3 Fun 'K' Foods of Japan
In Japan, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the multitude awe inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the monumentally magnificent Shinto shrines, and beautifully breathtaking botanical gardens. But now you’re hungry and seeking to satisfy your cravings with some fun food that will truly hit the spot.
Let me turn you on to the 3 K fun foods of Japan, Kakigori, Karaage, and Karepan. This Triple Threat will surely tantalize your tastebuds and win your heart.
Keep Cool With Kakigori
If you're planning a summer trip to Japan, be advised that it gets hot in the summer and the rainy season is part of it. But after July, the season is over and you can beat the heat with a delicious shaved ice treat. Shaved ice, kakigori, is something you’ll find at plenty of tea houses and sweet shops all over Japan.
What trip to Japan would be complete without a visit to the heart of history that is the city of Kyoto. When in Kyoto in the summer time, beat the heat with a kakigori treat by paying a visit to NIJO WAKASAYA TERAMACHI, a confectionary shop which is closer to the Kyoto Imperial Palace than it is to Nijo Jo Castle, where you can enjoy their delectable 5 syrup Saiun (¥1512 = $13.95), if you’re one of those “I wanna try everything” kind of people; or perhaps a Uji Kintori (¥1296 = $11.95), a triple threat matcha green tea blended kakigori.
NIJO WAKASAYA TERAMACHI
Address: 67 Teramachi-dori Nijo-sagaru Enoki-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Phone: 075-256-2280. Hours: 9AM–6PM Thursday — Tuesday, closed on Wednesdays. Official Website.
Or you could also consider checking out PAGE ONE, a cafe and bar just south of Yasaka-Jinja Shrine, where you can score one bad to the bone Fresh Squeezed Lemon kakigori (¥800 = $7.38, and worth every yen, believe me) that will knock you for a loop and make you wish you had time for another one.
Address: 435-4 Shimokawara-dori Yasakatoriimae-sagaru Kamibenten-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Hours: 11AM — 4PM & 6PM —12AM Thursday — Tuesday, and closed on Wednesdays.
These are two of the best places in Kyoto to find a shaved ice treat. Be forewarned that it could be as much as a 2 to 3 hour wait at either location.
For The Impatient Traveller
If you’re anything like me, however, maybe you don’t want to wait anywhere from 2 to as much as 3 hours in the sticky heat just for a shaved ice. So in the spirit of helping those of my fellow impatient adventurers, consider a quick visit to your local grocery store, where you’ll find not only a short wait through a cashier line but also a much cheaper price that offers far more bang for your buck.
When I reviewed the Fresh Squeezed Lemon kakigori at ¥800, I wasn’t kidding when I said it would knock you for a loop. I just love sweet with a nice tasty bite of something sour to really make it pop. So on that note, let me introduce you to my highlighted tasty treat of cold sweet but sour goodness of the day, Sacré Lemon, by Futaba Foods Corporation, which you can pick up at most grocery stores for anywhere from ¥108 - ¥120, but more likely on the lower end of that spectrum. Futaba, which has been in business since 1945, is from the Tochigi Prefecture, which is northeast of Tokyo.
So you can easily find Sacré Lemon, pictured above, just about anywhere. I’ve seen them not only in grocery stores but in convenience stores such as Lawson’s or Family Mart. Mind you, they're not the only player on the block when it comes to cup-ice. Just know that you’ll have more than your share to give a go, and remember that your Uncle Eric never steers you wrong, not when it comes to food at least.
Not Feeling Sweet? Try This Crowd Pleaser!
Maybe you’re not here in the summer, I happen to love Japan so much that I’m down for whatever, whenever, be it winter, spring, summer, or fall. I want to have it all, and in this country, you really can. Sweetness overload isn't always going to cut mustard, and maybe you’re looking for something tasty, spicy, and my all time favorite, fried. Karaage is Japanese fried chicken. Like most Americans, we’re all familiar with fried chicken, but let me school you on the difference between traditional American fried chicken and Karaage chicken. Traditional American fried chicken is seasoned in the flour and batter, as where Japanese Karaage chicken is seasoned directly on the chicken.
