For the first time ever, I traveled to Japan to visit my husband’s family, experience culture and tradition, and of course enjoy Japan’s seasonal and regional culinary delights. Japan offers no shortage of remarkable dining options, from casual sushi and hole-in-the-wall ramen shops to massive food markets that stretch for miles.
In traditional Japanese cuisine, you’ll find rice, ramen, noodles, udon, sushi, fish, thinly sliced meats, tofu, vegetables, pickled vegetables, tempura, broth, eggs and green tea. Cultures around the world focus on a variety of foods, and dairy foods help us get many nutrients that we need simply and deliciously.
While some cultures may not embrace dairy foods because of lactose intolerance, it’s important to remember that dairy foods have many benefits. Dairy foods (milk, cheese and yogurt) contribute essential nutrients to the American diet and the calcium can be difficult to replace when following a healthy eating plan. As an RD who works with dairy foods, I was curious how they embrace this food group. Thus, I started my quest to find dairy foods in Japan. Here’s what I found:
Oishii. In Japanese, oishii means very delicious, and it is polite to use when complimenting a chef. You know what they say, the nose knows. So, I followed my nose when it came to eating. Whatever hole-in-the-wall restaurant had the best aroma is where I ate. And that led me to eating lots of ramen, fish and other delicious broth-filled dishes. What I noticed is that dairy foods were hard to come by when eating traditional Japanese food. If I did find dairy foods, they were mostly catered to tourists like milk in cappuccinos, cheese in pastries, cheese in paninis or yogurt and milk in convenience stores.
Commuting by train is a part of life in Japan and so is eating on the go. Yakult, a drinkable yogurt, appeared to be a very popular choice for breakfast or a snack in between meals. A famous bakery called Shinshindo near my husband’s grandmother’s house woke me up every morning with a rich aroma of freshly baked goods, brewed coffee and tea. Only a block away, I ate there almost every morning – indulging in cappuccino, baked goods, pastries, and French-inspired Croque Monsieur.
At the Nishiki Market, I enjoyed tacoyaki (octopus) with melted cheese and green onions.
On a hot and humid day, I visited the Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion Temple and tried some cold green tea ice cream, which really hit the spot.
At a family wedding, we enjoyed fish in a cream-pesto sauce, following by an ice cream dessert.
As a tourist, it was fascinating and exciting to find and eat dairy foods in a different country. As food and nutrition professionals, it is important to help educate on dairy’s health benefits and how it can be incorporated into all types of cuisine.