Moco’ with curry instead of brown gravy sounds like a GREAT idea! Just as much a no-brainer as Zippy’s ‘Chili Moco’.

    Regarding ‘White Lover Restaurant and Cafe’, I really believe the owners gave it that name to mean exactly as you took it as. lol Were there any other mixed-race Japanese/White couples in there? They really should consider opening one like that in Hawaii Kai. I see a lot of that around that neck of the wood.

    I like Okonomiyaki, but like you said, the sauce is a little strong (salty and robust).

    I’ll be doing an in-depth post on Tonkatsu next. If all things go as planned, it’ll have the same “cotton candy-like” texture you described of the one in Japan.

    I remember when I traveled often to Tokyo with my folks, the exchange rate was nearly 300 Yen to the dollar. Now just 90 Yen to the dollar? Ouch! Yet I can’t imagine the merchants in Japan reducing their prices where even at that rate, a bowl of Ramen costs less than $4 US. Sounds good though!

    FYI: For a great Japan-based food blog written in English, check out Kat’s blog here:

    http://katnsatoshiinjapan.blogspot.com/

    Reply
  • October 2, 2009 at 7:07 am
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    Tony when is your next entry for Tasty Island? Hope to read more of your travel in Asia. I never yet try Okomomiyaki and they have it at Ala Monoa Food Court fresh made to order.

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  • October 2, 2009 at 9:23 am
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    I wonder if other bloggers could submit entries when they travel to your blog? With pictures and informations and of course stories. I do travel to Asia and other places too. There is one place I hope someone would submit is New York City food stalls. I heard of them but never seen pictures or any informations of what kind is out there in New York City.

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  • October 2, 2009 at 9:51 am
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    Some Japanese may actually be”Roco-Moco” regulars. On a visit to Rainbow Drive-In, I saw busloads of Japanese tourists making a breakfast stop there. They must have phone in their orders because they were all eating Loco Moco bowls, around 50 orders!

    Michael – another blog that I like to read is from Kathy, a local girl working/living in NYC – very informative for different foods in NYC. Here’s her link:

    http://apassionforfood.blogspot.com/

    Reply
  • October 2, 2009 at 3:43 pm
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    Hey everyone, thanks for the positive feedback. I wish so much I had been thinking about blogging while in Japan. I would have way more food pictures.

    I’ll look through my 700 pictures see what I can put together.

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  • October 3, 2009 at 7:18 am
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    Wonderful blog entry, Tony, and thanks for sharing that with us, Pomai! Really makes me want to visit Japan one of these days. You know, when you grow up in Hawaii, you are so exposed to a lot of Japanese influences (foods, customs like omiyage, festivals like bon-odori, etc.) but it seems like only a preview of what you’d actually get if you go to Japan.

    I don’t know if it’s the Hawaii influence, or my Asian background (since we Asians love to eat), but whenever I visit a new place, it’s all about the FOOD. Yes, famous sites are nice, too, but the main thing I always want to do is ask the locals where they like to eat and head over there myself. Glad to know I’m not the only one.

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  • October 9, 2009 at 10:20 am
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    That okonomiyaki is “out of control”. Like Tony, I think would prefer less sauce,which probably would take away from that awesome design details. Nice post about Japanese food in Japan.

    Reply

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