Podcast 1 - Introduction

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Our food experience in Japan(Takoyaki, Okinawa)


Podcast Transcript:

PO: Okay, well, thanks everyone, for joining us. This is Pogogi’s first ever podcast. So bear with us if we have some hiccups here but I’m PO and joined with my partner in crime here, GI from Pogogi. And for those of you who are not aware of the website, but we certainly hope you are, Pogogi has been around for about 10 years now.

And basically, what we're trying to do is bring as much information about Japanese food to, everyone out there on the Internet as we can. And hopefully the content is enjoyable. We try to mix it up as much as we could. We got a bunch of good interviews out there. Hopefully, we're going to be getting some more updated interviews with some new guests and also following up with some of our previous interviewees on. And today we thought we would just kind of go over some of our experiences, myself and GI, with Japanese food in Japan compared to Japanese food in North America, some things that we expected and some things that we didn't expect.

We hope you guys will really enjoy the content today. I guess we'll get right into it

So, GI, experiences with Japanese food in Japan.  What were some of the things that you were expecting?  Perhaps that kind of caught you off guard that you that you thought were going to be maybe better than they were.

GI: Well, first time I landed in Japan. I was really excited, first of all because, it was my dream to visit Japan because, you know, loving Asian food, especially Japanese food. But having it in North America is is really, really up there.  But to be in Japan, and to land here, I was really excited.  I didn't know what to expect. I have a few ideas from videos, YouTube videos and movies and stuff like that. In terms of what should I expect in terms of the food.

But I think the most shocking for me was when ordering sushi. Just looking at the menu I remember the first restaurant I went into. I sat down and, there’s a menu. The waitress was really friendly. She knew I didn’t speak Japanese. So she had a big smile on her face and she was really excited. I just kept nodding and I said, no Japanese. I'm sure she understood that.

But I looked at the menu, and the first thing I noticed was that I didn't see any sushi rolls.

I think that's the big shocker, because, you know, in North America, like sushi Rolls is a really big thing. It's pretty much like 60% of the menu, I would say, or 70%. But in Japan I looked at the first page of the menu, then second page, third pages, and finally the last page. They had finally like, a small section roles, and it was like only two choices. So and it was just basic tuna roll, but the rest was just Nigiri and sashimi. It was pretty much what I saw the menu and I was like, Wow! And so that's what I ordered.

Tip - Ordering at a sushi bar guide (link).

I just ordered the Nigiri and Sashimi. It was unbelievable quality, and it was just the flavor. And then the variety of fish they have on the menu was pretty shocking, but I had to get tuna, the fatty tuna. Because, you know that it’s a good test, uh, for quality, right? Well, it is in North America. I don't know.

So every bite was just amazing.  I don't know if you felt the same too? 

PO:  Well, it's funny, because I mean, I think I've been to Japan, I think around five times and something that you mentioned earlier, kind of resonated with me.  When you were saying that the waitress kind of knew that you didn't speak Japanese right? I know, thankfully, I could get by in Japan.
But I think for somewhere listeners who maybe haven't traveled to Japan, you know, hopefully when travel opens up one of these days soon.  When I traveled there, like Google translate those things like they weren't really quite there yet. And in some cases, I don't think they even existed at the time.
But if you travel to Japan, I'm sure you can attest to this, and you don't speak Japanese. It's kind of a problem.  Yeah, with the Rolls, I was expecting not to see very many.  And there are certainly no inside out rolls in Japan.  And I remember, going to one of those sushi restaurants that kind of have that conveyor belt style where it's all those little plates. The price is dictated by the type of plate.

And I remember the first time I went to a Japanese restaurant in Japan my first time and we went for sushi. It was at one of these places, so it wasn't anything like, Oh I went to some kind of like high end sushi restaurant. No, I went to like the cheapo conveyor belt sushi joint right.  For me, it was awesome.  and you're right, it was mostly Nigiri. I didn't see a whole lot of salmon Nigiri. 

