Japan is an amazing country for many reasons. Of course, there’s the unique culture and the friendly people. Then there’s the nature. Add in the layer of all the good food you can find? It’s a wrap — Japan is easily one of the best countries in the world to visit!
One of the best ways to experience Japan’s unique traditions is through its food. Japanese cuisine is renowned for its freshness, simplicity, and attention to detail, and there are countless dishes and ingredients to discover.
The entire country of Japan brims with the potential of delectable dishes carried over from a long history. Whether you’re an admirer of all things sweet and sour, salty or sweet, Japanese cuisine has many treasures to discover and entice your tastebuds.
From sushi and ramen to tempura and yakitori, there’s so much diversity your tastebuds can choose from.
Japanese cuisine is accessible at restaurants, street vendors, and back-alley shops, where you’ll find goodies like:
- Convenience store food
- Soba noodles
- Onigiri rice balls
- Yakiniku restaurants
- Japanese Curry
- … and more!
Let’s explore Japan’s finest cuisine and plan a route that you can follow to pursue and satisfy your own curiosity!
In this post, we will traverse every region of Japan, covering different kinds of sushi, ramen, and onigiri, looking closely at regional variations, ingredients, textures, and the most popular choices among locals.
Knowing your Japanese eating etiquette is essential, too, so look forward to learning more about Japanese cultural traditions in this post too!
This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!
A Brief History Of Japanese Cuisine
Japanese cuisine embraces many of its traditional and regional dishes across Japan, which are a tasty culmination brought about through a long history of societal and political climates.
Japan’s food has influences from China, and in the last few decades, from the West, too. Dishes like gyōza and ramen, in particular, contain Chinese influences, while their other dishes draw inspiration from more Western sources like hamburgers and spaghetti.
The traditional aspect of Japanese cuisine finds its roots in meals that contain rice and miso soup, and so they both remain a staple in Japan’s modern diet. They’re also fond of seasonal ingredients, noodles, deep-fried seafood in a light batter, and delicious simmered meats that burst with flavor!
Let’s go ahead and explore the most popular foods in Japan!
1. Sushi (すし, 寿司, 鮨, 鮓)
The only thing better than sushi is all-you-can-eat sushi, and few things can beat eating sushi prepared by a traditional Japanese chef! Japan’s love for sushi is massive, so much so that thousands of restaurants around the country use conveyor belts to keep up with customer demand.
There are different types of sushi, too, like:
- Inari – finger snack perfect for picnicking. It contains seasoned sushi rice inside a delicious, crispy deep-fried tofu batter. It creates a sweet snack when simmering in a sweet broth of mirin, soy sauce, and dashi.
- Nigiri – a single piece of fish positioned on top of palm-sized rice. The sushi chef may sometimes add some fish roe or glaze to enhance the flavors further.
- Uramaki – a small, inverted sushi roll with rice on the outside, with a nori (seaweed) and sushi center.
- Gunkan – a bit of rice encircled with sushi and containing a topping of the sushi chef’s choice (usually fish eggs). Seaweed encases and keeps the sushi together.
- Temari – hand-pressed like Nigiri, except Temari looks more elegant and proper with round features.
- Chirashi (zushi) – translated as scattered sushi, you consume this sushi from a bowl of sushi, rice, egg, nori, and a delicious vinegar drizzle.
- Maki – sushi you’ll see at most stores. Nori wraps around the rice to hold the contents in the center of the dish.
- Sashimi – thinly-sliced fish that tastes smooth and melts in your mouth. While you can lightly dip it in soy sauce, a chef will recommend you eat it without and with one bit to avoid spoiling the texture and subtle flavor of the fish.
- Temaki – sushi served in a cone containing seafood, vegetables, and delicious sauces. You can eat this one with your hands.
