Traveling to a foreign country without knowing their language could be daunting. That is exactly how we felt when we arrived in Japan. But our nerve was eased as we saw familiar Chinese characters on the street and Metro signs, got helps from locals for directions, and above all, savored long-craved Japanese food that indulged our taste buds.
Japanese food is famous for its fresh flavor and delicate display. No matter it’s a small eatery at food court or a well-decorated restaurant in a commercial center, you can always find lip-licking dishes that are a delight to your mouth and eyes. Even the takeout bento boxes from supermarkets are neatly packed with mixed vegetables and protein.
Traveling in mid-summer, spending most of the day in bustling subways and busy streets, as tourist, we looked forward for quiet dining place for a relaxing break and a nice recharge of energy. When we visited Kamakura City, a coastal city with about one-hour train ride from Tokyo, we found a gem harbored in the huddle of souvenir shops and beverage stands.
It’s a small restaurant with tightly arranged wooden tables and chairs, which could allow probably only 40 diners. When we got there, it was already full so we waited for about 10 minutes before the friendly waitress ushered us to our table. The grumbling of our stomach prompted us to order several eye-catching and palate-pleasing dishes from their leather-bound menu.
Our dishes arrived faster than I had expected, which always adds bonus points for a restaurant. A simple rectangle wood board was used to serve authentic sushi, bite-sized pieces of Japanese-style rice topped with thin slices of white tai sea bream, bright orange salmon, and ruby-red tuna. A small shallow plate of plain soy sauce was served for diners to dip the corner of their sushi, which could add a subtle hint of spice to the fresh rice and seafood.
As a noodle lover, I particularly enjoyed soba noodle. When ordering, you can select your noodle to be cold or warm. I chose cold noodle served in a bamboo tray called Zaru, with a small bowl of dipping sauce next to it. The nutty noodle is chewy with a grainy taste and texture, paired perfectly with simple, clean soy sauce, filling my mouth with a cool smooth sensation. We also tasted golden crispy tempura, rice bowl with boiled whitebait (“Shirasu bowl”), savory miso soup with a pinch of green onion on top, and steamed egg custard (“Chawanmushi”) in a cup with vegetables. All of these dishes satisfied our hunger and soothed our craving.
Our food tour did not stop there. Over the next few days, we ate ramen, udon noodles, Chaliapin steak, and more, making a delicious food memory. It has been several weeks since we left Japan, but the flavor and aroma of the delicately displayed foods still linger in our heads, beckoning us to visit there again in the near future.