Japan Series: Japanese food you HAVE to eat

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Welcome back to the Japan Series. This is the final installment of my travels in Japan. It’s saddening that this chapter in my travels is coming to a close but I hope you have enjoyed the weekly blogs.

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Not only am I a picky eater, but I also don’t eat pork or seafood for religious reasons. Visiting Japan with these dietary requirements was a worry not only for me, but for my friend who knew just how much pork and seafood is used in Japanese cuisine. And so commenced the challenge to find Japanese food that I could actually eat. Hmm.

However, after 9 days in Japan, the food was hands down one of the absolute best parts of my trip and so varied as well. I was spoiled for choice for what I could have.

Today I am going to share some of the best meals I ate on my Japanese journey to gastronomic enlightenment.

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Tokyo

A great place to get food near Shinjuku is Tori ki zoku, a chicken kebab place which had delicious chicken with a range of flavours. What was great is everything is ordered on a tablet at your table, so you can order as much or as little as you want at a time, and it is in English as well.

Okonomeyaki

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We went to a place near Harajuku, which was very friendly and open to travellers with menus and instructions in English. Basically, to make onkonomeyaki, you cook your own food and choose the ingredients. We chose chicken teriyaki for one and beef, onion and picked ginger for the second one. There was so much food, and it is great because you are the one in charge, so you know exactly what is going into your meal.

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Onigiri

These rice snacks wrapped in seaweed usually have something in the center – it can be salmon, pork, tuna etc. but I really liked the ones with fried chicken! Absolutely delicious for a quick snack, and I just wish we had them in convenience stores back at home. Cheap, quick, easy and satisfying.

Sushi

We went to a sushi restaurant in Tokyo and I was surprised at how cheap sushi is in Japan (70p/plate). For a salmon nigiri, you are looking at roughly £3 in the UK! Sushi is such an expensive meal at home so I was shocked at how affordable the real deal is. As I don’t eat seafood, not much sushi is available to me except the salmon (I despise tuna as well), but there was so much choice with duck and beef as well which I have never seen in the UK before. I loved the automated ordering service, like what I have seen in other restaurants in Japan, it is just so efficient and easy to keep track of what you have ordered.

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Kyoto: Ayam-ya – the best chicken ramen you will ever have

So I love chicken ramen, a dish I often have in the UK. However, in Japan, the real deal is usually made with pork, not chicken. It seemed as though eating an authentic chicken ramen would be impossible in Japan; however, TripAdvisor came to the rescue as there was one place near the station – a Halal restaurant – which served delicious chicken ramen. I did get a food coma but it was the best ramen ever and it’s great that there is a place in Kyoto for those of us who want our ramen fix chicken-style!

Sukiyaki

Before our night bus back to Tokyo, we wanted something substantial for dinner, and we found it. This was by far the BEST meal I had in Japan. Find it upstairs in the Isetan department store in Kyoto.

Sukiyaki is a Japanese dish which I had never heard of before, but after this experience I will never forget. It consists of thinly sliced beef, which is slowly cooked at the table in a nabemono pot (yes another meal where you need to cook it yourself!), alongside vegetables and other ingredients, with soy sauce, sugar and mirin.

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Harrie loving the sukiyaki life

The sukiyaki consisted of all-you-can-eat beef, vegetables AND bottomless soft drinks AND dessert. We had 90 minutes for the table and of course, we made the most of the time. We got through two plates of beef and so many vegetables: cabbage, Japanese mushrooms, leek, onion, tofu, salad greens, etc. so it was healthy to a certain extent…It was magical but I definitely ate too much and was in a food coma on the coach back to Tokyo. Do I regret it? No, not really.

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On the whole, experiencing Japan’s amazing food culture was so accessible to me, there was so much choice and I was never left hungry or without options. I loved the restaurants where we could cook ourselves because it became an experience and I knew exactly what was on my plate. I’m sure Japan has so much more food for me to discover and I can’t wait to get back to sink my teeth into more.

What’s your favourite Japanese dish? Let me know in the comments,

Robyn

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Japan Series: Rainy Kyoto

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Welcome back to the Japan Series! After a few days in Tokyo and a day trip to Kamakura, it was time for a weekend trip to Kyoto…

During our trip to Kyoto we rented an Airbnb, staying in a traditional Japanese house near Toji Station. This was a great location and amazing to stay in a beautiful Japanese home.

We arrived Friday night after a long coach journey, and had only 2 full days to make the most of this city, which I must admit, is not long enough to see everything. Pressure!

In Kyoto, there is a lot of tourism. So much so, that it can get to the point were there are just too many tourists at sites. Still, we found that by being smart with our itinerary, there are ways to avoid a lot of the stress of the crowded temples and shrines. It was also coming to the end of sakura season, so the main bulk of tourists had fizzled out. Nevertheless, for some places, the overcrowding is just inevitable and you have to suck it up and go with the flow (of the crowd).

