Last time I was in Japan was in my early teens. I remember Tokyo to be very cold, and the food I recall the most was a Kobe steak dinner cooked over volcano rocks.
It was such memorable dining experience that I dreamt of my next visit. Later on, I would stop at the Tokyo airport to and from Vancouver to Manila. I would get a taste of some of the typical Japanese dishes.
A few months back, my badminton friends planned to visit Osaka. Dina organized everything that included the hotel breakfast, lunch and a tour of various cities in this clean and disciplined country.
What an eye-opener to me and my son Franco. It was also bonding time for me and my eldest boy.
We took a guided tour every day for six days. Each day had a different guide who showed us around Kobe, Kyoto, Nara and other cities.
The guides did free tours as a community service and most of them wanted to learn or practice their English. All we needed to do was to take care of their lunch and train fare. They told us where to best eat and shop.
Super tender beef
You can practically go to any restaurant and have superior tasting Japanese food. Since we arrive late on our first day, we just walked in to whatever placed was open. We were all tired from the trip and since it was cold outside, we opted to have some warm sake with our meal.
During our entire stay, we kept on sampling good sake.
The next day, we took a train to Kobe where we experienced a delicious steak meal cooked right in front of us. The place we dined in was the inventor of the Teppan grill and is said to serve and prepare the best kobe beef in town.
The chef seared the very tender beef slowly, sliced it and served it to us individually.
From the drippings of the beef, the chef sautéed some bean sprouts and that became our side dish. Super tender kobe beef with beef-flavored bean sprouts over piping hot, white sticky Japanese rice equals heaven. What an experience! The beef almost looked white with all the marbling within.
Ramen, octopus balls
Another day, we ate at two ramen places—one in the streets of Osaka and another at Ipudo Ramen House. Both were super sarap.
The broth in both ramen were rich and flavorful. You could tell that the pork bones in the broth were simmered for hours. The noodles were slippery and perfectly cooked. It seemed any ramen place you enter in Japan will turn out a winner in taste.
On the side streets, we sampled the octopus balls that were topped with a teriyaki-like sauce and some Japanese mayonnaise. We chose the stalls which had the longest lines.
We also sampled Japanese pizza or Okonomiyagi. But I still preferred the traditional dishes.
Shopping was also great. Japan has affordable but quality consumer items and just about every kind of tiny gadgets like nail-cutters, scissors, eye drops. I find it amusing to see how creative the Japanese people are.
My son Franco and I fell in love with Japan as a whole. Everywhere you look is clean and well-maintained. People are disciplined, respectful and kind.
Even the groceries have interesting stuff. I spent hours just looking at the items the groceries offered. Japan makes good chocolates and has sweet fruits. And I love how they present it.
Before closing time, the groceries give big discounts and people take advantage of it.
My impression of Japan has not changed since I was a kid. And it is now my new favorite destination abroad. It is even cheaper than Hong Kong, and is quite easy to visit since authorities have made it easier to get a visa.