From Hokkaido to Okinawa, Japan is home to some of the most flavorful dishes in the world. While each region may put their own spin on them, you’ll find certain classic meals on menus across the country. With an emphasis on using a wide variety of fresh ingredients, there are tasty options for every palate.
Ready to embark on a culinary journey when visiting Tokyo? Here’s a list of the most delicious Japanese foods you need to try.
1. Sushi — One of the best-known Japanese foods, sushi consists of rice seasoned with rice vinegar combined with a variety of ingredients including raw fish, vegetables, and nori (seaweed). Sushi is commonly served with soy sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger, and other sides.
The ultimate finger food, it’s not surprising that sushi has become a popular choice for parties. In fact, sushi boats have become a fun way to enjoy a sushi party with friends and family, whether you’re at a restaurant or at home.
2. Curry Rice — This dish, known as kare or kare raisu (curry rice), originates from the Meiji era and was likely brought to Japan by the British. This delicious Japanese food can be eaten any time of day, and it’s very popular — even Mission Specialist Soichi Noguchi requested curry rice before takeoff during SpaceX’s recent launch to the International Space Station.
There are many types of curry around the world, the most common coming from India. Served with rice, Japanese curry is thicker and sweeter than Indian varieties and typically contains vegetables such as onions, carrots, and potatoes along with meats such as chicken, beef, or pork.
3. Ramen — You’ve probably tried the dried variety of this dish, but nothing compares to fresh ramen. Thick and hearty, it’s not considered rude to slurp these wheat noodles that are typically served with sliced pork, green onions, soft boiled eggs, and nori in broth.
Whether you’re making it at home or eating out, this is a very affordable dish that’s easy to customize. Best of all, you get the comforting warmth of the rich broth, along with healthy servings of protein and vegetables.
4. Tempura — Despite being so simple, tempura is incredibly tasty. Seafood, vegetables, and (sometimes) chicken are dipped in a special batter and then fried until crispy — yet, it doesn’t feel greasy! It takes practice to get the technique down, but that light, irresistible crunch is worth the effort.
It’s best to enjoy tempura as soon as it’s done frying with a side of tentsuyu dipping sauce and grated daikon radish. Consider sprinkling with a flavored salt such as curry salt, yuzu salt, or matcha salt. Many also enjoy tempura served over rice (Tempura Donburi or “Ten Don”) or with chilled soba noodles (Ten Zaru).
5. Okonomiyaki — This popular street fare from Osaka is definitely one of the most delicious Japanese foods you should try! Often called a “Japanese savory pancake,” the batter contains cabbage and can be adapted to suit your tastes. After all, the name literally means “grilled as you like it.”
The Okonomiyaki pancake is often topped with vegetables such as Japanese long yams or mountain yams, green onions, and pork belly slices, but you can easily substitute that with any protein. The taste of the dish really comes from the flavor of the Okonomiyaki sauce, which is complimented by condiments such as Kewpie mayonnaise, dried seaweed, and bonito flakes.
6. Sukiyaki — In the fall and winter, one of the most popular and delicious Japanese foods is sukiyaki. Reminiscent in cooking style to French fondue, the hotpot dish is made by simmering ingredients such as thinly-sliced beef, tofu, vegetables, and even noodles, in a flavorful broth containing soy sauce, sugar, sake, and mirin.
This communal-style hotpot meal is perfect for get-togethers with friends and family. Use a portable stove to (carefully!) bring the pot of hot broth to the table, and let everyone join in on the fun of cooking their own meal.
7. Gyoza — Many Asian countries have their own version of what we might call potstickers or dumplings. The Japanese call them gyoza, and they are absolutely delicious. You can find them everywhere in Japan, from sit-down restaurants to convenience stores. They are perfect as a quick snack, appetizer, or side dish.
Warm and savory, gyoza is often filled with cabbage, mushrooms, green onions, and pork or chicken. The wrapper is thin and can be pan-fried (yaki gyoza), boiled (sui gyoza), or deep-fried (age gyoza). Some even enjoy dropping them into ramen, soup, or hot pot such as Kimchi Gyoza Nabe!
8. Tonkatsu — Whether it’s for dinner or as part of a bento box lunch, tonkatsu is one of the most delicious Japanese foods. The name is a combination of two Japanese words — “ton,” which means pork, and “katsu,” which is an abbreviation of the word for cutlet (katsuretu).
