Japanese food is by far my favorite type of food. Have you noticed? Its elegant simplicity is often deceiving. What may look like a simple pile of fermented vegetables, an unassuming roll of rice, fish, and seaweed, or a comforting bowl of noodle soup is actually so much more; a culinary adventure into complex flavors, unique textures, and mesmerizing color palettes. While truly authentic Japanese restaurants are hard to come by here in Michigan, outside of Metro-Detroit where I’ve enjoyed several in rotation, Asian fusion establishments are not. One of the best Japanese fusion restaurants I’ve been to is a place called Gaijin, which means “foreigner” in Japanese, up north in Traverse City, Michigan. Read on to see why this fusion restaurant, inspired by a love of Japanese culture, was such a huge hit in my book.
Update 10/8/2020: Permanently Closed
Location: Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Address: 136 E Front St, Traverse City, MI
Food Type: Japanese Fusion
Dining Experience: Indoor
Price: $50+ per Person
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Special Diets: Pescatarian, Vegetarian,
Gluten Free options(not GF dedicated)
Everything we ate here was absolutely delightful, and so full of flavor. Traverse City has a few really good restaurants, like Boathouse Restaurant, Milk & Honey, and Aerie Restaurant & Lounge, but we’d never had any luck finding any good Asian food, until we tried Gaijin. Chef & Entrepreneur Simon Joseph (who was responsible for introducing the food truck craze to Northern Michigan a few years ago) opened Gaijin earlier this year to celebrate his love for Japanese culture, food, and to bring something different to Traverse City, namely, its first ever ramen shop.
The restaurant’s name came from the idea that while he isn’t Japanese himself, making him a “gaijin” or foreigner/outsider, he wanted to do his best to honor the delicious, traditional cooking methods of traditional Japanese food and ramen. So while the place isn’t technically “authentic” Japanese food, and falls more into the fusion category, it was very delicious nonetheless.
We ordered asparagus skewers, tofu skewers, fried tofu bao buns, and vegetarian ramen, which came topped with Korean kimchi, spring onions, seaweed, and tofu cubes – all of which were absolutely incredible. My only regret here is that everything was so filling, I wish we could have eaten more of this deliciousness. I would recommend ordering a few skewers, sharing some bao buns, and customizing your own ramen bowl to make it exactly the way you like it. If you find yourself lacking in the noodle department, with some broth left over, wave down your server and say “Kaedama!” which is part of how one would ask for more noodles in Japanese at a ramen shop.
They also have a very wide assortment of drinks like Japanese ramune soda, cocktails made with Japanese sake, Japanese and other import beers and wine, plus traditional cocktails and soft drinks. For a smaller spot, they have a surprising variety of drink options. Their dine-in area is surprisingly spacious for such a small storefront, and the interior is decorated in a very western interpretation of Japanese decor, complete with anime characters on the wall from the anime “Food Wars”, wherein culinary students compete against one another to see who can whip up the tastiest dishes, which is quite fitting when you think about it.