Remember that etiquette is an integral part of enjoying Japanese cuisine! Here’s how to eat sushi properly:
- Clean your hands
- Don’t eat more than one piece at a time
- Dip only a tiny part of the sushi in soy sauce, not the entire piece
- When using wasabi, use only a little to enhance the flavor of your sushi
- Ginger is to cleanse your palate between sushi and not to add flavor
2. Ramen (拉麺, ラーメン, らーめん)
Ramen is a favorite for millions of Japan’s residents, who love to indulge in a warm bowl with a colleague or two after a long day of work. Tokyo has an impressive 5,000 ramen shops, while the entire country of Japan boasts an impressive 24,000 in total!
While most ramen dishes will have the same set of toppings, the famous dish comes in various styles categorized according to the type of broth. The four main ramen styles are:
- Shio (salt, 塩) – the original ramen style. It usually contains a delicious mixture of vegetables, nori, chicken, fish, and salty goodness.
- Shōyu (soy sauce, 醤油’) – created using chicken, beef, fish, vegetable stock, and a generous amount of soy sauce. The result is a salty & savory soup that is tangy and easy on the palate. The noodles tend to be twirly rather than straight.
- Miso (味噌) – mixed with oily fish, chicken, or tonkotsu to create a thick, hearty soup with a tinge of sweetness.
- Karē (curry, カレー) – the newest addition that uses curry soup. This soup base combines vegetables and pork bones, then seasoned with curry. It has thick, juicy noodles that curl easily, and general toppings include chāshū and bean sprouts.
The ramen chef may choose a wide array of toppings that they believe will enhance the flavor of their ramen, and some of the most popular toppings are:
- chāshū (braised pork, sliced barbeque)
- Umeboshi (pickled plum)
- Negi (green onion)
- Nori (dried seaweed)
- Bean sprouts
- Narutomaki (fish paste in a white and pink spiral)
- Wakame (type of seaweed)
- Half a boiled egg (salted)
- Kikurage (sliced wood ear mushroom)
- Menma (bamboo shoots)
Chefs typically use pork or chicken stock to create their ramen soup. They combine it with bones, niboshi (dried baby sardines), kombu (kelp), onions, etc., to create the most desirable taste.
Vegetable-based broths are not uncommon, either. Chefs will make use of Tare in their broth to create their soup. The most popular soups are Tonkotsu (pork bone, 豚骨) and Torigara (chicken bone, 鶏がら).
Within the borders of Japan, you’ll also come across variations of ramen according to specific regions. You’ll find ramen variations in Sapporo, Kitakata, Tokyo, Yokohama, Wakayama, and Hakata, that differ in soup & noodle thickness and preparation methods.
Pro Tip: If you’ve already tried ramen in Japan and are looking for a new and exciting noodle dish to try, consider giving tsukemen a try. Tsukemen is a type of ramen dish where the noodles are served separately from the broth, allowing you to dip the noodles into the flavorful broth as you eat.
3. Tempura (天ぷら, 天麩羅)
Tempura is one of Japan’s signature dishes, alongside sushi. Its crispy golden goodness can be a side, main, or crunchy topping for soba noodles, udon, and tendon rice bowls.
An entire tempura dish usually consists of vegetables, meat, and seafood deep-fried in batter until the texture is golden-crispy.
A chef will use iced water, soft, low-gluten wheat flour (pastry or cake), and eggs to get the perfect texture for the batter. If a chef wants to lighten the fritter, they may use sparking water or baking powder.
The chef prepares the batter in small batches using chopsticks, ensuring that they leave tiny lumps that eventually create a crispy and fluffy texture when it cools. They do not season the batter or ingredients at any point except when the recipe calls to rinse something with salt water.
A wide array of seafood and vegetable choices make up a traditional Tempura dish. Ebi (shrimp or prawn) is the most popular seafood tempura. Other seafood tempura favorites include:
- Sea bass
Vegetable tempura, called yasai tempura, is perfect as a vegetarian dish and can include veggies like:
- Bell pepper
- Green beans
- Sweet potato
- Maitake & Shiitake mushrooms
Eating tempura as the chef intended makes all the difference, so here’s how to eat tempura:
- Eat it while it’s still hot because it helps to bring out the flavor.
