Bradcat’s Place Focus… Yuzu

The hunt for authentic Japanese food has been a long an arduous task, but someone’s got to do it, eh? So with each restaurant I visit, I weigh up a variety of key components including, taste (obviously), price, atmosphere, and authenticity. Of all the places I’ve been to, many restaurants will tick 70% of these boxes, until I found Yuzu in Manchester which blew my checklist off the table.

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You’ll find Yuzu in the middle of Chinatown in Manchester, with its traditional entrance and hiragana on the doorway「ゆず」 . I stumbled across the restaurant whilst visiting friends and using a quick search on Google, I found Yuzu at the top of the list with amazing reviews. Normally with restaurants with these levels of reviews you’d expect to pay through the nose, however Yuzu offers an amazing selection of Japanese food at affordable prices.

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The restaurant isn’t huge, but it offers seating in a bench style for people eating on their own or in pairs, and also a few larger tables (which I’m assuming can be moved around) to accommodate larger groups. I pushed my luck a little bit and tried to get a table by walking in on Valentines weekend. I think our timing was just right as they were able to fit three of us on a table in the corner, however looking around it seemed the smart thing to do was to make a reservation as all the other tables were taken.

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The waitress was very quick to seat us and take our drinks order and returned promptly. The usual Japanese beers were on offer, Asahi, Kirin Ichiban and Sapporo. However the Yuzu drinks menu is extensive and offers a wide selection of plum wines, spirits, and sake including the International Wine Challenge silver medal winner Ura Gasanryu Huka.

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As always, the common misconception with Japanese food is that it’s all seafood. Yuzu tries to break this stigma by serving up some fantastic traditional Japanese dishes. “But Sean, why don’t they serve Sushi if they’re a Japanese restaurant?!” I hear you cry. Well, Yuzu are so humble in their preparation methods, that they say sushi should be made only by sushi masters, which they are not. (I’m not being snide here, further down this article they say this themselves!) I couldn’t agree more. I’ve tasted some fantastic sushi during my time in Japan, only to come home and taste some utter garbage sushi which is dry and flavourless. Their menu more than makes up for not having sushi. They offer some amazing udon, sashimi don and tempura dishes, but I opted for the teisyoku tonkatsu 「とんかつ」set (pork cutlet) which comes with rice, miso soup and garnish.

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I don’t know if it’s because Yuzu source their ingredients from local suppliers, or they add some sort of magical seasoning to their food, but with one mouthful I was back in Osaka. The smell, the texture, everything was perfect. I tried to explain to my friends how incredible it was to find such delicious Japanese food, but they were too busy slurping their noodles.

I was able to have a quick interview with Yuzu restaurant, so that I could get a better understanding of their preparation methods and secrets behind their success. Here’s what they had to say…

– With Manchester having a lot of Japanese restaurants, what separates Yuzu from the rest?
“We make everything from scratch – gyoza, kara-age, yakitori, ebi-katsu e.t.c. I guess that very basic thing separates us from others.”

– Yuzu is listed as being “authentic Japanese” on many websites. What does an authentic Japanese restaurant mean to you?
“It kind of overlaps with the above question. What we offer is not ‘Pan-Asian’ where other Asian food are also sold as ‘Japanese’. What we offer is a traditional food that has been consumed by the people of Japan for many generations.”

– What would you say to consumers that believe the common misconception that Japanese food is all fish, and all sushi?
“The very reason we don’t do sushi is because in Japan, sushi is made by sushi meisters who trained as apprentices for ten years and finally become sushi maestros. And we don’t have those meisters. We are not going to pretend that we can make sushi because that would be an offence to the Japanese culture.”

– Your Twitter feed often has photographs posted of fresh ingredients. Do you think this gives you an edge over the local competition?
“Not really. It’s a word of mouth that brings new customers.”

– Also posted on your Twitter feed are a range of Japanese beers and sake. Are these available to customers? If so, how do you select the drinks to buy in?
“We select interesting looking, good quality sake from suppliers’ lists and sample them. If we like them, we put them on the menu. With beers, it’s quite limited in choices but we do stock Hitachino ale range now which are proving to be very popular.”

