This is a short list of favorite foods based on more than two decades of living, working and traveling around this amazing country. Naturally, there are many more culinary options and each person has his or her own favorites, but these have proven to be the most popular dishes among our tour participants.
7 Foods You Must Try While in Japan
If you’re a food lover, then this is the place for you. Even if you’re a bit scared of Japanese food, I can guarantee that you’ll leave having a favorite dish. Many of our tour participants are often surprised that they found so many delicious options. So let’s get started…
There is no shortage of sushi shops in Japan. They can range from hundreds of dollars per person for a course meal, to a couple of bucks per plate. It all depends on the establishment, the notoriety of the sushi chef, and the quality and preparation of the ingredients.
Sushi got its start in the Ginza area of Tokyo, just north of the Tsukiji fish market. Ginza is home to some of the best, and most expensive, sushi restaurants in Japan.
This is so much more than battered and fried fish and vegetables. Tempura has been popular since the Edo period when merchants used to sell their lightly battered and fried munchies on the streets around Asakusa.
It’s lightly coated with a batter made from egg yolk, cold water, and cake flour that creates a light and crispy shell. It can be served with either a light soy based dipping sauce or a small dish of salt.
This is not your instant noodle, college dorm snack with freeze-dried veggies and shrimp. Oh no, this is an incredible taste experience that can’t be condensed into a ninety-nine cent styrofoam cup.
The preparation and ingredients vary by region and shop. Each chef has his or her own secret ingredients that draw people from all over the country, and even the world.
It’s usually made of a pork bone broth served with noodles, a seasoned boiled egg, chunks of pork, bamboo shoots, and seaweed. Like I said, this often varies depending on region and chef, so no two ramen shops are ever exactly the same.
Beef, it’s what’s for dinner. Wagyu literally translates to Japanese beef, and it extends beyond just Kobe.
The most notable Wagyu brands are as follows:
- Kobe beef – from Hyogo prefecture
- Ohmi beef – from Shiga prefecture
- Matsusaka beef – from Mie prefecture
- Hida beef – from Gifu prefecture
These savory bites can be enjoyed at either a teppanyaki restaurant or a yakiniku restaurant. Either choice is an experience you’ll always remember.
Directly translated as pork cutlet, it’s a panko covered filet of pork, or pork loin, that is deep fried to perfection, sliced and served with rice, cabbage, miso soup, spicy mustard, and a special sauce. The sauces vary depending on the region and restaurant, but they are usually a combination of miso, soy, or Worcestershire sauce.
The pork is served pre-cut for two reasons. The first reason is so you can use chopsticks to eat it, and the second is so you can see how perfectly it was cooked. But mainly so you can eat it with chopsticks!
Many of the larger chain katsu restaurants offer unlimited refills of cabbage, rice and miso soup.
Often referred to as octopus balls, these Osaka street food treats are basically octopus dumplings. They are called octopus balls because of their shape! Get your mind out of the gutter.
They’re served in sets of four to eight dumplings, and they are topped with Worcestershire sauce, fried panko crumbs, seaweed flakes, fish flakes, and mayonnaise. They should be served HOT and washed down with an ice cold beer.
During festivals you’ll find several pop-up kiosks selling this very popular dish.
Okonomiyaki is often described as a Japanese pizza, although I find this to be a very misleading comparison. In all honesty, it’s not comparable to anything we have in our food spectrum.
The base of okonomiyaki consists of an egg, flour, and water batter thinly spread out on a hot flat grill. The cook then adds soba noodles (depending on where in Japan you are), cabbage, egg, and pork on top of the thin hardened batter. It’s then flipped to cook the cabbage, egg, and pork, and then it is topped off with some fish flakes, seaweed flakes, Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise.
Okonomiyaki is a love it or leave it kind of food. I personally love it and so do most of our tour participants. It’s an inexpensive dish that is available at most izakayas and pop-up kiosks during festivals.