- Using chopsticks, lightly dab a small part of your tempura in salt or the bowl of tentsuyu – the thin, yellow fish-based sauce. The restaurant will provide different kinds of salts, so don’t be afraid to experiment!
- Avoid throwing salt over your tempura because oversalting it will rob it of its flavor.
- When you get to the tail, you can decide whether or not you’d like to eat it. If not, place it neatly on the side of the plate that has the salt.
- You’ll also receive a donburi rice bowl with more food when you order a course meal. Ensure you leave space in your stomach because leaving food behind for any reason is bad manners when it comes to Japanese etiquette and a direct insult to the chef.
4. Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)
Okonomiyaki is a savory, pancake-like dish created from wheat flour batter, topped with delicious ingredients, and cooked on a flat grill called teppan.
It’s a favorite across Japan, and although the main variants exist in Hiroshima and the Kansai region (where the buzzing city of Osaka is), ingredients and preparation differ per region.
What Can You Expect From Okonomiyaki In The Kansai Region?
The okonomiyaki you’ll find in the Kansai style is the most common version in Japan. It’s a primary location for trying the best okonomiyaki Japan has to offer.
The batter consists of grated nagaimo (a long yam), eggs, flour, shredded cabbage, and either dashi or water. You can enjoy it with thinly sliced pork or beef, vegetables, green onion, mochi, and cheese.
What Can You Expect From Okonomiyaki In Hiroshima?
Hiroshima’s okonomiyaki has layers of batter, pork, cabbage, and yakisoba rather than a single mixture. It’s another primary region for exploring Japan’s okonomiyaki dishes.
In some establishments, you can also opt for extras like cuts of octopus, squid, chicken, nori flakes, and mung bean sprouts. To top it off, the chef adds a fried egg, either udon or yakisoba noodles and a good amount of okonomiyaki sauce that will leave you wholely satisfied!
Hiroshima’s okonomiyaki can have three to four times more cabbage, which the chef will suppress as it cooks. This style of okonomiyaki earns the titles Hiroshima-okonomi or Hiroshima-yaki.
What Can You Expect From Okonomiyaki In Okinawa?
Hirayachi is a unique style of okonomiyaki from Okinawa. It has a thin, pancake-like presentation that locals describe as a savory crepe with leeks. It contains black pepper, green onions, cooking oil, salt, flour, and eggs, all fried in a pan.
There are few okonomiyaki restaurants throughout Okinawa, so people habitually prepare this delicious meal at home.
5. Matcha (抹茶)
Matcha is a unique green tea prepared by turning green leaves into powder for consumption. Japan prepares Matcha for the Japanese tea ceremony called sadō/chadō or chanoyu. They may also consume it for its meditative qualities.
Matcha also has numerous modern uses, beneficial for coloring soba noodles & ice cream, particularly wagashi cakes, and adding flavor to food.
Two primary methods are used to prepare Matcha: koicha (thick) and usucha (thin). Tradition dictates that the best leaves are meant for thick tea, while those used as packing material in tea urns are best for thin tea.
How Do Manufacturers Produce The Tea Leaves For Matcha?
The tea leaves used for Matcha are the same shade-grown leaves used to make gyokuro, another kind of tea leaf. Preparation for Matcha leaves starts a few weeks prior to the harvest, where the tea bushes remain under cover and away from direct sunlight for up to 20 days.
The shade has a two-fold effect: it slows the overall growth and causes chlorophyll levels to rise. The result is leaves with a darker green hue while spurring the production of amino acids like theanine.
During harvesting, if you roll up the leaves before they dry, the harvest will produce gyokuro (jade dew) tea.
