Japan is one of the finest countries in the culinarily world. Its unique history and heritage has contributed to its people becoming obsessed with all things food. Chefs spend years and years mastering the crafts and take extreme pride in what they produce. Being surrounded by some of the finest produce in the world, it is no wonder that Japanese cuisine is growing in popularity.
Japanese is the world’s most popular cuisine on Instagram, the popular photo sharing app, surpassing Italian, Indian and Mexican cuisine. Japanese foods are also incredibly popular in the U.S., Australia and Canada, where Japanese cuisine consistently ranks among the most popular international cuisines.
We want to share with you 25 of the most irresistible dishes you’ll fınd when travelling in Japan.
1. Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken)
Karaage, or Japanese fried chicken, is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. Marinated in garlic, soy sauce, and mirin, the succulent chicken is perfect for any occasion. The crispy batter coating the salty, sweet, and juicy chicken makes for a perfect balance.
It is typically enjoyed with a little mayonnaise or a squeeze of lemon. You can find it in any izakaya (Japanese style pub), at food stalls during festivals, and at any convenience store!
2. Soba (Buckwheat Flour Noodles)
Soba is one of the three main noodle types. They are made from buckwheat flour and are a great option for a quick, healthy, and delicious meal. Soba can be served hot or cold, making it perfect for any time of the year.
Cold soba, or zaru soba, is dipped in mentsuyu, a type of Japanese soup. It can be enjoyed with spring onions or wasabi, as well as seaweed for an extra topping. Hot soba is served in a dashi-based broth and can be topped with a variety of ingredients from vegetables to tempura.
3. Udon (Wheat Flour Noodles)
Udon noodles are made from wheat flour and are thicker than soba noodles. Similiar to soba, there are several hot and cold dishes that are very popular in Japan. Cold udon is served just the same as zaru soba, the only difference being the noodles.
There are a wide variety of hot udon dishes, such as curry and beef udon. It is great to eat at home as a quick meal or at a restaurant where the chefs takes years of training to master the perfect udon noodle.
Ramen is one of Japan’s most famous dishes and has become popular worldwide. It is inexpensive and available anywhere across the country, making it great for travelers on a budget. The broth is prepared over several days by simmering pork or chicken bones.
There are a wide variety of broths available from soy sauce to miso. It is usually topped with char siu (pork belly), a marinated boiled egg, and some spring onions.
5. Takoyaki (Octopus Dumpling Balls)
Originating in Osaka city, takoyaki (grilled octopus) are small dumpling balls filled with octopus. They are one of the most well known street foods in the country. A simple batter of flour and dashi is mixed and fried in a spherical mold. Octopus and other ingredients such as tempura scraps and green onions are typically added.
Once fried, it is topped with a thick takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and dried bonito flakes. Straight from the grill, takoyaki is the best snack, often enjoyed at Japanese festivals and firework nights.
6. Yakitori (Chicken Skewers)
Simply translated as grilled chicken, yakitori is skewered meat grilled over charcoal. You can find them at izakayas or specific yakitori restaurants. Typically the darker parts of the meat are used such as chicken thigh. Offal can also be used, including liver, heart, and gizzards.
Going well with a beer or Japanese sake, these skewers are perfect for summer barbecues. The charcoal barbecue flavor along with the succulent meat is the ultimate summer combination.
Sushi is another one of Japan’s most popular dishes. Rice flavored with vinegar, salt, and sugar is molded and topped with seafood or vegetables.
There are many types of sushi, though nigiri and maki are the most popular ones. Nigiri is simply rice topped with seafood, whereas maki is wrapped in seaweed. Raw seafood is typically used but there are some cooked alternatives such as blow torched salmon belly. The sushi is dipped in soy sauce and accompanied with gari, pickled ginger.
Served over a bowl of rice, kaisendon is perfect for all seafood lovers. A variety of freshly caught fish and shellfish are sliced and laid on top of rice. From salmon to octopus to scallops, kaisendon is a fantastic way to enjoy some of the finest seafood in Japan.
It is served with a side of soy sauce, wasabi, and sometimes sea salt. You can dip each piece of seafood into these accompaniments for a customized eating experience.
9. Sea Urchin
Sea Urchin is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine. Around the northern island of Japan, Hokkaido, you can find some of the best sea urchin in the world. It has a creamy texture and is sweet and salty from the sea.
Sea Urchin is best enjoyed on its own such as in sushi or kaisendon. However, it can also be added to sauces or pastas to give a delicious creamy, sweet, and fishy flavor.
Sukiyaki is a must have on a cold winter’s day. A variety of vegetables and beef are simmered in sweet and salty soy sauce-based broth. It is traditionally cooked in a cast iron pot. The beef is seared slightly and then the rest of the ingredients are added to simmer together.
Each ingredient is eaten separately and the Japanese usually dip it into raw egg before eating. The sweetness of the egg helps balance the salty broth and vegetables. Sukiyaki is the prefect dish for sharing with family and friends!
Similar to sukiyaki, nabe is a Japanse-style hotpot. A selection of vegetables and meats are stewed in a dashi-based broth. A dipping soy sauce can also be added such as ponzu (citrus-based sauce). The flavors of the vegetables and meats slowly infuse into the broth making it deliciously rich and tasty.
Nabe is usually finished by adding some udon noodles or rice. Friends and family usually gather around a portable stovetop to enjoy nabe together on a cold winter’s day.
Gyoza is a staple in every Japanese household. Succulent on the inside and crispy on the outside, gyoza are great for a weeknight meal or as party food. A mixture of minced pork, green onions, and aromatics are mixed and wrapped inside a gyoza skin.
