One of the true cultural experiences of Japan is the food. I already indulge in Japanese food of some sort at least once an week in Taiwan. I kept hearing that it doesn’t compare to true Japanese food. While I believe that’s true of any “import” food Japanese food here is still so good I couldn’t believe it.
Well of course Japanese food in Japan is the best. Unfortunately most of the time when we ate we were starving so bad from wearing ourselves out sight seeing that we just grabbed what was easiest. Thankfully most of the time that was still something incredibly delicious.
Japanese curry (definitely distinct from the other curries), Tempura, noodles (udon, soba, ramen…. well Han not me), and sushi…. ohhhhh sushi. I think I could go on a trip to Japan again just to eat.
We did gorge on junk food a little more than I would have liked but Japan even does that good! Junk food in Taiwan is not the best. Taiwanese tongues aren’t big on salty foods but in Japan things that are supposed to be salty were salty, and things that shouldn’t be sweet (like milk and whole grain bread) weren’t sweet! Surprisingly Japanese style pizza and hamburgers are both delicious.
A few things did surprise me in Japan. I found out that my taste in food is very Osakan (maybe I made that word up). After awhile I noticed something missing and asked Uken, where are all the teppanyaki restaurants????? Teppayaki is food cooked on a large iron griddle in front of you. Steak, pork, lamb or seafood are fried up in front of you by a swiftly working chef and served along with peppered bean sprouts and oily chinese cabbage. To my surprise this is an “Osaka thing”. Another Osaka thing I adore that was easy enough to find all over Tokyo is Takoyaki. Takoyaki is pieces of octopus cooked up on a very cool grill into battered balls. I have to say even though the Japanese version is more delicious, the Taiwanese version of the wasabi sauce topping is a lot more delicious.
A lot of things are common to Taiwan but it was really interesting to be able to finally distinguish what is Taiwanese, by not being able to find it in Japan, and what comes from Japan.
Something else I found a little odd and funny is that even though there are junk food spots all over Japan I think I only saw one MOS burger on my trip. MOS burger is a Japanese fast food restaurant that is famous for cooking up everything fresh when ordered so it takes the “fast” out of fast food but it’s really popular in Taiwan and it is easy enough to find one within walking distance from wherever you are in Taipei. I’d be willing to bet that there are more MOS locations in Taipei city, than in the whole of Japan.
Although I’ve eaten a lot of crazy things in Taiwan (intestines, alligator, hearts, etc) while browsing menus in Shinjyuku I saw something that simultaneously made my eyes bulge out and make me nearly start crying. I saw not only horse meat on a menu, but also raw horse meat. So wrong on so many levels. It wouldn’t surprise me if somewhere in Taiwan it’s possible to get horse meat but the shocking part… aside from HORSE MEAT… was how posh this place looked.
Surprisingly in the end even though Japan still has some of my favorite meals I was getting really bored with Japanese food and homesick for Taiwanese. I don’t think it’s possible to convey the variety of food that exists in Taiwan and I have a hard time believing there is anywhere else in the world with as much “food diversity”. I’ve lived here over 3 years and I still try new stuff all the time. From my understanding, which could be misinformed…correct me if I’m wrong in the comments, it is because mainlanders who have come from China at different points in history came from all different parts bringing with them their cuisine. Not to mention a lot of colonization by many different countries.
Another annoyance with Japan is how it doesn’t cater to night owls like me 🙂
Compared to Taiwan things close EARLY. In Taiwan there are restaurants that only open at 9 or 10pm. It’s possible to eat at any hour of the night or to find something else to do. Even as huge as it is it really felt like Tokyo shut down early.
But Japan does win brownie points on being foreigner friendly. Wonderful picture menus, realistic food displays outside the restaurants, and food ticket machines that let you buy a ticket that corresponds to a numbered food display. Most of the time, not all of the time, getting food was easy.
Japan also wins points for customer service. First for having customer service, which doesn’t seem to exist in Taiwan, and second for doing it well. Smiles are everywhere, as is courtesy.
Not to mention great ambiance!
Another awesome feature that I’d seen posted in Korean blogs before was the button! This allows you to page your waiter/waitress to let them know you need something.
Taiwan is a long ways away from this!