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I have friends whose travels are guided by their taste buds and who are driven by a desire to get immersed in local culinary scenes around the world. But while I certainly have favorite foods that I love to eat, I’ve never considered myself a foodie.
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Instead, my travels have usually been based on outdoor adventures, quirky attractions, or visiting people I know along the way. This is why Japan really took me by surprise – not for the typical culture shock reasons, but because of how obsessed I quickly became of authentic Japanese food that I was experiencing for the first time.
My husband and I recently took a trip to Japan, which was my first time in Asia and a really exciting getaway from our daily routines. Before this, I’d never felt true jet lag, but being 15 hours ahead of my normal schedule really threw my body off and made me seriously hungry all the time!
Fortunately, there was no shortage of authentic Japanese restaurants everywhere we went. We flew into Tokyo and later took trains to check out Kyoto, Nara, Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, and some places in between. We stayed in budget-friendly hostels to keep costs down, which meant limited access to kitchen spaces and mostly dining out wherever we went. That ended up being more than okay with me because these dining spots helped me enjoy some of my most favorite foods on the planet.
I’ve always been a big fan of sushi, so of course, I had to indulge in my fair share of deliciously prepared raw fish throughout the trip. But I also discovered some new favorites, such as okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake with lots of ingredients and toppings, and onigiri, portable rice balls sold at convenience stores that were perfect for quick and cheap snacks on-the-go.
I also loved the ramen, donburi, soba noodles, gyoza, and boba tea that I tried in various restaurants throughout our trip. As a long-time pescatarian, the food options in Japan were absolutely perfect for my tastes while also being great for my meat-loving husband. Green tea was served everywhere and a perfect way to warm up on chilly February days while getting a small dose of caffeine to continue fighting through the jet lag.
Not unexpectedly, we overpaid for many of our meals in the beginning by gravitating towards tourist-friendly spots out of uncertainty or impatience. But by our final days in Japan, we finally discovered the wonderful world of street food near Ueno Park in Tokyo. Just before catching our flight back home, we enjoyed a last street food meal that had a ton of fresh fish for a ridiculously cheap price.
When I got back from this trip to Japan and friends and family asked me how it was, all I could do was rave about the food. Sure, I loved seeing the temples, busy streets of Tokyo, snow monkeys, museums, and the very earliest cherry blossoms of the season. But the food of Japan was something that really stood out to me in a way food never had before.
The creativity and unique flavors of Japanese food definitely caught my attention and completely captured my imagination, helping me to understand my foodie friends a bit better and already start thinking about my next trip to Asia. In the meantime, you’ll find me watching YouTube videos featuring Japanese street food creations and dreaming about my next awesome meal!