Heading to Japan this month? While it may not be as popular a destination during their summers as it is during the spring (no thanks to the generally hot and humid temperatures that can reach an average of about 26°C and can leave you feeling sticky) spending summer in Japan gives one the chance to indulge in some activities that will be more challenging on other seasons such as trekking, hiking (Mount Fuji is open for climbing), witnessing lots of local festivals and enjoying authentic Japanese fare.
If you ever find yourself in Japan during this time, here are our tips of what to eat, why to eat and where to eat it.
Gyudon. Literally translating to beef bowl, this dish that consists of beef cooked in onions, soy sauce and mirin, served on a big bowl of rice (and sometimes with raw egg on top) is probably as popular with the Japanese as it is in with other nationalities. In Japan, it usually comes with pickled ginger and a serving of miso soup. Have it as breakfast or brunch before a long day of walking. There are many restaurants that specialize in gyudon so just take your pick. It’s a wonderful experience to find one that suits your belly and your budget.
Udon. The thickest of noodles in Japanese cuisine, cold udon served with a dipping sauce is popular during the summer months. You can get this from any local restaurant. If you are visiting the Kyoto Imperial Palace, check out some of the restaurants in the area that serves cold udon. You also have access to unlimited cold tea, the perfect picks before or after the tour.
Unagi. Freshwater eel is deemed to be a luxury dish in Japan. Usually served on a bed or rice, it is said to be traditionally eaten during the hottest part of the summer. Try the kabayaki-don where the eel is deboned, cut into fillets, and dipped in a sweet soy sauce based sauce before grilling. Have it as part of a set meal for dinner along the Kamo River—Noryo Yuka—an experience that is unique to Kyoto summers.
Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki, to easily put it, is a savoury pancake made using a variety of ingredients. Try the tonpeiyaki , which is okonomiyaki made of sliced pork and eggs. It is not quite popular in the whole of Japan but apparently, only in Osaka and Kyoto. So if you see it, go ahead and try it.
Kakigori. This shaved ice, flavoured syrup and condensed milk sorbet can be your version of heaven amidst a hot summer day in Japan. Have a kakigori between temple visits to cool you down.
Dango. These are Japanese dumplings made with sticky rice rolled into balls. Try the mitarashi dango, five dango balls skewered into a stick and glazed with sweet soy sauce. Have one as a treat at any time.
Ramen. For people crazy about their ramen, ask a local to point you to the right direction. If you are particularly shy, it is good to observe where locals line up for ramen. Usually, great ramen shops will have a queue outside, customers go in, have their ramen fill, and then leave without much fuss. Have ramen on rainy summer nights. Don’t forget to say, ‘itadakimasu’!
Takoyaki. This famous Japanese snack is best savoured on the streets of Osaka where it apparently originated. Diced octopi, ginger, green onions and batter are transformed into these golden, soft balls that are sweet, salty and tangy all at the same time.
Karaage. Karaage is actually a cooking technique where meat, usually, chicken is marinated in a soy-sauce based concoction then coated with flour before deep frying. Quite simple but can be very addicting. They are great to munch on while watching Japanese street dance performances in lieu of popcorn.
Sukiyaki. Being hot soup based, this is not a popular summer dish. However, it is worth to try if you are dining as a group. The novelty of cooking your own soup on the table is a fun bonding time for people travelling together. It is best to have this in the evening when temperatures have dropped.
Spending summer in Japan is one extraordinary experience. The heat (and the occasional rain), the culture, the sights and the oishii food all make an unforgettable mix that will stay in your palate long after the season is gone.
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