If you let the leaves lay flat and wait for them to dry, they crumble and produce tencha. You’ll then de-destem, de-vein it, and stone-grind it to a powder where it becomes Matcha.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Matcha?
There’s a reason why Japanese people live longer and often healthier lives than most others. Matcha tea is a testament to their passion for healthy living and comes with a plethora of impressive health benefits.
- Matcha has a wealth of natural antioxidants, particularly catechins, a compound common in plants. They stabilize free radicals – compounds harmful to your cells and increase the risk of chronic disease.
- It strengthens your kidneys and liver.
- Matcha improves cognitive functionality, making you more attentive, improving your memory, and giving you quicker reaction time.
- It reduces the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while boosting oxygen flow and making you more resistant to heart disease.
6. Convenience Store Food (コンビニ)
Japan’s most prominent convenience stores (konbini) are FamilyMart, 7-Eleven, and Lawson. Convenience stores have many brand-specific and their own specialty products, although 7-11 usually pulls ahead for having the highest number of exclusive items.
Locales favor Lawson for its healthy eating options, especially regarding their Natural Lawson brand of goods. FamilyMart is a favorite for its hearty warm foods, with their best-seller being their Famichicki (family chicken), a delicious golden-brown fried chicken fillet.
Onigiri (riceball) is a popular pick-me-up snack available at any convenience store. They come with different toppings like seaweed, egg, salmon, pork, and many others! While each konbini might have different flavors, they generally stock the same ones.
Prepared meals like bento (lunch box) are another great alternative if you’re on a budget. They make them fresh daily and are much healthier than fast food. You can opt for gyudon beef, curry, and various noodle dishes.
You’ll also find a great selection of warm foods, particularly nikuman (steam buns). They are some of the most delicious balls of dough goodness, with various flavors like pork, red bean paste, pizza, and curry.
Japan’s convenience store food is super-affordable and a good option whether traveling or living in Japan. Some konbini also have seating areas where you can enjoy your meal.
7. Soba Noodles (そば, 蕎麦)
Soba is a thin Japanese noodle created from buckwheat. You can enjoy it with dipping sauce or in a hearty noodle soup. You’ll find it on almost every menu in Japan, from tachigui (stand-and-eat) stalls to larger specialty restaurant chains.
Locals often enjoy soba noodles at home, too, and so soba cup noodles are a quick sell at local grocers because they require only a small amount of hot water and a few minutes of wait time.
There are two main types of Soba noodles: Cold Soba dishes and Hot Soba dishes.
Chilled Soba Noodles
A Soba chef will present your soba noodles on a bamboo tray called a zaru. At the chef’s discretion, you may find it garnished with nori and a dipping sauce called tsuyu. Tsuyu contains a potent mixture of sweetened soy sauce (satōjōyu), dashi, and mirin.
Hot Soba Noodles
When winter’s relentless chill becomes unbearable, why not warm yourself with a delicious, hearty bowl of warm soba? Unlike chilled soba, hot soba is a noodle soup and a bowl of tsuyu.
The tsuyu is thinner than the version used to dip chilled soba and contains popular additions like shichimi tōgarashi (mixed chili powder) to warm the soul.
The most popular soba dish is tempura soba. The chef tops it with a large piece of mouthwatering shrimp, although vegetables are also an option. Some soba vendors may also use kakiage (tempura mixed with vegetables), which changes the dish’s name to Tensoba.
Are There Soba Noodle Variations Between Regions?
Similar to how there are different variations of tempura and okonomiyaki, Japan’s Soba noodles differ in some regions.
Kanto region soba soup has a deeper color and a much more potent flavor than other regions. They accomplish this by combining dashi stock, mirin, sugar, koikuchi (dark-colored) shoyu, and katsuobushi (bonito flake) and boiling them together.
The Soba noodles in the Kansai region carry more of a kelp dashi or bonito stock. It has minimal seasoning and a much lighter color, making it easily distinguishable from Kanto soba noodles.
