Raw horse meat, sashimi and other dishes

The place: Zawatami
The food: standard izakaya fare, such as grilled chicken on sticks, tofu, salads, chips, various fried foods

Whilst studying at Nihon University in 2010, Calle and I made a very good friend called Tom, who is studying for a PhD in Buddhist philosophy. Happily for us, his research brought him to Kyoto, and, in honour of his visit, I decided to rally the crew for an izakaya outing. Being uninspired, Zawatami was suggested as a chain izakaya, which would suit everyone’s budget and be able to sit a large party size.


Zawatami is the kind of place which justifies chain-snobbery. Big, impersonal and serving cheap food that tastes cheap. When I eat out, I want an eating experience that is indelible on my brain, burning a hole until I visit it again. I might have forgotten all about Zawatami should I not pass it on a fairly frequent basis.

I’m writing about it, however, because it gives another a good insight into the kind of dishes served at izakaya, drinking places which serve food tapas-style. I really appreciate this kind of eating because I relish variety. Also, the dishes often have stronger flavours than the “delicate” flavours of traditional Japanese cuisine, because they’re designed to be consumed with alcohol. I like the stronger flavours. I don’t want tofu to taste of tofu, because tofu tastes of nothing. And I’ll take my bowl of chips over my bowl of rice any day!

I should also mention to all horse-lovers out there that raw horse meat (bashimi) is very common on the menu. Sorry.

Zawatami wasn’t terrible. The tuna and avocado salad nudges at the back of my brain. It’s a winning combination of flavours.

Avocado and tuna

The giant plates of sashimi were devoured appreciatively by our party (but I always think, how far wrong can you go with raw fish in Japan? Of course, I’m excluding sushi conveyor belt places where the sushi sits sweltering, unrefrigerated for hours!)


And the chocolate sponge, filled with warm chocolate sauce, was good. Undoubtedly it was just brought out of the freezer, but it was very chocolately indeed.

Chocolate sponge

Then I scrolled through my photo selection to discover…

…a bland and unexciting salad…

Avocado salad

…bland and unexciting tofu…


…exceptionally cheap-tasting yakitori (grilled chicken)…


…cheap, oily gyoza  – Chinese pork dumplings (which are even more uninspiring on reflection, because I’ve just eaten delicious homemade gyoza in the past few days. And they were…VEGAN. Yes, I know – I’m still traumatised myself. Blog post coming soon!)


…and raw horse meat for Tom. Tom likes raw horse meat very much. To me, it tastes a little like steak, but I’ve never eaten raw steak so the comparison probably fails. I’m not big fan of raw meat – I prefer my food not to bleed onto my plate. I like my steak to be pink in the middle, but never bloody.

Raw horse meat

As for Zawatami, I wouldn’t have resented the food so much if it weren’t for the fact that I know I can get much, much better food for less money. I believe we paid over 3000円.

Overall 2.5/5

Unremarkable. Better, cheaper food can be found elsewhere, but Zawatami is good for accommodating large parties and everyone’s budgets and tastes.

Food quality 2/5 – Quite poor quality and poorly flavoured/seasoned.

Value for money 2/5 – Too expensive for the quality of the food we got.

Atmosphere  3/5 – Busy, but full of rowdy crowds that made conversations difficult. A very drink-centred atmosphere – this is a party place for the young. Plus the carpet was really gross.

Service 3/5 – Impersonal but prompt and efficient.

Next post: MY FAVOURITE IZAKAYA (so far)

The Little Things in Life

Everyone, gasp in amazement! I’m about to write a positive review! Not only that, I’m actually recommending a chain!

Actually, chains have never been all bad in my books. If you know a good one, then it’s comforting to know you can secure decent enough food pretty much wherever you are. And of course, I’ve already blogged about my love for Nandos.

Calle and I were shopping in Takashimaya, the largest department store in central Kyoto, when hunger set in. Following a Lonely Planet recommendation that department store dining was good in Kyoto, we thought we’d give it a try.

