What makes me keep going back to Japan?

Japanese food! Of course!

Since I started my master’s studies in Canada in January 2019, I didn’t really get the chance to fly home to see my friends back in Beijing last summer. My friend Karen and I finally found some time in December and decided to make our foodies’ reunion happen in Japan before 2019 came to an end. As both of us L♥VE Japan and Japanese food, it is never enough to visit this country only once. In fact, our winter vacation was my second time in Japan in 2019 and this time we decided to check out Tokyo and Hakone.

Although we didn’t make a detailed plan for the trip, we listed some restaurants/shops/cafes that we would love to visit. For example, we were so excited to check out 人形町今半 (Ningyocho Imahan, a sukiyaki restaurant in Ginza), Koffee Mameya (a shop sells coffee beans for coffee enthusiast) or Micasadeco & Cafe (famous for its soft-wobbly Soufflé pancakes) in Shibuya…and the list could go on and on if our time allowed. But when we got there, all these places were fully booked or closed!! If you ask me how I felt at the moment, I would say “heartbroken”. They are still on my bucket list though and I will check them out next time for sure!

Sometimes a not-so-well-planned trip is not all about disappointment. On the bright side, we explored some restaurants and café that are still great as alternatives. Here are some places I’d recommend:

おもき 離れ / OMOKI-HANARE, GINZA

Omoki-hanare is a fancy beef shabu-shabu (a type of Japanese hot pot) restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo. It has a very cosy atmosphere where you can enjoy friends-gathering in the open area or stylish rooms for more privacy. For the hot pot, we had ponzu, yuzu pepper, truffle oil and sesame dipping sauce and could choose from 4 types of dashi: Red wine, Green tea, Sake and Kelp. We went for the sake and golden kelp. The exquisite and marbled Kobe beef sprinkled with gold flakes were stacked on the fine wooden box just look like a piece of art work. The cooked meat was so soft and full of flavour. It melted in my mouth and I could smell the fragrant of sake or kelp dashi. The various dipping sauce made our dining experience more interesting and the flavour were bouncing on my taste buds.

はつ花 / HATSUHANA, HAKONE

If you plan to visit Hakone, Hatsuhana is a soba restaurant that is definitely worth visiting. The restaurant had a long history back in 1934 and it is known for its nutrient-rich soba noodles. The main restaurant is located by the Hakoneyumoto bridge and the new restaurant is about 200 m away. The one Karen and I went to was the new restaurant. We were so lucky that we went there early so we didn’t have to line up in the coldness. Given its excellent location, we enjoyed our lunch at a calm atmosphere with the scenery of the Haya river. I ordered 天ざる/Tenzaru soba with 天婦羅/Tempura as the side dish. Karen had おやこなんばん/Oyakonanban which was hot soba noodles with chicken and eggs. The secret of making the soba noodles so healthy and delectable was that they only used eggs, yams, buckwheat and without water.

牛なべ右近 / GYUUNABE UKON, HAKONE

Since Ningyocho Imahan was fully booked (even after New Year) in Tokyo, we wanted to try our luck in Hakone searching for sukiyaki (another type of Japanese hot pot). We asked the staff at the information centre at Odawara Station and they recommended us to check out Gyuunabe Ukon. This restaurant is situated outside of the city centre. If you want to run away from the hustle and bustle of the city, it could be a great choice. Along with the Tajima beef sukiyaki, we had a series of side dishes: 豆乳と自然薯のすり流し (mashed yam with soy milk), 五種盛り合せ ( some part of cow’s organs such as stomach and liver, it was our first time trying them raw and surprisingly they didn’t have a strong smell:)), 牛すじの玉子蒸し (steamed egg with beef tendon, we have similar steamed egg dish in China but the texture of this one looked more like jelly), 牛握り、牛刺身 (beef nigiri and sashimi), 雑炊 又は 季節のご飯、香の物、味噌汁 (seasoned rice, pickles and miso soup), 季節の果実ゼリーがけ (seasonal fruit jelly). Overall, our dining experience was fantastic. I think it would be even better to go there during the day time so that we could enjoy the view of Sukumo river. It was also quite interesting to see how sukiyaki in the Kanto area was different from those in the Kansai area. I will pause it for now and will write about their differences and the history in another post (as it is one of my favourite Japanese cuisines of all time!). Stay tuned:)

黒たまご / KURO-TAMAGO, OWAKUDANI

The black egg is a must-try snack when you visit Owakudani. The eggs were boiled in hot spring water and the volcanic gases caused the eggshells to turn black naturally. We heard that one black egg would extend our lifespan for seven years so why not giving it a try hahaha!

Other things we enjoyed:

The 5-day foodies’ reunion was short but we had so much delicious food and great conversations. If you have any questions about any of these places or the food, or if you know any great restaurants in Japan that you’d like to share with me, leave me a comment:)

Till next time!

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4 thoughts on “What makes me keep going back to Japan?

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