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It’s kind of insane how much variety you can get with something as seemingly straightforward as noodles in soup. I just came from Japan, where I ate a ridiculous amount of ramen (a ridiculous amount. I wrote about nine of the bowls I ate on this blog, and there were many more bowls I ate that I didn’t bother posting about. I’m a fan of ramen, in case you couldn’t tell).

Mak's Noodle in Hong Kong

And yet the wonton noodle soup that I just ate at Mak’s Noodle couldn’t have been more different from ramen. It’s like comparing risotto with bibimbap; it’s the same basic idea, but executed in a radically different way.

Mak's Noodle in Hong Kong

Mak’s is famous for their shrimp wonton noodle soup, and it’s very easy to see why. The broth has a very clean and subtle (but delicious) flavour. It’s kicked up (if you choose) by the fiery chili paste on the table.

Mak's Noodle in Hong Kong

The noodles are satisfyingly firm — almost crispy — but it’s those shrimp wontons that really make this something special. My word, those wontons. Each one has two perfectly cooked pieces of shrimp, and the contrast in textures between the crunchy shrimp and the chewy wrapper is ridiculous. It’s so good.

Pretty much every country has their version of a pancake (everybody loves pancakes).  Japan’s is called okonomiyaki — a savoury pancake that’s filled with various meats and veggies.  It’s an Osaka specialty, so yeah, obviously I had to try it while I was here.

And I clearly picked the right place to do it; I’ve had okonomiyaki a few times, and I’ve always liked it, though it’s never particularly stood out.  The one they served at Okonomiyaki Chitose definitely stood out.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

They have a few different versions on the menu.  I went with the one that’s filled with shrimp, squid, pork belly, and noodles.

The chef cooks it on a griddle right in front of you, and just watching it get made is  entertaining on its own.

It starts with a mixture of the veggies and the batter.  He also cooks the seafood on the griddle off to the side.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

Then he adds the cooked seafood to the pancake, followed by the noodles, and finally the pork (which is still raw at this point).

He adds more batter to each pancake…

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

…then deftly flips them over.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

Finally, he slathers on some mayo, adds a couple of other sauces, some seasoning, and it’s ready to eat.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

It was incredibly delicious.  The texture was perfect — previous okonomiyakis that I’ve tried have been a little bit doughy, but this featured an amazing balance of crispy exterior, fluffy interior, and chewy noodles, not to mention the perfectly cooked seafood.  The combo of the creamy mayonnaise and the slightly sweet, slightly tangy sauces compliments it perfectly.  It was ridiculous how much better it was than any okonomiyaki I’ve had before.

Considering that sushi might be Japan’s most ubiquitous food export, it’s one of those things that you pretty much have to try at least once while you’re here.

And of course, ideally you’d go to a high-end place like Jiro to taste the best of the best — the type of experience you’d never be able to have back home.  Sadly, dropping several hundred dollars on one meal just isn’t in the budget, as much as I’d like it to be.

Endo Sushi in Osaka, Japan

There are, however, a bunch of sushi joints in Osaka that are both well-regarded and not absurdly expensive, including the one I just went to, Endo Sushi.  They have a pretty good deal where you get five pieces of sushi for about 13 bucks Canadian — not cheap, certainly, but not unreasonable either.

Sadly, the sushi was quite tasty, but not much more than that — definitely not the mind-blowing sushi experience you might hope for in Japan (I suspect I might have to spring for a Jiro type of place if that’s the goal).

Endo Sushi in Osaka, Japan

There were a few things that I really liked, however.  Each plate had a piece of sushi with otoro tuna, and man, that stuff was good.  Otoro comes from the belly of the fish, and thanks to how fatty it is, it pretty much just melts in your mouth.  It’s like tuna butter.

Endo Sushi in Osaka, Japan

The other highlight was, surprisingly enough, the egg nigiri.  I’ve never quite understood the appeal of this particular type of sushi — the ones I’ve had back home were always slightly rubbery and overcooked.  This one, on the other hand, was almost creamy — it was perfect and eggy, and eating it was a definite eureka moment.  Oh, that’s what that’s supposed to taste like.  Good to know.

