When most people talk about Japan, the first thing that comes to mind is Tokyo. And why not? It’s one of the most fascinating cities in the orient. Same thing when people think of food. People wish to have ramen…in Tokyo (despite the fact that the current most popular form of ramen came from Fukuoka), or sushi…in Tokyo (to be fair, the current popular form of sushi did come from Edo, Tokyo’s old name), or katsu…in Tokyo.
Yet Japan is a fairly large country, and for one reason or another you’ll find yourself in one city or another if you are travelling cross country. While some cities are attractions in themselves, like Kyoto or Sapporo, there are some that serve mainly as “waypoints”, or connectors in the country’s vast transport network, and one of these is Nagoya.
Though located between Tokyo and Kyoto along the Tokaido route, Nagoya hardly rings a bell in the world of leisure travel, unlike the other two. Mostly an industrial city, it is mostly known as the birthplace and home base of many of Japan’s large manufacturing companies, starting with no less than Toyota. But what does Nagoya have to offer for travellers like us? That’s what we tried to find out. And when you’re trying to savour Japan, you always start with food.
We arrived very late in the evening in Nagoya, and our first meal, or rather midnight snack was Tebasaki. It’s basically chicken wings done “japanese style”, but it’s one delicacy claimed by Nagoya as its own invention. Being a “working man’s city”, its affinity with chicken wings is hardly surprising – wings and beer are a match made in heaven, especially after work hours.
We had Tebasaki at a place called Gaburichicken, a couple of blocks away from the Nagoya station. The place really doesn’t appear in any articles I could find about places to eat in the city, but we went for it because it was the only one we could find open when we scoured around the vicinity of the hotel. The place looked bright and inviting, and there were a couple of tables occupied by men in suits, so the place couldn’t be bad, we thought. And indeed it wasn’t. We ordered a platter of tebasaki, fries and tall glasses of draft beer, and we were ready to make it a relaxing evening.
Their chicken wings were great…crispy in the surface yet tender inside, and salty enough to make a gulp of beer feel refreshing. But I guess what was unique with them was that it came with gizzards, salted and fried in the same way as the wings. I’m used to gizzard being tough and chewy (though I love it just the same), but theirs was tender inside too, and that for me was probably the best new thing I’ve tasted in a long time.
Japan has many popular ramen restaurants, and if you ask various people for the best ramen, you would likely find a multitude of answers, but one of the names that often crop up would be Ippudo. Having just recently opened their first branch in Manila, I’m no longer a stranger to the “Ippudo” kind of ramen, but still we wanted to try it right in the land where it came from. And since we didn’t get time to go to Ippudo while we were in Tokyo, we made it a point to try it in Nagoya.
Ippudo in Nagoya is at the popular Sakae district, though a bit hard to find since it’s in the basement of a building. Luckily Google Maps knows exactly where it is. Unlike most ramen shops in Japan which are tight and hectic, Ippudo felt relaxed. The place in the Nagoya was spacious, and even the other people who were eating there didn’t seem to be in a rush. And of course, the ramen is one of the best – as expected.
The Nagoya Station is the epicentre of activity in Nagoya, and the buildings above and around it have some of the most notable restaurants in the city. One of these is a place called Kamon, 13 floors above the Nagoya station, within the JR Takashimaya tower.
The conveyor belt sushi is one genuine Japanese invention, and dining in a conveyor sushi place is one experience not to be missed in Japan. Kamon takes it even a notch higher by giving a more “high tech” conveyor sushi. Here’s customers order through a tablet assigned to each table, which contains photos of the multitude of sushi varieties they have. Orders are transmitted wirelessly and “paperlessly” to the kitchen, and after a few minutes would make its way through the conveyor. A mechanical “pusher” then diverts the food from the conveyor to your table. The sushi is good, but more than anything else, it’s the “high-techness” of the whole thing that makes the place a “must visit”.
Another Nagoya “invention” is the Miso Katsu. In essence, it’s just deep fried pork fillets (katsu) drenched in miso sauce which gives it a slightly sweet and salty flavor. What started it all, so they say, is a restaurant called Yabaton, which originated in Nagoya too. Personally I enjoy good Katsu as is, without sauces, as the bare flavor of the pork already complements the flavor and texture of Japanese rice well. However, Miso Katsu does give it an interesting kick.
* Photos taken April 2015.