11 Popular Foods You Have To Eat In Japan
Japan has given a lot to the world in terms of cars, technology, and anime characters but there’s also something else that the country excels in and that is food. If you are planning a visit to the Land of the rising sun, make an itinerary of the popular foods you have to eat in Japan and where to find them.
Although a small country, every city, and island seems to have a culinary specialty and there are more specialty restaurants than you can find anywhere else in the world. We have created this guide to help you enjoy the best of Japanese culinary experience!
We thought of keeping sushi out of this list because anybody going to Japan is sure to eat sushi anyway. After all, we strongly associate Japanese food with rice and raw fish, but trust me there’s much more to sushi than you have probably heard or tasted. Visit any neighborhood sushi stall in Japan and expect to enjoy a visual and gastronomic treat.
If you want to experience the best, dine at Sukiyabashi Jiro which is the winner of three Michelin stars. This place shot to fame with documentary film ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ and it has served the ex-US President Barack Obama and many other celebrities.
Insider tip – you will need to make bookings in advance even before you arrive in Japan to get a seat in the restaurant.
2. Kare raisu (Curry rice)
Inspired by Indian curry rice, but much gentler than the Indian version. The Kare raisu is much simpler and extremely delicious. It can be found all around Japan and it is popular among the kids. If you order curry rice in any restaurant, you will get steamed rice with a curry made from a variety of vegetables and meat.
The spiciness of the curry may vary depending on your specific requirements. It may be soft, regular, or extremely spicy. Examples of ingredients used in Japanese curry are duck meat, beef, pork, onions, potatoes, and carrots. Some of the best places to have Kare raisu are Bondy and Yoshida Curry in Tokyo.
This is a delicious Japanese version of pancakes that comprises of yam, eggs, and flour. Okonomiyaki translated to ‘grill as you like’ in English, so you can add any ingredients of your choice. Some of the most common ingredients used are shrimp, squid, beef, onion, vegetables, and cheese. The food is cooked in a griddle and often customers are allowed to cook their own pancakes, which is a fun part.
If you are up for a culinary adventure, give this a try and you will take back wonderful memories of cooking in Japan. The staff will be there to help you if you find it difficult to flip, etc. Some of the recommended Okonomiyaki restaurants in Japan are Osaka Kitchen and Namiya in Tokyo.
If you want a taste of variety in Japanese food, one great example is Shabu-shabu, a delicious dish comprising of a stew, vegetables, mushrooms, and others. The stew may be made of chicken, pork, beef, or shrimp. Common vegetables include chard, watercress, shinkiku, chives, garlic, and moyashi. Mushrooms may be shimeji and shitake variety.
The dish may differ based on regional influences and sometimes you may find udon, kamaboku, or konnyaku as the base ingredients. It is served with a delicious ponzu sauce. While you can find shabu shabu restaurants almost everywhere in Japan, the two most recommended restaurants are Seryna and Imafuku.
Inspired by nigiri sushi, the onigiri is a popular snack item in Japan. It constitutes of a triangle or oval-shaped rice ball wrapped with seaweed. The ongiri may be stuffed with fried salmon, katsuobushi, umeboshi, or fried prawns.
In Japan, you can find onigiri in specialized restaurants known as onigiri-ya. You can also find them in supermarkets, convenience stores, and sushi stalls. No matter where you are, you can find onigiri at any time of the day for a quick hunger fix.
If you love chicken or you have had a lot of fish already, give your tastebuds a refreshing change. This dish comprises of chicken seasoned with salt, spices, and soy sauce. It is then sprinkled with cornstarch and deep-fried in olive oil or vegetable oil.
Interestingly, there are different variations of this dish in various regions. For example, chicken nanba is the same thing with karaage covered with tartare sauce, and tebasaki has fried chicken bits covered in a delicious sweet and spicy sauce. Must-try snack foods!
If you are in for a heavy meal, consider ordering Yakiniku, which is beef bathed in a delicious sauce and grilled over fire. The freshness of beef is critical for the perfect texture of this dish. The meat is grilled very lightly to give you soft flavors of Japanese beef.
In a specialized Yakiniku restaurant, you not only get grilled beef, but various other types of meat such as Korean-style kalbi and sirloin. Here’s a tip – if you want to enjoy the best Yakiniku, consider dining at a high-class specialty restaurant.
This is one of the most popular foods you have to eat in Japan, not just for the ingredients it is made of but the experience as a whole. The dish comprises of vegetables and fish cooked over a fireplace and then served to customers with a wooden spoon called horikaeshibera.
As the ingredients are directly cooked on charcoal, it gets a unique flavor that is worth experiencing. The specialized Robatayaki restaurants have a special code when ordering and it’s fun when you order potatoes and the staff calls out ‘Jagaimo ippatsu’.
Yakisoba is a popular Japanese dish made from grilled/fried ramen noodles tossed with meat and vegetables and flavoured with a delicious sauce.
Yaki = grilled/fried and Soba = noodles. It is a classic Japanese street food that is cooked on a huge iron plate! Although it’s called Yaki Soba, it is actually made from ramen noodles, not soba noodles. The noodles are grilled along with pork or other protein source and vegetables then coated in a flavourful sauce.
10. Kani (Crab)
Kani or crab can be found all over the world, but in Japan, it’s different and seemingly more delicious too. Here you can find what is called hair crab (kegani) and it is known for its delicate meat and exotic flavors. The kanimiso is a popular specialty and it is a green paste found in the intestinal region.
If you are a crab lover then we would recommend that you try the best quality red king crab or tarabagani that you can find in Hokkaido and other dedicated restaurants.
This is a types of sweet rolled omelet and extremely flavorful. In some restaurants, the chef may add stock or soy sauce known as dashi to the tamagoyaki, and it is then known as dashimaki tamago. This s a popular type of food in sushi restaurants and you can also find them in convenience stores in Japan.
Food connoisseurs often say that a restaurant or chef’s reputation may be judged by the type of tamagoyaki served. So, if you want to enjoy the most fluffy and delicious tamagoyaki, visit a specialist store or try them out at any stall at the Tsukiji Fish Market.
12. Ramen or Udon
Ramen is a noodle soup dish consisting of wheat noodles (also known as ‘ramen noodles’), a savoury broth (soy sauce, salt, miso, and tonkotsu pork bone are the four main ramen broth bases) and toppings of meat, protein, and/or vegetables such as sliced pork, nori seaweed, spring onions, bamboo shoots, and others. Ramen is one of present-day Japan’s absolute favourite delicacies, costing very little and being widely available in restaurants and ramen bars (which are on almost every street corner). Indeed, Japanese ramen is so popular that there is a ramen-themed museum/amusement park in Tokyo.
Editors Tip: Cook your own noodle soup with this One-Pot Vegan Udon Noodle Soup
Matcha is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves. It is special in two aspects of farming and processing: the green tea plants used for matcha are shade-grown for three to four weeks before harvest, and the stems and veins are removed during processing.
That was our top food in Japan you have to try when you visit! What is your favourite Japanese dish? Let us know in the comments below.
Guest Post Bio: James is a sushi enthusiast and owner of sushi blog names easyhomemadesushi.com. He has been to Japan several times and loves Japanese food and culture. He is also a passionate writer and likes to share his experiences and knowledge through his blog.
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