“Foodies come to Japan with huge expectations and, at least when it comes to the efficiency of public transport or general cleanliness, those won’t be disappointed. Although after three weeks we’d say we enjoyed Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine more than that of Japan, we still have to admit that it’s hard to eat badly in Japan. As elsewhere in the country, there are no unpleasant surprises when it comes to gastronomy, and quality is always high.
On the other hand, at least for those of us accustomed to prices elsewhere in Asia, it doesn’t come cheap, so it became the first place on our trip where we had to forego certain dining experiences on the grounds of price. So for instance we never got to experience Japanese imperial haute cuisine, kaiseki, which focuses on the masterful preparation of vegetables, and we have no idea how much better $300 sushi is than the $60 kind.”
“There are a lot of restaurants, each generally no bigger than a single room back home. Picture a long counter separating the chefs from the customers and a couple of tables and chairs. You can watch the whole process of food preparation, and plenty of people can squeeze in along the bar to eat their bowls of hot ramen. There’s generally a long queue outside such places, and the schedule is as follows: you order, you eat, you finish, and you leave.
Not a whole lot of chat, but a lot of slurping. Here, if you slurp when you eat the soup, it means it tastes good. Not many seemed to enjoy it when I tried the same thing back home, though. You’ll get the check at your table, and when you’re done you go to the checkout to pay. So far I’ve never spotted any errors.
There are a small number of restaurants where credit cards are accepted, but for the most part, you can only pay in cash. Make sure to always have some with you! We thought we’d be able to pay by card in some places, but it turned out we couldn’t! 😊”
“In all the less-expensive restaurants we visited in Japan, the army of plastic example dishes in the window seemed an indispensable feature. Even after three weeks, we couldn’t get enough of staring at them, though they often don’t look great, and when they try to imitate Western food they’re downright scary. There’s nothing more terrifying than a plastic model of a calzone pizza which attempts to capture the moment the tomato sauce spills out through a cut in the dough. The advantage of the models, however, is that you really can work out exactly what a given restaurant sells, even if nobody inside speaks a word of English. It’s enough to drag the waiter out onto the street and point at the tastiest-looking plastic dishes.”
“Japan really does have the best sushi! There is an amazing amount of fresh fish on sale at the Tsukiji market, so no wonder the quality of the sushi is also excellent, though prices can also be sky-high. BUT you can also easily find cheap sushi in Tokyo, and there’s no real decline in quality.
I recommend Ganso sushi, i.e. Sushi Go-Round. Though you don’t get to place your order with an iPad, they do serve high-quality fish in good-sized portions, together with free green tea and a smile. For the tea, you will find hot water and powdered green tea on your table, a tablespoon of which is more than enough.
If it’s Michelin-star sushi you’re after, there’s plenty of that, too. You just need to make sure you book your table in good time – perhaps even months in advance. We did balk a little at the cost, which can easily exceed $300, though of course, it will be a lifelong memory.
A tip: many restaurants have a lunchtime menu which can cost as little as a quarter of the evening menu. We went to the Katsura Sushi restaurant, where a 15-piece set with miso soup and green tea cost just 1,050 yen, or about $10. We sat at the bar and watched the sushi chef as he prepared our meal, which was served right away on a bamboo mat. Is that a deal or what? That’s why I’m recommending it to everyone! It’s worth being there at opening time, 11:30 AM, to get one of the few seats. It’s a small restaurant, but popular with the locals, and the food is full of flavors (a great experience).”