Travelling to Japan? Here are some of best Japanese food you need to try!
Japanese food is one of the most interesting cuisines I have tried. While some may say that it is an acquired palate, I think that it is a beautiful blend of flavour that is a treat to your eyes as well as taste buds.
The Japanese diet consists of a lot of seafood as it is an island nation. Seafood is prepared with a variety of traditional and seasonal ingredients. Japanese cuisine is always artfully presented as per tradition.
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A typical Japanese meal is a combination of all the staples. Rice and noodles are usually served with a soup, pickles, and at least okazu side dish which is usually made with fish, meat, vegetable or tofu.
Top Japanese Food
Sushi is probably the most popular Japanese dish around the world. Traditionally it is made with vinegared rice, some salt or sugar, and a variety of accompaniments like raw fish or shellfish, and vegetables.
Sushi can be made and presented in different styles, but the one ingredient that stays constant is the sushi rice, called shari or sumeshi.
Sushi is usually served with soy sauce and wasabi. Those who do not like wasabi can ask for sabi nuki which means without wasabi.
Sushi is offered in a variety of ways and prices. The kaiten zushi or conveyor belt sushi has become a popular trend. Customers can enjoy reasonably priced sushi at about 100 yen per plate as well as be entertained.
Edomae sushi is edo style sushi that has been long established. This high end sushi is prepared in front of the customer and can be enjoyed at a quiet counter.
Sushi is usually eaten with chopsticks. But if you’re like me and can never learn the trick to eating with them, you can just use your hands!
Related: Rules of eating healthy in Japan
Sashimi is similar to sushi, except without the rice. Sashimi is raw fish that is cut into bite sized pieces. This is probably the most controversial dish in Japanese cuisine since many are skeptical about eating raw fish.
Because of the high quality of the fish found all over Japan, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Kyoto or Tokyo, sashimi is a great choice for a meal.
There are a variety of sashimi available. The most common and popular choices are maguro, other tuna varieties, salmon (a personal favourite), mackerel, and sea bream. Some other options are clams, uni or sea urchin and salmon roe.
Eating raw fish seems daunting, but sashimi is usually served with daikon radish, pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce. This adds more flavour to the fish and will leave your taste buds craving for more.
Related: Japanese Macrobiotic Diet
Unagi – Grilled Eel
Unagi is a Japanese delicacy that is typical of high class dining in Japan. Yea, Ross definitely got that wrong.
Unagi restaurants serve up unagi in different ways. Kabayaki is a popular dish where unagi is grilled in a deliciou sauce made with soy sauce, mirin, sugar,and sake. Kabayaki is served on top of white rice and is called unadon.
Hitsumabusi is a must try if you want to have a taste of Nagoya tradition. It is eaten in different ways such as with green onions and wasabi or as ochazuke where warm green tea or broth is poured over it.
Unagi is loaded with nutrition. It is believed that eating unagi during the summer prevents fatigue caused by the summer heat.
Related: List of Japanese vegetables
Tempura is another popular Japanese dish that has made its way into cuisines from all over the world. Tempura is made with meat, seafood, and vegetables dipped in batter and deep fried in oil.
This crispy delight can be eaten by itself or served on top of rice bowls and noodle soups. Tempura is best eaten dipped in a sauce made from the broth of kombu or dried bonito, mirin, and soy sauce. Ginger and radish can be added for extra taste.
Related: List of Japanese Mushrooms
Soba – Buckwheat Noodles
Soba is one of the three main varieties of noodles eaten in Japan. Soba has an earthy and faint nutty flavour that makes it stand out.
It is made from buckwheat flour, flour, and water. The dough is thinly spread and then cut into noodles that are 1cm to 2cm in width. The noodles are then boiled in hot water.
Soba can be eaten by dipping the noodles in cold soup or by pouring hot soup over it. When served hot, it goes well with toppings like spring onions, agetama tempura flakes, kamaboko fish cakes or grilled mochi.
For a cold serving of soba, a side of tsuyu (soba broth made from kombu or dried bonito and seasoned with soy sauce and mirin), and toppings of green onions, shredded nori seaweed and wasabi make for a great meal.
