My favorite place in Kyoto is the Fushimi Inari Shrine — the most popular shrine dedicated to Inari (Shinto god of rice). Stone fox status can be found everywhere as they are Inari’s messengers.
But what stands out the most are the thousands of orange/black torii gates. These gates are funded by donations from individuals and companies. The donations starts around $3,000 for a small sized gate and increases to over $8,000 for a large gate. For what they had to pay, it is quite surprising visitors don’t have to pay a single yen to enter!
The hike up to the top took us around 2 hours, which was not a short hike at all! Make sure you take your time and wear good shoes! Most tourists turn back after 30 minutes.
At the top of the trail loop, we were greeted with a view of Kyoto!
Hungry Cactus’ verdict: A
There is a reason Fushimi Inari Shrine is a must visit attraction in Kyoto (#1 on tripadvisor!). It is completely free, always open (yes, you can go at night!), beautiful torii gates and a good half day hike to burn off all the calories from previous meals. Enjoy!
One of the most amazing meal I had in Japan was with our Tokyo experts Peter and Diana at Yoroniku, a yakinuku restaurant (grilled meats). Wow! I can confidently say that meal has surpassed everything I’ve ever experienced…and mind you, not the individual meats (which were very high grade), but the entire meal. It has been meticulously orchestrated to absolute harmony. The progression of boldly flavored meats with the carefully balanced lighter sides leaves you feeling just full while still refreshed…not something I’d expect from a meaty meal.
At ~$85 per person, it is a really great value for what you get. While each person only gets one sample of each cut of meat, it’s more than enough. Be prepared for your mind to be blown.
Address: Yoroniku よろにく: 6-6-22 B1F Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan Tele: 03-3498-4629
Words can not explain what’s going on inside our mouths.
Each meat is carefully cooked by the waiter
Cold noodles with wasabi – super refreshing!
This soup was deceptively simple, but is actually really amazing because the white flowers there are actually the remaining intestines after the umami has been extracted into the soup! WOW!
Hojicha flavored shaved ice (unsweetened) to end the meal
Hungry Cactus’ verdict: A+
I don’t what else to say. I’ve been dreaming about Yoroniku ever since.
Continuing our journey through Japan, Kenta’s dad generously treated us to one of his favorite meals at a local Izakaya. Izakaya literally translates to “i” (to stay) and “sakaya” (sake shop), which is a place to grab a light meal and drinks. Here are some of the highlights:
Motsunabe (もつ鍋) – Intestine pot made from beef and pork tripe or other offal. It’s actually quite a warm and homey taste, and great with beer during the winter times
Basashi (馬刺し) – raw horse meat! We tried 3 different cuts! Pretty good!
Zousui (雑炊) is a Japanese rice soup made from pre-cooked rice and water. Not to be confused with Okayu, which is a similar but where the rice is cooked to a watery consistency.
Tarako (たらこ) is a salted roe food, usually made from Alaska pollock
Ikayaki (いか焼き) – a squid + egg dish
Yakisoba ( 焼きそば) – Fried noodle
Karaage (唐揚げ) – Fried chicken
Look at all the regional drink menu!
Hungry Cactus’s verdict: A
Thank you Mr. Oka for sharing your most favorite izakaya with us! This was one unforgettable meal!
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake. The name is derived from the word okonomi meaning “what you like” or “what you want”, and yaki meaning “grilled” or “cooked”. It is extremely popular in Osaka.
I had the pleasure of trying Kuro-Chan’s okonomiyaki during my first trip. His shop is a hole in the wall in a residential area, and extremely hard to find.
I think Kuro-Chan’s okonomiyaki is Hiroshima-style, where the ingredients are layered rather than mixed. The layers are typically batter, (lots of) cabbage, pork, and optional items such as squid, octopus, and cheese. Noodles (yakisoba or udon) are also used as a topping. Finally, finish with the brown okonomiyaki sauce, aonori (powdered seaweed) and Kewpie mayo!
More recently, I tried Muzuno’sokonomiyaki. It is located near the main Dotonburi street, and is very popular. The okonomiyaki was very different from Kuro-chan’s in that it did not seem to have noodles — this is known as the Kansai/Osaka-style okonomiyaki, and is the more popular version of the dish. The batter is made from flour, grated nagaimo (yam), dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage. Other ingredients such as green onion, meat, octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, mochi or cheese can be added.
Address: 1-4-15 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Hungry Cactus’s verdict: B+
Okonomiyaki is a must try, though not as satisfying as a complete meal like a bowl of ramen. With a wide variety of toppings and flavors, it keeps the dish interesting and personal. I think I like Kuro-Chan (Hiroshima-styled) more than Muzuno’s.
Most tourists in Japan will likely try the popular Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) and Takoyaki (octopus balls), but will not have even heard of Monjayaki. Thanks to our Tokyo expert Kenta and his mother Mami, we got to experience this unique Tokyo dish. So what is it?
Monja (short for Monjayaki) first gained popularity during World War 2, because it did not require too many ingredients (only flour and cabbage) and was filling. Originally made as a snack for poor children, it has since evolved to include additional toppings and paired with beer to cater to adults. While it won’t get points for its looks, it will fill you up and keep you warm all night.
It is prepared by cooking the cabbage and fillings:
Then the liquid batter is added into the middle. This can sometimes include roe (fish eggs). Once done, monjayaki should be crispy (okoge) on the sides/bottom, while still gooey on the surface.
We had hampen cooking alongside on the teppan. Hampen is made of fresh white fish meat, Japanese yam (yamatoimo) and egg white. It is like an airy meringue, and goes well with monjayaki.
Hungry Cactus’ review: B
Monjayaki is a unique dish with history and is not very well known. Unfortunately, it is not as presentable or palatable as it’s sibling okonomiyaki. Give it a try on any of the restaurants on Monja street in Tsukishima, Tokyo.