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Review: Food in Okayama, Japan

Review: Food in Okayama, Japan

We stayed for one day and two nights in Okayama city and had four local sit down meals barring the Apron Café lunch on Naoshima Island. I like to think that our meals were pretty representative of Okayama; we had demi–katsudon in Ajitsukasa Nomura, fruit parfait in Kurashiki Momoko, Barazushi at Azuma-zushi and Shodoshima ramen in Hishio. Here’s a brief review of these restaurants.

Ajitsukasa Nomura

If there is one restaurant universally recommended in Okayama city it is Ajitsukasa Nomura for its demi-katsudon. A standard Katsudon is a homely dish consisting of a bowl of rice with a deep-fried pork cutlet, vegetables, an egg, and other condiments. Okayama has its own specialty though: its demi-katsudon is famous for using a thick demi-glace sauce and green peas.

Okayama Food
Ajitsukasa Nomura entrance

Fortunately our hotel happened to be just around the corner from the restaurant, so there really was no excuse not to go to this locally and internationally recommended restaurant after our visit to Korakuen Garden and Okayama Castle on a Friday afternoon.

For being a pretty famous restaurant in Okayama it didn’t have the same crazy queues seen in similarly popular restaurants elsewhere; this was perhaps testament to Okayama’s general chilled atmosphere and reputation as a a city to pass through. We still had to queue, but it was for a manageable 15 minutes or so. This wasn’t a bad thing; it was nice not to have to stand in a line for nearly an hour for once.

Okayama Food
Entrance

I mean I’m British, but even I have my queuing limits.

Ajitsukasa is a machine restaurant; a popular type in Japan where you pay for your food with tickets bought from a machine. This system is efficient as you didn’t need to wait for staff to come to your table to take your order; just click the items you want, pay the appropriate cost, collect the tickets with the items you ordered written down and hand your ticket over to staff without requiring the human calculation and money-handling process.

Machines are amazing; maybe it’s a good idea to let them take over?

The ticket machines are very easy to use with many having pictures as buttons; they usually serve as a recommendation list too; the largest and flashiest buttons tend to be the hot ticket items. When in doubt push the largest button; this is pretty sound advice in life generally especially when you live in the White House.

Okayama Food
Ticket machine

There were English menus available to help me decide on my choices; I went for a basic set: a regular sized bowl of rice topped with a pork tenderloin cutlet and demi-glace sauce, pickles and miso soup for 900.00 JPY / 5.98 GBP. My bf went for a half set with half a bowl of normal Katsudon, half a bowl of Demi-glace Katsudon, pickles and miso soup for 1,100.00 JPY / 7.31 GBP.

We matched the numbers and information in the English menu to the correct button on the machine and it was very easy to pay for our meal. After putting our names down in the ledger to mark our place and collecting our tickets, we were directed to a waiting area outside. After a short wait we handed our tickets to the hostess and were shown to a table in the busy restaurant. The place was traditionally styled with wooden furniture, papered lights, wooden beams and soft yellow lighting. The space was small and appeared to seat less than 40 people with around six tables. We had to share a six person table with others but I felt it added to the cosy and friendly atmosphere.

Okayama Food
Tickets

Our food soon came piping hot and smelling delicious. I had a few sips of the miso soup before finally tasting the rice.

Okayama Food
Demi-glace Katsudon set

The taste was the real thing; you just can’t beat the comfort of rice and stuff. The demi-glace sauce had a stronger and heavier flavour to it than the standard katsudon and reminded me of western styled dishes. The peas stopped it tasting too strong, but I still had to take a few sips of water throughout the meal. It was certainly a very filling dish and the strong flavouring meant a little went a long way.

Okayama Food
Thick sauce

I also tasted the standard katsudon and have to say that I prefer the milder egg flavouring of the traditional katsudon over the demi-katsudon. They were both delicious though and the portions were generous; Ajitsukasa Nomura is a strong and affordable recommendation.