They are gently fried till the bottom is golden brown and then steamed to cook all the way through. The balance and contrast of textures and flavors make this simply delicious! The dipping sauce is traditionally soy sauce and vinegar along with some cilli oil, if you like.
13. Soup Curry
Famous in the north of Japan, soup curry is a light curry-based soup with chicken. The soup is spicy and hearty and topped with flash fried vegetables to make it nutritious. Eggplants, potatoes, and pumpkin, any vegetable, in fact, can be added to soup curry, making it very versatile.
The rice is served separately, so you can enjoy the curry on its own. This is the perfect alternative to a regular roux curry if you’re travelling to the north of Japan; it is a must eat.
Gyuukatsu is a great version of grilled steak. The beef is coated in flour, eggs, and then breadcrumbs. It is deep-fried so the exterior is deliciously crunchy and the inside is succulent and medium-rare.
Salt, wasabi, and a special tare (sauce) are for dipping and to enhance your gyuukatsu experience. It is typically served alongside rice, salad, and miso soup.
Translated as parent-and-child donor, oyakodon is a popular rice dish. Chicken thigh and onion are simmered in a dashi-based broth. Eggs are then added to the mixture and it is simmered further till cooked through.
The broth soaks into the rice and mixes with the chicken and egg; it is delicious. It can also be topped with shichimi, Japanese seven spice, or some mitsuba herbs.
Butadon is as simple as it gets. Grilled pork over a bed of rice, covered with a sticky, salty, sweet sauce. The thick pork loin is grilled over charcoal, giving a smoky, umami flavor similar to a barbecue. It is then dipped in the sauce and placed on top of fluffy steamed rice. Finally, a last douse of sauce and some long green onions are added.
Butadon originated in Tokachi, in Hokkaido, and is one of the best comfort foods out there.
Tempura is one of Japan’s most popular dishes. Vegetables and seafood are coated in a light batter and delicately fried till crispy and golden. Although it seems simple, Japanese chefs take years to master tempura. You can find pretty much any vegetable in tempura as well as a host of seafoods.
Although it seems simple, Japanese chefs take years to master tempura.
It is served with sea salt or tentsuyu, a sweet and savory sauce. You can find tempura in most izakayas along with a soba or udon dish. Alternatively, try a tendon, which is tempura over a bed of rice, drizzled with a thicker tentsuyu.
A staple in Osaka’s cuisine, kushikatsu are deep-fried skewers. Skewered meat and vegetables are coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried till golden brown. A thick Worcestershire sauce is served on the side for dipping.
If you are eating out in a restaurant, remember, no double dipping!
If you are eating out in a restaurant, remember, no double dipping! There are kushikatsu specific restaurants all over Japan, making it a great meal for enjoying with friends and family, and a couple of drinks.
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese style savory pancake. It is made from flour, eggs, cabbage, and pork belly slices and served with a variety of condiments. Okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and bonito flakes are the most common options; however, there are different variations.
There are so many ways to enjoy okonomiyaki. At some restaurants, you can cook it yourself on a teppanyaki or watch the chef cook it in front of you. Alternatively, you can enjoy it at a local festival or as party food in your own home.
Yakiniku is similar to a western style barbecue. Meat is grilled over charcoal and enjoyed with a variety of sauces or just sea salt. At a yakiniku restaurant, you can enjoy every part of the animal, including the liver, the heart, and intestines. The meat is often cooked as is, though sometimes it is marinated in a special sauce for more flavor.
21. Beef Tongue
Beef tongue is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine and can be served thinly or thickly sliced. When thinly sliced, the beef tongue is grilled for just a few seconds on each side and wrapped around green onions. Lemon juice is squeezed on top, giving you a meaty, salty, and sour morsel.
It can also be eaten rare, so at higher-end yakiniku restaurants, it is grilled for just a few seconds. You can also enjoy it over a bed over rice, similar to a butadon.
Rice is a fundamental ingredient in all Japanese cuisine. Onigiri is simply rice that has been molded into a triangular shape. It is often stuffed with fillings such as tuna or salmon and wrapped in seaweed. They are cheap, delicious, and extremely convenient as they are available in any supermarket or convenience store.
However, if you eat out at an izakaya, you may be able to find grilled onigiri. A plain onigiri is brushed with a special soy sauce and grilled over charcoal, The exterior becomes sweet, salty, and crunchy while the center remains light and fluffy.
Ochazuke is a simple Japanese dish where dashi or green tea is poured over rice. This is the go to dish when you are craving something light and comforting. Ochazuke is really simple to make.
Rice, grilled salmon, tempura scraps, and various other toppings make for a bombshell of umami flavor and will warm your heart in an instant. There are so many variations of ochazuke, the options are endless!
Japanese croquettes are soft and creamy potatoes with minced meat, coated in a crunchy panko breadcrumb. It is the perfect balance of textures and is absolutely irresistible. They can typically be found in teishoku (set meals) alongside rice, salad, and miso soup.
They are served with a tonkatsu sauce, a sauce based on Worcestershire sauce. The major brand is Bull-Dog Vegetable & Fruit Sauce and is highly recommended.
One of the core ingredients in Japanese cuisine, miso can be found anywhere across the country. Miso is a salty fermented bean paste used in a host of dishes. The most common is miso soup, which is miso paste mixed with dashi. Every region has its own type of miso, from salty red miso in Nagoya to sweet white miso in Kansai.
These are just 25 of the top foods in Japan but there are so many more, so get exploring!
Featured image courtesy of Thomas Marban (via Unsplash).