Sweets Paradise

Happy holidays, everyone! It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and if you live in America, you’re either fist fighting for TVs at Walmart or rolling on the floor and complaining about how full you are. I’m definitely part of the latter, and today I want to share a foodie experience in Japan that will make you want to curl up in a ball afterwards.

Welcome to Sweets Paradise….an all you can eat dessert buffet in Japan.

Sweets Paradise Japan, cake buffet

Sweets Paradise has a number of locations across Japan, from Shibuya and Harajuku in Tokyo to Hiroshima and Fukuoka down south. If you love dessert or anything sweet and girly, you should definitely check this place out.

Sweets Paradise Japan

Inside a Sweets Paradise….via Flickr.

Upon entry, customers buy a ticket from a small machine (similar to those at ramen shops) for around $15 a person. Dining at the buffet is limited from 70 to 90 minutes, but have no fear- this is more than enough time to stuff your face.

Sweets Paradise Japan

Behold the glory!

At the buffet, Sweets Paradise has a huge number of sweets, ranging from strawberry shortcake and tiramisu to traditional Japanese sweets such as mocha and green tea cake. There are also a number of seasonal items, such as pumpkin in the fall and Christmas cake in December. At the end of the buffet, many locations even have a chocolate fountain, and a multitude of cookies, fruits, and other treats to dip.

Sweets Paradise Japan

A selection of deliciousness

If you’re in the mood for something a bit colder, the buffet also has soft serve with every type of topping imaginable as well as a shaved ice machine. Need something to drink? There’s a coffee and espresso machine, a soda machine, and a dozen types of hot and cold tea to suit your fancy.

Sweets Paradise Japan

Tea and cappuccino

Too many sweets at once? Don’t worry- Sweets Paradise also serves a huge variety of pastas, curries, rice, pizza, soup, and salad. This way, you can keep enjoying dessert without being overwhelmed by all the sugar.

Sweets Paradise Japan

Pasta and garlic bread…nom nom nom.

Whenever a new dish is ready, the staff at Sweets Paradise ring a bell to let the customers know. “Chocolate cake is here!” they’ll shout. “Please come and enjoy.”

Sweets Paradise Japan

If you love dessert or are just looking to gorge yourself at a buffet, Sweets Paradise is for you. Come with an empty stomach, and try some Japanese desserts that you’ll be hard-pressed to find at an affordable price anywhere else. Check out their website, and look at some of the delicious sweets they have to offer! The menus are in Japanese, but I think the pictures speak for themselves…and definitely make me hungry.

What’s your favorite dessert? Thanks again for reading, and I hope you saved room for cake tonight!

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Okonomiyaki

A few weeks ago, I talked about some of my favorite Japanese street foods. However, I left one out that is extremely popular both on the street and in restaurants across Japan. Okonomiyaki is a fried pancake, usually composed of batter and cabbage, which can have any number of toppings and mix-ins. This is reflected in its very name; okonomi literally means “to your liking” and yaki means “cooked or fried.”

Okonomiyaki

Via Flickr

While you can find okonomiyaki all over Japan, like ramen, the styles and toppings vary greatly from region to region. It’s most popular in the Kansai area of Japan (around Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto) and Hiroshima.

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki from Osaka, via Flickr.

Like takoyaki, the pancake batter in okonomiyaki is not sweet. It’s filled with a number of savory ingredients, such as octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, or kimchi.

Just some of the ingredients you can put in okonomiyaki. Green onions, pickled ginger, egg, mushroom, and pork. Via Flickr.

Just some of the ingredients you can put in okonomiyaki. Green onions, cabbage, pickled ginger, egg, mushroom, and pork. Via Flickr.

In Japan, okonomiyaki is typically served at restaurants that only specialize in this dish. There is usually a large griddle at each table or in front of the customer at the bar counter, where the chef or server will cook the okonomiyaki for you.

Okonomiyaki

An okonomiyaki restaurant in Hiroshima. Via Flickr.

There are also many restaurants where you cook it yourself (like I tried), but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you know what you’re doing, or go with someone who has cooked it before!

