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Cultural&Culinary: Food on the go, shopping and restaurants

Kyoto, Japan

This time I will give you an extended description of food on the go, meaning while traveling from place to place, where to get it and what else you can do to fill an empty stomach.

First up: The classic, ekiben. Eki meaning station and the ben-part coming from bento (=lunch box), they are boxed lunches especially for the hungry traveler. Different locations feature different contents and meals, often with local specialties and fresh veggies. Sushi is also a regular sight here, as these lunches are freshly made and only sold on the day they are "assembled" anyway --> no fear of getting bad fish.

Of course there are bakeries and other shops around as well, what's for dinner is up to your imagination.

The most basic of all Japanese foods designed to be eaten while traveling or as a quick snack is the onigiri, rice balls a in triangular shape. You can chose from a whole palette of fillings, from salmon to plum to just plain rice and weather they are wrapped in nori or not.

As you can see, these have instructions on how to unpack them, and those are needed, as an extra layer of foil prevents the nori from soaking up and becoming soft. Removing this is easy once you know how to do it, but w/o the instructions may take some time.

Oshizushi are sold only in certain parts of Japan and are basically an ancestor of the modern sushi. In the past, fish was preserved using sour rice and packed in leaves, which over time developed into the sushi as we know it. Oshizushi consist of a layer of pressed fish over rice and packed in leaves, making them comfortable to carry around.

Wherever you are, you won't starve in Japan, even if you dismiss all those restaurants around (~ 1 per 80 Japanese) and go for snacks like bread or some dumplings.


Even though the bentos and snacks fill you up good, sometimes you just want to go out and grab lunch or dinner at a restaurant, so let's talk about those.
I am just talking about Japanese food here, of course there are Italian, French, Chinese, ... restaurants around, but you know those, no?

The most common form of restaurant is probably the shokudo, recognizable by it's large window with food displayed in it. If you choose something you see there, you can count on the food you get to closely resemble the one outside:

"But how", you might ask, "are they able to put food in their windows, and not just pictures? Won't it go bad?". The answer is simple: Fake food. You probably won't believe it when you see them the first time, but everything displayed is fake, made from plastic, incredibly detailed and pretty close to art sometimes. These replicas seriously look delicious!

If you are near the Kappabashi-dori in Asakusa you can shop for a bowl of fake-Ramen or some fake sushi, but be warned: The prices are steep.

Aside from the shokudo, which offer a wide range of foods to choose from, specialized restaurants can also be found, be it the common ramen-eateries or the high-class sushi restaurant.

Another type: Izakaya are bar/pub eateries and can be found all over Japan. Here businessman get some beer and chicken skewers before returning home.


The shopping itself (if you don't feel like traveling around or eating out) is pretty much the same as everywhere else, with the exception of the abundance of Convenience Stores, called conbini.
Pretty much every neighborhood has at least one of them nearby and there are many different chains.

These shops are open 24/7/365 and provide the basic stuff for living: food (see below), hygiene products, sweets, newspapers, ... as well as ATMs and copiers.

The food you can buy here is pretty similar to the ekiben fare, with the addition of warm food. Its common to get your bento warmed up right before you pay (not for sushi, obviously), getting you a hot meal at any time of the day/night. Conbini bentos tend to be a bit cheaper than ekiben, by the way, but you don't get the regional variety.

Of course there are drug stores as well, basically the conbini-lineup with a much bigger variety and depth.

B1-level of Department Stores are a good place to shop as well, as there are always food shops and eateries around there (for more sophisticated dining head for their restaurant floor). The melons that everyone talks about are there as well: Different shapes and extravagant prices.

So that's about it for preventing starvation, and seeing as my travel is coming to and soon, this will be one of my last posts.

So long and stay tuned,

permalink written by  JuergenS on September 3, 2010 from Kyoto, Japan
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
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