There are big differences between the “food culture” of the East and the West, and while there are countless similarities, there are still plenty of unique foods, places to eat, and ways of eating that are fun to discover about both areas. Studying abroad in Japan after living all my years in America, I have enjoyed experiencing excitement and surprise as I uncovered some of the similarities and differences of the two types of food cultures I am now familiar with.
A few of those who will study abroad in Japan after living in the States might be a little disappointed with the disappearances of the kinds of foods they’re used to (cheap peanut butter, for instance, is difficult to find in Japan’s grocery stores, and cereal is also not as big a part of breakfast in Japan so the choices are limited) and the introduction of new foods that take center stage at different meal times. These phenomena take some getting used to, but most of what you’ll eat are things you like because, although restaurants don’t serve typical “American food,” you can still shop for most of your favorites at the markets.
To give you a preview of what you can expect traveling to Japan (from an American’s point of view), I thought I’d introduce you to some of my most frequented food spots and most tasted treats. I have many favorite traditional Japanese places, but these are some of the good eats you may not have heard of!
The first place you should know about if you miss rich, beautifully baked bagels, is Maruichi Bagel (マルイチベーグル) which is right near TUJ and the Shirokane Takanawa Station stop (near the park there). It’s an inconspicuous little shop with a white interior and friendly and sweet staff that get so excited to see customers come in to buy their amazing bagels. Another TUJ student frequents the shop so much that the staff learned his favorite order right away and tried to save a cinnamon raisin bagel for him at the end of his long day of classes! We went in together as the semester came to a close and I mustered up the courage to explain in Japanese that we were heading back to America in a few days, and that it would be our last bagel before we left. They were so sad to see us go! Definitely make a Maruichi bagel your morning breakfast before you finish your walk to TUJ!
Eggs ‘n Things
One of the top restaurants on your list of places to stuff your face should be Eggs ‘n Things, an extremely popular “all day breakfast” Hawaii-based gem that has several locations in Japan (including Harajuku–convenient if you spend the rest of your day there shopping!). They do feature seafood dinner options, but they are known for their ridiculously enormous pancake and whipped cream set that is available all day and night. Get to these restaurants early though, there’s a wait for their delicious wares!
Missing American or Italian-style spaghetti? Check out Spajiro (すぱじろう) which has eight locations in Japan, including one open for the (very) late night owls of Roppongi (think karaoke!). They have delicious giant bowls of spaghetti in so many styles, and the sizes are all the same price (small, medium, large and for the big eater, extra large). It’s on the cheaper side of the really filling American-sized portion restaurants–even the small size is big enough for those who feel like they are ready to eat a horse! There’s a location in the Azabu-Juban area, which is a ten minute or so walk from TUJ’s Shirokane Takanawa. I’ve been here so many times after wasting time struggling to find dinner spots near TUJ. I usually always find myself trekking the walk to Azabu-Juban to bask in the warm, saucy red glow of a big bowl of Spagiro’s spaghetti.
And for dessert…
St. Marc Cafe (サンマルクカフェ), known for its signiture and original “Chococro” pastry, is an amazing spot for coffee, pastries, and ice cream dishes and there are several of them that will seem to pop out of the woodwork in the spots around Tokyo and Yokohama that you’ll frequent. There are also tons of crepe shops in shopping centers, and two rival shops in Harajuku that serve up some of the best crepes you’ll ever taste. Have fun discovering your own favorite foods in Japan while studying abroad! Just remember to watch how much you dish out on ramen, udon, pancakes, spaghetti, desserts and more! Don’t forget to buy groceries!