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Our personal grill at a cook-it-yourself okonomiyaki restaurant

First, customers order what ingredients they would like in their pancake and the server or chef brings out a bowl of raw batter, vegetables, and seafood or meat. Then, everything is mixed together and placed on the hot griddle in a pancake-like shape.

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki

Mixing the ingredients

Okonomiyaki

Once one side is cooked, you use large metal spatulas to flip the pancake over. This is usually the hardest part of cooking okonomiyaki, and without patience or practice, it can end up breaking apart.

Okonomiyaki

Definitely the hardest part of cooking okonomiyaki. It took us a few tries to keep everything together (but it still tasted delicious!)

Once the pancake is cooked all the way through, you can add traditional toppings. First is okonomiyaki sauce (basically the same as takoyaki sauce), then Japanese mayo, katsuobushi (bonito fish flakes), and dried seaweed. Okonomiyaki is then usually broken into bite-sized pieces and left on the cooking surface, so that each piece is hot and eaten right off the griddle.

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki sauce (brown glaze), dried seaweed (green flakes), katsuobushi (brown flakes), and Japanese mayo (white lines). Via Flickr.

This type of okonomiyaki (Kansai style) is the most popular and can be found all across Japan. In comparison, the Hiroshima style has layered ingredients rather than mixed. The batter is cooked like a thin crepe and the other ingredients are added as toppings, rather than mixed into the batter. Yakisoba or udon noodles are also an extremely popular layer, topped with a fried egg and a liberal amount of okonomiyaki sauce.

Okonomiyaki

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. Via Flickr.

While this dish is extremely popular in Japan, I haven’t been able to find it at all in the US. Do you know where I could find some?

In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to try cooking it myself. Just One Cookbook, one of my favorite Japanese food blogs, has a great okonomiyaki recipe. Try it out, and let me know what you think!

Osaka

Osaka is the second largest metropolis in Japan, and is located in the Kansai region about 3 hours away from Tokyo by bullet train. It’s the capital of Osaka prefecture as well as the largest part of the Keihanshin metropolis, which is composed of the cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe.

Via Flickr

Via Flickr

 Historically, Osaka is the commercial center of Japan and was the country’s center for trading rice in the Edo period. Today, Osaka still functions as a major center for the Japanese economy and is home to several important electronic companies, including Panasonic and Sanyo.

Osaka Skyline via Flickr

Osaka Skyline via Flickr

 Although I didn’t spend much time in Osaka, this is one city that I definitely want to revisit. Because Osaka is also known for its food, I began my travels in Dotonbori, a street in the center of the city that is famous for its flashing neon signs, dozens of restaurants, and regional cuisine.

Dotonbori OsakaDotonbori OsakaDotonbori is a huge tourist attraction and the main destination for food travel in the Kansai region. Here, you can try many cuisines such as takoyaki, okonomiyaki, udon noodles, and sushi. We visited a well-known takoyaki restaurant and spent a half hour in line just to try it!

Dotonbori Osaka

Takoyaki restaurant in the Dotonbori

takoyakiOsaka

Takoyaki

Takoyaki lights!

TakoyakiIn Osaka you often hear or see the word kuidaore, which literally means ““to ruin oneself by extravagance in food.” This is exemplified in many local proverbs, particularly ones that compare the city to Kyoto. One old saying says that while Kyotoites spend all their money on shopping and kimonos, Osakans are ruined by spending money on food.

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Zubora-ya

Zubora-ya, a famous pufferfish lantern outside of a fugu restaurant

And with so many delicious options, it’s easy to see how.

Dotonbori Osaka

If you need somewhere to walk off all the food in Dotonbori, Osaka Castle is another popular tourist destination and a beautiful history site. Surrounded by Osaka Castle Park, the castle is one of Japan’s most famous buildings and played a major role in uniting Japan during the 16th century.

Osaka Castle Park

Osaka Castle Park

Osaka Castle ParkOsaka Castle

Osaka Castle was built in 1583 under orders of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a territory lord and general who is revered as Japan’s second great unifier. While it was burned down in several battles, the castle was rebuilt in the early 20th century and is considered a symbol of Osaka.

