As regular readers of this blog should know, I love to travel and also am partial to good plus interesting food. It thus shouldn't be too surprising that not only do I make it a point to sample the local cuisine during my travels but I sometimes feel more inclined as well to visit a particular place precisely because it is able to offer foodies like myself travel highlights in the form of sumptious delicacies and/or special dining experiences.
Thus it was that upon being furnished with an invitation to visit Japan -- the land of sushi, sashimi, shabu-shabu, sukiyaki, Kobe beef, mentaiko, zaru soba, ramen, yakitori, okonomiyaki, mochi, etc., etc.! -- last August, I didn't need to think twice to emphatically answer with a "Yes, please!"
And this especially since on my one previous extended visit to the country (i.e., something besides a few hours spent on transit at Narita International Airport or even an overnight stay in that area necessitated by my having missed a connecting flight), a then 14-year-old moi had had the misfortune of having been on a group tour whose organizers worked on the premise that the people on it would prefer to have American rather than Japanese breakfasts and Chinese rather than Japanese food during the other meals...! :S
To be sure, however, I didn't go so far as to completely follow the example of the man and wife who looked to have not done much more than eat -- albeit diversely as well as deliciously! -- while in the Land of the Rising Sun (and whose account of doing so is a thing of literary beauty as far as I'm concerned!). Still, believe you me when I say that looking at one of that blogger's recommended eateries' sushi menu often gets me rueing my not doing so!
At the same time, it's certainly true enough that I did manage to have my share of wonderful meals this time around in Japan. And one of them -- which I previously listed as one of my highlights of 2006 -- was indeed the sublime 3650 Yen Omakase set at the deservedly famous Sushi Dai at Tokyo's Tsukiji Market.
For a similarly memorable dining experience, but one that's significantly more rarified, it's hard to beat the multi-course yuba and tofu kaiseki set meal(s) that my mother and I had over at the Dazaifu branch of the highly esteemed specialist Ume-no-hana chain. (It's not only that we were presented with hard-to-believe combinations like tofu and baked cheese or tofu topped with ikura (i.e., salmon roe or caviar) but, also, that the ultra-smooth plus delicate chawan mushi that we imbibed at that restaurant was by far the most delicious that we have ever tasted.)
Japan being the foodie's paradise that it is though, you don't actually have to go to a famous restaurant to have a wonderful culinary time. Indeed, one of my happiest food- (and drink-)related moments while in that East Asian land occured when I independently -- sans the advice of guide books or such -- discovered a thoroughly inviting izakaya while out wandering in downtown Kokura one evening.
(For the record: the Shirokiya that was a real pleasure to visit -- and which bears no relation to any of those "Shirokiya"s which appear when you do a Google search -- doesn't only possess the kind of multi-faceted plus extensive menu (see here for a mouth-watering example) along with friendly service that's associated with izakayas in general but also comes complete with imaginative decor -- think see-through plexiglass floor, under which are colored marbles along with white sand and pebbles -- and relaxing jazz music to add to the ambience. And all this for a reasonable price besides!)
Heck, come to think about it, you don't even have to visit an actual eaterie to have a fantastic foodie time! Rather, as a Metropolis writer advises, you can "[f]ind the best food in the world at Tokyo’s department store food halls". Or as a Japan Today headline succinctly has it: "Want to enjoy food? Try department store basements"!
A confession: I like exploring plus wandering around grocery stores and supermarkets, regardless of the country that I'm in. And I've been in my share of gigantic food stores (e.g., Cub Foods in Beloit, Wisconsin) and gourmet wonderlands (e.g., Harrods Food Halls in London, England). But Japan's depachika (short for depaato-chika shokuhin uriba, which translates into English as "department store basement food-selling place"!) are up there with the best and most glorious of them.
And this not least because they are where one can go -- as I did one evening during my most recent, satisfying Japan trip -- and get yourself a take-away meal of: some flavorful mentaiko for starters; a multi-ingredient Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki for the main course; and some fresh blueberries for dessert. All of which were washed down with tasty microbrew beer from the surrounding region that also were procured from the same depachika as that personalized dinner's food items... :b