Though I’ve been in Japan for almost 2 months now, this is my first blog post. The first month alone was more hectic than a whole year back at home! So far, I’ve gotten more used to the lifestyle here and things have slowed down. Despite having been to a lot of places here in Japan, and experiencing a lot of different things, I’ll start off slow and work my way through what I’ve done slowly until I catch up with what’s currently happening. So how about I introduce myself… and some Japanese food!

My name is Nelly Zoe Nieves – I prefer to go by my middle name, Zoe. I’m 21 and a Multi-Disciplinary Studies Major at OU. I’m minoring in Japanese and my career goal is to be a translator. I want to learn Korean, and maybe go back to French sometime in the future. Japanese is my favorite language of all time – I think it sounds extremely beautiful, elegant, and polite. I’ve always loved the Japanese culture and even my mom says I must have been Japanese in another life. Throughout my blog, I hope to teach others about the Japanese lifestyle, culture, and maybe some of the language. I thought it’d only be right if I started with a post about food. Sure enough, there’ll be plenty more of these in the future!

Good old fashion Ramen with rice!

Good old fashion Ramen with rice!

Here’s a Japanese meal that I feel encompasses the epitome of Japanese cuisine. Ramen! And rice! I hear ramen is Chinese, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less popular here in Japan. If you want a quick, usually cheap, meal, ramen is the way to go. There are several different types of ramen, with different meats and/or broths.

The ramen I’m having here is your typical ramen. My friends and I found a small, cozy, cheap ramen shop near our dorms here in Yamagata City, and we’ve loved it ever since. Though my friends eat ramen more often than I do, I still appreciate a good bowl now and again. In America, it’s rude to slurp your soup, noodles, what have you… But in Japan, you’re supposed to slurp your food to show sign of enjoyment. At first, I had to get used to the many Japanese folk slurping their noodles around me – but now I find myself doing it too. I hope I don’t forget my manners when I return to the states.

Accompanying my ramen is a small bowl of rice (which isn’t typical with ramen, but I love rice). In the little white bowl you have some pickles and a yellow vegetable we never figured out the name of. In the black bowl you have tofu topped with fish flakes. And in the striped bowl you have chrysanthemum (kiku in Japanese). I didn’t like the vegetables (even back home I dislike pickles), and tofu doesn’t taste like anything so it’s edible… however, I dislike fish (quite tough when living in Japan) and the fish flakes were extremely powerful in taste. The chrysanthemum was actually pretty good, but I did the mistake of eating it alone instead of adding it to my ramen, and it was a bit too much to handle. It’s pretty sweet however.

Japanese Beef!

Japanese Beef!

During the first week of arriving in Japan, a nice Japanese student took us out to “tabehoudai.” Tabehoudai is basically an all you can eat. It’s pretty expensive (we went to one that was $28 each) so I’d only recommend it as a special occasion. During tabehoudai, you’re given a menu of all the items you can order and have for the amount you’ve paid. The tabehoudai we went to specialized in meat. They brought out two grills (there was quite a few of us) for us to cook our meat on and gave us menus. We ordered different kinds of meat and then we’d cook it ourselves on the grills. A lot of the meat was extremely tasty – especially a certain type of beef that was ordered. We also ordered mini sausages, which were delicious, takoyaki (octopus balls), which I couldn’t bear to eat, ramen (which was gigantic and too much to eat given all the other food), french fries (which were extremely hard to grill, but tasted delicious ungrilled so it was okay), and vegetables to grill with your meat.

The tabehoudai was a lot of fun and a nice way to meet new international students. We all tried a little bit of everything, but we could only eat so much before we were far too full. Perhaps, before we leave back to our home countries, we’ll have another tabehoudai and order everything we couldn’t have the first time.

Look at all those deserts!

Look at all those deserts!

Pictured here are the deserts sold at a restaurant I’ve yet to go to. I’m afraid of going because not only will I gain 100 pounds in less than 5 minutes, but I’m sure I will go bankrupt. Japanese deserts are incredibly fancy, and therefore incredibly pricy. They’re worth as much as a meal is, if not more in some cases. However, they look worth it. I’ve yet to try an actual Japanese desert, but it’s my goal to have at least one every other weekend. They’re usually gigantic in size, and filled with all sorts of delicious, deserty goodness.