Osaka Castle

The castle is open to the public, and contains a museum inside with many artifacts and displays about the 16th and 17th century. On the 8th floor, you can also enjoy amazing open-air views of the city.

Osaka Castle

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DSC_5434Osaka also offers attractions for all ages, including the second largest aquarium in the world, traditional theaters, shopping districts, an enormous Ferris wheel, and more. Plan to stay for a few days, and make sure to bring plenty of money for food. You may leave a few pounds heavier than when you came, but with so much to try and do, it’s definitely worth it.

Osaka Castle

Osaka CastleI’ll be finishing my tour of the Kansai area next week, but thanks again for reading! What kind of travel destinations do you prefer, historical or modern?

Japanese Food Blogs

Have you ever tried cooking Japanese food yourself at home? Now, I know sushi looks excruciatingly complicated, but there are so many other types of Japanese food that are easy to make in your own kitchen! Here in Boston, I constantly try to recreate the meals I enjoyed in Tokyo, such as tomato ramen, Japanese curry, and gyozas.

Homemade Ramen

My own homemade ramen!

I’ve found that many people are intimidated by unfamiliar ingredients, particularly ones that need to be purchased in Asian grocery stores. However, with the right recipes or inspiration, Japanese food is easy to make and extremely delicious.

On today’s Food Feature Friday, I’m divulging from my usual routine and featuring a few of my favorite Japanese food bloggers. So what are you waiting for? Get cooking!

1. Just One Cookbook

Just One CookbookJust One Cookbook is a Japanese food blog written by Nami, a Japanese native who now lives in San Francisco with her family. She posts traditional Japanese recipes that she makes for her family, from sushi and bento boxes to Japanese deserts. Each of her recipes is extremely easy to follow, and include professional photographs that will make your mouth water.

Oyakodon by Namiko Chen- Just One Cookbook

Oyakodon by Namiko Chen- Just One Cookbook

 What really sets Just One Cookbook apart is her explanation of many traditional Japanese ingredients. Nami goes through typical condiments, sauces, and essential foods that are common in Japanese households, but may stump a casual chef. She even explains many Japanese cooking techniques, including wrapping dumplings, preparing seafood for cooking, and even creating decorative garnishes.

Whether you’re looking for a creative bento box for your kids or a delicious recipe for dinner tonight, Just One Cookbook has you covered. Sign up for her emailing list and get new recipes straight in your inbox, with first access to food giveaways as well.

2. Sushi Day

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 10.51.46 AMSushi Day is a great resource for the aspiring sushi chef, or someone looking for new sushi recipes to try. The blog is written by Allison, a web developer from California who also has a passion for sushi. Sushi Day offers everything from simple nigiri (one piece of fish over rice) to inventive maki, such as Honey Green Tea Tilapia rolls, Unicorn rolls, and even rolls using leftover Thanksgiving food!

Lemon Drop Roll by Allison Day- Sushi Day

Lemon Drop Roll by Allison Day- Sushi Day

While Sushi Day is not a blog for beginners, as many of the recipes include sophisticated ingredients or require a few sushi skills, it’s still a great blog to check out. Even if you’re not a sushi chef, the great pictures will make you want to become one. Sushi Day also features tutorials, reviews, and photo features of Allison’s travels in both California and in Japan.

Porki Maki by Allison Day- Sushi Day

Porki Maki by Allison Day- Sushi Day

3. Luxeat

Luxeat

Although this blog isn’t about cooking and recipes, Luxeat is one of my absolute favorite foodie blogs to follow. It’s written by Aiste, a top fashion model who is also passionate about food and travel. Luxeat follows Aiste’s adventures travelling around the world, and the amazing fine cuisine she eats wherever she goes. She’s been to France, Berlin, Spain, Hong Kong, London New York and more, and always has amazing photos documenting her experiences.

My favorite part about Luxeat, however, is her adventures in Japan. Aiste has been to some of the top (and most expensive!) restaurants in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. From the legendary Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza (made famous in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi) to the most expensive tempura in the world, Aiste has tried it all.

