There are many joys to traveling abroad: learning about other cultures, immersing yourself in the history of another country, meeting new people, and gaining a new perspective on yourself and the world around you. But the simplest and most base pleasure is probably sampling the delicious cuisine of wherever you go.
If something as generic and homogenized as fast food at McDonald’s will take on a new dimension when you are traveling, then all but the most humdrum or picky eaters will find a universe of flavors when they travel. As fans of anime and manga we get inundated with images of various foods from Japan. Thankfully we live in NYC so it is not that hard to find all but the most obscure or regional dishes somewhere in one of the five boroughs. The thing is, while it scratches the general itch, there is surely a palatable difference between having a hot bowl of ramen in the East Village and a similar bowl in the heart of Tokyo.
There are some Japanese dishes we have seen countless times in anime and would love to actually eat in Japan. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a culinary desires but we don’t want this little post to be 10,000 words.
The Reverse Thieves have a simple dream: we wish to sample all of the donuts of the world. (Here is a whole Wikipedia article just on varieties of donuts from around the world and then a separate list of just fried dough foods as well.)
Japan has its own microcosm of delicious circular goodness. First thing is to sample a dozen donuts from Mister Donut, the quintessential donut chain of Japan. America has Dunkin’ Donuts, Germany has Tasty Donuts, and Canada has Tim Hortons. Once the standard donut is devoured, you can move on to the artisanal varieties. The trend of Animal Donuts look absolutely delightful and there are surely some really innovative flavors in many a bakery in Japan. If the Shiso and Yuzu donuts from the Japanese flavor month at Doughnut Plant are any indication there are some very unique donut flavors to experience.
Curry is the Japanese comfort food. Hardly an anime with a modern setting goes by without someone eating it!
Much like macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, or fried chicken in the U.S., curry is an uncomplicated dish at its heart. But everywhere you go you can find different versions. You can eat curry at a chain at like Go! Go! Curry!, a distinct version in a delicious dive, or a more sophisticated take. You can even get curry at a train-themed restaurant if you want your dish to be an experience as well as a meal. You could eat curry every day in Japan for a month and each day could be a very different experience especially if you mix up your toppings.
Omurice, just an omelet filled with fried rice. Much like pancakes or grilled cheese, it is amazingly satisfying and can be a filling meal despite its humble nature. Omurice can be found at everything from family restaurants to maid cafes and there are a lot of spins on it to try.
Amusingly enough, Omurice is considered a western dish by many Japanese people despite the fact that it is a specialty dish which you only get at places that serve Japanese food in America.
Beef bowl used to be the dream food of anime fans. In Urusei Yatsura, it was one of the dishes that Ataru and his friends would often try to sneak out of class to eat. Beef bowl comes up as a taste of home in Only You. Now it seems to have fallen out of its more ubiquitous spot.
There used to be Yoshinoya in New York City but it closed a while back and has never really been replaced. Therefore the only remedy is to eat the real deal in Japan. Beef bowl are cheap, delicious, and full of convenient meat. Just the sort of meal you want to eat when your trying to see as much of Japan as possible on a trip (or running from Onsen-Mark).
Since apparently all households in anime just have strawberry shortcake on hand at all times, in case guests come over, this has shown up countless times. Always lovingly drawn, this bright dessert seems to be the de facto cake.
Japan is also home to cake buffets, unlimited cake for 60 or 90 minutes plus tea!
There is a lot of joy to be found in sharing a meal. Doubly so when everyone cooks together. There aren’t really western foods that result in restaurants where you cook at the table with your friends, but Japan (among other countries) have much more of a tradition of it.
Hotpot is really attractive because one can really customize it. You pick and choose the ingredients to dip into the soup stock to cook. Want to make it mostly meat? Done.
Curry is so good we put it on here twice, this time it is stuffed inside fried bread! Curry bread is like everything that is great about donuts plus the best parts of curry.
Okonomiyaki just feels quintessentially Japanese. Whereas ramen and sushi might be as part of the national taste of Japan they are not that hard to find outside Japan. Okonomiyaki on the other hand is far harder to find.
It is a very customization dish. It can be severed many different ways with a wide variety of toppings. Like ramen or pizza each region of the country has a different take on the dish. That makes it a dish worth exploring a number of times.
It might also have something to do with one of us having a crush on Ukyo Kuonji back in the day. Who knows?