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What to eat in Japan – Best Japanese foods and desserts

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Japan cuisine is enjoyed all around the world, but there is much more to Japanese food than sushi or ramen noodles. If you are wondering what exciting foods to eat on your next trip to Japan, then look no further – we have created the ultimate foodie guide to the best traditional Japanese foods and desserts you must try. Enjoy!

What to eat in Japan

What to eat in Japan – Best Japanese food

Savoury Japanese food dishes

Udon

Udon is a type of thick white noodle traditionally made from wheat flour and very popular in Japanese cuisine. Udon noodles can be found in specialty restaurants (Udon-Ya) all over Japan and are served either hot or cold, and with or without soup. The noodles are usually garnished with vegetables, egg, meat, tempura or grilled mochi rice cakes.


Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is a classic Japanese comfort food dish that originates from both Osaka and Hiroshima. Literally meaning ‘grilled as you like it’, this savoury pancake is made by cooking batter mixed together with sliced cabbage on a big teppanyaki hot plate. Other savoury ingredients such as pork, tofu or seafood are usually included in the mixture, and toppings normally include bonito flakes, dried seaweed, mayonnaise and a Worcester-style sauce. The Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki also includes a layer of fried Soba noodles.

You can find okonomiyaki all over Japan in restaurants that specialise in the dish, and in some places diners can grill the dish themselves on a hotplate that is built into the table. 

BOOK IT: Okonomiyaki-cooking experience in Hiroshima >

okonomiyaki - Best Japanese food, What to eat in Japan

Takoyaki

Takoyaki or ‘octopus balls’ are a very popular and iconic Japanese street food dish that was first popularised in Osaka. These dough balls are made from a batter mixture that is poured into a special hot plate made with rows of half-circle moulds. Bite-size pieces of ‘tako’ octopus meat are placed into the centre of the mix, and the slightly cooked batter is then turned over again and again with a pick or skewer to create a perfect ball-shaped snack (watching the vendor cook the balls by skilfully flipping them over is almost as fun as eating them!).

The takoyaki balls are usually served in a similar way to okonomiyaki and brushed with a sweet/savoury takoyaki sauce and topped with mayonnaise, dried seaweed and bonito fish flakes.

BOOK IT: Osaka Dotonbori Food Tour >

takoyaki. Best Japanese food, What to eat in Japan

Sushi

This is possibly the most famous and iconic of all the Japanese dishes! Sushi is essentially rice that has been seasoned lightly with vinegar, and served with raw fish such as salmon or tuna. Common varieties include makizushi (sushi rolled up in nori seaweed and filled with various ingredients), and nigiri (a small mound of sushi rice with a thin slice of raw fish draped over the top). Sushi can also be served without raw fish and popular fillings include cucumber, avocado, vegetables, omelette. eel, green onions or fermented soybean.

Sushi is eaten using chopsticks and are dipped into a small bowl of soy sauce or wasabi (a spicy Japanese condiment). No trip to Japan would be complete without eating sushi at a conveyor belt restaurant which can be found all across the country!

BOOK IT: Afternoon Sushi Cooking Class in Tokyo >

What to eat in Japan – Conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Kyoto

Sashimi

Sashimi is a Japanese delicacy made of expertly cut thin slices of very fresh raw fish such as salmon, tuna, yellowtail or squid, and served with soy sauce and wasabi. It is usually sold in sushi restaurants but is not technically classed as sushi as they are not served with vinegared rice.

What to eat in Japan
Image: Pixabay

Ramen

Ramen is one of the most beloved dishes in Japan that is available all around the world, and is a cheap and filling meal found on almost every street corner. This noodle soup is made with wheat noodles served in a broth (the most popular soup flavours being miso, tonkotsu pork bone or shoyu) with toppings such as sliced pork, vegetables, nori seaweed, spring onions, bamboo shoots and a boiled egg.

Japanese ramen is so popular that there is even a ramen themed museum in Tokyo!

Popular Japanese food – ramen

Yakisoba

Yakisoba is a wok fried Japanese noodle dish that is packed with flavour and made by stir-frying together Chinese noodles, sliced cabbage, pork, carrot, bean sprouts and other vegetables, then garnished with red pickled ginger, bonito flakes and dried seaweed.