The correct way to consume Soba noodles is straightforward; use chopsticks and slurp the noodles and soup as loud as possible! It’s encouraged because it shows the chef that you enjoy their food. When you draw the noodle into your mouth quickly, it also helps to cool them.
8. Onigiri Rice Balls (お握り, 御握り)
Onigiri also called omusubi (お結び) and nigirimeshi (握り飯), is a Japanese rice ball food consisting of white rice. It looks like a clump of rice wrapped with nori (dry seaweed) and molded to resemble a triangle or cylinder.
Japanese konbinis will generally have a wide selection of onigiri available as a quick snack, all with delicious fillings. Some stores may also specialize in onigiri as fast food, and the venture’s success has spread to other Japanese restaurants globally.
Traditional onigiri contains the following ingredients:
- Umeboshi (pickled plum)
- Mentaiko (pollock roe)
- Katsuobushi (fermented skipjack tuna)
- Pickled takana (pickled giant red mustard greens)
- Kombu (edible kelp)
- Salted salmon
- Natural preservatives
- Any other sour or salty ingredients
When it comes to the most popular fillings for onigiri, tsukudani, okaka, and umeboshi win the race. Chefs generally only fill onigiri with ingredients if they make them from pre-seasoned rice. These types of onigiri that only receive salt for flavoring go by the name shio-musubi.
The traditional method for creating onigiri involves boiling white rice, but other rice varieties are also possible, namely:
- Kowa-meshi (sekihan) – gooey rice steamed or cooked red beans)
- Maze-gohan (mixed rice) – rice cooked with desired ingredients
- Fried rice
What Variations Of Onigiri Exist In Japan?
There are three variations of onigiri, namely Miso-onigiri (味噌おにぎり), Tenmusu (天むす), and Pork-tamago-onigiri (ポークたまごおにぎり).
- Miso-onigiri (味噌おにぎり) – this onigiri is standard in eastern Japan and contains a miso filling and green onions. You may also see it spread and roasted like a Yaki-onigiri (yakitori).
- Tenmusu (天むす) – it originated from Tsu, Mie, and is now an essential part of Nayoga cuisine. It’s onigiri stuffed with deep-fried shrimp.
- Pork-tamago-onigiri (ポークたまごおにぎり) – you can find this onigiri in Okinawa. Residents usually have it for lunch, and have fillings like eggs and meat.
9. Yakiniku Restaurants (焼き肉, 焼肉)
Yakinuku is a cooking style where you grill bite-sized meat, vegetables, and seafood over a wood or charcoal fire (sumibi, 炭火) or an electric or gas grill. It’s a prevalent dish in Japan, and you’ll often see colleagues, friends, or celebratory groups head to a Yakiniku restaurant to socialize.
When you visit a yakiniku restaurant, you’ll order raw meat, which the restaurant prepares beforehand. Your server will bring the raw meat to your table and all the tools necessary to grill your food. There’s a hole in the center of every table where you can grill to your stomach’s content.
The restaurant will also give you tare (sauces) for dipping your meat or vegetables. Typical ingredients for the sauce include sake, sugar, garlic, sesame, mirin, and fruit juice. You may also come across miso or garlic-and-shallot-based sauces.
What Ingredients Are Popular For Yakinuku?
The most popular ingredients involve variants in the beef, pork, chicken, seafood, and vegetable categories.
You can enjoy popular beef items like:
- Harami — soft beef that surrounds the diaphragm.
- Misuji — soft shoulder-area meat.
- Karubi or baraniku — short ribs. Served without bones unless the description reads hone-tsuki-karubi.
- Rōsu — chuck and loin cuts.
- Tan — beef tongue. Served with lemon, salt, and allium fistulosum (Welsh onion, crushed).
If you prefer pork, here’s what you can expect:
- Tontoro or P-toro — fatty pork from the neck and cheek.
- Samugyopusaru or Butabara — pork belly.
