5 can’t-miss culinary Japanese experiences

Kaiseki cuisine. Picture: iStock

Travellers who’d rather not shell out for Kobe beef will be delighted to discover that Matsusaka, its more value-priced alternative, is just as delicious.

The 9th Rugby World Cup kicked off in Tokyo on September 20, making the Land of the Rising Sun the epicentre of worldwide rugby fandom.

Supporters who travel to cheer their teams will no doubt take the opportunity to take in Japanese culture, the most famous cornerstone of which has to be the food.

Here are some of the dishes that fans will be able to indulge in to stave off those post-match munchies.

A taste of kaiseki cuisine

Picture: iStock

Japanese gastronomy is far from being limited to sushi boats and ramen bowls: its most refined form has to be kaiseki-ryōri cuisine, which was originally the domain of monks, and is therefore basically vegetarian, although the concept has since evolved to include meats and fish.

The tea ceremony-adjacent ritual is a veritable parade of tapas-like concoctions made from local and seasonal ingredients: mushrooms cooked in stock, tofu, grilled fish, omelets, sashimi, scallops…

It is a traditional Japanese feast that is often enjoyed as part of a night’s stay at a traditional ryokan inn.

Train station bento boxes that are actually gourmet

Picture: iStock

Busy Japanese workers often lack the time to have a sit-down lunch, but that doesn’t mean their midday meal has to be of lesser quality: it’s perfectly possible to catch a delicious bento box from train station stalls in-between transfers, which often feature salmon, chicken, or tofu, served on rice with a dash of seaweed or salmon roe.

Despite their affordable prices, the impeccably composed lunches are often served in a reusable lacquered-wood or resin box.

Making a video game out of ordering sushi

In Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya district, ordering sushi becomes as playful an experience as playing a round of “Mario Kart”.

Customers sit down in front of a tablet that allows them to pick from a selection of tempura, sashimi, sushi and other raw fish delights, which then get delivered through a conveyor belt that wraps around the restaurant.

While the honour system makes picking up another client’s order verboten, the system does have the side effect of inspiring diners to order more! As a bonus, there is free green tea on tap.

Ordering a bowl of soba noodles from an automated restaurant

Soba. Picture: iStock

Here’s another typically Japanese way to enjoy a traditional meal.

Just like a busy salaryman scarfing down his dinner before rushing to catch his train home, you can head to a number of hole-in-the-wall establishments (literally) providing a vending machine that allows passers-by to choose a dish.

Generally speaking, the machines dispense bowls of ramen or soba noodles, which are plump buckwheat noodles often enjoyed cold with a splash of soy sauce.

After retrieving your receipt, simply have a seat at the bar and wait for your tray to be served to you, along with a glass of green tea or sake.

A Matsusaka beef dinner

Picture: iStock

Travellers who’d rather not shell out for Kobe beef will be delighted to discover that Matsusaka, its more value-priced alternative, is just as delicious.

The world-famous wagyu meat comes from beer-fed cattle that has been tenderised with Shōchū, a Japanese alcoholic drink hailing from Kyushu.

The best way to enjoy it is to pick a restaurant that offers a variety of cuts, which diners cook themselves on a Japanese BBQ. What’s more, it even comes in sushi forms.

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