Travel Story Fast food, Japanese style

Photo of Cathy O'Leary

From soft buns filled with custard cream to sashimi served metres from where the succulent tuna was caught, your tastebuds are in for a treat in Japan. 

A trip to Japan is a journey of the senses, and your tastebuds are always in for a treat.

On a recent trip, I wondered how the slim figures of many of the country’s locals managed to squeeze into crowded train compartments when there was so much wonderful food on offer, even at the train station.

Like everywhere, the creep of Western food into Japanese diets has happened slowly but surely.

But as tourists we can only drool at the local delicacies — from soft Japanese buns filled with custard cream to sashimi served metres from where the succulent tuna was caught.

It is fast food at its best.

Our taste sensation begins soon after a short flight from Haneda to Takamastu, and a short drive to the Nakano Udon School, where we arrive dutifully hungry, as advised.

But there is no such thing as a free lunch here — we have to work for our keep by preparing long strands of the sticky noodle.

As it turns out, it's quite a lot of fun, involving a fair bit of bad singing and dancing under the direction of our instructor, who knows very little English but has no problem showing us how to flatten the creamy pale noodles into obedience. Lunch follows, with the said udon noodles the star attraction. And while the beautifully presented seafood and vegetables are delicious, the freshness of the udon means the noodles are best served simply, with only the lightest stock.

An hour or so later, we waddle out of there, to walk off the noodles by climbing hundreds of stairs at the nearby Kompirasan temple.

As it turns out, we should have climbed thousands of steps, not hundreds, because tonight we have to make room for a famed Japanese kaiseki dinner at our ryokan — a traditional Japanese-style inn.

The next night, we are back in Takamatsu, where our tour guide, Yoko, has a recommendation for dinner that does not sound very Japanese — grilled chicken — but so far she has been on the money with her choices so no one objects. We arrive at what is clearly a busy local eatery in the district of Hyogomachi and are faced with a simple choice for our meal — one, explained to us as the “parent” or mature chicken, while the other option is the “immature” or young chicken.

Both are served on the bone, and we are told the young chicken is tender and juicy, while the mature chicken is “resilient” so requires scissors at the table.

While feeling slightly guilty eating off the younger generation, most us choose the immature chicken pieces and while we are advised one is usually filling enough, several men in our group end up ordering a second because it is so delicious. The next night is another excuse to extend our culinary journey and again it is a local specialty, of Hiroshima — the famed okonomiyaki or Japanese omelette.

We eat in the Matsubaracho district in one of dozens of open kitchens, where diners line a stainless-steel bench watching the chef and his sidekicks prepare the piping-hot delights crammed with squid, scallops, shrimp and vegetables.

It tastes more like a hybrid of a savoury omelette and pancake and, appetite whetted and armed with a metal spade, we dig in.

For a few of us, our eyes are bigger than our bellies and we struggle to finish the saucy delight. But a few men in our group have been carefully watching the girls slowing down, and swoop in to finish off our meals. Even when it comes time to leave Japan a few days later, there is no escape from tempting food choices even at Haneda and Narita airports. 

I load up with boxes of Tokyo Banana — banana and custard cream inside fluffy soft sponge.

Just as people holidaying in the Eastern States once loaded up with boxes of a donut brand that was yet to come to WA, I arrive home in Perth with boxes of the little cakes that I dutifully note from the expiry date must be eaten within a few days.

Fact File

Disclaimer

Cathy O’Leary was a guest of the Japan National Tourism Organisation.

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