So far I’ve seen them separated into two categories. There’s the “All Desert” desert, which is all sorts of sweets. Usually chocolate, whipped cream, some sort of cake or cookie-like component, and sometimes ice cream. And then there’s the “Fruit” desert… which would probably be my favorite. I love fruit more than most foods, and in Japan fruit is both hard to come by, and expensive. The fruit desert is made up of fruit (of course), and usually chocolate or something sweet – like a glaze, whip cream, or so on.

My goal is to head back to this place someday and order myself something off their delicious desert menu!

Fried soba noodles.

Fried soba noodles.

Yakisoba! So far one of my most favorite Japanese foods. Yakisoba is fried soba noodles. Soba noodles are wheat noodles, thin, and usually served cold. While I haven’t tried soba noodles in their original form, I have fallen in love with yakisoba. There is a little yakisoba place my friends and I found on accident located in the train station. This is my plate in the picture – it’s usually served with a sunny side up egg (which I don’t like, hence the lack of). My version is the smallest, because I couldn’t survive a large.

At the table they place yakisoba sauce, which is tangy and sweet, and some sort of seasoning that was labeled “black and white pepper.” It had a lemony taste and I put a little too much on my noodles because of how good it tasted.

If you ever get a chance to have yakisoba, please do! It’s extremely delicious and worth a try. 🙂 The yakisoba place in the train station is now one of my go-to restaurants.

Taro Potato stew

Taro Potato stew

During one of our field trips, we were able to visit a 300 year old house where we were all served delicious imoni. In Yamagata, during the fall the people celebrate “imonikai.” Imonikai is a potato party – family and friends gather by river banks to eat taro potato beef stew. Though we didn’t get to enjoy ours by a river bank, we did get to enjoy it with tons of lovely people and friends.

Pictured to the left, at the bottom left hand corner is the actual stew. The giant gray-ish lumps are the potatoes (which were extremely delicious and my favorite part of the stew). There are vegetables, and hidden from sight are strips of beef. Above the stew are some onigiri. Onigiri are rice balls wrapped in seaweed. They’re usually seasoned with several different types of flavoring (depends on who makes it). I don’t like the seaweed, so I usually eat around it – but it gives the rice flavoring. They’re nice to have as a breakfast food or snack in between meals. Behind the onigiri, shaped like tiny, fat ‘m’s are slices of tofu. Next to the onigiri in the white bowl are slices of daikon. Daikon is a white radish, and tastes very fresh – I really enjoyed them. Next to the daikon is something I forgot – but remember no one touching haha.

The imonikai was extremely successful and we were all thankful to the staff of Japanese woman who toiled in the kitchen preparing it all for us 50 some students. If I ever come back to Yamagata, it will be during the fall, so I can enjoy imonikai by the river side.

Pancake bear!

Pancake bear!

Last but not least is a little cute pancake bear that I got to eat at a festival we held at my host university. The pancake was topped with whip cream, bananas, pineapples, and chocolate syrup. It was so cute it pained me to eat him… but it was so delicious, it pained me to not! Japan has tons and tons more food that I’ve yet to even see, much less try. I hope that by the end of this trip I’m a lot less picky and a lot more open. I’ve tried everything I’ve been offered – and though I might not have liked some, I’ve learned new dishes I definitely love. Though not pictures, I’ve come to love ebi tempura (fried shrimp) and gyoza (another Chinese food, dumplings stuffed with vegetable and meat). It’s hard to come by unhealthy food here in Japan… There are rarely any “fast food” places to eat here in Yamagata, and the ones that are around are extremely far away and far in between. And even there the food seems healthier than ours. Meals are served everywhere you go, all of which are made up of rice, healthy vegetables, and/or soup. Though I miss a lot of food from back home, I’m enjoying the healthy options I have here!

Next time, I hope to post about some beautiful places I’ve been to so far. Until then, keep traveling!

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