Thanks to all the staff at Yuzu for taking the time to answer my questions, and for serving up the most delicious Japanese meal I’ve had since returning from Japan.

ありがとうございました!

If you’d like to visit Yuzu, you can find their websites here:
Yuzu Official Website
Yuzu Facebook
Yuzu Twitter

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Bradcat’s Japanese Culture Focus… Japan Sweets Nom

A few months ago I posted an article on Tofu Cute, a UK based company which delivers Japanese sweets to your door. However they aren’t the only company in this market. Fairly new on the scene is a company called Japan Sweets Nom.

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The company came to fruition when the creators spend a month backpacking around Japan. Upon trying some of the kawaii sweets on offer, they found themselves unable to discard the beautiful and fun packaging. They realised that Japanese sweets had something special about them. As they state on their website, “Kawaii Candy” is somewhat of it’s own cuisine these days.

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The company has a comfortable presence on Twitter. While they may not be oozing followers, they take the time to respond to their customers, and even go out of their way to interact with customers that they follow (Myself included with a recent compliment on my Twitter header). From their responses, you get the impression that this isn’t some big, heartless, money grabbing corporation, but that it’s a handful of people trying to share delicious Japanese treats, at affordable prices in the UK.

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My personal favourite is Watapachi (わたパチ) which is a candy floss based sweet, with more consistency and popping candy thrown into the mix. It isn’t overly sticky, so you can hold it and tear pieces off in comfortable mouthfuls. Because of how light it is, you’ll find it dissolves in your mouth, leaving behind bursting grape flavour. Grape is a very popular flavour in Japan, you’ll find it in Hi-Chew sweets (also called Puccho which Japan Sweets Nom sell) and various drinks from vending machines.

boss cafe au lait

Speaking of vending machines, they also stock the drink which kept me energised for three weeks in Japan, BOSS Café au lait. You’ll find this inside almost all vending machines in Tokyo and Osaka, and best of all? It’s piping hot! Many people question why you’d bother getting a small can like this, rather than waiting to get home and making a brew there instead. But when you get the urge, and you need that caffeine fix, this hits the spot like you wouldn’t believe. Obviously if you purchase this from Japan Sweets Nom,  it’ll be cold. It can be enjoyed cold, but it can also easily be heated up. Boil a pan, take off the hob, drop the can into the boiling water for a minute or two, and hey presto, authentic vending machine Japanese coffee!

Japan Sweets Nom have a wide selection of sweets at great prices. There’s even a bargain section where you can pick up sweets for as little as 70p. Delivery costs depend on your location, but in the UK it’s £3.99. So make sure you pack your order with plenty of sweets!

You can find Japan Sweets Nom here: http://www.japansweetsnom.com

And also on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Japan_nom

 

Bradcat’s Place Focus… Tofu Cute

One of the things I miss about Japan, is the ability to pop to the local konbini (コンビニ) after a long day exploring and grab a handful of snacks to take back to my hostel to see me through the night. Luckily upon my return to England I quickly discovered that all was not lost, as I could still get my hands on these delicious snacks. How? Enter “Tofu Cute”

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“Tofu Cute” is an online store which specialises in Japanese (and also Korea, Taiwan & Hong Kong) sweets and snacks. They also offer a range of cute (or Kawaii) accessories along with a host of other goodies.

I first used “Tofu Cute” long before I actually left for Japan, as a taster of what was to come. I went a little bit over the top, which is easily done as the prices are very reasonable, and ordered what can only be described as enough Japanese sweets to feed a small army. The web-store is easy to navigate, as I found myself adding pocky sticks after pocky sticks to my basket. They also accept all payment types through the website, including PayPal if you’re one of those sorts who doesn’t like to enter their credit card details into websites.

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Tofu Cute also make many appearances at conventions and exhibitions, including one I attended this weekend (Birmingham MCM) where once again, it’s very easy to get carried away. The helpful Tofu member of staff (whose name I didn’t catch, sorry!) handed me a small pink basket to put my items in, which lead to me stacking even more sweets in!

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If you can’t make it to one of the expos, don’t panic. Ordering from their website is just as fun. The best news is that standard UK delivery for orders under £20 are only £2.50, and orders £20 or more are free delivery!