Luxeat is perfect for exploring some of the best high-end restaurants in Japan, especially since you’ll probably never get a chance to try them. Just be warned: your neighborhood sushi restaurant probably won’t cut it after seeing some of the masterpieces on this blog.

 That’s it for today’s Food Feature Friday! What are your favorite Japanese food blogs? I’m dying to read more!

Alice in Wonderland Themed Cafe

As you’ve probably noticed in my past blog posts, food in Japan is as much about the experience and presentation as it is about taste. Today, I’m continuing this trend by visiting a themed restaurant in Shibuya, called Butou no Kuni no Arisu.

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Can you guess what it’s designed after? That’s right, Alice in Wonderland.

Although a bit pricier than your average fare, themed restaurants in Japan are extremely popular. You don’t go here just for dinner- you go for the lavishly decorated interiors, interesting shows, or just downright bizarre themes. When I was in Tokyo, I saw themed cafes for almost anything you could imagine. My friends visited one restaurant called The LockUp, where you’re handcuffed and spend your night eating and drinking in a prison cell. Other themes include ninjas, Gundam (a popular space anime), vampires, robots and more.

Down the rabbit hole! (or down the stairs into the restaurant)

Down the rabbit hole! (or down the stairs into the restaurant)

DSC_2461Butou no Kuni no Arisu, or Alice in Dancing Land, is a completely Alice in Wonderland themed café. Everything- from the décor to the wait staff and menus- relates some way to this popular children’s tale. We came early since we didn’t have a reservation and were lucky enough to be seated with a waitress who spoke English! She was very excited to practice speaking with us, as she was going to study in England in a few months.

Our first glimpse of Alice in Dancing Land

Our first glimpse of Alice in Dancing Land

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The restaurant made us feel as if we really were in Wonderland. The entire restaurant was covered in drawings from the movie, and was enchantingly mysterious. Even our waitress was themed, wearing a cute ruffled version of Alice’s iconic dress.

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DSC_2474Alice in Dancing Land serves western fare, from pasta and risotto to meatloaf and pizza. You can also indulge in a variety of creative cocktails, each with a twist that makes you feel like you just fell down the rabbit hole. We tried delicious tea, and felt like we were next to the Mad Hatter at his tea party.

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Fruity tea and a light salad- served in a tea cup!

Fruity tea and a light salad- served in a tea cup!

Creamy shrimp and spinach pasta

Creamy shrimp and spinach pasta

DSC_2485 My favorite part of the meal, however, was the dessert. We ordered the warm brownie and ice cream- it came shaped like a heart, with a cute pasty cut out of Alice on the top. And best of all? It was doused with liquor and lit on fire!

DSC_2489DSC_2491 I wish I had a chance to try more themed restaurants in Japan, as Butou no Kuni no Arisu was such a unique and fun experience. Perhaps next time I’m in Tokyo, I’ll get adventurous and see what it’s like to eat behind bars or enjoy some cannibalistic sushi.

DSC_2492 Would you like to try a themed restaurant? What kind would you like to go to?

Japanese Kaiseki

I’m a firm believer that food is art. In Japan, this is particularly evident in kaiseki ryori, a traditional multi-course dinner where each plate is as delicious on the eyes as it is on the tongue. Kaiseki meals are generally served at ryokan, traditional Japanese inns, and are as finely prepared as those you might find on tasting menus in haute cuisine.

Kaiseki are made with fresh ingredients, and each course is served as soon as it is prepared in order to maintain its freshness and integrity. There is usually a prescribed order of courses, however, the different types of ingredients in each dish depend on the season and location of the kaiseki,

I tried kaiseki in a ryokan in Kyoto, and had a chance to experience just how beautiful this meal could be. Kaiseki are often described as a meal in harmony with nature, with both the expert flavors and beautiful presentation of the food reflecting the shapes, textures, and seasons found in the environment. The plates and dishes are a reflection of nature as well, with different colors and shapes complimenting each course.

Because I tried kaiseki in November, many of my courses were decorated for fall and included dishes appropriate for colder weather. Keep reading to see exactly what I tried, and how each course traditionally progresses throughout the meal.