But method schmethod, where do I get some? Being that I live in the Kansai region, I enthusiastically encourage you to visit, particularly Osaka, Kyoto, and my home, Shiga Prefecture. My favorite hunt for some top notch karaage is a place called Karayoshi, where you will be truly impressed not just by the speed of service, the flavor and selection, but the price is nice because you got a lot of bang for your buck (yen).
For just ¥650 ($6.10 USD) you can score a 4 piece combo set which comes with 4 nice sized pieces of chicken (nice juicy thigh meat), 2 regular and 2 spicy as you see in the photo below, which also comes with a bowl of rice, a salad, and soup.
If that didn’t already knock you through the roof with your socks still left standing on the floor without you, for only ¥690 ($6.48 USD) this 4 piece set with chopped Welsh onions in soy based sauce will have you chair-dancing after your first bite.
But don't just take my word for it, the best way to find out for yourself is to visit one of their locations in the Kansai region.
Address: 1-chōme-13-34 Uryūdō, Higashiosaka, Osaka 578-0946
Hours: Monday — Sunday 10:30AM–12AM
Address: 418-1 Shinhamachō, Kusatsu, Shiga 525-0067
Hours: Monday — Sunday 10:30AM–12AM
Address: 5-chōme-1-1427-6 Honkatata, Otsu, Shiga 520-0242
Hours: Monday — Sunday 10:30AM—12AM
Being that Karaage is one of the most popular foods in Japan, you can also very much find it at just about any grocery store. But not all karaage is the same, some grocery stores even go the extra mile and produce some original recipe karaage that you won’t find so easily elsewhere. In Shiga, I do my shopping at Heiwado or Izumiya, but just about any department store or shopping mall has a grocery store on the bottom floor. AEON is a shopping mall, and I mention them because the one I went to in Kusatsu had a variety display and I had a little of each. AEON is a chain, so you can find them all over the country, and not only that but the shopping and restaurant selection is strong. You can even find kakigori there as well.
At AEON delicatessen in their grocery store (AEON is a shopping mall chain, by the way), I found some red ginger karaage that was unlike anything I had ever tasted anywhere else.
Normally, I’d provide a list of locations but there are simply too many of them to list. But if you check out their webpage, you can find one near you fairly easily.
Quick, Easy, and Everywhere
Last but certainly not least, Japan has become quite popular for their breads. I lose my mind on a weekly basis when it comes to the deeply delicious wholesome goodness of my absolute favorite of favorite fun foods in all of Japan, kare-pan.
I tend to be a stubborn individual, and couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of what my wife called a “curry donut” at first. It took quite some time for her to convince me to try one. But once I actually tried one, I became a kare-pan junkie and was gobbling them down my gullet like a pelican, it’s almost embarrassing. It's almost like a traditional American donut shop chocolate frosted custard filled donut, only it isn’t custard nor is there any chocolate.
It's just a bun with curry beef stew inside, covered with panko on the outside that may be baked or deep fried, depending where you go.
Check Out These Places and Find Out for Yourself.
Sizuya Kyoto Station Shop
Address: 〒600-8214 Kyoto, Shimogyō-ku, Higashishiokoji Takakuracho, 8-3
Hours: 7:00AM — 10PM Monday — Sunday
Shinshindo LAQUE Shijo Karasuma
Address: 〒600-8009 Kyoto, Shimogyō-ku, Kankobokochō, 101 LAQUE四条烏丸 B1F located in LAQUE Shijo Karasuma
Hours: 8:00AM — 8:30PM Monday — Sunday
Boulangerie & Cafe Gout
Address: 〒540-0026 Osaka, Chūō-ku, Uchihonmachi, 1-chōme−1−10 リンサンビル 1F
Hours: 7:30AM — 8:00PM Friday — Wednesday, closed on Thursdays
Address: 〒541-0046 Osaka, Chūō-ku, Awajimachi, 4-chōme−6, 〒541-0046
Hours: 8:00AM — 7:00PM Monday — Saturday, closed on Sundays
I could probably list bakeries all day and night, there are so many. But don’t let yourself leave this country without having tried kare-pan at least once, I promise you won’t regret it.