You can check out Tofu Cute via their:

Official website
Facebook
Twitter

Bradcat’s Japanese Culture Focus… CC Lemon Advert

Japanese TV has always been famous for it’s bizarre advertisements. I recall seeing a YouTube “mashup” of Japanese McDonalds clips which gave me nightmares for about three weeks. More recently it seems marketing teams are trying to be more creative, and have been taking heavy inspiration from YouTube artists.

Some of you might’ve seen a popular first person video on social media last year. It was during the height of parkour and first-person-perspective videos and featured a man in a getaway scenario. CAUTION: Contains strong language and violence, click here to see that video.

Well Japanese soft drink company CC Lemon (a product of Suntory) have clearly took inspiration from this and other videos to create this awesome advert, in which two high school girls… well… see for yourself…

There are subtitles for most of the video, the main thing being said frequently is “ちょっと待って!” or simply just “待って!” which means “Wait a minute!” or “Wait!” However there’s a few other parts which aren’t explained.

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Makibishi @ 1:30 = 撒菱 These are a type of caltrop which were used by ninja in feudal Japan. They were used to slow down pursuers.

Maruta @ 1:44 = 丸太 This is the Japanese word for wood, or log.

Musasabi @ 2:11 = 鼯鼠 This is a Japanese flying squirrel 

Kemuridama @ 2:20 = 煙玉 is a smoke bomb! It’s quite popular in the anime Naruto.

Yamori @ 2:22 = ヤモリ The Japanese word for gecko, a type of lizard that is well known for its specialised toe pads that enable it to climb smooth and vertical surfaces.

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CC Lemon is known for its yellow branding, with some adverts featuring The Simpsons, or anime characters dressed in yellow outfits. It’s a refreshing drink which claims to hold the equivalent of 70 lemons worth of vitamin C in the average 500ml bottle.

I think I’ll just stick to my tea for now…

Bradcat’s Place Focus… Woktastic

” Feed me takoyaki!”, my stomach has grumbled, since returning from Japan in April. I’m only aware of one restaurant who offers authentic takoyaki in my local area, and that’s Woktastic. So here we go…

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You may recall the name of the restaurant due to a previous visit to Woktastic for my birthday back in January. On this visit I had my first taste of takoyaki as I was yet to explore Japan and try the “real deal”. Now that I’ve been, tried it, and returned, I can safely say how delicious it is in comparison.

There’s a lot to be said for something as simple as diced octopus wrapped in a light batter. But when you combine that with Japanese mayonnaise, you’re in for a taste sensation. Luckily, Woktastic offer both of these. You can either order a plate of 3 balls, or go for their buffet menu where you can take anything from the conveyor belt, where you will find takoyaki on there too. Speaking of the buffet conveyor belt, you’ll find heaps of other nibbles to tuck into, including a huge range of sushi.

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The sushi is much more affordable (not to mention a lot more delicious) than the sushi you’ll find at Yo! Sushi. There is also a much wider choice on offer too. Not too dissimilar from Yo! Sushi, Woktastic offers a “plate colour” system, where the plates are priced depending on the colour. It’s quite easy to find your hands wondering to the conveyor belt to help yourself, adding more items to your bill. That being said, the most expensive dish on the belt is under £5, and the buffet menu is a mere £14.99 on an evening (£11.99 if you go for lunch)

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All of the staff are wonderful. I’ve only visited Woktastic twice now, and both times they’ve been incredibly welcoming, as though we’ve been friends for years. They really try to look after you and try their best to cater to any request you have.

On this occasion, I decided to go for the chicken ramen (surprise, surprise) (ラーメンが大好きです)  while my friend Dan opted for a katsu curry bento box. Bento boxes offer a decent portion of a selection of dishes, packed into a box with different compartments. Typically there are pickles in the middle, a section for rice, a section for the meat, and the last two sections vary from each Japanese restaurant I’ve been to. Woktastic offer a salad, and a side of gyozas (depending on which bento you select).

