Popular Japanese Breakfast Dishes – Chef’s Pencil

When it comes to the traditional Japanese breakfast, it is completely unlike any breakfast in the world. A combination of rice, healthy and omega-rich proteins, as well as some pickles and soup, make for a hearty and energizing affair.

So what exactly do we find in a Japanese breakfast?

At the heart of any Japanese meal, including breakfast, is ichiju sansai, which translates to “one soup and three dishes”. The usual components are rice, pickles, soup, a main dish and two side dishes consisting of vegetables, tofu, fish or meat. Another part of the breakfast is teishoku, a set meal on a tray, often served in restaurants across Japan.

While that sounds like a lot of dishes, especially for breakfast, the balance of all these components makes for a nutritious and balanced meal, allowing the human body to function optimally. Now let’s take a closer look at the individual components of the Japanese breakfast.


Rice is the basis of Japanese cuisine. The traditional ichiju sansai doesn’t even mention rice as it’s always included with the meal. Rice is not just a dish in itself, but the main ingredient that ties everything together. That is the importance of rice that the sentence gohan (ご飯) means both “rice” and “meal” in Japanese.

Sticky short grain rice is so important and it’s vital to get it right. How well the rice is cooked can make or break an entire meal. When it comes to varieties, there are different types of grains, all of which have different flavors and uses.


White rice (Hakumai) is a short-grain rice that becomes soft and sticky during cooking. The hard outer shell, the rice bran, is removed and then steamed to make hakumai. This is the most popular way to make rice.


Brown rice (Genmai) occurs when the rice bran is not removed, giving it a brown appearance. It’s not as popular as hakumai but has more nutritional value. The outer bran retains many of the vitamins and minerals that are lost during polishing. For this reason, it is gaining popularity lately.

Multigrain rice
credit: tawaraya.com.sg

Multigrain rice contains other grains and seeds added to hakumai. An addition of flavor and nutrients makes it a much firmer and fuller dish. A common ingredient is barley, also known as mugi gohan.

credit: kaorikitchen

Finally glutinous rice (mochigome) is even stickier than hakumai when cooked. It is often used in rice cakes, or mocha, as well as in sweets.

There are several ways to prepare and eat rice (so many, in fact, that we could make a whole different article about it!) Let’s take a look at some of the more popular methods:


Onigiri are balls made from cooked rice, usually wrapped in seaweed (want). They are lightly seasoned with salt and filled with a variety of ingredients, from tuna mayonnaise to sourdough (umeboshi). Instead of eating different dishes for breakfast, some people prefer to combine them in their onigiri. These tasty rice balls can be found in all convenience stores, restaurants and izakayas (Japanese bars).

Tamago Kake Gohan

Tamago kake gohan is a common breakfast dish with a raw egg mixed in a bowl of rice. It is common for raw eggs to be used in Japanese dishes as they add nutrients and impart a creamy, rich flavor. Soy sauce is usually added for a salty, umami kick.


Ochazuke is another simple and popular rice dish, consisting of rice with either hot water, green tea or dashi (stock; see below). It is usually garnished with grilled salmon, pickled plum (umeboshi) and pickles. It can be made with leftover ingredients or from instant packets sold in supermarkets.

grilled fish

grilled fish

The main protein for a typical Japanese breakfast is grilled fish. Common choices are salmon and mackerel as they are readily available and are a fantastic source of vitamins, minerals, rich in omega 3.

Grilled salmon can be eaten as is, or flaked in the above ochazuké. The fish is usually salted and served with a slice of lemon, making it the perfect nutritious protein to start your day. Mackerel is also typically grilled and served with daikon oroshi (grated horseradish) with a dash of soy sauce. In this case, the horseradish acts as the lemon for the salmon, giving a lively and refreshing kick!

In Japanese homes it is common to have a small grill under the gas stove, which makes cooking fish especially easy and convenient.

Miso soup

Miso soup

Miso soup is a nutritious and important dish in a Japanese breakfast, helping to bring all the other dishes together. Packed with umami, miso soup is made from soybean paste and dashi, steamed rice or barley, salt and That (a fermentation starter).

Many types of miso exist. Different proportions of soybeans and rice, and different fermentation periods, lead to many changes in taste, color and nutrient composition. The two main color types of miso are red and white, with the former being dark, strong, and salty and the latter being less salty and delicate. Plus, you can find a mix of the two, which serves as a great target for all recipes!

