If you’re an adventurous eater and frankly don’t care what you’re chewing or swallowing, the simple advice of “just go into any restaurant that looks cool and ask the waiter or waitress for the recommendation” is fantastic.
You just choose the restaurant with the best exterior and a seemingly good vibe inside, walk in and, if you’re in Japan, say “osusume wa nan desu ka?”. Whatever they say, you order, and what comes out, comes out.
Sounds so easy and removes the anxiety from eating and totally eliminates the language barriers, right…?
The problem with eating wherever looks cool in Japan
Here’s the thing, and it pains me to admit it: the best looking restaurants are horumon (ホルモン) restaurants.
They look insanely cool. Seriously. They’ve usually got the classic red lanterns, grills at the table, and a bustling vibe. The exterior makes it seem like it’s got the classic street food in a respectable establishment. It really does look awesome.
What exactly is horumon and why should I know about this Japanese food?
Unfortunately, as I mentioned, they’re horumon restaurants. If you haven’t heard of horumon before, it translate from Kansai dialect to “discarded goods”. It’s the parts of a cow or pig that are undesirable elsewhere, but are highly prized at horumon food spots.
Now, we’re not talking about something like tripe – the intestines or liver that are quite popular in cuisines around the world. You’re looking at eating pig uterus (kobukuro), rectum (teppo) or esophagus (gari).
I may be wrong, but I think that’s not exactly what gets travelers excited and rushing into restaurants. Hey, a lot of locals in Japan enjoy it, but equally as many locals avoid horumon spots. In a family, you’ll often find one or two people eat it, but the rest of the family balks at the idea of eating it. Trash talking horumon not a discriminatory thing against Japan or Japanese cuisine – it’s kind of like durian in South East Asia. Sometimes it’s enjoyed, but not surprising if it’s not.
So should I just avoid horumon restaurants or is there something else I should know when eating out in Japan?
Now, here’s the thing – it’s not just sold at horumon restaurants. They just specialize in it.
Horumon is also found at yakiniku restaurants, which are insanely popular for tourists and highly encouraged to try. They’re a spin on the Korean barbeque, but are much cheaper and a lot of fun to enjoy.
When you’re ordering at yakiniku spots, you need to be very purposeful with your orders and make it clear what you want. If you’re eating out with a Doot host at a social dinner, be sure to let them know that you aren’t a fan of horumon.
Lest you find yourself with a pig rectum on your plate.