Panko breadcrumbs are used to coat pork chops, which are then deep or pan-fried until crispy. Typically, it’s served on a bed of shredded cabbage, alongside steamed rice and Japanese curry. If you don’t eat pork, you can still enjoy this dish! Chicken katsu is a very popular variation.
9. Onigiri — Go into any convenience store in Japan and you’ll find onigiri. That’s how popular this snack is! Basically, onigiri are rice balls molded into a triangular shape and filled with meat, vegetables, or eggs and often wrapped with a piece of seaweed.
They’re easy to make and small enough to carry wherever you go, so you’ll see people eating these in bento lunch boxes, at theme parks, or even on the trains in Japan. They’re also extremely easy to make at home — steam some rice, wet your hands, and start forming them. It’s almost like making a rice snowball!
10. Yakitori — In Japan (and increasingly around the world), you’ll find izakayas, which are casual, tapas-style pubs where people gather after work or during happy hour for good beer and tasty bites. One of the delicious Japanese foods you’ll find at an izakaya is yakitori.
These chicken skewers are glazed in a mouthwatering sweet and savory sauce. Yakitori are perfect for nibbling over drinks, at a cookout, or even as a main dish served with rice. While originally made with chicken, you can find these made with beef, pork, and even vegetables.
11. Takoyaki — Another signature street food from Osaka, the city known as “Japan’s Kitchen,” is takoyaki. You’ll find it in convenience stores, food courts, izakayas, and street vendors. After a day of shopping or a night of drinking, you’ll see people lining up at food stalls around Dotonbori and Tokyo for a serving of this popular snack.
Made by filling a spherical mold with savory batter, takoyaki is traditionally filled with bite-sized pieces of octopus. The fried balls are usually topped with a special sauce, mayonnaise, and/or bonito flakes. Not a fan of octopus? No problem. This is one of those dishes you can easily customize, especially if you make it at home.
12. Shabu Shabu — If you love the warmth of hotpot meals, definitely put shabu shabu on your list. The name is onomatopoeic, reflecting the sound you hear when the ingredients are stirred in the donabe, or clay pot. This Japanese meal is made by boiling thinly sliced meat and vegetables in water or broth at the table, then serving with dipping sauces.
While similar to sukiyaki in some ways, shabu shabu also has some distinct differences. For starters, there’s no soy sauce in the broth, which changes the flavor profile completely. Also, shabu shabu is light and savory, while sukiyaki is sweet. It’s perfect for family gatherings, special occasions, or comfort food on a gloomy day.
13. Donburi — It’s hard to go wrong with donburi rice bowls; maybe that’s why so many love them! In Japan, you can find donburi pretty much anywhere from fast-food chains and sit-down restaurants to quick-service vending machines (you still need to pick up your order at the counter, though)!
Steamed, fluffy rice is topped with meat, seafood, vegetables, or even a combination of everything. It’s a hearty and convenient choice for workers to enjoy on their lunch break, and is relatively easy to make at home too!
14. Teriyaki — You may have assumed that teriyaki is the name of a sauce, but the term actually refers to a Japanese cooking method. “Teri” describes the incredible “luster” or glaze provided by the marinade, and “yaki” means cooking or grilling. This method is most commonly used to prepare Chicken Teriyaki or Buri no Teriyaki (Hamachi/Yellowtail Teriyaki).
There are many great teriyaki sauces available at the grocery store, but nothing beats homemade. It’s very easy to make, so find a good recipe and give your taste buds a treat. You will not regret it.
15. Miso Soup — Did you know that having a bowl of miso soup, along with side dishes like eggs and rice, is common for breakfast in Japan? Made by blending softened miso paste with dashi stock, this traditional soup is enjoyed with any meal where steamed rice is served.
You can tailor the ingredients in your miso soup to personal preferences, seasonal recipes, or to clean out leftover vegetables in your fridge! If you order at a restaurant, you’ll probably find things like daikon radish, spring onions, tofu, and mushrooms in your bowl of miso soup.
And if miso soup isn’t hearty enough for you, try a bowl of Udon.
From quick bites to communal meals, there is no shortage of delicious Japanese foods you need to try. It can be intimidating to try something completely new, but variety is the spice of life. Pick something easy and go from there. You may open up a whole new world!
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