The weather forecast was not looking promising for Saturday morning, so we changed our plans up a bit to take into account the rainy weather.

Our first stop was to the nearby Toji Temple. Now, this is not one of the ‘top sites’ as such, but with it being a short walk away it would have been a shame not to see it. In all honesty though, this was one of my favourite places that I visited in Kyoto. Maybe because it was quite empty, maybe because it was just so beautiful, I don’t know, but I loved it! The 5-storey pagoda is really something, and has been even earthquake-proof for a few centuries! It was really interesting reading about how they managed that.

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Toji

 

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Toji

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Toji

The rain still beating down, we made our way to Tofukuji Temple. We caught the bus right outside Toji which took us straight there – handy! It was a short walk to the Temple. This one is interesting as it has two very different gardens which you have to pay to enter. We decided we may as well do both while we were there. These gardens are actually made to be appreciated in rainy weather, and there are plenty of walkways to keep dry if necessary.

The first garden, you can walk around and explore away from the sheltered areas and really get into nature. It was so tranquil and the colours around were mesmerising.

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The second was a ‘zen garden’ which was also beautiful in its own way but with a lot more structure and perfectionism to it.

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It wasn’t long after until the sun reappeared and it became sunny and humid again, just in time for our next stop, Fushimi-Inari Shrine, which I will talk about in next week’s post…

Robyn

Japan Series: 9 little things I love about Japan

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There were so many ‘wow’ moments in Japan. It wasn’t even anything especially big, it was all in the detail. Japan is definitely all about the detail. So without further ado…

9 little things I love about Japan:

1. The vending machines

They are everywhere. Not just in the entrance way of a shop, they really are everywhere. There were three on the road we were staying on, just on the pavement. Heck, they were on the top of the Inari mountain in Kyoto just when I needed it (Fushimi-inari). The local metro had about 4 on the platform. Not just cold drinks, no, there were warm drinks too. Hot coffee? Cold coffee? Hot lemon drink (my fav), hot chocolate or grape juice? No need to rush to make a hot drink in the morning when the vending machines have got your back. It is impossible to ever feel dehydrated in this country and I love it. I want my hot lemon drink back!

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My beloved hot lemon drink, I will drink you again

2. The toilets

The first time I saw a Western toilet in a café with all the exciting buttons on it, I had to tear myself away because it would look a bit weird if I spend ages in the toilet, right?

-Where is your friend?

-Oh yeah, about that, she hasn’t seen a fancy Japanese toilet before – she may be a while.

There are buttons to make flushing noises, heated seats, deodorising sprays. It was really weird and wonderful at the same time. I remember being so intrigued when my Japanese housemate in France tried to explain them to us one time in French, after all that time I was not left disappointed. You would find these in restaurants, service stations, department stores… I feel like we are really missing a trick back in Europe. We need to implement these asap!

3. The service

Okay this is a good thing and a bad thing at times. Japanese service is so attentive. Glasses of water are brought to your table and topped up without you even having to lift a finger. On the other hand, they give you a bag for everything you buy in shops, with the little tape round the top – is that really necessary? Even for the littlest thing. Maybe the fact that we are charged 5p for every bag we need in the UK now, it is going from one extreme to the other. All those plastic bags I accumulated in Japan? Yes, yes I did bring them back in my luggage and now I have lots  of plastic bags to use at home. Is that weird?

4. Warm hand towels at the start of every meal

They do this in other cultures, I know, but having a refreshing warm or cold towel before your meal is so nice. Again, we need to implement this and make this a norm in the UK!

5. Everyone carries hand towels in their bags

Hand driers and paper towels aren’t really a ‘thing’ in Japan, so most people carry a hand towel in their bag for this reason. Not only do you feel super organised when you whip your hand towel out in one of these situations and the person next to you doesn’t have one, it makes a lot of sense – maybe even better for the environment (?). Hand towels are a very popular souvenir and I bought such a soft, cute pastel-coloured one with my initial on it to use at home. I will use it (promise).

6. The roof handles on metro trains are just the right height for me to reach. Normally, they are way too high up as I am so small, but Japanese people are on average smaller, so they compensate this on their trains. Yay.

7. On a similar note, no need to find the Petite section in a shop, oh no. Why do that when you can just select a normal pair of trousers and they fit you perfectly, no problem! I wish I could have done more shopping for trousers/clothes in Japan as my height is just the right size for their clothing! I feel bad for tall people though, as like…what do they do..? Oh yeah, struggle like us small people back home. No sympathy.

8. When it is cold, they have under-seat heaters on metro trains. There is nothing more perfect than that.

9. Hanami 花見. I was lucky enough to see Japan during spring-time, near to the end of the cherry blossom season. The cherry blossoms were not in full bloom anymore, but I was lucky enough to see some beautiful sakura (cherry blossom) all the same. I love how there is a Japanese word, hanami (花見) which literally means ‘flower viewing.’ I loved the cherry blossom and it is so cool how there is a universal love and interest in Japan in just appreciating the beauty of nature.