Endo Sushi in Osaka, Japan

Otherwise it was fine, but not much better than the best sushi I’ve had back home.  Most disappointingly, the seasoning was off.  Better sushi like this shouldn’t require the usual soy sauce/wasabi combo — it should have already been seasoned by the chef.  But some of the pieces were pretty bland, and others had wasabi applied so prodigiously they were like a roundhouse kick to my nasal passages.

Tokyo is trying way too hard to make me fall in love with it.  But you know what?  It’s kinda succeeding.

Its latest attempt to make me never want to leave: a little restaurant called Tempura Imoya.  I think you can take a wild guess at what they specialize in.

Like pretty much every place I’ve been to so far, there was a line to get in.  Hot tip: if you’re coming to Tokyo, bring a good book, because you’re going to be standing in a lot of lines (at least if you want to eat well — and trust me, if you’re in Tokyo, you want to eat well).

Tempura Imoya in Tokyo, Japan

I don’t think they even have a menu here, or at least if they did I didn’t see one.  They have a set tempura lunch which comes with a cup of green tea, rice, a bowl of miso soup, a plate of tempura, and a sauce to dip it in.  All that for just over seven bucks Canadian.

The tempura consisted of a piece of whitefish,  squid, shrimp, squash, and some kind of leafy vegetable — arugula, maybe?

Tempura Imoya in Tokyo, Japan

It was amazing.  Everything was cooked to perfection, and the amazingly crispy batter was almost improbably light.  It’s so light it practically just dissolves in your mouth (that sounds weird, but trust me, it was so good).  It was easily the best tempura I’ve ever had.

And that sauce — oh man, that sauce.  It wasn’t like any tempura sauce I’ve had back home; it was subtly sweet and crammed with ginger, and yet somehow it didn’t have that harsh gingery bite.  It was so good I could have eaten it on its own (and in fact there was a bit of sauce left after the tempura was finished, so I just poured the remainder on what was left of the rice).

Seriously though: Tokyo?  I’m going to need you to stop being so amazing.  I need to leave eventually, and you’re making that way too difficult.

Remember when I mentioned how the Jagalchi Market is the biggest fish market in South Korea?  Well, the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo is the biggest fish market in the world.

I visited on a Saturday, and the area around the market was absolutely packed.  Like, so packed you could barely move, packed.

Around the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, Japan

Packed.

Around the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, Japan

I quickly came across a sushi joint with a line that was noticeably longer than any of the other restaurants in the area, so I did what I always do when I see a line for food: I got in it.  Hard.

Around the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, Japan

After about 40 minutes I was sitting at the bar; I ordered the fish rice bowl, which contained a veritable cornucopia of raw fish goodness, including shrimp, tuna, squid, fish roe, and a whole bunch of stuff that was a mystery to me.  A delicious, delicious mystery.  It was all on top of some nicely seasoned rice.  It was fantastic.

Around the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, Japan

Next, I  explored the vendors on the outer market, who sell packaged seafood to the public.

Around the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, Japan

It was interesting, but the real show is in the inner market, which is the heart of the operation where all the wholesaling takes place.

And…  it was all packed up for the day.

Around the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, Japan

I wasted so much time wandering around the outer market and lining up for sashimi that I completely missed out on the inner market, i.e. the main reason people come here.  Whoops.

I might have to go back at some point before I leave Tokyo.

There’s a restaurant in Tokyo called Nakajima — it’s in the bottom floor of a very nondescript building (if you were just walking by, you wouldn’t even know it’s a restaurant).

Nakajima in Tokyo, Japan

And yet it has one Michelin star, and draws some pretty serious crowds thanks to its delightfully cheap sardine-based lunch special.  I showed up at around 11:40, which is just ten minutes after they opened, and there was already a line out the door.  It took about half an hour to get in.

