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Travel Photos: Okonomiyaki and Sushi in Japan

June 18, 2015

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Last month I shared some food photos from my weekend visit to Seoul, S. Korea, which was the first stop on my way to two wonderful weeks of eating showing Paula around and seeing friends in Japan.

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So today I’m sharing the first half of the Japan food photos — check back soon for the second installment: Japanese street food!

IMG_4009-5A lovely matcha latte.

I took so many photos during my previous Japan trip (in 2011), that I divided up those blog posts into categories by food: bentos & rice, izakayas & cafes, tofu & noodles, international food, and seafood & sushi. But the one category I never got around to posting about was okonomiyaki.

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(Although it’s not alone here,) Okonomiyaki deserves a category of its own. The word okonomi-yaki means grilled/fried/cooked-as-you-like-it, which means it’s a completely customizable dish, i.e., you’re practically guaranteed to like it.

IMG_4486-5Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, with yakisoba and double egg.

So what is okonomiyaki exactly? I’ve heard it described as a savory pancake with cabbage, but that’s barely doing it justice. It also depends on which part of Japan you’re in.

Osaka-style okonomiyaki has the cabbage and other optional fillings mixed into the dough, so it does end up looking a little like a pancake — or a pizza. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, on the other hand, is a thin crepe, topped with layers of cabbage, sprouts, and optional mix-ins, and usually a thick layer of yakisoba (thin wheat-flour noodles). So not only are you guaranteed to like it, you’re also guaranteed to be very, very full.

IMG_4470-5Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki in the works,
with shrimp, squid, and yakisoba noodles.

Popular toppings or mix-ins for both kinds of okonomiyaki include shrimp, squid, octopus, pork, mochi, egg, cheese, and scallions. At the place we went to in Hiroshima this time (a stall in the okonomi-mura — okonomiyaki village), the topping options also included kimchi and tteok!

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The photo above shows some Osaka-style okonomiyaki, with cabbage, seafood, etc. mixed into the dough, and topped with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). Below are some photos of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki being made:

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The crepe is topped with cabbage, konbu seaweed, and sprouts.

The whole thing gets flipped upside down, then back again once the ingredients have cooked down, so that other fillings/toppings + the noodles + an egg can be added to the top, before it’s coated with okonomiyaki sauce, sprinkled with aonori (seaweed flakes), and served hot right off the griddle (usually with a squeeze bottle of Japanese mayonnaise).

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And for good measure, here’s a shot of some okonomiyaki-flavored pizza (topped with pork, okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, aonori seaweed flakes, and kastuobushi), which my friend’s husband made for us:

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And another of the pizza oven he used to bake it — an oven he built himself out of kawara, traditional ceramic Japanese roof tiles; he plans to open a restaurant within a year or two:

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And before I get to the sushi, let me share some of the other food photos I took at this same generous friend’s house:

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My friends were fermenting their own umeshu (Japanese plum/apricot liquor), which is one of my favorite drinks in Japan when cut with soda water on the rocks.

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They live on a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, so they always have access to fresh, fresh seafood from fishermen friends, like this delicious sashimi.

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My friend ferments her own miso paste (!) and we got to sample the results, in miso soup form.

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Her mother-in-law also lives nearby on the island, and prepared this giant platter of chirashizushi in honor of our visit. Chirashi sushi is often called “scattered” sushi in English: it’s sushi rice (seasoned with vinegar and sugar) with toppings — in this case, shredded egg, carrots, shrimp, mushrooms, and sanshou herbs. As a group, we made a pretty good dent in this, but there was still enough left over that Paula and I could enjoy it for breakfast the next day.

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One of the dishes I enjoyed the most during our stay at my friends’ house was this tempura (Japanese sweet potato, shiitake mushrooms, lotus root, bamboo shoots, chicken, and eggplant), lightly battered and fried by their 9-year-old son. Tempura is often served with salt for dipping (rather than a sauce). In this case, my friends served it with curry powder, salt, and matcha (fine powdered green tea) for dipping the tempura in a combination of curry salt or matcha-jio (matcha salt) — so good!

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Last but not least, another friend who came over for dinner surprised us with this cake! (It says: “Paula and Allison, congratulations on your wedding”) It was lovely to be able to belatedly celebrate our wedding with my friends in Japan, since it was understandably too far for them to travel to California for it. In fact, the next friend we stayed with had the same idea, too:

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(Notice the Shinkansen — bullet train — candle in the background. My friend’s five-year-old son kept accidentally referring to this as our “birthday” cake!)

And before I get to the restaurant photos, one more shot of a feast at a different friend’s place in Tokyo:

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It was unseasonably chilly during our whole April trip to Japan. Our first few days there, it was especially cold out — it even snowed a little on the cherry blossoms in Tokyo! (Cherry blossoms that were already past their prime, since it had been unseasonably warm in March, before we arrived… oh well.) The only good thing to come of the cold weather was that my friends in Tokyo made us nabe: a wintery, warming hot-pot dish, this time with chicken, tofu, napa cabbage, mushrooms, and eggs! (I’d never seen eggs added to homemade nabe before, but I think that’s pure genius, and I’ll be poaching eggs in my own nabe dishes from now on.)

IMG_4001-5Salmon genmai chahan (fried rice) at Orange Cafe, in Tokuyama, Japan.

And now, on to the restaurant food photos — just a few each from cafes, from izakayas (like tapas bars), and from sushi and conveyor-belt sushi spots.

