14 foods to try in Japan

It is not all about sushi in Japan, far from it! I would almost compare Japanese cuisine to French cuisine, there is so much diversity! Meat dishes, fish dishes, pastries, Japanese food is varied and you won’t get bored while eating there.

Now it can be a little overwhelming and intimidating to order in a Japanese restaurant. What does that mean? What should I try? Is that even fish?

If you are planning to visit Japan and are a bit of a foodie like me, keep reading! I listed below the 14 Japanese foods you have to try. Some you will be familiar with, some you may never have heard of, all are delicious!

***FYI, the list below is not a ranking, it is simply in the alphabetical order***

Now are you hungry? Good, keep reading!

Curry

Yes, you read that right, curry is one of the most popular dish in Japan. You will find curry houses at every street corner. Coco Ichibanya is one of the most popular rice curry restaurant chain. The most famous type of curry is the katsu curry which is made of rice, curry sauce and breaded meat, usually pork.

Japanese katsu curry
Pork katsu curry at Coco Ichibanya

Tonkatsu

Also known as breaded and deep-fried pork cutlets, it doesn’t sound very healthy but it is absolutely delicious! It is a popular lunch option served with rice, miso soup and shredded cabbage. The best tonkatsu we had was at Katsukura in Kyoto train station!

Tonkatsu
Tonkatsu at Katsukura in Kyoto

Kaiseki

Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal. You know those delicate little eatable pieces of art you see in any guide about Japan? That’s kaiseki!

Kaiseki

The first time we had it was for breakfast in Kyoto in our riokan, and we felt a little overwhelmed as to what should be eaten first on the tray. Luckily we then had lunch and kaiseki again with one of my Japanese friends in Tokyo, she explained to us that there is no formal order, you eat from the little plates as you wish!

Kaiseki

Matcha everything

Matcha tea may only be a recent trend in the western world but it is a very traditional ingredient in Japan. You can drink matcha tea of course, but you can also have matcha sundae, matcha cakes, matcha mochi, matcha ice cream, the list goes on and on and on!

Matcha pastry chouMatcha ice cream
Matcha sundae

Daifuku

One of my favourite snack in Japan. It’s sweet, filling and has the weirdest chewy texture, I love it! Made of a mochi, a rice paste and stuffed with various fillings, it is the perfect mid-afternoon sweet treat when walking around Japanese cities.

Daifuku and mochi

My favourite? The mochi and red bean paste daifuku. Soooo good!

Red beans daifuku

Okonomiyaki

A savoury pancake/omelette, is the best way I would describe Okonomiyaki. It is a traditional dish from Hiroshima, so if you are in the area make sure to have one! It is extremely filling so it worth coming to the restaurant with an empty stomach for this one.

Okonomiya in Hiroshima
Amazing okonomiyaki at in Hiroshima

Onigiri

Our favourite on-the-go lunch option while in Japan! It is super filling, tasty AND low on calories. I developed an addiction for the tuna and mayo one, I also promise to learn to make them at home as soon as we were back from Japan. The later has still not happened…

OnigiriOnigiri Tuna Mayo

Pastries

After spending two weeks in Japan, I have honestly no idea how Japanese people remain so thin. The food is rich and there is an endless variety of pastries. Rice base, wheat base, banana cream filling, red beans paste, name it and it probably exists in Japan!

Japanese banana pastryJapanese rice pastryJapanese Hello Kitty pastries

Ramen

The dish that doesn’t need more introduction and a very popular meal in Japan. It is delicious an there is a surprising amount of variety! We loved Ichiran’s classic ramen and the ‘burnt’ one from Kyoto Gogyo Ramen.

Ramen in Ichiran
Ramen in Ichiran, Tokyo

Red bean everything

Similar to matcha, red beans seem to be a go-to ingredient in desserts. I had mochi and red bean paste, red bean milkshake, pudding, etc.

Red bean pastryRed beans pudding

Now if you think of red beans you may not think of delicious sweet treats, but don’t be deceived by the look and the name! It is delicious and the taste is similar to candied chestnuts. Hmmmmmmm….

Red beans milkshake

Sushi

Surprisingly a lot less popular than we thought it would be! Sushis are eaten by Japanese people but probably not as much as ramen or any rice dish. The best place to get some is at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.

Sushi Tsukiji Fish Market

Tempura

Tempura is originally a Portuguese dish, not a Japanese one (thanks Wikipedia!). However, the battered and fried dish has been made very popular by Japan after the recipe was imported there. Fish, vegetables, everything can be ‘Tempura-ed’. It’s also a great way to try new things, for instance, this is how I tried eel for the first time (picture below), and I loved it!

Tempura eel

Wagyu beef

Now when talking about beef in Japan, we are talking about an ingredient more than an actual dish. There are plenty of ways to eat wagyu beef, it can be prepared as a grilled steak, a sashimi, sukiyaki and many other ways!

Kobe beef
Grilled beef at What’s in Kyoto

Flavoursome and melting in the mouth, the quantities are usually small but the quality is incomparable!

Sukiyaki beef
Sukiyaki in Imahan, Tokyo

Yakitori

Last but not least, Yakitori, a grilled skewered meat dish. It is commonly served with a miso soup, soy sauce and some rice. It is also one of the more accessible Japanese dish for westerners who are new to Japanese cuisine. If you are around Shibuya in Tokyo, make sure to have some yakitori at Toritake!

Yakitori in Toritake Tokyo
Yakitori at Toritake

Here you go, you have your food menu for your trip to Japan! Now buy that plane ticket, a bib and cutlery (if like me you are not very good with chopsticks) and go discover Japanese cuisine!

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2 thoughts on “14 foods to try in Japan

  1. jimmyinjapan October 7, 2017 / 2:48 pm

    Great post. I love most of these. Japanese curry is so delicious! One thing I learned, from my Japanese wife, about “Kobe beef” is that Kobe is just the region, while wagyu is the type of beef. There is wagyu from Kobe and also different prefectures. I actually enjoyed the wagyu from bbq places in Osaka more than what I tried in Kobe.

    Like

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