Welcome to another instalment in my ongoing, and quite possibly lifelong, series about how I deal with my withdrawals from Japan. As in actually being in Japan, absorbing and experiencing its absurdly amazing culture. In past entries I have spoken about how I have used my photography and in particular printed images to help inspire, motivate and keep my love of Japan alive. You can check that out here. I have also talked about the kinds of books I have around me related to all things Japan. Again click here to check that out. Well in this instalment I am going to talk about the need to eat to deal with my withdrawals. I know that when I put it that way it sounds like a really unhealthy food association issue. So let me go into a little more detail about what I mean. Apologies if I am about to ruin your dinner.
A big part of my trips to Japan was the amazing food experiences I had. On my first trip to Tokyo in 2015 I still recall, and previously wrote about, that first night staying up all night to walk the streets of Shibuya and photograph the never ending energy. And on that first night, walking through a back alley and finding an all night Ramen bar and inhaling an amazing bowl of Ramen. Or trying street food in Osaka. Or eating unknown skewered cooked meats in Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho. Being a foodie myself, these experiences form just as important a part of the travel process as seeing the sights. And all too often I find myself craving some pan fried Gyoza, or a Japanese curry dish or even loosing my mind in a bowl of Ramen with pork belly. Trust me, it is possible. These cravings awaken my desire to travel back to Japan.
Growing up in suburban Melbourne during the 70’s and 80’s we didn’t have a lot of choice when it came to experiencing cuisines from other cultures. We had Italian pizza restaurants that probably dumbed down culturally rich recipes to meet the bland Australian taste at the time. And then there was the Chinese banquet restaurant which from memory we only went to once as a family. And I am pretty sure that my true blue Australian grandfather refused any of the fancy dishes and simply wanted some dim sims. Steamed! But now we, including my children, are exposed to such a rich and diverse eating experience. Especially here in Melbourne, renowned for its cultural diversity and foodie culture. It is seriously ridiculous the options we have here. Fortunately, we are essentially now spoilt for choice.
Let me give you an example. Within a 5 – 10 minute walk from my front door there are around 20-25 Japanese restaurants of various sizes offering various styles of Japanese cuisine. Push that to a 5km radius and there are dozens and dozens of Japanese restaurants in Melbourne. Some are simple but amazing sushi and sashimi shops and others are hipster-inspired Ramen bars. There is one Ramen place in the middle of Melbourne that I absolutely love and every time I walk in there I feel instantly transported to Tokyo! Shujinko Ramen have a limited menu but what they offer is insanely good. The decor and layout is just like a Ramen bar in Tokyo. The best Ramen in Melbourne. THE BEST! And then just around the corner from my home, near the Prahran Market, is a tiny restaurant that would seat maybe 8 people at a stretch. Koumi-Kazuya serves a surprisingly large menu of Japanese dishes. Then there is Japonica, Hako-Sushi, Tokyo Tepanyaki, Mizu, Tokosan, Sakana, Kuma, Tsukiji, Mr. Miyagi, Matsuri, Yoshi and by now you get the picture. Oh and thanks to Uber Eats, Foodora, Deliveroo and Menu Log most of them deliver. South Yarra is abuzz with the sound of delivery scooters!
And if you are not after a big meal but would like some snacks or drinks, like those served in vending machines and convenience stores all over Japan, then you have a few options available to you. I guess it depends on where you live. We have a number of asian grocers in the area and some of those will also sell recognisable products from Japan. We are especially fortunate to have Fuji Mart located at the Prahran Market. Missing that crazy little can of Big Boss Coffee from Japan? Really need a Calpis fix? Or how about some Japanese candy such as Matcha Kit Kats or Pocky? Well you can get them from stores like Fuji Mart. But if you don’t have a local Japanese grocery store there are services out there where you can order boxes of varying sizes packed with your favourite sweet Japanese candies and drinks. They usually run on a subscription service and you get a delivery in the mail every month. I am subscribed to one for a monthly delivery of instant Ramen bowls.
While on the topic of asian or Japanese grocers, I am a regular shopper at such stores as I also love to cook Japanese inspired meals. I buy the most amazing Gyoza from the freezer section of Fuji Mart and will not hesitate to drop a bunch in some Sesame Oil on a hot pan before poaching them for a few extra minutes. I have cooked Japanese curry a number of times. Some times just to have on its own as we did tonight, and other times to have it with pan fried crumbed chicken fillets and Bull Dog Tonkatsu sauce! Or my most daring dish was a marinated pork stir fry with Soba noodles. Oh I am drooling just thinking about it even though I literally just finished my bowl of curry! But it must also be said that many of these items can be located in regular supermarkets. You don’t have to go to any extreme lengths to get some required items to make a Japanese dish.
I would like to apologise to those of you that are sitting down to your dinner and now feel like you need a good bowl of Ramen with a creamy broth and sliced pork belly. Granted I live in a pretty lucky part of the world where I can get easy access to such delicacies and I have been equally lucky to have travelled to Japan to experience such incredible meals. But, as the title of the blog suggests, this is about how I handle my withdrawals. I hope I have inspired some of you to take a leap and actually have a go at preparing some form of Japanese dish. I don’t have any special cooking skills but when it comes to this sort of food I feel inspired. And to be honest, much of it is pretty easy to prepare. Granted not a 16 hour pork belly broth. But throw a bunch of Gyoza in a steamer or on a pan and you have a taste. Let me know in the comments what your favourite Japanese dish is or what Japanese inspired meal have you managed to cook. Would love to hear from you. G.