Horumon or motsu are words from the Kansai dialect meaning discarded items:
- Tēru — cuts of beef sliced crosswise, bone attached.
- Hachinosu or Mino — beef tripe.
- Kobukuro — Pork uterus. Customers enjoy it for its gristle.
- Hatsu — heart
- Rebā — beef liver.
- Gatsu — Pork stomach.
- Tetchan — intestine.
If you’re a vegetarian, there are plenty of options to satisfy the palate. You can usually choose between eggplant, onions, cabbage, garlic, kabocha squash (pumpkin), carrots, bell pepper, bean sprout (moyashi), shiitake and other mushrooms.
Seafood enthusiasts can enjoy delicious items like squid, shrimp, shellfish, and octopus, and there are items for those who like to grill chicken, too.
10. Yakitori (やきとり)
Yakitori is a popular Japanese food that consists of skewered and grilled chicken. The chicken is typically cut into small pieces and then skewered with bamboo sticks, which are then grilled over hot charcoal. The skewers are often seasoned with salt or a sweet soy sauce, and can be served with various toppings such as green onions, peppers, or mushrooms.
Yakitori is a popular food to eat in Japan because it is affordable, easy to find, and delicious. It is often sold at street vendors, small restaurants, and izakayas (Japanese-style pubs). Many people enjoy yakitori as a snack or appetizer, and it pairs well with beer or sake.
Yakitori and Yakiniku may sound like similar words (they both also involve eating meat!), but these are two completely different experiences. Unlike yakitori, often seen as a casual everyday food, yakiniku restaurants tend to be larger and more formal, and are often popular for group dining and special occasions.
11. Japanese Curry (カレー)
While curry originated in India, Japan has japanized it to such an extent that their version has its own quirky personality and unique flavor, giving them the right to call it their own invention.
Its popularity is so significant that some call it a national dish. In fact, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has it on their menu as a regular for Fridays!
Japan’s curry includes various tasty vegetables coupled with a category of meat. You can expect to find potatoes, onions, and carrots mixed with either pork, chicken, or beef as the most popular choices.
There’s also a katsu curry with a breaded and deep-fried cutlet of tonkatsu (chicken or pork).
The curry sauce plays a major role in the flavor of Japanese curry. A chef will add flour, oil, and curry powder and fry them to make the roux, which they then add to stewed meat and vegetables. They then leave it to simmer until it chickens and sometimes use pressure cooking.
If you were to visit a Japanese home, you’d notice they make their curry sauce from instant curry roux, available in powder or block form. These items contain flavoring, oils, flour, and curry powder.
Are There Variations Of Japanese Curry?
The sheer number of curry variations speaks for itself, making this one of Japan’s most popular dishes by far. Here are the different curries you can expect to find around Japan:
- Katsu curry (katsu karē, カツカレー) – curry rice with a breaded chicken or pork cutlet.
- Yaki karē (焼きカレー) – curry rice coated with a raw egg and oven-baked.
- Maze karē (混ぜカレー) – curry rice with premade rice and sauce.
- Aigake (合がけ) – rice served with urobut & curry sauce. Hayashi sauce is a tasty mix of red wine, onion, demi-glace, and fried beef.
- Dry curry (dorai karē,ドライカレー) – fried rice that tastes like curry or with a dry meat sauce.
- Ishiyaki karē (石焼きカレー) – curry sauce and rice consumed from a heated stone bowl.
- Soup curry (sūpu karē, スープカレー) – a watery curry soup with chunky meats like thick vegetables.
- Karē don (カレー丼) – thick curry sauce mixed with hondashi or mentsuyu. It comes with a bowl of rice to make the dish more Japanese.
How Do Restaurants Serve Japanese Curry?
Curry restaurants in Japan serve their dishes in three main forms, namely curry udon (curry over thick noodles), curry over rice (karē raisu, カレーライス), and curry bread (karē pan, カレーパン) (a curry-filled pastry).
