Being a foreigner living in Japan is such a privilege. It is not surprising to have a dozen of reasons to be here, from its ancient temples, beautiful cherry blossoms, and bizarre fashion. Japan has unlimited diversity that is always astounding. And when it comes to food, Japanese cuisine is, without doubt, one of the most nutritious, delectable and exquisite in the world. The attention they pay to the food preparation, cooking and serving is just amazeballs.
So, if you ever get lucky to find yourself in the Land of the Rising Sun, here are some of Japan’s many delicious dishes that you should not miss coming from a gaijin like me:
Table of Contents
1. Bento Box
Japanese food is all about balance, from flavor to components. It is very much evident in a bento box. It is a solid square (or rectangular) container divided into partitions to hold the rice, vegetables, and meat or fish.
2. Mozuku seaweed
Seaweed is a Japanese staple, added to some of its dishes or eaten as is. Mozuku seaweed, for example, is served as an appetizer. Colored brown, it is a weight loss booster since it contains only 4 calories.
3. Soybean Paste Soup (Miso Soup)
More known as miso soup, it is a healthy Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans, barley or rice, and a type of fungus. It is generally salty, but the flavor can be toned down by other ingredients. As a paste, it can be used as a spread. My husband loves this!
Takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese food that contains green onions, ginger, and diced octopus. It is cooked in a takoyaki pan. It is not usually eaten as a meal but rather as a snack.
5. Natto (fermented soybean)
Natto is soybean fermented with the help of certain live bacteria culture. Tried it once, I puked. But I’m willing to try it again! It is not easily likable because of its sticky texture and strong smell and flavor. However, you may eat it like the Japanese do: served with miso soup or paired with grilled egg (tamagoyaki). Tried it once, I puked. But I’m willing to try it again!
6. Unagi Kabayaki (Barbequed eel)
Kabayaki refers to a long and time-consuming method of preparing fish for barbecuing or grilling. However, it is a technique that is most often associated with unagi eel (freshwater eel). In this process, the eel is cut into half, cleaned, gutted, filleted, and skewered. Before it goes into the barbecue grill, it is first dipped into a special sauce.
7. Tsukemono (Japanese pickles)
Tsukemono can refer to many different types of pickles, like gari (brined ginger), beni shoga (ginger preserved with its leftover brine), and nukazuke (vegetables with fermented rice bran).
8. Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette)
It is an egg omelette that is grilled. There are three major components in making tamagoyaki: soy sauce, sugar, and egg. Traditionally, it is cooked using a special kind of omelette pan.
While tempura is usually imagined with shrimp and vegetables, it is anything that is deep-fried with a tempura batter, which normally includes all-purpose flour, some cold water, eggs, starch, and spices for more flavor.
10. Nori (dried seaweed)
If there is a sushi bar, then definitely there is nori. This is another type of Japanese seaweed, only that it is pressed, dried, and sold as sheets. It is a typical ingredient in making laver bread, but it is more associated with making sushi rolls.
Ramen is a culinary delight you definitely should try in Japan. This noodle soup dish consists of either fish or meat based broth, Chinese-style noodles and toppings typically made up of sliced pork, green onion rings and dried bamboo shoots. To make the best out your ramen experience, slurp it as loud as you can!
Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake usually made from a mixture of flour and cabbage or sprouts. It’s grilled in a hot iron plate and topped with sauce, fish flakes, shredded seaweeds and other condiments. Many restaurants prepare okonomiyaki in front of guests, but if you want to have more fun, pick a restaurant that gives you the liberty to make the pancakes yourself.
Oyakodon, a delicious and healthy Japanese rice bowl dish (donburi), is a perfect way to relish Japan’s culinary tradition. Preparing this dish usually starts by frying chicken chunks in a hot skillet and subsequently simmering it in soy sauce and dashi (Japanese soup stock). Scallion and egg are added when the soup comes to a boil then served on top of a bowl of rice.
14. Soba and Yakisoba
For a culturally authentic experience, you must try soba and yakisoba, two of Japan’s traditional noodle recipes. Soba is either served in hot soup or served cold in a strainer along with a dipping sauce. Yakisoba, on the other hand, is stir fried noodles with bite-sized pork and vegetables, flavored with yakisoba sauce and typically garnished with fish flakes, shredded ginger and seaweed powder. This is the only Japanese food I can cook so far and my husband and mom-in-law loved it!
15. Kaiseki Ryori
Kaiseki Ryori is an exquisite traditional Japanese multi-course cuisine that is served in a prescribed order. An assortment of elaborately prepared appetizers starts the meal then followed by a set of dishes, each representing Japan’s five methods of cooking: raw, simmered, fried, steamed and roasted or grilled. Dessert makes up the final course. Kaiseki Ryori will leave you feeling like an aristocrat!
A perfect partner for beer, Yakitori is a delectable appetizer widely served across Japan especially in bars. It’s made of chicken skewers that are grilled over binchotan (charcoal), dipped in teriyaki-style sauce and usually sold by the stick. You can select from all different chicken parts: breasts, wings, thighs, skin, liver and other innards.
The Japanese version of the European breaded cutlet, tonkatsu is prepared by deep frying breaded pork cutlets. It normally comes with a sweet brown sauce although Japanese curry is sometimes preferred. This dish is usually served along with miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables and shredded cabbage.
Sushi is a dish of vinegar-flavored cold rice usually topped with various types of raw fish. Japan is well-known to serve only fish of excellent quality. Sushi has become a global cuisine that you can pretty much find it anywhere in the world. But wouldn’t it be great to savor authentic sushi in its birthplace? After all, the Japanese knows sushi best.
Yakiniku is Japanese grilled meat or barbecue which is among the most delicious and fun-to-eat foods in Japan. Meat can either be beef, chicken, horse, shellfish and scallops as well as animal innards like heart, liver, tongue, gizzard and kidneys. Vegetables like potato, onion, carrots and radishes are also grilled along with the meat. You may also be thrilled to know that you are given the privilege of grilling your own yakiniku on your table as you eat.
Ideal to eat in winter, sukiyaki is a hot pot dish of sweet and salty flavor. It’s made with slices of meat (usually beef), tofu and vegetables and is usually cooked at the dinner table using a portable gas stove. To enjoy sukiyaki the Japanese way, eat it as you cook and dip the cooked beef and vegetable in raw eggs before eating them.