We love food. Like….looooove food. And any trip we take we make it a priority to book at least one tour with a local to find the best places to eat and the style of food indigenous to the area. And as early as possible into the trip so that we can use their recommendations later on to find things. We’ve done quite a lot of them all over the world trying many types of food…..and this becomes a problem in Japan where there are lots of overlapping styles. But we’ll get to that….
We found Kevin on Viator (Pro tip #1…you know what, for levity the tips are their own post here now) and booked the not-least-expensive tour which included all food and drinks on the trip. Our meeting place was the entrance to a subway in an area that was basically crazy. The streets were enclosed and there were shops spilling out into the street. There were dozens of little off-shoot lanes with restaurants and food of every ilk. Luckily Kevin is a 6-foot-something redhead which, as it happens, is rare thing in Japan. He has lived there for 6-years and had a great grasp of the language.
We started off with some history about the road and it being the longest shopping road in Japan. And on that road was a “really cool crazy thing you’ll never see anywhere but Japan!” Kevin said. “Oh” we responded “You mean the Super Tamade grocery store? We went there last night and this morning”. “Oh” said Kevin with a very audible deflating in his voice. This would be a sign of things to come, however. But he was still nice enough to translate some products in the store (I somehow ended up buying a large pickled daikon radish) for us, show us the difference in which beef comes from which country (the Japanese beef is hugely marbled) and, most importantly, told us what was on the loudspeaker.
The loud speaker, here and in the one we went to previously, was a non-stop barrage of one guy just talking. Endlessly. The same thing over and over until we were about to rip the speakers from the wall and wondered aloud if the employees had a higher than normal incidence of suicide. “SUPATAMADE! SUPATAMADE! SUPATAMADE!”
Next we finally got some actual food! The first place we went to was a stand-up bar. These are quite unique, as we were told, to Japan. Basically it is a place for people (mostly men) to go for a quick drink and a little snack from a massive menu, all while standing up. The walls are lined with wooden plaques showing what is available for food and the price. Unfortunately these are all in Japanese, making it basically impossible (or at the very least culinarily difficult) to order without someone there to translate. Kevin recommended, as a challenge to us, a surprise food! If we were up to it, of course, because it wasn’t for everyone and maybe we didn’t have the guts for it. It was…..”whale!” he exclaimed. And again the disappointment in his voice was palpable when we told him “Ah sure, we had that 4 different ways in Norway”. Before we ordered, though, we asked what kind of whale it was (we ARE still Canadian after all). Kevin was not sure, but sent in the order. As he was about to ask we both heard the guy yell the order for “<something japanese> minke <something else japanese>”. “Oh minke!” we both said to Kevin, “that’s fine, its sustainable”. This was not going to be an easy task for poor Kevin, and we said that we just need to shut up and let the guide “surprise” us from now on.
We also ordered beef tripe in a lovely sauce of miso, and small deep-fried mackerel which are then pickled. All delicious, all things we would absolutely order again. With a nice cold beer and a boisterous crowd around us it felt a lot like a neighbourhood watering hole where everyone knows your name and everyone has a good time.
We asked Kevin to write down the ones we liked in case we ordered them elsewhere. He did so, but mentioned it is much harder to write the symbols than understand or speak them. Which is true, and is the main reason these types of languages are so difficult for English speakers to learn. Because this is honestly not far from the actual conversation we had:
Kevin: That menu item says ‘Lovely rainbow falling from the garden of enchantment that reached the golden sea on the back of the precious dragon’
Tom: Oh wow. And that is…
Kevin: Deep-fried pickled hog intestine filled with fermented sardines
Outside the bar Kevin explained how the beer vending machines work. Now vending machines in Japan are basically everywhere. And by basically, I mean THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. We saw machines where we honestly had to ask “where do they get the power from…..?”. Every block in Osaka had at least 1 but normally 3 or 4 machines. In said machines you can buy basically anything you can stuff in your mouth….soda, water, something called Pocari Sweat, cigarettes, KitKat, chips…..anything. But beer and sake are a special case. You have to be, officially, 20 to buy booze in Japan. So liquor machines are only outside of bars, and they have a camera! Kevin said whether it works is another story (hint: they almost always don’t) and the intention is you look into the camera and someone, somewhere, checks if you look 20 before you can buy. In practice no one cares and teenagers are free to get wasted on 5% beer at $2 a can if they really want to.
Cigarettes too are a special case, in that on the machine there is a button you have to push after putting your money in that says along the lines of “Are you over 20?”. Punch “yes” and the amazing bureaucracy keeping the Japanese youth safe has once again thwarted evil doers.
Next we headed to a pachinko parlour (a circle of hell Dante completely missed), a hotel, a place to watch DVD’s, and a place that called me an egg. But those are tales for another post……