You want to go to Japan, perhaps for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But you have one major worry; You don’t like fish. You are a meat eater and you’ve been one your whole life. And if you don’t like fish, I’ll assume that eating sushi scares the bejezus out of you. If raw fish scares the bejezus out of you, then the conversation about sea urchin, eel and things with tentacles has probably not come up.
This never seems to be addressed in the top 10 travel tips for Japan. I don’t want people to miss out on one of the most awesome countries in the world because of a lack of fish fondness. So I’m here to say; FEAR NOT MEAT LOVING WORLD TRAVELERS.
Contrary to popular belief, the Japanese do not eat sushi for breakfast lunch and dinner. Keep in mind that sushi is an expensive delicacy in Japan just like it is in America. They don’t eat it everyday. The rest of those days they eat “other” foods. Which leads me to let you in on one of Japans best kept secrets; Meat.
Meat dishes in Japan are dealt with the same meticulous attention to detail that sushi gets. There is a wide variety of super delicious meat choices that come as a shock to most tourist who assume that they would be eating fish for 2 weeks.
This is not a mysterious “Japan through the back door” guide. A list of secret places where you could eat meat and not get caught. Meat is not a secret to the Japanese. In Japan, places that serve meat are in fact just called “Restaurants”. Most of the dishes listed below can be found on any given street in any given city in Japan. You could easily make your way across japan without ever having to eat sushi.
Yakiniku literally translates to “grilled meat”, so I can’t think of a better place to start. In fact, you should start getting familiar with the word “Yaki” (grilled) because it pops up in sorts of delicious Japanese menu items. It is also a good indicator that whatever you’re eating is not raw.
If you ever wanted to get a chair, pull it up to your barbecue, and just start eating right off the grill, then Yakiniku is your dream come true. You sit at a table that has a grill built into it. After you are brought a plate of all sorts of meat, you put what you want on the grill and eat it. All different cuts of beef, plus pork and chicken, are at your disposal. This is literally the meat lovers special.
Yakitori (grilled chicken) is the chicken lovers special. This one is left to the experts to cook. A chef takes small cuts of chicken and grilles them on skewers over charcoal. He dips them in to this magic bucket filled with the family owned secret sauce and then he puts them back on the grill. They are then served to you with cold beer. The results are the most awesome chicken you have ever had. They mix it up by combining different parts of the chicken; thigh, wings, skin and liver. There are even chicken meatballs. But just about everything gets dunked in the magic sauce and grilled.
Gyudon (literally – beef bowl) is a bowl of rice topped with thin cuts of flavored beef that have been grilled with onions. You have the option of spicing it up with a combination of red pepper or picked ginger which gives it a great kick. You’ll be able to identify the ginger by its obscene glowing red color. Its grilled beef and onion done Japanese style.
This strange word is good ole “Hamburger” after it’s been forced through the limited sounds of the Japanese alphabet. Regardless of what they call it, it is still Hamburger. But it is Hamburger with a unique take. In classic Japanese minimalistic fashion that have gotten rid of the bun, the cheese, the lettuce and tomato. Even the mustard, ketchup, and pickle. They just focus on the burger.
You take ground beef and mix it with onion and other seasoning just like a regular hamburger. But then they take the patty and cook it with a type of red wine/tonkatsu/meat sauce that they pour all over the top when its done. Or even better they sometimes pour it over the top while its cooking. Thats it. The burger is so delicious that you eat it by itself and it’s soft that you can eat it with chopsticks.
This is another simple and to the point meat dish. There is a pot of boiling water and you dip meat in it. The pot is on your table at the restaurant or at home and you cook everything yourself, slice by slice. You get a plate of different types of beef and pork that are cut wafer thin put them in the boiling water (it cooks very fast). While its still hot you dip it in your choice of several sauces and eat it.
So the formula is; Dip meat in water + Dip meat in sauce + Eat meat. Repeat until you are no longer hungry.
This is another food that has the cook-it-yourself-in-the-restaurant arrangement. Okonomiyaki takes a little more effort than grilling meat on your table-top grill. In this case you also make a pancake like batter with several ingredients that you are given. Then you toss that onto the meat that you grilled. Usually bacon like strips of pork. You cook everything together in a pizza/pancake extravaganza. Top it off with some special sauce and mayonnaise. You can cut it up and eat it right off the grill. This is one of my all time favorite underrated Japanese foods.
Gyoza is kind of a fried dumpling with a mixed pork and onion filling inside. They usually fry them all together by putting several in a row in the grill. When they are served to you, you get a whole 8 pack that have been connected at the bottom like KitKats.
I actually went to a Gyoza “Museum” in Tokyo. Which is like going to a shopping mall that only has restaurants, and they only serve gyoza. You are handed this stamp book to fill out, like homework on a grade school field trip. Then, you go collecting all the stamps by eating all the different types of gyoza in the shopping mall. it was the most awesome field trip I have ever been on.
Karage is Japanese fried chicken. It does not have the serious exoskeleton that you crunch through in American fried chicken. The oil is lighter and the flour-made crunchiness is lighter, yet it has strong flavor and is less salty than the American version. Karage always tends to be juicier than the American version as well. Another great combo with cold beer.
Tonkastu is a breaded and deep fried pork cutlet. It is usually cut into mathematically accurate slices for you to eat easier. It comes with a dark brown sauce that makes and excellent paring. The great thing about Tonkatsu is the variety of ways you can eat it. You can eat the cutlet and its sliced wedges by themselves or on a bowl of rice with an a egg tossed on the top. Or the super popular Katsu Curry. Where you toss it onto a plate of spicy curry.
Ramen is a noodle dish and seems out of place in the meat lovers guide, but I have put it in for two fabulous reasons.
One is Tonkotsu Ramen, Not to be confused with Tonkatsu (above). The “ton” in both means pig/pork, but kotsu means bone and katsu means cutlet. So tonkotsu is a pork bone based ramen that I think it is the tastiest of all the ramen flavors.
And two, Chashu.
Chashu is another glorious invention that the Japanese have put their touch on. Chashu is when you take pork, roll it into a tight log, and slow cook it for like a million hours. The result is this soft tender bacon-smelling medley of meat and fat. Usually one or two slices are cut and tossed on top of your ramen. Most Ramen places have a dish called “Chashu Ramen”, where they cover the whole top of your ramen bowl with this delicious pork. In other words; it’s the “meat lovers” version of ramen.