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My favorite cafe in Okayama, The Market, has an amazing bread selection, especially considering that it’s usually hard to find anything but white bread in Japan. They also, of course, make the best sandwiches on that bread:

IMG_4176-5My two favorite The Market sandwiches: tomato beans (with melty gouda cheese),
and salmon (with cream cheese, lettuce, and whole-grain mustard).

And most wonderfully and surprisingly of all, The Market is one of the only places I know of in Japan where it is possible to find cilantro! …though only in very small amounts:

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We also went to my favorite cafe in Hiroshima, Quarante-Quatre.

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Their rotating lunch sets are always delicious — this time I really enjoyed the yuzu-zest chicken tsukune (meatballs) topped with grated daikon.

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And on to izakaya food, above you can see a spring roll, with an umeshu-sodawari (plum liquor cut with soda water) cocktail in the background, complete with an alcohol-soaked ume (preserved plum/apricot).

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Next up was negima yakitori (skewered grilled chicken with green onions), and jaga-bata (butter potato), both delicious with shichimi-togarashi (a seven-spice chili pepper blend) sprinkled on top.

IMG_3384-5You can never go wrong with deep-fried tentacles.

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These yaki-onigiri (grilled onigiri rice balls, often brushed with a little soy sauce and/or butter before grilling), quickly became Paula’s favorite! We tried to order them at several restaurants after this, but they were never as good as this first one (at a chain izakaya restaurant in Tokyo).

And finally, let’s get to those sushi photos… First, this was only a fraction of the sushi lunch feast that a friend treated us to in Tokyo:

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Most sushi in Japan is pretty inexpensive. Although there are very fancy sushi dinner restaurants, too, usually it’s more of a casual lunch food, like sandwiches in the U.S. Here are two train station sushi bentos that we picked up (for about $10) to share on the train:

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The photo doesn’t really do it justice: sushi that’s both very cheap and very fresh is hands-down the food that I miss the MOST from living in Japan.

IMG_120913-5A train station bento (ekiben)

I was glad to get the chance to bring Paula to some kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurants! Two of my favorite items to order are salmon, and ikura (salmon roe):

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At different kaitenzushi places, you can always find different items on the menu…

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Yes, that’s karaage (fried chicken) in gunkan sushi (wrapped in seaweed
on rice), and an unusual roll on an English menu…

Most conveyor belt sushi restaurants also have a few non-sushi dishes, like miso soup, french fries, and karaage (fried chicken), as well as desserts, like slices of melon, pudding, ice cream, and annin-doufu (a sweet almondy pudding-like dessert). Here’s a mini bowl of udon noodles that Paula ordered:

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But I tend to skip the soups and stick with sushi (usually nigirizushi), and you can see why, especially when there’s so much to choose from, when the fish is so fresh, and when I’m only visiting Japan for a brief time…

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Clockwise from top left: maguro (tuna), tamago nigiri (egg),
negitoro (fatty tuna with scallions), and salmon (often served
with onions and/or Japanese mayonnaise).

So much good food in Japan, but it’s the simplest fresh fish + rice that is the hardest to reproduce at home — and what I most look forward to eating every time I visit.

(Stay tuned for the second half of my photos — Japanese street food — next Thursday!)

Related recipe posts:

Hearty Miso Soup Hiyayakko (Chilled Japanese Tofu) Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger Broth (with vegetarian dashi) Kimchi Kimbap
Hearty Miso Soup Hiyayakko (Chilled Japanese Tofu) Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger Broth (with vegetarian dashi) Kimchi Kimbap
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17 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2015 9:38 am

    Thanks for making me drool! :p Although I have never been to Japan, I adore Asian cuisine in all of it’s forms. I came home from Vietnam and Indonesia about three months ago, and have really been craving the good stuff. This is challenging because I live in a city with relatively limited food choices, and what I consider to be fairly unadventurous eaters! I now see sushi in my near future.

    Your photos are beautiful though. Thanks for sharing!

    • June 18, 2015 9:50 am

      Thanks for commenting! I also live somewhere with limited (and mediocre) food choices — all the more reason to learn how to cook a lot of your favorite foods from your travels at home! (Even if your choice of ingredients is a little expensive/limited…) :)

  2. June 18, 2015 10:54 am

    Wow wow wow thank you so much for posting all those exciting, desire-inspiring photos.

  3. June 18, 2015 11:17 am

    AMAZING!
    I wish to visit Japan one day too..
    :)

  4. June 18, 2015 3:09 pm

    Mouth-watering photos — what fabulous travels!

  5. June 19, 2015 1:00 pm

    These photos are drool-worthy! The okonomiyaki,for some reason reminds me of a greek last name 😄

    • June 28, 2015 11:25 am

      Thanks! Yeah “okonomiyaki” is a mouthful, but it’s easier if you think of all the Japanese foods that already have the word “yaki” (“grilled/cooked/fried”), and then the only new part to learn is “okonomi” (“as you like it”). :)

  6. June 20, 2015 7:47 am

    Definitely making me miss Japan like crazy!!

  7. June 26, 2015 8:07 pm

    Exciting post! Thanks for sharing with lots of information. :)

  8. July 5, 2015 4:01 am

    attractive too

  9. September 1, 2015 5:33 am

    I am starving now! :-)

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  1. Travel Photos: Japanese Street Food | spontaneous tomato

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