Spoiler alert! This was by far the best beef we had during our entire trip in Japan. Starting with a pretty major statement but I truly mean it! If you are going to only eat wagyu beef once, eat it at Tsurugyu!
Now let me introduce you to the place itself, Tsurugyu is a Kobe beef restaurant just outside Osaka city centre. From the street it doesn’t look like anything special, and the avenue it is on is actually dead quiet during the day which makes it a bit difficult to find at first.
Get inside and you are entering a dark and elegant little cocoon. The place feels special with all tables sheltered by curtains giving it a lot of privacy. George Clooney could be at the table next to you and you wouldn’t even know it.
It is good to note that you will need a reservation to eat at Tsurugyu. It is a very popular place. Not speaking Japanese? Don’t worry, just swing by and ask if they can book a table for you. We went one morning there and asked if they had availability on the same evening, which luckily they did!
Our waiter deserves a special mention too. He was hilariously patronising but in the nicest possible way. He must have thought “Those Europeans have absolutely no clue what they are doing!” and spent most of the evening showing us how to eat each ingredient properly. We felt like primary school students but also learned a lot about Japanese table manners.
Now let’s talk about the best part – the food! I could literally just tell you that it was epic and leave it there with a few snaps, but it was such an excellent meal that it deserves a few more words before I leave you drooling at the pictures (well except if you are vegetarian, look away now).
Once sat at the table, the waiter got the grill ready while we were deciding which cut of beef to go for. We ordered two different types of beef, both not too fatty as I am more of a lean cut type of person.
With the meat, we ordered a side of kimchi, which I am completely obsessed about by the way, since I learned that it is good for your guts health.
We also ordered the cold noodles as per our waiter recommendation. I would describe it as a very cold and very light ramen. Worth a try!
We then got busy cooking and grilling!
And following our teacher… I mean, our waiter’s instructions we dressed our plates as Japanese people would do. Meat at the bottom and the various sauces and salts at the top but never mixed together!
There is not much more I can say than: “YOU NEEEEEEEED TO GO EAT AT TSURUGYU!”
It is not all about sushi in Japan, far from it! I would almost compare Japanese cuisine to French cuisine, there is so much diversity! Meat dishes, fish dishes, pastries, Japanese food is varied and you won’t get bored while eating there.
Now it can be a little overwhelming and intimidating to order in a Japanese restaurant. What does that mean? What should I try? Is that even fish?
If you are planning to visit Japan and are a bit of a foodie like me, keep reading! I listed below the 14 Japanese foods you have to try. Some you will be familiar with, some you may never have heard of, all are delicious!
***FYI, the list below is not a ranking, it is simply in the alphabetical order***
Now are you hungry? Good, keep reading!
Yes, you read that right, curry is one of the most popular dish in Japan. You will find curry houses at every street corner. Coco Ichibanya is one of the most popular rice curry restaurant chain. The most famous type of curry is the katsu curry which is made of rice, curry sauce and breaded meat, usually pork.
Also known as breaded and deep-fried pork cutlets, it doesn’t sound very healthy but it is absolutely delicious! It is a popular lunch option served with rice, miso soup and shredded cabbage. The best tonkatsu we had was at Katsukura in Kyoto train station!
Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal. You know those delicate little eatable pieces of art you see in any guide about Japan? That’s kaiseki!
The first time we had it was for breakfast in Kyoto in our riokan, and we felt a little overwhelmed as to what should be eaten first on the tray. Luckily we then had lunch and kaiseki again with one of my Japanese friends in Tokyo, she explained to us that there is no formal order, you eat from the little plates as you wish!
Matcha tea may only be a recent trend in the western world but it is a very traditional ingredient in Japan. You can drink matcha tea of course, but you can also have matcha sundae, matcha cakes, matcha mochi, matcha ice cream, the list goes on and on and on!
One of my favourite snack in Japan. It’s sweet, filling and has the weirdest chewy texture, I love it! Made of a mochi, a rice paste and stuffed with various fillings, it is the perfect mid-afternoon sweet treat when walking around Japanese cities.
My favourite? The mochi and red bean paste daifuku. Soooo good!
A savoury pancake/omelette, is the best way I would describe Okonomiyaki. It is a traditional dish from Hiroshima, so if you are in the area make sure to have one! It is extremely filling so it worth coming to the restaurant with an empty stomach for this one.
Our favourite on-the-go lunch option while in Japan! It is super filling, tasty AND low on calories. I developed an addiction for the tuna and mayo one, I also promise to learn to make them at home as soon as we were back from Japan. The later has still not happened…
After spending two weeks in Japan, I have honestly no idea how Japanese people remain so thin. The food is rich and there is an endless variety of pastries. Rice base, wheat base, banana cream filling, red beans paste, name it and it probably exists in Japan!
The dish that doesn’t need more introduction and a very popular meal in Japan. It is delicious an there is a surprising amount of variety! We loved Ichiran’s classic ramen and the ‘burnt’ one from Kyoto Gogyo Ramen.
Red bean everything
Similar to matcha, red beans seem to be a go-to ingredient in desserts. I had mochi and red bean paste, red bean milkshake, pudding, etc.
Now if you think of red beans you may not think of delicious sweet treats, but don’t be deceived by the look and the name! It is delicious and the taste is similar to candied chestnuts. Hmmmmmmm….
Surprisingly a lot less popular than we thought it would be! Sushis are eaten by Japanese people but probably not as much as ramen or any rice dish. The best place to get some is at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.
Tempura is originally a Portuguese dish, not a Japanese one (thanks Wikipedia!). However, the battered and fried dish has been made very popular by Japan after the recipe was imported there. Fish, vegetables, everything can be ‘Tempura-ed’. It’s also a great way to try new things, for instance, this is how I tried eel for the first time (picture below), and I loved it!
Now when talking about beef in Japan, we are talking about an ingredient more than an actual dish. There are plenty of ways to eat wagyu beef, it can be prepared as a grilled steak, a sashimi, sukiyaki and many other ways!
Flavoursome and melting in the mouth, the quantities are usually small but the quality is incomparable!
Last but not least, Yakitori, a grilled skewered meat dish. It is commonly served with a miso soup, soy sauce and some rice. It is also one of the more accessible Japanese dish for westerners who are new to Japanese cuisine. If you are around Shibuya in Tokyo, make sure to have some yakitori at Toritake!
Here you go, you have your food menu for your trip to Japan! Now buy that plane ticket, a bib and cutlery (if like me you are not very good with chopsticks) and go discover Japanese cuisine!