Fast food

Most North Americans seem to perceive Japanese food as much healthier than that of other nationalities. Which is true, I think. The variety of food eaten and standard small portion size is probably also a factor to the overall healthiness of Japanese people. But there are many, many traditional or otherwise common dishes that are not so wholesome. Fast food is a prominent part of Japanese culture, with convenience stores, vending machines, and fast food restaurants (noodle shops, fried food stands, McDonalds et al) in abundance everywhere. I’m not particularly partial to fried and oily food myself, but here are a few fast food highlights from our trip. Poor Yusuke got so hungry looking at the pictures again while I was writing this…

Takoyaki

Takoyaki


Takoyaki, a famous festival food, is octopus pieces rolled in batter (with ginger, green onions, and spices) and deep fried. It’s typically served with okonomi sauce, bonito flakes, and mayonnaise. I had fun watching the takoyaki being made, with the batter poured into tins with round molds to shape them, turned at lightening speed by the chefs. The batter was thick without being too greasy and the tako (octopus) was very tender, but unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it fully: the takoyaki was so fresh and literally piping hot that I burned my mouth. Ouch!

Crepes

Crepes


The picture above shows a crêpe-style dish being made. It’s similar to the Korean-style crêpe that Yusuke made, which in turn is similar to okonomyaki. Again, the idea is to combine a variety of veggies in a batter and grill or fry it. Also in the picture is a package of maki (sushi rolls) that are a familiar sight all over the world these days. But these are fresh, authentic, and better!

Ramen

Ramen


Ramen is among Japan’s more prominent culinary exports, but the stuff served in Japanese ramen restaurants in Japan is a far cry from the 10 cent instant noodles in the grocery store. Ramen shops are everywhere, offering a range of all different qualities, price ranges, and types, and each region has its own particular specialties. Yusuke’s bowl pictured above had noodles, tonkotsu (“pork bone”) broth, pork, a boiled egg, spicy, chili flakes, green onions, and nori, eaten during a little pilgrimage to one of his favourite ramen joints of yore. According to Yusuke, the creation of a ramen soup base is quite an art. A unique selection of meat, vegetables, and seasonings are simmered for days to create the stock before it’s served with the ramen noodles. On our next trip, we’ll have to visit the ramen museum in Yokohama.

Onigiri making

Onigiri making

Ah, onigiri, such a wonderful invention. Onigiri, or rice balls, are a staple of Japanese life. They can take many forms and flavours, but the most typical is the triangle shape wrapped with nori (seaweed). In the centre is a dollop-sized amount of a traditional filling like umeboshi (pickled plum), tarako (fish roe), okaka (bonito flakes with a drip of soy sauce), or shiozake (salted salmon). Just Bento has two fabulous onigiri pages: FAQs and Onigiri on Parade. I’ve never made Yusuke the adorable smiley face ones, though…

The picture above shows “gourmet” onigiri being made in the food section of the Sogo department store.

We had lots of homemade onigiri from Yusuke’s mom, and we also frequently make them at home in Montreal. But I was enamoured with the packaged onigiri available in supermarkets, convenience stores, and vending machines. They cost about a dollar (well, a US dollar) and are a wonderfully filling lunch or snack. The have an ingenious packaging mechanism that keeps the nori separate from the rice, since the rice would make the seaweed mushy. When you upwrap it, the nori folds perfectly around the rice. So cool. Although I must admit, it took me a few tries to get the right technique.

Since I didn’t take any good onigiri pictures during our trip, I borrowed this one from Wikimedia Commons (Thanks to typester from Kamakura, Kanagawa. The original image is here). It shows an overwhelming display of onigiri in a typical corner store.

Onigiri

Onigiri

If you’d like to see this wonderful technology in action, here are some amusing onigiri-opening videos here (only 28 seconds) and here (with goofy explanations).

And last but not least, here is a gratuitous vending machine snap. These things are every.where. Most impressively, they sell both hot and cold drinks. Often you can even get hot soup, ramen, or oden in a can. Wowie.

Vending machine

Vending machine

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2 Comments

  1. Deb said

    I LOVE this blog. Always something cool (and hunger-inducing).

  2. Trish_Fan said

    I want to eat Takoyaki and Onigiri, but I don’t know if it sells around Montreal.

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