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A trip to Japan isn’t complete without tasting at least a few types of Sake and we all love to eat after a few glasses of the good stuff.
If you’re visiting between November and April, the sake breweries will be in full swing. With many of the breweries nestled in the snow-deep regions of rural Japan, they can be difficult to access without a Japanese guide. Don’t have a guide? Fear not. With growing interest from foreign visitors, many sake breweries located just outside Tokyo are offering English-speaking brewery tours, lectures, and tasting sessions.
Yoshino Shuzo, Ozawa Shuzo and Ishikawa Shuzo are three of the largest breweries within a couple of hours of Tokyo, all of which offer lectures and tours in English. These breweries have been in operation since the 1800s and are oozing with traditional Japanese character. It’s like walking through the pages of a history book. Their techniques have changed little, if at all, since they started brewing sake centuries ago.
If you visit outside of the sake brewing season or simply don’t fancy the journey into the mountains, there are more sake bars in Japan than you can visit in a lifetime especially if you happen to be staying in Tokyo. The Meishu Center is one of the most celebrated sake tasting spots in the city. With over 100 types of sake from 40 different breweries, this is the perfect place to find your new favorite sake. 3 tasting glasses will only cost you around $5, so taste away!
I don’t think it matters what country you are in, we all love to have something to eat after a few beers, wines, or in this case, sakes. While many sake bars do serve food, to really experience authentic Japanese street food you’ll have to venture out into the gritty alleyways stemming off the busy city streets. This is a side to Japan that many tourists never experience.
Often referred to as the spiritual home of Japanese street food, Omoide-Yokocho in Shinjuku, Tokyo, is home to over 70 street food vendors selling a variety of tasty, and some more ‘iconic’, treats. The Japanese lanterns make this street flicker under a blanket of crimson light, where little has changed since just after World War 2 when this street, otherwise named as Corner of Memories, was first established.
With the Japanese preferring to sit down to eat, what you get is a unique hybrid of street food and sit down dining – tiny alleyway restaurants with enough seating to only accommodate a few customers at a time. These establishments are usually clustered together to make winding labyrinths of local cuisine so save dining elegance for the next day and don’t be a prude when you come to Omoide-Yokocho. The grit, smoke, and noise is all part of what makes this place so charming. Many people find themselves returning for a second night, on account of it being impossible to try everything in a single sitting.
Walking down this dimly lit street you’ll find a lot of familiar dishes – sushi, ramen, tempura and countless noodle dishes. But we don’t always eat street food to eat familiar things, do we? Of course not!
The Yakitori here – grilled meat on skewers – is some of the best in Japan. There are so many varieties to choose from, including Tsukune (chicken meatballs), Tebasaki (chicken wings), Toriniku (white meat), bacon wrapped leeks and pork belly. Yakitori is great as a between-meals snack or with some sake. Just remember not to fill yourself up, there’s plenty more to try.
Another specialty of Japanese street food vendors is Motsu-Yaki – offal grilled to perfection and skewered. If you’ve never entertained the idea of eating this kind of food, there’s no better place in the world to try it for the first time.
Feeling a little more adventurous? You can sample a delicacy – grilled salamander – which the locals promise is the best thing you can eat for “stamina”. We could tell by their faces exactly what stamina they were talking about. If salamander isn’t adventurous enough, how about some Chinese soft-shell turtle?
Whether it’s familiar Japanese cuisine you’re looking for to satisfy your sushi cravings, or something downright crazy, one thing is for sure – you won’t be short on choice walking down Omoide-Yokocho, a true taste of the Japanese underground.