It was like a lot of a lot of the toppings were shrimp, tuna, mackerel, stuff like that.  I just remember when I got the bill, I was, like, still in my North American frame of mind when it came to, like, sushi prices. And I was like, “Oh my God”, like I ate so much.  I got the bill, and I had probably like, it looked like a mountain of plates in front of me, and I got the bill. I was like, 14 bucks U.S or something.
GI: (6:50) Yeah, it was the same with me, too. When I ordered, I was in the restaurant and wasn't a conveyor belt restaurant, but it was just a regular restaurant and my bill was cheap. I had a full lunch, too, and I had, like, all sushi, and I remember being like in Yen, so I didn't know at first, but when I converted, it was like it was like something like 20 bucks. You wouldn't get that anywhere in North America and the quality as well. So I was pretty amazed. I was pretty happy. I was a happy camper.

PO: I would love to visit like, you know, how would I describe them? You know, like the posher sushi restaurants.

GI: Like the intimate kind?

Yeah, like the higher end Sushi restaurants, because I never went to any of those. But I was very I was very, very happy. I was super satisfied. And actually, on my last trip to Japan, like between my hotel and the train station, Ueno train station there was, like this this wicked Ramen restaurant, like they only did ramen, right?

So that was a good sign because, you know, in Japan there's a lot of restaurants that just do like, one thing, right? They'll do Soba or they'll be Ramen, or they'll do whatever. The best part about this ramen noodle experience wasn't necessarily the ramen, or the Gyoza, that you could also get right. It wasn't like one of those super small, like 6 seater restaurants.  You could probably cram about 20 people into this restaurant that I was in. The best part about it this this is not related to Japanese food. Maybe it's a cultural difference.

It's probably fading a little bit, but I could smoke in there, like I could smoke, like in my same seat.

But to me, like so I had a bowl of awesome Ramen, plate of Gyoza and an ice cold beer.  As soon as I was done, I could smoke.

GI: They have smoking rooms everywhere, even in even a fast food restaurant. I was in too, had a separate room, which I didn't know. I went there by accident and just, like, got a whiff of smoke. What's this? What's going on? I was like I didn't realize people were smoking. Oh, it's a room just for smokers in the restaurant.

PO:  I have another smoking story. I was in an Izakaya in Japan. We were drinking.   It had the classic Izakaya atmosphere and we were in the bowels of this obscure building, and it was busy.  It was dark, and it was smoky.  We were eating, drinking, and having a great time. 

And then all of a sudden, this, younger lady approaches the table. She was clearly not a waitress. She didn't work there.  Just by the way, she was dressed in a way and her approach, you could tell that she was supposed to be there.  

She had, like this tray, so she comes up to me because she's see that I'm smoking, right? Yeah. And she's like, Oh what are you smoking? And I'm like; I was smoking lucky strike at the time because, you know, I can't get them back home. 

Then she's like, would you like to try these cigarettes? 

So she's like a cigarette rep.  So she was like, offering me like, free cigarettes.   This is like, the best thing ever. 

Just to be clear, Pogogi is not promoting or endorsing smoking, just talking about my experience.

Something else going back to the whole English thing we talked earlier. And if you're worried about, you know, deciphering menus or whatnot.  I think you've experienced this is as well in front of the restaurants,  even before you go in, there's often display cases with fake food.  It's really realistic the way that they've created them.  You can just like point because they have their whole menu, like on display with these models food that they've created. But it makes it really easy to kind of see if you would even know, like, what is on the menu.

GI: Yeah, especially if you don't know the language, right? So it's helpful to have the big pictures in the menus and if you don't know Japanese you could just point. And then they move their heads left to right then it's not available. And you point to something else.  But it's really easy. 
And the food out in front of the restaurants or depends on the type of restaurant. I find if you're walking and don't know where you are.  Or you are in the back alleys somewhere lost in Tokyo or maybe Shinjuku. They often have those food displays, fake displays, right outside their restaurant. So it's nice you don’t have to actually go inside the restaurant.   The fake food looks almost real and really enticing.  
And I've seen videos, where companies that take pride in making these food models. And I have to look that up again. But I remember seeing the video.