What do you love especially about Japan? Let me know in the comments below!

Robyn

 

Japan Series: Tranquility in Tokyo

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How to describe Tokyo in three words? Massive, dazzling, overwhelming. Tranquility ain’t normally one of them!

This was certainly not the case either, when I woke up at 3am on the first night and the room shook for 3 seconds – yes, that was an earthquake! It was only a 2.0 so was not horrific but earthquakes are common in Japan.

As a first-time traveller to the country, Tokyo was really something. I have never been in a city comparable in size to it. The scale of Tokyo only began to unravel when I gazed out through the window in the Government Building tower one night. So. Big. (this is a great way to see the city day or night for free by the way!).

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Still, despite the hustle and bustle of city life, stuffed metro carriages and huge zebra crossings, there are pockets of calm in the form of gardens and shrines that slow down the pace.

Meiji Shrine is one of them. It is currently being renovated in time for the 2020 Olympics, so I did not see her in her true glory, but the size and beauty of the surrounding area is so serene, only a stones’ throw away from Harajuku.

Hamarikyu Gardens, a 40-minute ferry-ride away from the beautiful yet touristy Asakusa temple, is such a tranquil spot to appreciate natural beauty surrounded by the cityscape. The gardens do not hide from the skyscrapers and modern buildings, rather they embrace them. The tea rooms here gave me my first experience of Japanese green tea and wagashi (sweets).

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Asakusa

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Asakusa and my first sight of sakura!! (cherry blossom)

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Hamarikyu

 

On my final day, I braced the area of Shinjuku on my own, clutching my phone with the GPS on, using Harrie’s trusty portable wifi, stashed in my bag, to go to the Shinjuki Gyoen (Gardens). These gardens were massive and only 200 yen to enter. It took me a good 2 hours to walk the length and breadth of this place, but it did not feel anywhere near as magical as the last two places. My only guess is that this is just such a huge area and they simply don’t have the means to truly care for every corner of it. It did feel like it wasn’t looking its best, or maybe I just have high expectations. Either way, it is a great way to spend some time away from the faced-paced city, whilst still in the center of it.

This city really threw me in the deep-end as my first stop on my whirlwind trip to Japan. Despite all that, it was exhilarating and totally different to anywhere I have been before.

 

What do you think of Tokyo? Let me know in the comments!

Robyn

 

Welcome to the Japan Series!

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Three weeks ago I had the pleasure of packing my bags again and flying from Heathrow airport to Tokyo! The main purpose of my trip was to visit my old housemate Harrie. She moved to the other side of the world for her Masters instead of staying in the UK, like I begrudgingly (at times) decided to do for work.

It has been 9 months since we were hobbling around campus in our heels on Graduation Day last July, but it felt like no time at all when we found each other in the Arrivals hall. For this trip she was my rock/translator/interpreter/tour guide/life-saver. Having a Japanese-speaker, someone who knows the customs and culture was so beneficial as I was truly lost at times and overwhelmed by everything around me.

I know just how useful being able to speak the local language is, and I love it when I go to countries where I can communicate without problems (South America, I cannot wait!), and it is so frustrating when I cannot do that! Being able to say the basics though was really helpful and went a long way.  Not many people actually spoke any English but there were signs, maps, menus etc. in English in most places we visited.

All I am going to say, is now that I have experienced Tokyo, and more precisely, Shinjuku train station at morning rush hour, London is so tame – and I thought London was insane! I knew nothing.

We spent the first two days of my stay in Tokyo, a day-trip to nearby Kamakura, two days in Kyoto and two more in Tokyo, three days were travel days.

I am looking forward to sharing all the amazing-ness of Japan with you…!

Angkor Temples, Cambodia: photos

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The Angkor Temples are a must for any visit to Cambodia. This is a photo post, but first, I would like to share two tips I would have liked to have been given before I went:

1.Wear sturdy shoes!

For some ridiculous reason, I chose to wear flip flops. Climbing up steep stone steps in monsoon rain + flip flops = bad idea. Trainers on the second day was much better.

2. Spend at least two days visiting the temples

It is not just Angkor Wat. Each temple is unique. We did two days, but would have done them differently in hindsight. Instead of getting a tuk tuk to see the main sights, hire a bike – it is much cheaper! Hire a tuk tuk to allow you to see many of the temples more further afield that are just as impressive.

We cycled the larger route instead (30km) which was long and painful. Whenever people in the tuk tuks raced past, they looking back at us in horror. We were mad! The heat, humidity, monsoon and cheap and uncomfortable bikes all made it for an unpleasant experience. We sank into chairs at the first restaurant we spotted on return to Siem Reap and devoured the best burgers we had ever eaten.

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