IMG_4257-4Dan’s delicious katsu bento

IMG_2194-3My equally delicious chicken ramen

On a recent visit to Wagamama, I ordered some pork ramen (which I ate a lot of in Japan.) But something unthinkable happened, I didn’t finish my bowl! I couldn’t explain it, but I think because I’d tasted authentic Japanese ramen I knew how it was meant to taste, and this just didn’t measure up. Sorry Wagamama! However the broth used in Woktastic is almost identical to what you’d find in Japan, even the presentation is incredibly similar.

All in all, a great visit to Woktastic. Delicious food, affordable prices (though it’s easy to get carried away!), friendly staff, and a great atmosphere. If you’re ever in Birmingham, please take your time to find this restaurant. You’ll find it just off Broad Street, near the library and Birmingham museum and art gallery. Full directions on their website.

Woktastic Official Website

Woktastic on Twitter

All prices were correct at the time of posting. Please check the Woktastic website for up to date prices!

Bradcat’s Personal Focus… Getting Around Japan – Places

I think it’s safe to say, that any topic I post about visiting Japan will be heavily biased, because I’d like you to see it all. However, with such a big place, and the average holiday only lasting two weeks, I’m here to share some of the best places I visited during my time in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. This way, if you ever have the opportunity to visit Japan, you know these places are the best of the bunch (That I visited at least)


Places

Khaosan Tokyo Ninja – Tokyo

Myself and Bob with the crazy staff of Tokyo Ninja

Khaosan Tokyo Ninja was by far, the best hostel we stayed in during our three weeks. They were incredibly helpful when our plans changed last minute when we needed to change a date of check out. While most hostels (and even some hotels) would find this a pain to arrange, these guys made sure we were looked after.

As you walk into the hostel you have to remove your shoes (as with all homes in Japan) and announce “TADAIMA!” (ただいま) (Not if it’s after 10pm though, as some people may be sleeping!) to which at least one member of staff will shout back “OKAERI!” (おかえり) The main desk is almost always manned except for early hours of the morning, so if you encounter any problems or need to request to borrow something (e.g. a towel, or washing powder) there is always someone there to help. There is also a suite of PCs that can be used at any time.


A spotless shared bathroom, four sinks and three showers
The entire hostel is exceptionally clean, as they offer an exchange of accommodation for cleaning. So they always have a team of five to six people on hand, to help tidy the place, which is great with the volume of travellers they have staying with them on a daily basis.

You can rent a number of items from reception, from the basics such as a towel, to the more advanced personal Wi-Fi hotspot, which is handy if you’re trying to navigate around Tokyo. The hostel is located just three minutes away from the JR Sobu line, so you’ll find yourself being able to access most of the big areas of Tokyo with ease.

The main team of Mi-ne, Erina, Hiroko, Rico, and Yutaka are genuinely interested in hearing about your exploits while in Japan. Each morning we were asked what we were doing that day, and on our return we’d bring them a small omiyage to which they were incredibly grateful. They showed us fantastic hospitality (Omotenashi) (おもてなし) for which we were insistent on returning the favour if any of them ever visit England (Which Yutaka will be in August, so let’s make him feel welcome!)
KHAOSAN TOKYO NINJA
2-5-1 Nihombashi Bakurocho,

Chuo-ku, Tokyo


Fuji Ramen – ラーメン藤 – Kyoto


Fuji Ramen is located in Kyoto on Gojo Dori. It’s a fairly small shop so it’s easily missed, however that doesn’t mean it’s not popular. Depending on the time of day, it’ll be either very quiet, or at capacity. It’s fantastic value for money because the chef is very generous with the portions. Speaking of which, the owners were very friendly and welcoming to gaijin (we were complimented on our Japanese speaking a few times)



I foolishly had eyes bigger than my stomach and ordered a large pork ramen and chicken karaage, which I couldn’t finish. It was easily one of the biggest meals I ate while in Japan! If you’re in Kyoto, be sure to visit this place.

ラーメン藤 (Fuji Ramen)
15-1 Gojobashihigashi 2-chome
Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0846
Website: Fuji Ramen


Chitose – ちとせ – Osaka


The award for the tastiest meal I ate in Japan, goes to Chitose restaurant in Osaka. The chef here serves some world class Okonomiyaki, as many Japanese celebrities have visited here over the years and signed his wall leaving messages of praise.