PO: So How about, things that you may have tried that you thought were going to be good but maybe weren't not necessarily bad, but weren't quite what you were expecting.

GI: Pretty much like all the food of Try. Japan is amazing. It's its's. Every food you try, whether it's in the in the gas station or, uh, in a high end restaurant. I find they put a lot of heart in making the food. But there is one type of food I didn't really feel because I think maybe because people talk about it a lot and, it’s actually not served in North America, but it is popular in Japan. So I was really, really excited actually to see this because it is served at festivals a lot. It's very simple food. It was one of the balls.

Takoyaki! I always say it wrong. So I had it outdoors. It was I think it was Osaka. And I remember walking in a food court food area. And it was a narrow walkway with little shops and food stalls. They had several, of those Takoyaki food stalls. And so I went to one of them and I was really excited because, you know, it just looks so good and it smells so good. I wanted singles balls and I guess the communication wasn't there because I didn’t speak Japanese.

So I just got the full eight balls and then I had beer too. I was like this is going to be the best ever. So I sat down and had one or two, and I found it to be, like, flavorful. But I find it was a lot batter. It was good, but I think after a few bites with beer on top of that, I felt very stuffed. It was sitting in my stomach and not to say it was terrible, but it was like it was enjoyable.  I don't think I could have full eight. If someone offered one or two of them to me, I would take it, but I wouldn't necessarily be able to order a whole set of them. What are your thoughts?

PO: Yeah, I had a similar experience. I was pretty excited to try Takoyaki, like, for the first time, and I love Squid Octopus. I agree with you, it tasted good. It was very flavorful, but it was doughy. The inside was a bit runnier than I expected.

GI: Yeah, it was runny, too.

PO: The other thing that I wish there was more of was the actual octopus.  There were actually wasn't that much. So I kind of feel like if someone was expecting that there's going to be a lot of octopus and, like, there isn't.  I would just say, like, just be aware of that.

But I mean, I glad I tried it. I mean, it was for sure it was something that I was going to hit up for sure, but it was kind of disappointing, but that's maybe just because I had  an idea of it that wasn't accurate, but and so I don't think that was the fault of the food. I thought it was going to be something different.

GI: (17:25) You know what's interesting is that you don't see it served in North America. And I wonder why. Do you have a sense of why?

PO:  I don't know why, but because it's like tempura. I don't know if this is true or not, but I think one reason why it might not be as, as abundant in North America is just how difficult it can be to make if you don't know what you're doing. Like if you've ever seen any of those Takoyaki videos on like YouTube. But like the guys making them like, it's pretty intense. I wonder if that's why. 

GI: Yeah, I mean, it takes trainings. They use a mold to make them and they use chopsticks to flip them. 

PO: You got to be quick when flipping them. You have to have good manual dexterity. You have to constantly watch it, and pay attention to the color and how it's cooking in relation to the other batch. That's just that's just my guess.

The fake food was cool and the Takoyaki was interesting. 

GI:  What did you find? Did you ever go into the 7 11 stores or convenience stores? Have you tried any snacks or food from those places? 

PO:  Like here in North America, I wish the convenient convenience store food was as good as it was in Japan. Like I mean, the food and the convenience stores in Japan is really, really good for a convenience store.

GI: For the variety that they have. 

PO: Yeah, you could go there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And if you had to and there are no restaurants in proximity, just go to a convenience store. 

GI: You can also get booze there too

PO:  That's what I did for one night where it was late.  Another thing is, I'm not sure but most convenience stores, or I would say grocery stores I learned after a certain time, I think might be eight in the evening. They have food that they reduce prices on. 

They reduced prices for certain foods and you can get so much food. I got a whole bunch of food for like, under eight bucks. It was amazing. I think they do that to reduce waste. I've heard this information from other bloggers.  If you want to get a good discount for food and just go the grocery store after eight.

