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Japan’s culinary adventures and inimitable culture seen through the eyes and experiences of an illustrator

JAPAN, from the sights to the sea food, through
the lens of an illustrator

Maleka Shah Patel, a young, self-made millennial artist who loves travel as much as she loves her food
gives us a peek inside her delectabl and divine Japan trip, one illustration at a time.

From living in a pod to catching-bychance a season of pretty cherry blossom petals, from delicious bento boxes on super trains to eating on the streets. From tattoos to tasty treats, Japan is a land of many things beautiful and all things delicious. Maleka and her husband traversed across the lands of Japan, indulging every step of the way. Get inspired to indulge.

DON’T JUST SEE, LISTEN TOO
On the outskirts of Kyoto, Maleka arrived at the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. The ethereal glow and seemingly endless heights of this bamboo grove extends even beyond the visual realm. In 1996, the Ministry of Environment included the sounds you hear here like wood creaking, leaves rustling as one of the top 100 soundscapes of Japan!

INDULGE, EVEN ON A SUPERTRAIN
You can indulge in some great food in Japan, literally anywhere and everywhere! Even on a super train, with a bento box– a  compartmentalised packaged food box for train passengers. With options like chicken teriyaki, wagyu, sushi and octopus, the boxes have different   avours and sides and you can choose them to your preference. These  boxes are so popular that people even collect some limited edition bento boxes!

BUT BEWARE THE CRAB STICKS
They are not simply crabs on a stick. It is in fact a pulverised white  sh called Surimi on a stick. This  sh is rubbery in texture, tastes gooey like a harder form of jello and is a mixture of many things, mainly squid balls. Once you dodge that “delicacy”, Maleka ensures there is plenty of sea food to devour at Nishiki market. With a menu of  options like salmon, tuna, sea urchin, eel (also called unagi), baby dried  sh, red snapper, bonito, fresh-shucked oysters, clams and squid, you have an ocean of opportunity

EAT IN JAPAN’S FOOD CAPITAL—OSAKA!
At Dotonbori Street, you’ll chow everything down like a champ. Especially if you’re a fan of octopus. Maleka had one of her most unique food experiences here when she walked into a place with a massive octopus hanging on its outside wall— symbolic of it being famous for its takoyaki. She couldn’t resist this Osaka street  food speciality: octopus pan fried in wheat  our, moulded into ball-shaped bites and topped off with pickled ginger, green onions, mayonnaise, thin dried  akes of bonito (dried  sh) and some takoyaki sauce.

SPOT THE ELUSIVE GEISHA
The travelling duo even spotted a geisha in Kyoto. With only about 1000 original geishas left, spotting one can be a real chance encounter. Geishas are known to be shy and do not like being seen. Maleka spotted one at 5:45pm, in Gion in Kyoto, in the small window when they usually leave for their tea party.

MALEKA’S ITINERARY
Maleka’s Japan itinerary in a snapshot.

RAMEN FROM A VENDING MACHINE
Maleka’s most enjoyable ramen tryst was at the ramen vending machine restaurant called Ichiran. How it works: Insert some money > Pick a base ramen > Pick  toppings like egg, green onion, garlic, sea weed, extra noodles, musrooms, etc > Then you will be taken to a booth that sits one > You are then given a sheet to circle off your preferences of dashi  avours, spice levels, whether you want pork or not, noodle texture (medium,  rm, soft, extra soft, extra  rm) > You are given an egg with a shell, which you
crack open, and then indulge! > Inside your booth there is a red button for more toppings and a green button to indicate you are  nished. You have absolutely no interaction with the server

A MUST VISIT MARKET
Nishiki market, an unforgettable food heaven in Kyoto. Without even trying, you could easily spend an entire afternoon eating your way  through the 400-year-old walking-eating street, which occupies six blocks in the middle of downtown. Think limitless skewers of beef, shrimp, honey glazed octopus with quail eggs—a speciality you can’t leave
without trying.

CAPTURE IF YOU’RE SO LUCKY
Maleka was lucky enough to catch the cherry blossom season, also known as Sakura, even though it was scheduled to arrive a little early this year. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful moment in Japan and they got to witness it from the Chureito Pagoda, a fi ve storied pagoda part of the  Arakura Sengen Shrine on the mountainside, overlooking Mt Fuji in the distance.

MICHELIN-GUIDE DELICACIES, YES PLEASE
Another treasure to find here is at Mizuno, a Michelin star restaurant. Order the Okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake, made with noodles, sea food, chicken and some really eccentric toppings like: mayonnaise, chilli sauce, sea weed powder,
egg, kimchi and more.

A RESTAURANT EXPERIENCE LIKE NO OTHER
The Ryokan Samurai restaurant experience is remarkable. Ryokans are traditional Japanese homes which have been converted into restaurants, yet retain the age-old traditions and culture. You are even asked to sit on the fl oor and eat! And there are plenty of vegetarian made to order options available here as well

HOWEVER, FOR VEGETARIANS
There is a Wendy’s at the end of the Nishiki market street, but you can also find tofu dishes, vegetable tempura and edamame almost anywhere.

For more information about Maleka and her work,  Instagram @thewanderink

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