Enjoy a gourmet adventure on the streets of Japan
This was a MasterChef surprise that no-one saw coming: the excited contestants being let loose in Japan. Along the way, they were exposed to the country’s many contrasts, not to mention a whole array of unique flavours, from miso soup and nori seaweed to grilled eel. Yet according to judge Matt Preston, choosing Japan as this year’s featured destination was a no-brainer.
“A trip to Japan has to be on any foodie’s bucket list,” he said.
“For the ramen, the tempura, for the white bread and crumbed pork sangers, for the kappo fine diners and of course, for the amazing sushi! It’s a culinary wonderland and therefore a brilliant place to take our contestants to inspire them.”
The contestants enjoyed a wide range of culinary adventures, taking in some classic sights along the way. Be sure to add these essential MasterChef experiences to your next Japan trip.
Feast on soba noodles
MasterChef’s private MasterClass at Tokyo’s legendary soba noodle joint, Kanda Matsuya, gave the contestants a unique opportunity to see noodles made firsthand. It’s not just the noodles that are memorable at Kanda Matsuya, however: this is old-school Tokyo dining at its best, complete with wooden gables, white paper lanterns and a tiny garden out the front. If you want to have a go at making your own noodles, the Tsukiji Soba Academy offers half-day classes.
Kanda Matsuya: 1-13 Kanda-Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku
Tsukiji Soba Academy: Hins Minato 4th floor, 3-18-14 Minato Chuou-ku
Rise above it all
One of Tokyo’s best-kept secrets is its rooftop retreats, which offer panoramic views across the city. The MasterChef contestants discovered this for themselves with the Mystery Box challenge at Asakusa Halle Terrace atop the Ekimise shopping complex in Asakusa. Other great spots to drink in the view include R Restaurant & Bar atop the Gate Hotel (you will need to book in advance, particularly for the outdoor terrace) and the Rooftop Bar on the 52nd floor of the Tokyo Andaz.
Discover the world of Japanese tea
As the contestants discovered when they visited a tea plantation, the Japanese have built an entire culture around this soothing beverage. Immerse yourself in some of those ancient traditions with tea master Shinya Sakurai at his shop in Aoyama. Sakurai offers a number of experiences including a five tea tasting menu, each course accompanied by plenty of insights into tea cultivation, preparation and history.
Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience: Spiral Bldg 5F, 5-6-23 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku
Step back in time
Asakusa’s eye-catching Sensoji temple, built in the seventh century, is one of Tokyo’s most famous sights, but there is a lot more to explore in this lovely neighbourhood. Once Tokyo’s red light district, Asakusa has retained many of its heritage buildings, including charming shop houses. It is a great place to simply take a wander. During the day, browse the area’s inviting shops; in the evening, there are plenty of old-school restaurants to choose from.
Try Tokyo’s best hot beef roll
If you never thought a butcher shop could be hip, you have obviously never been to Tokyo Cowboy. The meat for MasterChef’s Mystery Box challenge was sourced from this specialist butcher and it is not hard to see why: nowhere else in town has a better selection of wagyu beef. It’s worth making the trip here just to try one of their mouth-watering hot beef rolls.
Tokyo Cowboy: 1-10-16 Kamiyoga, Setagaya-ku
Marvel at Mount Fuji
The MasterChef contestants weren’t the first to be wowed by Japan’s highest mountain, which is loved by locals as well as international visitors. If you would like to try climbing the mountain, July and August are the months to do it, as weather conditions are at their most stable. Be aware, however, that even the shortest route, the Fujinomiya Trail, can take five hours to go up and three to go down, and the high altitude can also pose challenges. For a more relaxing experience of Mount Fuji, enjoy the views from the Hakone hot springs resort, or spend a day or two in the picturesque Fuji Five Lake region.
Explore Tokyo’s hidden laneways
Hidden amid Tokyo’s high rises and neon signs, the city’s atmospheric alleyways, or yokocho, are a slice of old Tokyo. Ebisu Yokocho, the site of one of the MasterChef challenges, is a typical example, with tiny street stalls sitting cheek by jowl. Every counter has a different specialty, from yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers) to okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes); grab a bite and a drink at one before heading down the road to try the next.
Ebisu Yokocho: 1-7-4 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku
See Tateyama Castle
There is a lingering fascination with the samurai, the warrior class that dominated Japan for hundreds of years, known for their striking armour and their strict code of honour. During their violent era, war lords built hilltop castles to keep themselves and their families safe. Some of these castles were torn down by later governments. However, in the city of Tateyama in Chiba Prefecture, just 90 minutes from Tokyo, you can visit a rebuilt version of one of the castles, the same place featured in a MasterChef MasterClass on sushi making. After you have explored the three-tiered building, which is now a museum, take time to explore the surrounding grounds, which offer beautiful views across Tateyama Bay.
Tateyama Castle: 351-2 Tateyama, Tateyama-shi
Eat at Kodama
For a Japanese chef, there is no better way to demonstrate their skills than with a kaiseki meal. Like a Western degustation, kaiseki involves multiple courses; however, kaiseki chefs have to follow many more rules. The aim is to balance all elements of the meal – taste, texture, appearance and colour – and the crockery is chosen as carefully as the ingredients. There is a set order for the dishes, which always include sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish and a steamed course. At Tokyo’s 20-seater Kodama, the restaurant where the MasterChef contestants undertook a gruelling eight-course cook, you can expect perfect renditions of Japanese classics, from delicate tempura to blowfish soup, all prepared in front of you.
Kodama: Nishi-Azabu1106 2F, 1-10-6, Nishiazabu, Minato-ku
For more information on culinary experiences in Japan, visit Japan National Tourism Organization’s website: www.jnto.org.au