The menu

The menu

1. Shokuzen-shu (alcohol) and Sakizuke (bite-sized appetizer, similar to a French amuse-bouche)

Kaiseki usually begin with a small glass of sake or alcohol, with a selection of bite-sized appetizers. Mine included both sweet and savory elements, and were decorated with maple leaves.

Kaiseki usually begin with a small glass of sake or alcohol, usually locally made (lower right)

Sakizuke

Sakizuke

2. Hassun (a second course of bite-sized appetizers, usually seasonally themed)

DSC_55493. Soup

The soup course is usually a clear broth, with vegetables, seafood, or in my case, tofu.

The soup course is usually a clear broth, with vegetables, seafood, or in my case, tofu.

4. Sashimi

A selection of thinly sliced raw fish, served on a bed of daikon (radish). Also served with shoya (soy sauce) and wasabi

A selection of thinly sliced raw fish, served on a bed of daikon (radish). Also served with shoya (soy sauce) and wasabi

5. Shiizakana (a substantial dish)

Shiizakana is often one of the larger courses of the meal. At my kaiseki, we had shabu shabu, or meat and vegetables simmered in broth.

Shiizakana is often one of the larger courses of the meal. At my kaiseki, we had shabu shabu, or meat and vegetables simmered in broth.

Each guest had their own personal stove to cook the shabu shabu in!

Each guest had their own personal stove to cook the shabu shabu in!

6. Yakimono (grilled dish)

Grilled fish, usually from a local source

Grilled fish, usually from a local source

7. Nimono (boiled dish

Simmered vegetables

Simmered vegetables

8. Agemono (deep fried dish)

The deep fried dish is usually a selection of tempura, including fish and vegetables. It's generally served towards the end of the meal.

The deep fried dish is usually a selection of tempura, including fish and vegetables. It’s generally served towards the end of the meal.

DSC_56319. Mushimono (steamed dish)

Kaiseki often offer chawanmushi for the steamed dish, a savory egg custard with fish stock, and bites of mushrooms, chicken, and seafood. It's served in a teacup-sized lidded dish and eaten with a spoon.

Kaiseki often offer chawanmushi for the steamed dish, a savory egg custard with fish stock, and bites of mushrooms, chicken, and seafood. It’s served in a teacup-sized lidded dish and eaten with a spoon.

DSC_561710. Sunomono (vinegar dish)

Seafood and vegetables served in a vinegar-based sauce. This was probably my least favorite dish.

Seafood and vegetables served in a vinegar-based sauce. This was probably my least favorite dish.

11. Gohan (rice dish)

Rice with seasonal ingredients. This course was also cooked in individual pots at our seats.

Rice with seasonal ingredients. This course was also cooked in individual pots at our seats.

11. Mizumono (dessert)

Dessert at kaiseki are typically light, and consist of a small confection or fruit. We were served a fruit jelly.

Dessert at kaiseki are typically light, and consist of a small confection or fruit. We were served a fruit jelly.

 Because of the quality and number of dishes, kaiseki can get pretty expensive. At kaiseki with as many as 20 courses, the set can cost up to $500 per person.

However, you can typically find kaiseki lunch sets or bentos for a heavily discounted price, with the only exception that the dishes all come at the same time, rather than course by course. You can also get the kaiseki experience by staying at a ryokan (like I did), where the course meal is often included in the cost of your stay.

Thanks for reading once again, and I hope I made you hungry!

Japanese Street Food

If you haven’t noticed already, food is everywhere in Japan. You can’t walk down the street without passing a ramen shop, konbini, or sushi-ya. However, one of my favorite parts of eating in Tokyo was the street food culture, found in festivals, public parks, and around major tourist destinations. Food vendors travel from place to place with traditional decorative stalls, and offer everything from chocolate covered bananas to squid on a stick.

Street food stalls near a temple in Kyoto

Street food stalls near a temple in Kyoto

Like American street fare (i.e. funnel cakes and deep fried Oreos), Japanese street food tends to be pretty unhealthy. But who’s worrying about calories?! Certainly not me. Here’s a few of the most popular and delicious foods I tried, from temples and shrines in Kamakura to festivals in Minato-ku.

