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FoodI really liked the food in Japan. To me there seemed to be a lot of different kinds of food that were both healthy and cheap. As a general rule, the portions were smaller, which suited me fine since I'm a light eater, but the drinks were smaller, too, which didn't suit me so well.
Most days we ate lunch in the NEC cafeteria. The food was good, but unfortunately I don't remember most of it. The first day I got a battered-and-fried thing which turned out to be squid, plus a couple of little vegetable dishes from the salad bar. One of the vegetable dishes was pretty strange. It was a mixture of okra and little brown beans, and something, the okra perhaps, made it all sticky, with strands of goo connecting everything. Plus there were some kind of crunchy brown spiral shavings on top.
One day at the cafeteria I found a big bowl of rice and things, with some sashimi on top … two pieces of tuna, two pieces of salmon, and one piece each of squid and octopus, I believe. That was my favorite! I've avoided squid and octopus in the past, but here I just ate them up, they were quite good.
The other place we went as a group that I really liked was a small Japanese fast-food restaurant, a chain I think, called Yoshinoya. We mostly just ordered the first, and main, item on the menu, the beef bowl, which was a big bowl of rice with lots of thin slices of beef on top. (By “rice” I mean sticky rice, of course.) For flavor, you could add soy sauce, or hot pepper sprinkles, or my favorite, the bright pinkish-red sweet ginger, which was in the form of little strips rather than the thin slices I was familiar with.
I found some other nice things while I was out exploring by myself.
For one thing, ever since I first saw Tampopo, the thought of ramen noodles with all that stuff on top has made my mouth water, so of course given the opportunity I had to try some. Fortunately, it wasn't hard to find ramen places … they were all over, and the word “ramen” was always in katakana, not kanji, so I was able to read it. The one I went to was a little place right by the hotel. I couldn't figure out all the different types of ramen, but I managed to explain that I was looking for one with pork, and that was sufficient. The best parts, I think, were the noodles, which were nice and fresh, and the bean sprouts and green onions, which were quite tasty.
Then there was the little sushi place on the street under the train station.
That's a funny thing in itself, actually. Most of the train station was elevated, and there were extensive second-floor platforms extending away from it over the streets. That area all felt familiar and Western—there were lots of signs in English, and all the things you'd expect to see in a train station, including convenience stores and a book store. Underneath the train station and its platforms, however, there was a very Japanese street, with lots of little shops of various kinds, and all the signs in Japanese. That's where the bicycles were parked, too.
So, anyway, that's where I found the sushi place. It was just a little store front with take-out sushi, but it sure was good. My favorite was the plain tuna roll, which was just perfect … good tuna, nice sticky rice, and seaweed that was fresh and not too tough. Plus there were little bits of wasabi hidden away inside. It was cheap, too … the tuna roll went for 150 yen, about $1.20.
One night, when I wasn't feeling very adventurous, I went down to the 7-11 across the street to see what I could find. What I found, I learned later, was iced noodles. There was a bowl of noodles, some cold broth that you poured over them, and some goodies in the form of long thin strips that you put on top. There was some ham, some cucumber, some scrambled egg (yes, sliced into strips), some of the same kind of ginger as at Yoshinoya, and something else I'm forgetting, perhaps bean sprouts. There was also half of a hard-boiled egg … all in all, quite a fine dinner.
Finally, there was the night our hosts took us out to dinner at what I believe was a traditional Japanese restaurant. We ordered and shared lots of little dishes of various things, so many that I forget what they all were. There was sashimi of some kind, which was quite good; there were these traditional things I forget the name of, which were made up of ground-up fish and vegetables; and there were whole battered-and-fried squids, about four inches long, which I just didn't have the enthusiasm to try. The most unusual thing I did try was the wasabi octopus suckers; those were good too.
Visit to Japan, A
@ October (2001)