For those who are unfamiliar with Okonomiyaki, try to imagine all your favourite meat, and noodles, sandwiched between two giant omelettes, and topped with delicious sauces and seasoning. Also, leave those chopsticks at home, true Okonomiyaki is eaten straight from the hotplate using a small spatular and shovelled straight into your mouth.



Adding the seasoning…


Myself with the number one Osaka Okonomiyaki chef (spatular in hand of course)


I’m unsure if it’s just my Western expectation of portion sizes, but the chefs in Japan seem to be very generous for what you pay. This incredible meal set me back ¥750 which is roughly £4, and I’m not even exaggerating when I say it was one of the best meals I ate. Bob will back me up on this one, as he isn’t a fan of food with eggs, but he adored this meal.

The chef was very welcoming and spoke English very well, which is a sign he is accustomed to gaijins visiting him on a regular basis. The restaurant also has it’s regulars who will happily sit next to you and drink a beer. We encountered an elderly lady during our visit who announced herself as “Grandma” or “Obaasan” (お婆さん) and gave us some sweets, explaining that Grandmothers in Japan ALWAYS carry sweets.



The atmosphere was fantastic, using my broken Japanese I was able to ask if April was a busy time of year for him, with Sakura in full blossom and many people coming to see it. He laughed and said “Every time is busy for me!”

You may have a hard time finding this restaurant as it’s tucked down a few side alleys, however if you’re in Osaka, please take the time to find it!

ちとせ (Chitose)
Osaka City Nishinari Taishi 1-11-10
Website: Chitose


Rock Bar Cherry Bomb – Osaka


We had an awesome time in Osaka during the evening, many bars are open quite late including this gem which our friend Hana took us to; “Cherry Bomb”. It’s an American themed bar located on the fifth floor of a building just off of Europa Dori. It’s fairly small, it’s cozy, and most importantly, it’s awesome. Jesse and Monica, who are from California, set up this bar a few years ago, and it’s been going from strength to strength since with events like “Taco Tuesday” and “Fryday Fry Up” attracting lots of customers from around the world.

Because of it’s warm and friendly atmosphere, you’ll likely find yourself talking to a total stranger as though they’re your best friend. It’s like something ripped straight from the sitcom “Cheers”. You’ll find a mash of cultures in this bar, with Japanese people who want a taste of the American style bar, while at the same time, some Americans go here to feel at home. It’s a culture swap paradise, so there’s always someone to talk to.


Jesse and Monica


It might seem odd to some people to visit an American style bar when visiting Japan, however sometimes you just need a few hours break from the chaos of Osaka. The guys behind the bar are always asking if you’d like more drinks, so your glass is never empty. Because this bar is cash only, they will let you set up a tab and just pay at the end of your evening… providing you can still stand after all those White Russians…

Rock Bar Cherry Bomb
Chuo Ku Higashishinsaibashi 2-4-8 5f
Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0083
Facebook: Rock Bar Cherry Bomb

King Emon – きんぐえもん (金久右衛門 阿倍野ルシアス店)


We visited this ramen shop twice during our stay in Osaka, both times we received a friendly welcome and excellent service. This is actually a part of a small chain of restaurants dotted around Osaka. Like most ramen restaurants you order your type of noodle, broth, and meat, however from there, you can pay a little extra for your extras. I opted for more pork, and the serving was quite substantial, not to mention delicious. The pork was very soft, so you could easily separate the larger pieces with your chopsticks with ease.

The member of staff on “pot wash” was sporting a Steins;Gate t-shirt!
The staff speak a little bit of English, and also understand my terrible Japanese, so you shouldn’t have a problem communicating. We caught the attention of the one member of staff when we mentioned popular anime Steins;Gate (click for my blog post on this anime) and I flashed my personalised business card featuring the logo from the opening credits.

The restaurant is fairly small, but not cramped, though during busy times, don’t be surprised if you can’t sit next to your friend. Due to where we sat (right in the middle of the bench) a small group of high school boys played a game of janken (じゃん拳) to determine who would sit next to their friends and who would sit next to the gaijins due to the lack of seats, quite amusing.