When your curry arrives, you may receive it on a flat plate, or a soup bowl, with the curry, poured generously over the rice or next to it. You eat Japanese curry with a spoon instead of chopsticks since you can’t pick up the sauce with chopsticks.
Your curry dish will also have a side of rakkyō (Chinese onion) or fukujinzuke (chopped eggplant, lotus root, daikon, and cucumber).
12. Daifuku and Mochi
Daifuku is a wagashi (Japanese confection) with a small, round mochi (glutinous rice cake) containing a sweet filling. Dai means big or grand, while fuku has two kanji that sound the same, Fuku (福) (luck) and Fuku (腹) (belly), which gave this delicious oddity its name.
The difference between daifuku and mochi is that daifuku consists only of dough (it’s a dough ball) and does not have a filling. You create daifuku using the same dough that you use for mochi. A chef may open the dough and place a strawberry or other ingredient inside, but usually, it’s only dough.
Mochi, which you create from mochi dough, and which is also the same dough for creating daifuku, also has a round shape. It’s a popular summer snack with a sweet filling called anko (sweet red bean paste), typically served with green tea. These items go well together and make each other popular across Japan.
Daifuku comes in several varieties, the most common being a pale pink, pale green, or white color with its anko filling. You’ll usually find them with a thin layer of rice, potato, cornstarch, or rice flour, so they do not stick together or to your fingers.
13. Taiyaki (たい焼き)
Taiyaki is a popular Japanese dessert that is essentially a fish-shaped pastry made from a batter that is poured into a fish-shaped mold, which is then filled with various sweet fillings and baked until golden brown.
Taiyaki is a popular food to eat in Japan because it is a delicious and portable snack that can be enjoyed on the go. It is often sold at street vendors, food stalls, and specialty shops, and is a favorite among locals and tourists alike.
Taiyaki can be filled with a wide variety of sweet fillings, including red bean paste (anko), custard, chocolate, cheese, and sweet potato. Some shops also offer seasonal fillings, such as sakura (cherry blossom) or matcha (green tea).
In addition to being a popular snack, taiyaki is also a beloved symbol of Japanese culture and tradition. The fish shape is said to represent good luck and prosperity, and the pastry is often enjoyed during festivals and other special occasions.
14. Shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ)
Shabu-shabu is a popular Japanese hot pot dish that involves cooking thinly sliced meat and vegetables in a simmering broth. The name “shabu-shabu” comes from the sound of the meat being swished around in the hot broth.
After a pot of broth is placed on a portable stove at the center of the table, you’ll start your meal! Thinly sliced meat, such as beef or pork, is then dipped into the hot broth for a few seconds until it is cooked to the desired level of doneness. Vegetables, such as cabbage, mushrooms, and carrots, are also cooked in the broth and served alongside the meat.
The cooked meat and vegetables are typically dipped into a variety of sauces, such as ponzu (citrus soy sauce) or sesame sauce, before being eaten.
Shabu-shabu is a popular food to eat in Japan because it is a fun and interactive dining experience that allows diners to cook their own food at the table. It is often enjoyed as a social meal with friends or family, and is a popular choice for special occasions or celebrations.
15. Wagyu / Kobe Beef
Wagyu and Kobe beef are two popular types of high-quality beef that are famous for their rich flavor and tender texture. Both are popular foods to try in Japan, where they are highly prized and often served in upscale restaurants.
Wagyu beef refers to beef that comes from certain breeds of Japanese cattle, such as the Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, or Japanese Shorthorn. The term “wagyu” literally means “Japanese cow,” and the meat is known for its high level of marbling, which gives it a rich and buttery flavor.
Kobe beef, on the other hand, is a specific type of wagyu beef that comes from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle, which are raised in the Hyogo prefecture of Japan, specifically in the city of Kobe.