GI:  Now one of the places that you visited, which I never got to in my different travels to Japan. You were in Okinawa for a while? What’s kind of food did you eat there that would be more unique to Okinawa? 

PO: I would say they specialize in pork. I think if I remembered pork was found on a lot if their menus. I'm trying to remember, they obviously have the same dishes as the mainland.  I had a lot of pork cutlets and they have it in their ramen quite often.  The pock cutlets, I found was really good but it was their dipping sauce that was good as well. But I remember the first dipped it in that sauce I was amazed. It was some sort of Dijon mustard kind of flavor, but it was different. It had a hint of a Japanese flavor to it so I couldn't explain it. 

But it was like the sixth sense, I forgot the word for it.  In Japan they have a name for it.

PO: Umami

GI:  So it was that feeling.  That is what I recalled that I found different from the mainland, and obviously the weather. 

PO:  And did you did you have any bitter melon while you were out there in Okinawa? Because I know they eat a lot of bitter melon. 

GI:  Oh no, I didn't have a chance. 

PO: I love bitter melon, and I'd like to try their pork and bitter melon dish. 

GI:  I would have loved to try if I had known because I love melon soup as well. 

PO: I've heard of the pork thing, you know, pretty big on pork and also the bitter melon, the purple sweet potato.  Eating Japanese food in Japan, this might sound kind of cliché, but like, you can't beat it.  You have to go to Japan.

GI:  And the costs, like people say, like when they say it's expensive for everything.  I was kind of worried about that. I went to Japan, but I find that the food cost was really reasonable. But if it's like Western food, like you're looking for like a burger or a steak? That is where the price kind of goes up.

So I think that's where you got to have a palette for Japanese food be worth it, to be honest. 

PO:  I found that too like, if you want to spend a lot of money on food in Japan, you certainly can. But you don't have to you and you can eat, like, pretty well, like traditional Japanese food.

It is funny that you mentioned Western food in Japan. I remember we went out to dinner and the the friends with that we were with were like, “wow, let's take you to a nice steak place.” I was like, okay, right. I wasn't going to say no, right. And, kind of like be a jerk and say like, “I don't want eat steak, I want Japanese food. 

But they were trying to be polite and think that maybe I wanted a taste of home or something like that. We went to this, like, Western restaurant, and we had, you know, steak, potatoes and some veg on the side or whatever. Nothing fancy.

But when it came out, there was like three baby potatoes. Like smaller than a golf ball. Like these ones were like still fetuses.  Oh then I can't remember what the veg was, but it was so small but negligible.

And then the steak was like the size of a deck of cards. It tasted really good. But, I mean, it was really expensive. It was a nice place but you don’t get a lot of food. And I was just like I could have pounded so much sushi. 

GI: I had the same thing too when I was in Tokyo for four or five days. By the sixth day, I guess because being born in the North America, I was craving a burger. 
I love sushi, don't get me wrong. I love everything, you know, all Japanese food.

But then, by the sixth day, I just felt the craving for a burger. I just remember just going to a fast food Japanese food chain and I believe it was equivalent to McDonald's.  It was called Mosburger. But I remember just looking at the menu and looking at the picture.

And I pointed out one and they gave it to me, and I just looked down. I was like, the fries and it was like a couple fries in the container, and the burger was pretty tiny.

It was like 12 bucks American, I think. I enjoyed it and it was good, but I could have gone for another.  It was pretty pricey and I find for any western food that you want to go for anything with beef it gets a bit pricey.

PO:  That's funny.  I think we're rolling up on our 30 minute mark here, so we're trying to keep it short and sweet.  Hopefully you guys enjoyed this, especially being our first podcast.

And again, apologies, if it sounds a little bit on the fly because it was.   Hopefully we'll be bringing you some more podcasts in the future. And if you have any feedback for us, certainly let us know. And we hope you enjoy the content on the website. We're looking at bringing some new stuff to the site in terms of articles and interviews like we mentioned earlier. But anyway, I think we'll leave it for there. So PO here, and GI, we're going to sign off and we'll chat with you again soon. Yeah, thanks for listening.