Japan is an amazing country for so many reasons, which I’ve written about in other articles. I still haven’t done a dedicated food post about things to eat there, so figured I should as one of the best reasons to visit Japan is to eat the delicious food.
Here’s a run down on some of the main food I ate that you should definitely try, if not in Japan then maybe somewhere near where you live.
This is a non-brainer.
If you don’t eat seafood then this will obviously not interest you, but seafood is the best thing you can eat in Japan, in my opinion. It’s so fresh and the Japanese know how to make sushi perfectly.
Even “bad” sushi in Japan beats most “good” sushi places I have tried in other countries.
It’s fun trying lots of things you may not have eaten before. Some can sound disgusting (fish sperm sacks) or look gross (fish sperm sacks)! While others will make your mouth water.
But it’s great because you may be surprised at what you end up liking. At the end of the day something like a good bluefin tuna will blow you away.
One of the best ways to eat sushi is to go to a conveyor belt restaurant. Different plates of sushi go around on a conveyor belt (no surprise given the name of the thing) and you take plates of sushi you want to try from it.
The plates are colour coded so you know how much each one costs. The trick if you’re on a budget is to stick to mostly the cheaper plates while treating yourself to just 2-3 middle to expensive ones.
At the end you stack all the plates you have eaten and it will be counted to show how much it costs. If you go with friends try and have a contest to see who can stack the most.
Head to a local fish market as well to get some amazingly fresh fish sashimi.
This is a good book to learn more about sushi: Sushi: The Beginner’s Guide
Along with sushi, ramen is another dish that you will find absolutely everywhere. It’s a staple in many peoples diet and is very tasty if you go to a decent place, such as the ramen in the photo above found in Sapporo.
Different regions of Japan have their own ramen specialities, such as what the soup broth is based on and the noodles used. Fukuoka is famous for their pork based ramen.
All ramens are based around the broth (which is what makes the ramen so good), then the noodles, and the meat and other toppings.
No matter what you will likely be trying ramen when in Japan. It’s almost impossible not to.
This is a book I recommend on making your own ramen at home, it’s served me well: Ramen at Home: The Easy Japanese Cookbook
Okonomiyaki can best be described as Japanese soul food. Very filling, tasty, and not so expensive.
Although found all over Okonomiyaki is best tried in the cities of Osaka or Hiroshima as they are the most well known for their variation and ways of making it.
The general way to cook it is to fry up some cabbage or noodles, or both, then cover in meat toppings of your choice, with pork being the best. Some will also have fried egg pancake style on the top and bottom, such as in Hiroshima.
You can also have fun in some restaurants where you can make your own okonomiyaki. You are given the ingredients and have a hot frying surface in the middle of the table that you cook it on, such as in the photo below.
• UDON NOODLES
Udon are of the very thick and slippery variety of noodles that fill you up easily. They are generally not that expensive either which is great.
A popular way to eat them is to have them as “dipping” noodles. You will have the noodles in a separate bowl accompanied by another bowl generally consisting of some type of soup. You then pick up the noodles with your chopsticks and dip them in the soup before eating them.
Like most food in Japan particular areas have their own speciality. One such place is the island of Shikoku where you can try some of the best udon noodles around.
• JAPANESE BARBECUE (YAKINIKU)
It has to be stated again that eating in Japan can be a fun experience, never mind how tasty all the food is.
The Japanese barbecue is built into the centre of a table and you are given different types of meat and vegetables that you cook yourself.
Not only is is fun and very good with company, but it will allow you to try a lot of different types of meat. Wash it all down with some beer or sake rice wine and you’re good to go.
Yakitori is so simple and yet so good. It’s basically marinated pieces of meat on a stick barbecued. You can try different types of meat normally from simple chicken pieces up to hearts etc.
There’s plenty of small little bars that have yakitori cooking right on the bar itself. If you walk past a yakitori place the smell of the barbecued meat is often to hard to resist and before you know it you have a beer in front of you and a plate full of yakitori to munch on.
The perfect bar food.
Tempura is simply just deep fried meat, fish, or vegetables.
Sounds simple enough but somehow the Japanese have made an art out of it, in the sense that I haven’t had as good deep fried food anywhere else in the world.
Thankfully it’s also super delicious and goes great as a side dish with other food. For example tempura shrimp (ebi) in a bowl of noodle soup.
In fact tempura shrimp is one of my Japanese food addictions. A great place to try it is normally at a local fish market.
Nom nom nom, another Japanese soul food that is most famous in the city of Osaka (that city does have some of the best soul food).
They are chunks of octopus tentacles cooked up in a doughy ball that is fried, with different places putting their own flavouring touches to it.
They are found all over Japan and are probably, along with fried squid, the most well known Japanese snack. Like a lot of food they go great with a beer and are very common in bar areas for the drunk people to munch on!
Look for the colourful octopus signs and you will find your takoyaki fix.
Sometimes sweets in Japan look so cute that you just don’t want to eat them.
But there are loads to try and it’s part of the food fun to sample as many as you can. Some you will not be so keen on while others will make you drool for more.
One of the more well known ones is a waffle in the shape of a fish with sweet red bean paste inside. Even sweets in the small supermarkets like 7/11 are good to try.
Some of the ice cream flavours won’t be to everyones liking (fish and squid flavours come to mind) but certainly make for entertaining snacking.
Regions like Hokkaido are known for its high quality milk from their cows and have some of the best ice cream to try.
If you go to Japan hopefully you have a sweet tooth!
• RANDOM SPECIALITIES
This post could go on forever if I start to include every single local speciality, so all that can be said is whatever region you happen to be in make sure to ask what food they are known for.
When in Beppu I asked what their speciality was and they said fried chicken. How different could fried chicken be from place to place? Well lets just say that the best fried chicken I ever had was indeed in Beppu.
That’s why one of the biggest pieces of advice when it comes to eating in Japan I can give you is to always find out the local specialities.
Just take a wander in the local markets and see what they have, and you can normally try small samples for free.
So I hope that you enjoyed getting a glimpse into the world of Japanese food. Maybe you knew all this already, or are now keen to try for the first time.
Either way, happy eating!
*These are some books I recommend to learn more about food in Japan and cooking Japanese food:
Not totally about food but 2 of my favourite books on Japan:
If you’re interested in traveling to Japan but worried about the costs then have a read of my post about how Japan is cheaper to travel than you may think.
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