Nakajima in Tokyo, Japan

They have a few things on the menu — all sardine-related, including fried sardines, baked sardines, and some kind of eggy dish involving sardines.  My tongue was still pretty badly burned from the ramen the night before, so I went with the sardine sashimi.

Nakajima in Tokyo, Japan

It’s not the most photogenic dish I’ve ever had, but it was great.  It was about as far from the oily, fishy little guys that you get from the can as you can possibly get.  The flavour was surprisingly clean, without even a hint of a fishy funk, and with a nice toastiness from the sesame seeds that are mixed in.  A little bit of grated ginger on the side gives it a kick.

The best part?  It only cost 800 yen, or just over nine bucks Canadian, which is a ridiculous deal for food of this calibre.

You know as soon as you climb up the stairs of the subway station that you’re in the right place — the smell of seafood is everywhere around Jagalchi Market, South Korea’s largest seafood market.

Jagalchi Market in Busan, South Korea

And the inside is an impressive sight, featuring row after row of vendors selling every type of edible aquatic creature that you can imagine.

Jagalchi Market in Busan, South Korea

And then you walk out of the building on the other side, and you see where all that food comes from.

Jagalchi Market in Busan, South Korea

And in case you haven’t had enough seafood yet, there’s a road next to the market that’s crammed with more vendors — it must go on for almost a kilometre.  It’s kind of a crazy amount of seafood.

Jagalchi Market in Busan, South Korea

You may have noticed that there was no McDonald’s Around the World for Scotland (what?  You didn’t notice?  And you’re baffled as to why I’m spending so much time and energy on McDonald’s?  Yeah.  Sounds about right).

Well, in case you did notice, the menu at McDonald’s in Scotland was identical to the one in England, so I didn’t bother.

The Ireland menu was pretty similar as well, but I did manage to find a couple of things interesting enough to post about.

(Also: the McDonald’s I went to had a microwave out that the customers could use, which is odd.)

McDonald's in Dublin, Ireland

The first was a veggie burger called the McVeggie — not to be confused with the McBean from Sweden, which was actually completely different.  This one was much less mushy and was quite falafel-esque both in its texture and flavour.  It wasn’t bad.

McDonald's in Dublin, Ireland

The next was fish fingers — these weren’t bad (and I actually think they were pieces of fish and not the reconstituted fish slurry that you might expect), but they really needed some kind of sauce.  They’re pretty plain.

McDonald's in Dublin, Ireland

There are a lot of traditional British foods that you can very easily find back home — meat pies?  All over the place.  Fish and chips?  Yep, they’re everywhere.  But the type of eels that they serve in really traditional pie shops in London?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen those back home.

There are actually a couple of distinctive things about the pie shops here: the aforementioned eels, obviously, but also the greenish sauce that you can see here:

Pie and mash and eels at Goddards in London, England

It’s called liquor sauce, and it’s traditionally made with the same liquid they use to cook the eels, along with a generous amount of parsley.

It looks kind of like gravy, but tastes nothing like it — it has a bright, herby flavour that compliments the meaty pie really well.

As for the eels, they were ultra-soft — almost gelatinous — with a funky, fishy flavour.  I liked them, but I can definitely see why they’ve mostly fallen out of favour over the years.  They’re a little bit intense.

I’ve had some pretty great fish and chips back home.  Plus, it’s a pretty simple dish, so how much better could it be over here?

It turns out: substantially better.

Fish and chips from Poppies in London, England

I went to a fairly well-regarded place called Poppies, and had what is almost certainly the best fish and chips of my life.  The fish itself was tender, flaky, and perfectly cooked, but what really stood out was the crispy batter.

Most fish and chips joints back home feature an overly-thick crunchy shell that steals the spotlight from what should be the main attraction: the fish.  It’s basically fried batter that happens to have some fish inside of it.

Fish and chips from Poppies in London, England

Here, on the other hand, the batter is crispy enough to provide a nice contrast to the soft fish, but thin and delicate enough that it absolutely never steals the show.

The chunky fries (sorry, chips) were perfect too: crisp exterior, creamy interior.  Good times.