First of all, we paid a visit to the amazing food court that all good departments stores in Japan have in their basement. These are vast, vast rooms, filled with the most delicious looking food you’ve ever seen, ranging from yakitori (grilled chicken) to salad counters, from bakeries to high-end sweets. I only got a few pics but I promise a full blog post on this soon. Once you’ve seen these places, you’ll never want to shop elsewhere – but you’ll probably have to unless you’re quite well off.

Mountains of salad
Sweet and dericious
£175 lunchbox anyone?

Anyway after feasting our eyes, we clambered up to the 7th floor to check out what the restaurants were offering. And suddenly everything was covered in breadcrumbs and batter again. *sigh*

The place: Touyoutei Grill Capital
The food:  Japanese grill (but of course, expect things deep-fried)

Touyoutei in Takashimaya

We I selected this lunch place for two reasons. 1) The hamburger lunch deal came with POTATO, BREAD and a CHOCOLATE CAKE for pudding and it cost just over 1,500円. These may sound like little things but I guarantee you’re going to miss them after spending time in Japan. 2) This place had a massive queue. Massive queue = popular = good. Maybe? So the equation doesn’t always work. Especially as I believe that many people don’t notice or don’t care about the quality of food. (I was raised as a food snob!)

So… back to the lunch sets. They all came with rice or BREAD. I was excited about the bread because normal bread is a rarity in Japan. It’s normally white, chewy, with almost a cake-like consistency and slightly sweet. It’s not the kind of thing you want to eat with your eggs in the morning! But the bread at Touyoutei was not Japanese bread – it was choice between focaccia and baguette. Plus they kept serving it to me. I think I ate four pieces in total.

Every lunch set also comes with a giant tomoto, with a tuna mayonnaise salad underneath. Tomatoes are very expensive in Japan, too expensive for us to justify buying them more than once a month. So to have a tomato this size was very exciting indeed.

Giant tomato

And then my meal arrived. Sizzling hot.

Sizzling and waiting to be unwrapped...
Hamburger in sauce with steak chunk

I’ve just realised that the photo actually makes it look gross but I think you’ve all established by now that I’m no photographer. So please trust my word when I say it was delicious, served in a rich sauce containing red wine, and a piece of tender braised steak. Excitement once again ensued over the JACKET POTATO. Ironically, I don’t even like these very much but after eating rice, rice, rice, any potato seems like heaven. This one was soft and not dry, topped with a generous amount of butter.

Calle, of course, was not eating the meaty “grill” products. He ordered, to my dismay, a margherita pizza, which seemed like it was destined to disappoint. However, they have an open counter top where you can spy a little into the kitchen. To my amazement, I watched them roll out the dough, coat it in sauce and toppings, and bung it in the oven.


Calle: “It’s really quite good for a margherita pizza. Much tastier than I expected.”

Main courses over, I was twitching for desert. And here it is – one over-the-top chocolately cake.

Chocolate heaven

I ate it very carefully and it turned into this construction, which reminded me of Hokusai’s Great Wave – probably only because I’m in Japan. Calle said it reminded him of something, but it definitely wasn’t Hokusai’s Wave! What do you think?

Chocolate Great Wave
Hokusai's Great Wave

Overall: 3.5/5

If you’re in chainsville or over-priced-ville, you can guarantee that Touyoutei will fill you will decent food for a reasonable price. (Plus you can eat normal bread.)

Food quality 3.5/5 – Tasty, and for a chain, not bad quality.

Value for money 4/5 – Not the cheapest place for lunch but you get a lot for your money.

Atmosphere – 3/5 – It was busy and relaxed, but it’s certainly not a place to go to feel trendy or be amongst the buzz.

Service 4/5 – Very attentive. I got 4 piece of bread – yes!

How to find it:

If you’re in Kyoto, go to the seventh floor of Takashimaya Department Store or Porta Shopping Mall by Kyoto station or find more locations on their website. Touyoutei is mainly found in Kyoto but see the website for other cities.

And good news everyone – there are TWO more positive reviews coming up, including a review of my favourite izakaya! (Maybe there’s a negative one as well….)

