Hello my favorite foodies! For those of you who follow my Instagram page (@TheAppetiteOfAas), I am sure you all have been wondering “Why is Asmaa in Japan?” As you all may know, I am a part of my school’s Model United Nations team. Every spring my team and I travel to New York for the national conference (referring back to my NYC post) and during the fall eligible team members can attend the international conference held in various symbolic cities in respects to the United Nations. This year the international conference was held in Kobe, Japan and I was granted with the opportunity to attend. While in Japan, I was able to leave conference and explore Kobe and visit historic cities like Hiroshima and Kyoto for cultural tours. My team and I won Outstanding and Distinguished delegation at the conference and I could not have been more proud!
Before I go in detail about the various delicious foods I tried, I want to tell you all about my trip. Japan was the first country that I have ever traveled to. Taking a trip to such a beautiful island was an unbelievable experience and I am so grateful to have gone. My experiences in Japan taught me a lot not only about the nation, but it’s history, culture and myself.
In Japan respect played a huge role in their culture. Everyone bows down to one another when greeting, thanking, and giving. The people there are very kind and I was never disrespected by anyone. The cities were also clean and the air was so fresh. One of the only major problems that I faced in Japan was the language barrier. In Kobe along with the other cities I visited, English was not spoken by most individuals. The only people who could translate for me were my student tour guides or fellow Japanese delegates. However, when traveling alone or with some of my American team members it was difficult for us to communicate with others. None of us could read or speak Japanese nor did we have an English-Japanese translation book, and the wifi was not always available so it was pretty challenging for us to communicate. The main reason that I am discussing the language barrier is because I do not know most of the names of the restaurants that I visited. However, I am sharing my experience along with the foods to encourage you all to expand your horizons and try new things. Whether its traveling, eating, or learning a new language the experience will be worth it.
When I first arrived in Japan I came to Tokyo and picked up some delicious green tea ice cream from a vending machine. YES, Japan has vending machines dedicated for ice cream! As we progressed through the trip, we were given other fun snacks such as Pocky, fruit snacks, granola bars, and koala stamped chocolate filled biscuits.
Our first tour in Japan was in Miyajima,Hiroshima where we got the chance to visit the Itsukushima Shrine. Here we got to try some popular Japanese street foods such as boiled oysters, fried oysters, eel buns, and my favorite, momiji manjuu. I preferred the fried oysters over the boiled ones because the boiled ones were a bit too slimy for my taste. The eel buns were made fresh to order and were filled with marinated chopped eel in a soft and sticky Japanese bun. The momiji manjuu was so heavenly! The lines for those sticks were unbelievable, but I can understand why. The momiji manjuu were pretty much fried custard in the shape of a maple leaf on a stick. It almost tastes like a funnel cake with batter oozing out of it. FUN FACT: As most Japanese treats in the island of Miyajima, momiji manjuu is fried in the shape of a maple tree because of the maple’s popularity throughout the island. Also, in case you are wondering what that big spoon is, it is called the Shamoji and is the biggest rice paddle in Japan.
On the second day of tours we visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. The shrine was beautiful and had breathtaking views. When we first arrived we performed a cleaning ritual before entering the shrine and then began our tour. There were so many fascinating cites and traditions to observe. Many families made the pilgrimage to visit the shrines and wore kimonos in respects to the holy cite.
After our tour was finished we walked through the downtown trail to return to our bus. The street was booming with people gathering around food stands with mouth-watering bites. Unfortunately, I was only able to take pictures and ask my tour guides about the snacks because we were in a rush to get back to our buses. Trust me, I was furious because there were so many items that I wanted to try!
Luckily, I was able to get enough information about some of the foods to tell you all about them. The green and white puffy balls on a stick are called mochi dango. They are large soy bean balls that can be glazed with spicy sauces for extra taste. The wraps with were made of cheese and yam and covered with scallions. Sadly, I did not get the name of them but they looked so delicious. The ice-cream was authentic matcha-flavored ice cream. It was so delicious and was sold on almost every corner.The matcha-ice cream was the one item that I demanded my tour guides to let purchase and I must say it was completely worth it.
My team and I resided in Kobe during the trip, so every night we took the liberty to explore the streets in the heart of Kobe; Sannomiya. Every night in Sannomiya was an adventure! We never had a clue about where we were going, we just knew what kind of food we wanted. We ran around the streets, up and down the center plaza, and even took the wrong train terminal to find restaurants,bars, thrift shops, or funky casino allies. Throughout Sannomiya we saw various stands of Kobe beef, Ramen shops, French-infused Japanese bakeries, and even Belgian-Waffle stands– which by the way area HUGE deal in Japan so they are on almost every corner of train stations or inside of convenient stores.
While in Kobe, I tried various tasty foods.However, I must the biggest issue I faced whenever I went out to eat was trying to find foods that did not contain pork. Most entrees such as ramen contained pork so I always had to triple check that my food did not contain any traces of pork because I cannot eat pork. I tried curry-tomato ramen, which was my FAVORITE dish that I had throughout my entire trip to Japan. The ramen was so hot and spicy with a sweet hint of tomato. To compliment the ramen was steamed sticky white rice and kimchi. Kimchi was served at many restaurants as a complimentary side, so it was not unusual for your server to offer you kimchi. I also tried udon noodles with beef. The udon was topped fresh scallions, ginger paste, and served with soy sauce on the side. The noodles were thick and delicious. The beef was fresh not heavily seasoned. I enjoyed the udon, however, I wish there were more flavorful options on the side rather than just soy sauce. While in Kobe, I also stopped by a Chinese restaurant. I did not know it was a Chinese restaurant until after I ate my meal, but it was a fantastic meal. I ordered some fried chicken and it was accompanied by multiple sides such as salad, dumplings, egg drop soup, and tapioca milk for dessert. The chicken was flavorful and had a spicy kick.
As you all may know, I have a crazy sweet tooth! So, I had to stop by a bakery and satisfy my tooth. During one of my late night adventures, I spotted a Japanese-French bakery called Chocolate Republic, and they had an endless supply of fresh pastries and cakes. I spotted a chocolate ball cake that was filled with layers of ganache and chocolate whipped cream. The cake was so mouthwatering that I inhaled it within 10 minutes. Another sweet treat that I picked up in Japan was a Belgian-waffle. When I say that Belgian-waffles are popular in Japan, I mean it. I saw Belgian-waffle stands in the middle of the city next to train terminals, at the airport, and in almost every convenient store. While I was on the way to catch the bus back to my hotel, I saw a fresh Belgian-waffle stand and had to buy myself a treat. I bought a chocolate covered waffle and it was so yummy. The chocolate was not too sweet and it was hardened on the warm waffle so it was not a messy treat to eat. The waffle was the perfect togo snack if you are in a rush and did not cost much either.
Japanese prices were not bad at all. In fact, the US dollar is worth more than the Japanese yen. 100 Japanese yen equates to about $1.17. Almost every meal I bought was under $10 so spending money on food was not much of an issue to me. On the other hand, souvenir shopping was tad over priced. A lot of the tea sets I looked at were too expensive and not worth the price, but no matter where you travel souvenir shopping is always expensive.
All in all, my trip to Japan was a phenomenal experience. I would absolutely go back to Japan and would not mind living there for a while either. That is, if I become more fluent in Japanese. I highly recommend visiting Japan to anyone. The country, the culture, the history, and the people are amazing and traveling to such a spectacular country like Japan should be on everyone’s bucket list. I hope you all enjoyed this post!
Until next time,