Okayama Food
Mixed set
Okayama Food
Katsudon

Kurashiki Momoko

I’m a huge fruits fan and so am generally appalled at the extortionate pricing of Japanese fruit. Sure the lone melons being sold in Japanese supermarkets are perfect spheres and beautifully wrapped, but for £20? It better be gold plated.

Better be pure gold – stock photo

But I was willing to suck it up and go on a fruit binge in Okayama; also known as the fruits kingdom of Japan. If I didn’t try the fruit here where else would I do so in Japan? I was especially interested in trying Okayama’s speciality of white peaches and was determined to do so via the highly praised Kurashiki Momoko’s fruit parfaits.

The cafe’s business was booming when we arrived and we had to queue for half an hour or so before we could order and head upstairs to the seating area. Downstairs was reserved for an ice cream stand and food shop and upstairs had a very elegant and old fashioned atmosphere with wooden furniture, single glazed windows and large ceiling fan.

Okayama Food
Kurashiki Momoko entrance

When we reached the front I immediately asked for the peach parfait.

Unfortunately peaches weren’t in season in May and it wasn’t available.

I was a little upset.

Okayama Food
A little upset – stock photo

So we opted for the seasonal large parfait instead for the silly price of 2,160.00 JPY / 14.36 GBP and a grape gelato for a more reasonable 378.00 JPY / 2.51 GBP. Our whole meal in Ajitsukasa Nomura was cheaper and this was just for dessert so it felt very overpriced; although it in the UK this would be seen as pretty reasonable.

Okayama Food
parfait and gelato

Especially for the size of the thing.

Okayama Food
Piled with strawberries

It was an absolute monster.

Okayama Food
Back

I was so glad we opted to share the parfait, this thing can feed a family of five.

Okayama Food
Huge

It was very beautiful and taste wise the parfait was designed very well; with layers upon layers of different fruits and flavours.

The macaroon was a nice mild start to the parfait and the cream and strawberry ice cream mixed well  and tasted fresh.

Okayama Food
Macaron

I found the strawberries a little sour, the kiwis decent and the best part was definitely the sweetly refreshing oranges. I felt the oranges definitely stood out as better than anything I had in the UK, but I definitely had better or equivalent quality kiwis and strawberries in London.

Okayama Food
Slowly…
Okayama Food
…digging through..

I’ve had strawberries in the UK that were especially sweet and the size of a fist. Sure a lot of the huge ones were shaped like Frankenstein heads and nowhere as pretty as the ones in Momoko, but they taste damn good.

Giant strawberries – stock photo

I really want to visit Momoko again in the future to try their peach parfait, but I thoroughly enjoyed their monster of a seasonal parfait and can see why there was a huge snaking queue in the cafe comprised mostly of women and couples. This place is popular so prepare to queue.

Azuma-zushi

I eat so much sushi in my normal life that it’s probably a health hazard, but I never had bara sushi before. Invented as a way to get around an Edo period decree that stated “there shall be only a single dish on the dining table”, barazushi is simply placing anything and everything onto rice in one dish.

Sounds an awful lot like one of my old favourites: rice and stuff.

Rice – stock photo

I found Azuma-zushi online and it had several good reviews about its bara sushi, so we headed into the heart of Okayama Station to locate this unassuming restaurant.

There were only counter tables next to the chefs in the restaurant which seated around 15 people, but as was typical of Okayama there was a minimal queue and we were seated quickly.

My bf ordered the bara sushi for 1,620.00 JPY / 10.77 GBP; which was served on traditional bizen pottery, but I couldn’t resist and ordered the large 2,900.00 JPY / 19.27 GBP sushi set. We were served complimentary green tea and our meal came costed around 4,520.00 JPY / 30.04 GBP which was very reasonable for sushi.

Okayama Food
Sushi set
Okayama Food
Bara sushi

I did have a taste of the bara-zushi and was not at all surprised at the taste: the egg and rice were fluffy and the seafood very fresh. However I have a soft spot for sushi sets and had no regrets: the individual pieces were deliciously fresh and I particularly loved the sea urchin and fish roe.

