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 probably be familiar with, some you may never have heard of, all are delicious!
***FYI, the list below is not a ranking order, it is simply in the alphabetical order***
Now, are you hungry? Good, keep reading!
Yes, you read that right, curry is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. You will find curry houses at every street corner. Coco Ichibanya is one of the most popular rice curry restaurant chains. The most famous type of curry is the katsu curry which is made of rice, curry sauce and breaded meat, usually pork.
Also known as breaded and deep-fried pork cutlets, it may not 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!
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!
The first time we had it was for breakfast in Kyoto in our ryokan, 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!
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!
One of my favourite snack in Japan. It’s sweet, filling and has the weirdest chewy texture, I love it! Made of mochi, a rice paste, and stuffed with various fillings, it is the perfect mid-afternoon sweet treat when walking around Japanese cities.
My favourite? The mochi and red bean paste daifuku. Soooo good!
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.
Our favourite on-the-go lunch option while in Japan! It is super filling, tasty AND low in calories. I developed an addiction to the tuna and mayo one, I also promised to learn to make them at home as soon as we were back from Japan. The latter has still not happened…
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-based, wheat-based, banana cream filled, red beans paste, name it and it probably exists in Japan!
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.
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.
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. Yum!
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.
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!
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!
Flavoursome and melting in the mouth, the quantities are usually small but the quality is incomparable!
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 dishes for westerners who are new to Japanese cuisine. If you are around Shibuya in Tokyo, make sure to have some yakitori at Toritake!
Here you go, you now have your food menu for your trip to Japan! So buy that plane ticket, a bib and cutlery (if like me you are helpless with chopsticks) and go discover Japanese cuisine!
Planning a trip to Japan? Make sure to check out my guides to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hakone and Hiroshima! Or get a glimpse of what you could see and do throughout the 47 Prefectures of Japan.
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10 thoughts on “14 foods to try in Japan”
Ohmyigosh. I looovvee Japanese cuisine. Good list – so hard to narrow it down to only 14 though!
You need to add natto to this list 😀 That is definitely something that should be tried at least once when in Japan. Just so that you can cross it off your list and never try it again. Natto is a mass of fermented soy beans. It is stinky and has a ….unqiue flavour.
loved all that foo so delicious. I mainly travel for food so I have bookmarked this article for my visit to Japan 🙂
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Glad it helps!!!
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.