Look at that bowl of golden deliciousness

The food is really good value for money too, with two big bowls of ramen with extra pork setting us back only ¥1,800 which is roughly £10. As I already mentioned, the pork is delicious, and the broth is nice enough to drink at the end without being too sickly. 

1-5-1 Abenosuji, Abeno Ward, 
Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 545-0052
Website: King Emon

So there you have it, just a small selection of my favourite places I visited during my three week stay in Japan. If you’ve visited Japan and would like to share your favourite place, please leave a comment below. Have you visited one of these places? If so, please share your experience!

Bradcat’s Personal Focus… Getting Around Japan – Food

As I outlined in my previous blog post, there are a lot of common misconceptions about Japan, particularly the diet of Japanese people. No, they don’t just eat fish. Japanese food has so much to offer, and that’s what I’ll be covering today, along with how you go about getting your hands on this deliciousness!

Food


A common sight in Japan

You don’t need to know much about Japanese culture to know that they love their vending machines. You’re never more than 30ft away from a vending machine. They’re on the main street, side alleys, inside shops, bus stops, train stations, almost anywhere you can fit one of these machines, the Japanese will put one there.

The majority dispense soft drinks and hot drinks (Blue buttons are cold drinks, while red buttons are warm drinks), however there are a number of machines which sell alcohol and cigarettes. Don’t worry, these machines require an ID card for them to dispense age restricted goods (Smoking and drinking age in Japan is 20) so children can’t just help themselves to some beer and a packet of fags.


Food ticket vending machine

Many fast food Japanese restaurant chains works slightly differently to the ones in the West. In most, you won’t be greeted by a waiter handing you menus, instead you’ll be greeted by one of these ticket vending machines. You place your yen into the slot, and then hit the button for the dish you’d like. Most machines have a small picture on there to make it a little easier, while others have a touch screen style set up. You then take your ticket to the chef and you take a seat.

You can normally gauge the dish sizes from their cost, with sides such as rice or miso soup not costing more than ¥100 or so, while the average meal will set you back roughly ¥500. My advice is to keep an eye out for this kanji (大) as it means “large” or “big” for when you’re really hungry, those meals will set you back around ¥700 or so.

Sliced pork and ox tail

I can’t stress the importance of this next point enough. You’re in Japan… Try something different!

Don’t be afraid to try a dish because of your current diet. Don’t let names of dishes put you off either. While I was in Japan I tried all kinds of delicious dishes such as ox tail (pictured above), beef tongue, squid, and octopus to name a few. Most dishes are usually served on top of (or alongside) rice or noodles as a pallet cleanser.

Many fast food places sell donburi (どんぶり) which literally translates as “bowl of rice” and it’s usually topped with meat of some description. My personal favourite was gyudon which is donburi topped with seasoned beef. It comes served in a bowl big enough for you to lift with one hand, so don’t be afraid to cup it with your left hand, lift it closer to your face and get stuck in!

A Sendai speciality; Beef tongue

An Osaka speciality; Takoyaki (battered octopus)


If some of these dishes seem a little outlandish for you, don’t panic. Japan has so many dishes, that it can cater to almost all diets. For those of you that have been to popular Japanese restaurants in the UK (or wherever you may be from) you will have most likely seen katsu curry. This comes from the word katsuretsu (カツレツ) which means cutlet, and is often used to refer to breaded meat.

Katsu curry is the “safe” option when eating Japanese food, as you may or not know it was actually imported from the UK during the 19th Century. The curry is fairly mild in my opinion, and goes well with any of the meat it’s served with, usually with a side of rice.

A selection of curry dishes

I foolishly thought I could finish a large dish…
There you have it, not once did I mention sushi or fish while writing about Japanese food. You most likely know all there is to know about sushi from various TV shows and YouTube videos anyway! In an upcoming blog which will be a continuation of this series, I’ll give you the locations of some of the best venues I visited in Japan for accommodation, food, drink, and entertainment.

If you’d like to know more about any of the foods I’ve mentioned, please feel free to drop me a message on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or even just in the comments below!