The REAL Japanese Food

A lot of people have an idea of Japanese food being the haven of health. Pictures of sushi abound, accompanied by simple bowls of rice and delicately arranged mushrooms. Don’t get me wrong – you’ll find plenty of all of that in Japan. But I want to show you what the everyday eateries are actually serving. As you’ll see, there’s just as much junk and rubbish on sale as you’d find in the UK or the US.

This documentation process took place, once again, in Osaka – on the day when Calle and I bumped into all kinds of characters. Our day trip started with food because, by the time we arrived,  I was starving and needed lunch.

Unfortunately, we headed straight to Tempozan Marketplace, the “shopping and dining arcade” next to the aquarium, which is actually just a place where parents entertain their kids at weekends, presumably by feeding them lots of “kid-friendly” food ie. junk.

In our desperation, we settled for Ganko, where I could get a steak lunch deal for just 750円. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t the tastiest steak in the world but we were in one of those places where you’re only ever going to get quantity, not quality.

Steak, sizzling

The restaurant staff were very obliging and changed the tempura set to veg-only for Calle.

Vegetable tempura

It was probably one of the blandest tempura I’d ever tried, but you can’t go too far wrong with something deep-fried in batter.

And yes, deep-fried. It’s very, very popular in Japan. Tempura is everywhere. As is deep-fried chicken and pork. If it can be deep-fried, it will be deep-fried. The Scots would be proud.

My Lonely Planet was treacherous that day. Within this “shopping and dining arcade” is a “faux Edo-period food court where you can sample all of Osaka’s culinary specialities.” I guess that’s true. But really it’s more accurately described as an indoor, grotty, fake, old-style street with lots of fast-food stands.

It may not look too bad, but remember that this is an enclosed indoor area, with lots of little stalls frying stuff and the unpleasant smells of stale food permeating everything. Plus you will be confronted with things that look like this:


The above is an omu-rice – rice wrapped in an omelette, topped with ketchup. Aside from the gross amount of ketchup, I just can’t get over the colour combination. It looks like an operation. And look at these ones – they’re spilling their guts:

Spilling their guts

The next dish on the “menu” is the common curry rice (カレーライス).

Curry rice

Sometimes served with reformed chicken or pork, deep fried in breadcrumbs, it always involves a plate swimming in a “curry” sauce, which is made by mixing a curry block with water. And it’s sweet, and probably not very spicy. There are chains upon chains serving this, and even little coffee shops will do a minuscule lunch menu with this on it.

Medley incl. ketchup, mayo and pineapple!

Yes, that is a hamburger and fried egg, soaking in some kind of unidentifiable brown sauce, covered in ketchup and mayonnaise, served with a classic combination of rice, chips, salad and a pineapple slice. All of this is very typical of the food that lines the streets in Japan, except perhaps the pineapple slice, but I like the extra-quirky edge it gives that dish. Very original indeed.

Osakan speciality

I don’t quite know what this….or maybe I don’t want to know what this is. All I know is that it’s covered in a sweet sauce, with mayonnaise and mustard on top. I assume it’s a kind of okonomiyaki (a cabbage pancake), layered with pork and noodles and all the usual trimmings.

Next on my hit list are the places that appeal to the Japanese imagination of Western food. Take a look at “Vie de France”, attempting to appeal to the traditional French bakery. And then take a look at what they’re selling in the window…

French Life....starts here......
Frankfurter encased in plasticky, sweet bread, with ketchup (or sorry, is that la sauce tomate?)

Calle also discovered that Sweden actually has a million multi-coloured ice-cream flavours. He obviously hasn’t been getting out enough back at home.

The multi-coloured ice-cream land of Sweden

As for our dinner, we decided to try an Osakan izakaya.

The place: Torihime Oriental Re-Mix
The food: Standard izakaya (tapas style eating), with an emphasis on chicken (torihime translates as “Chicken Princess” which doesn’t sound quite so grand in English!)

The context: We needed food, we wanted izakaya atmosphere and we didn’t want a chain. That left us with little choice as we were stuck around the Umeda station area. But then our eyes were drawn to a very popular little place. We had to queue to get seated.

