Coming from a land where deep-fried Mars bars and donner kebabs are viable dinner choices, and hangovers are washed away with a fry-up from the local greasy spoon, I am more than reasonably well acquainted with high-calorie foods. It may surprise some people to learn that Japan has plenty of waistline exploding dining options (often in common-sense challenging omori extra large size) too, despite its carefully maintained image of being a land of simple, healthy fare.
Our Japanese-language sister site recently compiled a list of the top ten diet-undermining foods and here we will (in no particular order) introduce a selection that dieters may wish to avoid like the plague, and for non-dieters to indulge in life-enhancing/shortening gluttony with.
1. Curry rice
Not to be confused with Indian or Thai curry, this gravy-like gift from the British (you’re welcome) may contain spices (and therefore capsaicin, which can temporarily raise your fat-burning metabolism) but the roux it’s made from is horrifically high in fat. Add to that the starchy root vegetables and the mountainous piles of sugar-ridden white rice it’s usually ladled over and the result can derail one’s dietary plans at the first hurdle. If you find yourself unable to resist, you’re probably best going for a non-deep-fried seafood variety or a Hokkaido-style soup curry. Wack a half-cooked egg on top for protein and your diet may remain just about intact. And if you fancy trying your hand at making it yourself, here’s one we prepared earlier.
A pork steak covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried (top photo). Despite being model-approved, served with a generous helping of high-calorie sauce and yet more white rice, Tonkatsu is best avoided if you’re counting calories. To make it slightly healthier, you can limit the calories by going for a leaner fillet cut (hirekatsu) over the usual loin steak (rosukatsu) and fill up on the shredded cabbage.
Meat, seafood and vegetables deep-fried in tempura batter. While more expensive tempura restaurants will (or should) use higher quality and fresher oil, cheaper places are less picky and the calorie count rises accordingly. Go for a tempura on a bowl of rice (tendon) and you have fat and carbohydrates well and truly covered.
This noodle-filled bowl of broth also manages to pack this double whammy of fat and sugars, especially if you favour the tonkotsu (pork broth) variety. Go for the oh-so-tempting second serving of noodles and you might as well start ordering elasticated waists for all your clothes. If you absolutely must eat ramen, stock up on vegetables and try not to slurp up all of the delicious life-giving stock. Remember that licking the bottom of the bowl is as frowned upon in Japan as it is elsewhere. And if ramen for your main course just isn’t enough ramen for one meal, you can try to track down a dessert version.
Not unlike tempura, but with breadcrumbs, and usually cheaper, kushikatsu are pieces of meat, seafood and vegetables covered in breadcrumbs, skewered and then deep-fried (a pattern may be beginning to emerge). Add to this that kushikatsu can often be found in all-you-can-eat style restaurants and it’s a delicious recipe for disaster.
6. Kashi pan
While bread may not be originally Japanese, kashi pan, sweetened breads and buns on the shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores across Japan, aren’t really found elsewhere. Take, for instance, an pan, bread with a sweet red bean filling (featured in the photo above) or melon bread. Even ostensibly savoury convenience store sandwiches will make use of this unnaturally soft and sugary bread so be warned.
While not on our sister site’s list, I couldn’t not include this delectable sweet treat. Similar to a filled doughnut, age-manju are steamed buns deep-fried and eaten hot with a variety of delicious fillings to choose from.
While of course most Japanese foods are fairly healthy, and Japan has very low obesity levels that reflect this, there is plenty of fat and sugar-laden junk food out there. Foods that the health-conscious are best to avoid or eat in moderation, but for those less worried about such concerns, there is also plenty to pig-out on. Feel free to suggest other guilty pleasures below (to steer clear of, obviously). Now, I am feeling a bit peckish…
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