Dashi Ingredients

the above-mentioned dashi is a Japanese stock, which is central to many Japanese creations. It is a relatively simple stock, consisting of kombu kelp and dried bonito flakes, but many variations are possible. Among the ingredients added are: dried shiitake mushrooms, anchovies or sardines, which provide an extra layer of umami.

Simmering and soaking these ingredients in hot water creates the golden liquid that is the backbone of Japanese cuisine. While chicken stock or vegetable stock can be substituted, they lack the signature sweet, savory and deep umami flavor that dashi part.

Pickled vegetables


Pickled vegetables, or tsukemonoCleanse your palate and help your mouth reset after each of the many different textures and flavors that make up your meal. Pretty much any vegetable goes, but the most common is cucumber. Different pickling methods can be used to create different textures and flavors:

Salt (Shiozuke)


The simplest and most common type of pickle is salt. Just add some for a crunchy and mild-tasting vegetable.

Rice Bran (Nukazuke)

Stand up

This rice bran mixture is made using a variety of ingredients such as salt, kombu, and dried red pepper, which is left for a few days or even several months. When it’s done, cover some whole vegetables with the mixture and let it be salty and spicy.

Miso (Misozuke)

miso pickling
credit: lesptitssecretdejuliette

Equivalent to and get up, you can top vegetables with miso for a unique, complex flavor.

Soy sauce (Shoyuzuke)

credit: hibachivn

Here, the vegetables are preserved in a soy sauce-based marinade, which usually contains other ingredients such as: kombu. The soy sauce darkens the vegetables and gives it a sweet and salty taste.

Vinegar (Amazuzuke)

credit: hungry_davey

Amazuzuk is a vinegar solution that preserves vegetables excellently, creating a sweet and sour taste and crunchy texture.



Omelet (tamoayaki) is not like the omelettes you will find in western countries. Thin layers of eggs are fried here in a special tamoayaki pan to make a rectangular omelet. Eggs are beaten and often mixed with dashi and sugar, which is then slowly baked in layers, creating a sweet and custardy textured omelet.

The Japanese, both adults and children, enjoy this at breakfast and in their bento box (packed lunch).



Loved or hated, natto is arguably one of Japan’s most unique dishes. It is rich in protein, making it a popular dish in Japan. It uses fermented soybeans mixed with a special variety of bacteria, which creates a unique fragrance and gives it a sticky texture. To be usually mixed with a special sauce and Japanese mustard until stringy and gooey.

When you first see natto you may be put off by the smell and sight, but it will grow on you over time, so give it a try. place you natto on top of rice for a salty, sweet, tangy flavor. If you’re really too scared, don’t worry. Many Japanese can’t stand it either!



Many people find tofu a bit bland and lacking in flavor. Maybe they didn’t try it the right way? The Japanese love it because tofu is a popular side dish in many of their meals. It is made from curdled soy milk, pressed into blocks that resemble cheese. To give it more flavor, tofu is usually topped with a variety of ingredients, such as grated ginger, scallions, and soy sauce.

western style

western breakfast

While many Japanese enjoy a traditional breakfast, a Western breakfast is also very popular. A mix of small sausages, fried eggs and bread combine to make a complete, delicious breakfast.

For many people who visit Japan, the idea of ​​grilled fish and natto morning is not the most appetizing, so western breakfast is readily available at hotels across the country. This breakfast is also popular with Japanese people, with many preferring it to their traditional Japanese breakfast.

So, what’s for breakfast?

As we have seen, the Japanese breakfast is really unlike any other in the world. Made with the care and pride that the Japanese are known for, they are packed with health benefits, making them well worth a try, even if some of the flavors may seem a little unusual to some. Which one are you going to try?

Related: Most Popular Japanese Dishes
Related: 8 Types of Sushi Explained
Related: 10 Best Japanese Knives

Popular Japanese drinks

Andy Cheng

Andy grew up with a Japanese mother and has extensive knowledge of Japanese culture, life and food. Originally from England, Andy began training as a chef after graduating and moved to Japan to begin his culinary journey. Aiming to run his own restaurant, he studied with Michelin-starred chef Namae Shinobu and Akihiro Nagao. He is now studying how to roast coffee in Northern Japan.

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