Dining in Japan: From Ramen Bars to Michelin Dining

This month saw the release of the MICHELIN Guide Kyoto Osaka 2024 featuring a total of 440 restaurants – including one new Two Star and 17 new One Star establishments. In light of this, we take a look at some of Japan’s most unique foods and dining experiences that are a must try for every traveller. From simple fare to Michelin Starred traditional cuisine, Japan has it all. 

Explore the city of ramen

Located in Fukushima Prefecture, the small town of Kitakata is home to over 100 restaurants selling a historic style of ramen. Here, ramen is more than just a cuisine – it plays an integral role in the culture and heritage of the city. Kitikata’s ramen is unique in two ways. Firstly, the distinctive style of noodles known as Hirauchi Jukusei Takasuimen, which are firm, flat and curlier than ramen noodles elsewhere. Secondly, the soup, made with a soy sauce base and served with barbecued pork belly, spring onions and bamboo shoots. Start the journey in the morning at Kitakata station where a number of restaurants are located and do as the locals do – have a hearty bowl of ramen for breakfast. Those looking to dive a little deeper into the background of Kitakata ramen can check out the Kitakata Ramen Museum and Shrine. 

Dine at an Izakaya

A traditional Japanese tavern, similar to an Irish pub or a tapas bar, Iizakaya are a significant part of Japan’s bustling nightlife scene. An informal and inexpensive dining option, the typical izakaya serves ice-cold beer and a variety of other spirits and soft drinks alongside food that is made to be shared. Izakaya across Japan offer a variety of foods with some specialising in fish or meat, others featuring regional favourites. Travellers visiting during the colder months can expect dishes like nabe (hot-pot) which is cooked at the table and served directly from the pot. For a truly local experience, opt for an izakaya tour such as the Back-alley Night Izakaya Hopping tour which operates in Sendai, where local guides bring participants to various izakaya in the city.   

Get a taste of Hiroshima’s soul food 

Better known as a Japanese pancake, Okonomiyaki is commonly known as Hiroshima’s soul food and aptly so,  with more Okonomiyaki restaurants (2,000) being located in the city than anywhere else in Japan. Traditionally filled with shredded vegetables and meat, the Hiroshima style of the dish includes noodles, a unique addition that is not found anywhere else. For the best experience of the Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki, head to the Okonomimura building – a seven-story building with two floors dedicated to Okonomiyaki restaurants, each putting their own twist on the much loved dish. 

Immerse in a unique vegan dining experience

Located at the foot of Mt Mino in Fukuoka Prefecture, Le Restaurant du Haze led by Chef Atsushi Hirata is a macrobiotic and vegan restaurant set in a 120-year-old traditional Japanese farmhouse. Using only the freshest locally grown vegetables alongside self-concocted delicacies, the restaurant serves up delicious and nourishing meals, perfect for the health-conscious foodie. Combining classic Japanese elegance with modern dining, Le Restaurant du Haze offers visitors a holistic and inimitable dining experience. Reservations can be made via email or phone and are required for dinner courses. 

Indulge in Michelin-starred traditional cuisine

Japan is often referred to as a luxurious destination and its food scene is no exception. With three Michelin stars under its belt, the world-famous Kikunoi is a highly acclaimed Japanese restaurant serving a traditional multi-course dinner, kaiseki-ryori. Headed by Chef Yoshihiro Murata, who was recently awarded the 2024 MICHELIN Mentor Chef Award for the MICHELIN Guide Kyoto and Osaka, Kikunoi is named after the chrysanthemum-shaped well that his ancestors guarded for their lord. The Kikunoi flagship restaurant is located in Kyoto’s historic Higashiyama district and set in a traditional manor which resembles a samurai residence. Every element of the restaurant – including the exquisite tableware and decor – tells a story of Japanese heritage, tradition and culture. Believing that restaurant dining is a celebration of the joys of life, Chef Murata uses the only the finest seasonal ingredients sourced from all across Japan with the aim of delighting and surprising guests through constant innovation. Reservations are required and can be made online

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