1.    Takoyaki

DSC_1427Aka, the food of the gods. Takoyaki are little balls of pancake batter, filled with vegetables and chunks of octopus. Vendors make these delicious treats in a pan with half-dome indentations, and use metal chopsticks to form their round shape. They’re served drizzled with takoyaki sauce (like Worcestershire sauce), Japanese mayo (which is sweet and nothing like American mayo), dried seaweed, and katsuobushi (dried fish flakes).

takoyaki asakusa Japan Japanese food tradition culture

A takoyaki stall in Asakusa. Isn’t that octopus cute??

DSC_0436 Takoyaki are extremely popular at festivals, but they can be found at konbini and supermarkets too! Just don’t expect them to have the same delicious ooey gooeyness as the piping hot ones served in a takoyaki shop or in a fair.

okonomiyaki takoyaki Osaka dotonbori Japan food

Making takoyaki. This was at a restaurant in Osaka in the Dōtonbori, which is a street famous for its many takoyaki, ramen, and okonomiyaki restaurants.

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 2.    Yakisoba

Traditional yakisoba, from a festival in Minato-ku, Tokyo.

Traditional yakisoba, from a festival in Minato-ku, Tokyo.

Fried soba noodles with vegetables, usually served with dried seaweed and pickled ginger. It’s like a Japanese version of chow mein, and extremely satisfying.

Yakisoba can also come with a variety of different toppings. Here, I have a super delicious fried egg.

Yakisoba can also come with a variety of different toppings. Here, I have a super delicious fried egg.

 3.    Yakitori

Nom nom nom. This is beef, from a yakitori stall in Kyoto.

Nom nom nom. This is beef, from a yakitori stall in Kyoto.

Grilled meat (usually chicken) served on a stick. It’s easy to eat with one hand, and it’s a super popular drinking food. While there are entire bars and restaurants dedicated to serving yakitori, it’s a common staple in festivals as well.

 4.    Taiyaki

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Murasaki imo (purple sweet potato) filling

Murasaki imo (purple sweet potato) filling

A fish-shaped pancake with a sweet filling inside. Taiyaki are probably my favorite street food, as the possibilities for fillings are basically endless. I enjoyed taiyaki with chestnuts, chocolate crème, custard, red bean paste, purple sweet potato, and even ice cream. If you’re not into sweets, some taiyaki even come with a molten center of cheese.

This taiyaki from Kyoto had custard inside!

This taiyaki from Kyoto had custard inside!

 5.    Kakigori

Ichigo (strawberry) kakigori

Ichigo (strawberry) kakigori

Japanese snow cones, or shaved ice with syrup. This is a particular favorite at summer festivals.

 6.    Wataame

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Cotton candy! Unline the wataame I had, cotton candy usually comes prepackaged in brightly decorated bags. It’s the most popular with children, as the bags are decorated with characters from their favorite animes and TV shows.

 7.    Dango

DSC_2881A Japanese dumpling on a stick made from mochiko (rice flour). It’s similar to mochi, and is often served with a savory sweet and salty sauce. While dango are eaten year round, the type and variety of dango often depends on the seasons.

Dango stall in Kamakura

Dango stall in Kamakura

 8.    Jaga Bata

DSC_1670A grilled potato, served with butter. Sounds simple, but it’s incredibly delicious.

 9.    Dorayaki

DSC_3863Two sweet pancakes with a filling of azuki (red bean paste). They’re super delicious served warm, especially with a dollop of ice cream in the middle.

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 10.    Hotate Bata Yaki

DSC_1669Scallops grilled in their shell with butter. These are insanely delicious if you’re willing to splurge a little on street food.

And finally…

11. Ika Yaki.

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You thought I was lying about the squid on a stick, didn’t you? Here it is. A whole squid, skewered, grilled, and basted with a sweet barbeque-like sauce.

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Yes, it has a face. Yes, I ate the face.

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And yes, it was delicious and I would do it again.

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How do these foods compare to the cuisine you find at festivals in your country? Thanks for reading, and I hope I got you ready for lunch!