Torihime Oriental

The atmosphere was spot on. The food we saw whizz past us looked delicious. I was ready for a treat. Check out some of the dishes we ordered:

Strange version of potato salad - mashed with fish egg sauce
"Fried potatoes"
Pumpkin curry
Yakitori - grilled chicken. And some bacon too!

Looks great, right? WRONG! The “potato salad”, which incidentally involved MASHED potatoes, tasted of nothing, despite having various things mashed into it and being topped with a creamy fish egg sauce. The grilled chicken was so bland I was amazed they had applied any tare (sauce) at all.

To rub salt in the wound, it was expensive compared to other izakaya. There was also a hidden table charge of 500 円.

Overall: 2/5

Don’t waste your time with a place that’s obviously trading on a trendy reputation and prime location.

Food quality 2/5 – Bland. Average at best.

Value for money 1/5 – Hidden cover charge and high prices for bad food. No thank you.

Atmosphere – 5/5 – Credit when credit is due. It had a great interior and was buzzing without being too raucous and loud. Good for both intimate and social dining occasions.

Service 2.5/5 – Slow on bringing the food and a bit of a “drop-and-run” attitude.

NB: I PROMISE A NICE REVIEW SOON. I’ve actually found a really amazing izakaya I want to write about 🙂

Santa Diver and Benjamin Button

I love Osaka. It’s full of disturbing characters, such as this fellow below. Well, Japan in general is pretty good at creating disturbing characters. (Read my post featuring  the product of bestiality from Nara).

Hello little children!

Calle and I decided to visit Osaka again because we got ourselves an amazing deal: free transport to, from and around the city and entrance to the gigantic aquarium for only 2,800円. Now for those of you who’ve just gone, “An aquarium, really? How old is this girl?!”, this aquarium has an amazing reputation….because it’s amazing! Let me show you…

For starters, the building itself is worth gaping at:

Osaka Aquarium

Then, once inside, the first thing you walk through is a shark tunnel, I spent ages trying to capture a photo but my timing really wasn’t in tune with the sharks’. Still I managed to take this:

Other cool things:

Underwater party

OK OK, I promised you some characters. Here is Bob, the world’s ugliest fish:

Bob. The world's ugliest fish.

Here is Charles, the sentinel:

Standing guard

And here is “Santa Diver”:

Santa Diver

Yes, that is a guy in a wetsuit in a Santa costume, posing for photos underwater. And here he is about to get taken out by the dolphin, clearly miffed that Santa’s hogging the attention.

Santa Diver gets mugged

I actually commend the Japanese for this crazy idea. It made me smile. However, the following character did not:

Hello little children!

It appears to be an old, ugly man in a baby costume. Japan’s take on Benjamin Button? Oh wait, it’s a metaphor for drugs. Here he is in a mushroom costume.

Mushroom head

And here he is again in a cow costume with an udder on his head. I can’t come up with any witty comments or symbolism for that one. Maybe I need the mushrooms.

Udder head

For those of you familiar with manga/anime One Piece, you’ll know it’s aimed primarily at a youthful audience. By that, I mean it’s definitely watched by kids. In the series, there is a flame-haired female character, called Nami. Here she is with the rest of the crew:

As you can see, she has sizeable boobs – after all, there’s the teenage male audience to please. However, here is the plastic model version. Notice anything different?

Eating ice-cream like a super-cool ice queen

Other characters I got to meet include a seriously creepy panda and the very scary Hattifatteners from my favourite cartoon as a kid, the Moomins!

Boxing panda

The day ended, however, with a poster about the real disturbing characters in Japan. Train perverts (チカン) are a big problem. When I was studying in Tokyo last year, several of my friends got felt up on the trains – one girl was assaulted by the same man twice. Many women are too embarrassed or frightened to confront them. To make matters more problematic, it’s often impossible to tell who it is because train carriages are so crowded. This poster tells girls “Don’t forgive the perverts!”

Don't Forgive the Perverts