Udon – Wheat Noodles
Udon is another one of the main noodle varieties from Japan. It is traditionally made from wheat flour and brine water. The noodles are thick and chewy and served in a variety of ways.
Udon can be served mixed into stir fries, added to hot pots, or served cold with tsuyu or tentsuyu soup. However, it is most commonly served in noodle soups. Similar to soba, udon can be enjoyed hot or cold.
Some of the common udon preparations are kitsune udon which is topped with fried tofu, tempura udon that is topped with seafood and vegetables fried with tempura batter, and chikara udon which is topped with grilled mochi rice cakes.
Onigiri – Rice Balls
As a child, if you ever wondered what those white triangles that anime munched on were, it’s onigiri. Onigiri or omusubi are a classic Japanese snack.
They may look simple and plain but they often have a savoury filling inside and are wrapped in a sheet of salty nori seaweed.
Some of the usual flavours for onigiri are kelp, pickled plum called umeboshi, salmon, teriyaki chicken, and bonito flakes. They are very easily available at convenience stores and supermarkets around Japan.
If you are looking to enjoy a hearty meal in Japan, Sukiyaki is the way to go.
Sukiyaki is a hot pot dish that is typically enjoyed on cold winter days. It is usually cooked in a shallow iron pan and can be made at home or enjoyed at a restaurant.
These hot pots are made with ingredients like beef slices,sukiyaki broth (made from soy sauce, sake, mirin, rice wine and sugar), and different vegetables, and noodles.
The whole experience of enjoying sukiyaki comes from preparing the dish yourself by grilling the ingredients in the pan and adding the sauce. Many prefer dipping the cooked ingredients in beaten eggs and then eating them.
Oden is another hot pot dish that completes cold winter days in Japan. Also known as nabemono, it is made by adding a bunch of different ingredients to a light broth and stewing them together in a large pot.
Some of the common ingredients used in oden are fish cakes, mochi rice aches, boiled eggs, daikon radish, konjac yam and tofu. The broth is seasoned with soy sauce and dashi (a soup stock made with bonito flakes, kombu kelp seaweed, and other savoury ingredients).
Oden is comfort food that will definitely warm you up on cold days. Oden is easily available in food stalls, restaurants, and convenience stores during the fall and winter months.
Miso soup has gained much popularity over the past few years for its delicious taste and amazing health benefits. This simple soup is loaded with flavour and is part of the daily diet of the Japanese.
Miso soup is traditionally made with miso paste (which is made from fermented soy beans) and dashi broth. It is topped with complementary toppings like green onions, wakame seaweed and firm tofu.
Yakitori is the Japanese version of barbecued chicken. This dish is small pieces of chicken on bamboo skewers that are grilled.
The chicken is seasoned with salt or drizzled with a sauce or tare that is made from mirin rice wine, soy sauce, sake and sugar. While chicken is the most popular type of yakitori, there are also options for different types of meat and vegetables.
Perfect for a night out with friends, yakitori goes well with alcohol.
Would this list be complete without ramen?
Ramen is one of the most popular Japanese dishes. This noodle soup dish has made its way around the world with every country adding their own twist to this piece of Japanese tradition.
Ramen is made with wheat noodles served in a savoury broth made with soy sauce, miso, salt and tonkotsu pork bone. These are the four main ramen broth bases. Popular toppings are meat, vegetables, slices of pork, nri seaweed, spring onions, bamboo shoots, and boiled eggs.
Ramen is my absolute favourite Japanese dish. It is so popular and loved that there is a ramen themed museum and amusement park in Tokyo!
Best Japanese Food: FAQs
What is a typical Japanese lunch?
Rice bowls and noodle dishes are popular for lunch in Japan.
What is Japan’s national dish?
Curry rice is Japan’s national dish.
What do Japanese people drink with meals?
All Japanese restaurants serve complimentary green tea with meals. If you would like something stronger, sake, an alcoholic beverage can be paired with your meal.
What meats do Japanese people eat?
Pork is the most popular type of meat in Japan. Besides this, chicken and beef is also consumed.