Kobe beef is known for its exceptional quality and flavor, and is often considered the pinnacle of wagyu beef. The meat is highly marbled and has a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture, and is often served as steak or in other high-end dishes.
What is the difference between Wagyu and Kobe beef?
The main difference between wagyu and Kobe beef is that Kobe beef is a specific type of wagyu beef that comes from a specific region of Japan, while wagyu beef can come from various breeds and regions within Japan.
Additionally, Kobe beef is subject to strict regulations and must meet certain criteria in order to be sold as Kobe beef, such as being raised in the Hyogo prefecture and meeting certain quality standards. (Exactly like how champagne needs to come from the Champagne region of France in order to be called that.)
16. Unagi (うなぎ)
Unagi is a popular Japanese dish that consists of grilled freshwater eel that is typically served with rice. Unagi is a delicacy in Japan and is highly prized for its rich flavor and tender texture.
To prepare unagi, the eel is first filleted and then grilled over charcoal or wood, which gives it a smoky and slightly sweet flavor. The grilled eel is then sliced and served over a bed of rice, often with a sweet and savory sauce made from soy sauce, mirin, and sugar.
In addition to being served over rice, unagi can also be enjoyed in other dishes such as sushi, bento boxes, and donburi. Some restaurants also offer unagi in a variety of preparations, such as grilled with salt or with a spicy sauce.
17. Dango (団子)
Dango is a popular Japanese sweet that consists of small, chewy rice dumplings that are often served on a skewer. You might have seen this without even knowing it. You know this emoji: 🍡? That’s dango!
Dango is a traditional Japanese sweet that has been enjoyed for centuries, and is still a popular food to try in Japan today.
To prepare dango, rice flour is mixed with water to form a dough, which is then rolled into small balls and boiled until they are cooked through. The cooked dumplings are then skewered and served with various sweet toppings, such as sweet soy sauce, red bean paste, or kinako (roasted soybean flour).
In addition to being served on a skewer, dango can also be enjoyed in other forms such as in soup or as a topping for shaved ice. Some restaurants also offer dango in a variety of flavors, such as matcha (green tea), strawberry, or chocolate.
18. Kaiseki (懐石)
Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese multi-course meal that is often served at high-end restaurants and ryokans (traditional Japanese inns). The meal typically consists of a series of small dishes that are carefully prepared and arranged to showcase the flavors and textures of each ingredient.
A typical kaiseki meal is served in a specific order, starting with an appetizer, followed by a soup, a sashimi course, a grilled dish, a simmered dish, a fried dish, a rice dish, and a dessert. Each course is carefully prepared to highlight the flavors and textures of the ingredients, and is often presented in a visually stunning way.
The appetizer course, known as sakizuke, typically consists of a small dish that sets the tone for the rest of the meal. This is followed by the soup course, or suimono, which is often a clear broth made with seafood or vegetables.
The sashimi course, or otsukuri, consists of thinly sliced raw fish that is served with soy sauce and wasabi. This is followed by the grilled course, or yakimono, which is often a piece of meat or fish that is grilled over charcoal or wood.
The simmered course, or nimono, consists of a dish that has been simmered in a flavorful broth, such as a stew or a braised dish. The fried course, or agemono, consists of a dish that has been deep-fried, such as tempura or karaage.
The rice course, or gohan, typically consists of a bowl of rice that is served with various toppings or side dishes. Finally, the meal is finished with a dessert course, or mizumono, which often consists of a small sweet or fruit.
While kaiseki might not be the most affordable, it’s a wonderful experience to try for yourself in Japan. The unique and elegant dining experience is meant to showcase the beauty and complexity of Japanese cuisine. The careful preparation and presentation of each dish is meant to be a feast for the senses and is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who tries it!
Read More: What To Expect At A Ryokan In Japan (+ Review Of My Ryokan Experience)
Now that you’ve become a connoisseur of Japanese cuisine, it’s time to make your dreams a reality and get to tasting on your next trip to Japan!
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