Okayama Food
Close up of sushi set
Okayama Food
Close up of Bara sushi

Azuma sushi is conveniently located, well priced and serves very good sushi including the local speciality bara sushi.

Hishio

Okay fine, Shodoshima is not part of Okayama and Shodoshima ramen isn’t technically a dish from Okayama. However since the Hishio brand is only located in Okayama outside of Shodoshima and I won’t be able to find it anywhere else on the mainland; in a way it counts as an Okayama specialty?

Maybe? – stock photo

I went to the branch that was in the main street where there was no queue for a seat; although it was decently busy inside. The restaurant had a very red thing going on where the exterior and interior walls were bright red; this contrasted with the white floor and counters and clashed with the green seating. Very interesting decorative choices and it definitely stood out.

So much red – stock photo

Hishio specialises in soy sauce ramen which uses a strong soup base, so I ordered the classic Hishio Ramen for 880.00 JPY / 5.85 GBP whilst my bf ordered the Roasted Pork Fillet Soba for 1,080.00 JPY / 7.18 GBP. From what I see the only real difference was that the Roasted Pork Fillet Soba had  more…pork. What a shocker.

Okayama Food
Ramen

We also ordered the 380.00 JPY / 2.53 GBP olive soda pop because it sounded interesting and Shodoshima is apparently also famous for olives. It tasted mostly of soda really and was tasty. Overall our meal costed 2,340.00 JPY / 15.55 GBP excluding tax which was very decent indeed.

Okayama Food
Olive wine

The ramen had a very good firm and bouncy texture, but I found the soup a bit too salty for my taste. I also didn’t particularly care for the pork fillet; it tasted soft, mild and was probably very well done, but pork fillets are like cupcakes to me: they look better than they taste and the better they look the more disappointing the flavour. I just generally find pork fillets rather tasteless and didn’t love the soup enough to dramatically improve the meat.

Okayama Food
Hishio ramen

That’s just my opinion though as my bf loved the ramen and enthusiastically went for the “kaedama” option; which basically meant free noodle refills.

Okayama Food
Roasted pork fillet

Yes. Free noodle refills.

Suddenly Hishio became the best restaurant in the whole of Okayama.

Kidding aside this is a wonderful Japanese custom seen in some Japanese restaurants that will probably ruin many businesses in the UK. This is probably not an issue in Hishio as their portions are so generous that a normal person won’t be able to eat too much afterwards.

Ultimately I am not the biggest shoyu ramen fan and prefer lighter soup bases, but if you are a fan of this style of ramen then Hishio is an affordable and filling option that is recommended by my bf.

Details

Ajitsukasa Nomura

Website: https://japantravel.navitime.com/en

Address: 1-10 Heiwacho, Kita Ward, Okayama, 700-0827, Japan/〒700-0827 岡山県岡山市北区平和町1−10

Opening hours: 11:00 – 21:00

Kurashiki Momoko

Website: http://kurashikimomoko.jp

Address: 4-1 Honmachi, 本町 Kurashiki-shi, Okayama-ken 710-0054, Japan/〒710-0054 岡山県倉敷市本町4−1

Opening hours: Mon – Sat: 10:00 – 18:00 (Dec – Feb until 17:00) Sun & Hol: 9:30 – 17:30 (Dec – Feb until 17:00)

Azuma-zushi

Website: http://okayamaeki-sc.jp/gourmet/shops/azuma_zushi.html

Address: Japan,〒700-0024 Okayama-ken, Okayama-shi, Kita-ku, Ekimotomachi, 1−1 さんすて岡山2F/〒700-0024 岡山県岡山市北区駅元町1−1 さんすて岡山2F

Opening hours: 11:00 – 22:00

Hishio

Website: http://www.hishiosoba.com/ekimae.html

Address: 2-23 Honmachi, Kita-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken 700-0901, Japan/〒700-0901 岡山県岡山市北区本町2−23

Opening hours: 11:00 – 24:00

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