Snacking in Japan

>>  Friday, April 08, 2011


It's all my dad's fault.

Starting from when I was around 2 years old, My dad started me on a tradition. Every day, he would place me in the front basket-seat on his bike and we would visit . . . . . the ice cream shop. I'll never forget the look of that unique ice cream shop in Toledo that was shaped like a huge igloo.

And thus the habit began.

I love love love ice cream. In high school I used to eat three scoops a day after school. Even now, whenever I make ice cream, I end up eating it day after day until it's all gone (especially if it's my all time favorite flavor).

This post is actually not just about ice cream, though it was one of the first "snacks" that caught my eye when I was in Japan. Instead, think of this as a mini tour of my snacking experiences during my trip to Japan.

Soy Milke Soft Serve at Mr. Bean

Mr. Bean is a new chain (originally from Singapore, which hails over 50 stores!) that just opened up in Tokyo. This Shibuya location is the first one in Japan. I must admit, I was totally drawn to the super cute bean character smiling at me. Isn't he cute? This stand offers various types of soy milk soft serve, such as plain soy and green tea.

They also have these cute griddle cakes filled with various sweet or savory fillings -sort of like a conveniently neat sandwich on the go.

Of course, don't eat while walking! Unlike the Chinese, who are all about street food, the Japanese tend not to eat while walking around. You also can't eat in the trains, so you basically have to find yourself a nice corner to enjoy your snack.

I loved the fresh and natural soybean flavor of the soft serve. It reminded me of a nice, cold glass of fresh,  homemade soy milk. It was clean tasting, not too sweet, and just really refreshing.

Sushi for Breakfast in Tsukiji

Another fun thing to do in Japan is to enjoy sushi in the morning after visiting the fish market in Tsukiji. If you can help it, avoid the weekends, because the lines can get super super long! I've often heard great things about Sushi Bun and Sushi Dai. Unfortunately, the line was about three hours long when we tried to go, so we opted for a smaller, lesser known place with a shorter line.

At Tsukiji, we saw lots of sea urchin (uni), various grades of tuna (maguro, toro, otoro, chutoro), and lots of salmon roe (ikura). Essentially, you are eating whatever is in season at the time - straight off the boats. Prices aren't too bad - you can get a nice bowl topped with lovely slices of super fresh seafood for around $10-20.


Streetside Snacks at Asakusa

One of the most fun places to enjoy more traditional Japanese snacks is on the main street leading up to the temple at Asakusa. Along this admittedly touristy way, dozens of street vendors sell souvenirs as well as snacks. It's fun just to explore and try various things. Most snacks aren't very expensive, and thus you can definitely try several!


Here's a man baking rice crackers . . .

A nifty little machine that cranks out little round leaf shaped pancakes filled with red bean paste.

Takoyaki

Takoyaki is a savory, octopus-filled cake that is very often sold in little street stands. It's typically served with mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce, and dried bonito flakes. These are especially satisfying on a blustery autumn day since they come out fresh and hot from the griddle.

Depachika
One of my favorite things to do when I go to Japan is to explore the vast food-filled basements of the department stores. They are called "depachika", which is a shortened form of "depato" (department store) and "chika" (underground mall). There are countless different types of shops selling everything from raw vegtables to high-end bakery items (like Pierre Hermes!) It's a fun place to try various snacks or grab dinner (although, again, you won't see anyone walking around and eating).

On our first evening in Japan, Bryan left to attend a business dinner, so I just wandered the basement of Tokyu (a department store) and bought some fun a la carte salads. It was one of the first times I tried to use my rusty Japanese and (thankfully) I was able to communicate. Corn and mizuna salad on the left, lotus root and gobo root salad on the right.

The supermarkets are filled with beautiful produce. Just the selection of thinly sliced super marbled beef (some of which looked like Kobe!) was mind-boggling.

Of course the bakery selection is phenomenal - many of Europe's most famous bakeries are represented in these depachikas. Naturally, I visited my favorite and picked up my favorite macaron.
Jen Ispahan Macaron Tokyo
I guess I broke the cultural rules and ate my macaron while sitting on a random chair in the hallways of the depachika. Oh well . . .

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