Yakisoba-pan is also popular and is a brioche hot dog bun stuffed with yakisoba noodles!! This can be found in many convenience stores across Japan.

yaki soba Best Japanese food, What to eat in Japan

Yakitori

Yakitori are small skewers of charcoal grilled meat and are the perfect snack accompaniment to beer! The meat used is normally chicken, which has been seasoned with salt or a tare sauce (a sweet soy sauce-based glaze). Most parts of the chicken are used for these skewers with the most common varieties being momo (chicken thigh), negima (chicken thigh and leek), tsukune (minced chicken balls), torikawa (fatty chicken skin) or reba (chicken livers). You can also order vegetable and seafood yakitori as well.

You will normally find yakitori in at an izakaya (a Japanese pub), and the best place to sit is up at the bar where you can watch the chefs at work. They are usually eaten in an informal atmosphere by business men on the way home from work or by young people in the late hours.

BOOK IT: Kyoto Eat and Drink Like a Local Izakaya Experience >


Tempura

Tempura is a crunchy, light and fluffy snack made from prawns, seafood, tofu, vegetables and other ingredients that have been dipped in a flour and egg batter and deep fried in sesame oil. Tempura can be eaten by itself with a small dish of tsuyu for dipping, or as a meal with a bowl of rice or served as a garnish in a bowl of udon noodle soup.

BOOK IT: Tempura Gozen Cooking Class in Central Tokyo >

tempura Best Japanese food, What to eat in Japan

Japanese Curry

Curry was originally introduced to the Japanese by the British between 1869 and 1912, and the dish found today in Japan is a yellow-brown sauce that is sweet in flavour and thick in texture. Known as Kare Raisu, the curry is usually served with sticky rice, tonkatsu (a deep fried breaded pork cutlet) and pickled vegetables.

Curry House CoCo Ichibanya is a famous chain restaurant found all over Japan (and even London) that sells affordable and customizable Japanese curry.


Donburi

The donburi is a ‘rice-bowl dish’ and is the quintessential Japanese comfort meal. It is made by serving ingredients over steamed rice in large bowls. Popular toppings include raw seafood, breaded pork cutlets, fried sliced beef, omelette, tempura and grilled eel.

BOOK IT: Donburi Cooking Class in Kyoto >

What to eat in Japan
Image: Pixabay

Soba

Soba noodles are one of the three main varieties of noodle that are popular in Japan (the others being ramen and udon). Soba are grey/brown long thin noodles made from buckwheat, with an earthy and nutty flavour, that can be eaten either hot or cold. You will usually find them served in hot broths, or at room temperature with a soy based dipping sauce (tsuyu).

Image: Pixabay

If you like our What to eat in Japan guide, check out our what to eat in Taiwan guide >


Tonkatsu

Tonkatsu is a popular ‘western-style’ food and are juicy breaded deep-fried pork cutlets, often enjoyed as part of a bento boxed lunch, with a vegetable salad, or in a Japanese curry.


Onigiri

The onigiri is a very famous and cheap snack, usually found in Japanese convenience stores costing around 100-150 yen. They are triangular shaped lightly salted boiled rice balls with a filling in the centre, wrapped in a sheet of nori dried seaweed. Popular fillings include salmon, Japanese pickled plum, teriyaki chicken, seaweed or canned tuna,

Image: Unsplash

Gyoza

Gyoza are traditional Chinese dumplings that are filled with savoury ingredients and wrapped in a thin dough, which are either boiled, steamed or fried to cook. Popular fillings include minced pork, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, tofu or vegetables, and they are served with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, sesame oil, chilli oil and vinegar. Gyozas can be found almost everywhere – find them at convenience stores, street food stalls and restaurants.

Image: Pixabay

Gyūdon

Gyūdon is a tasty dish found in many Japanese fast food restaurants and are a popular lunchtime meal. It consists of a bowl of rice layered with sliced beef and onions that have been cooked in a lightly sweet sauce made from dashi, soy sauce and mirin. It is sometimes topped with a raw or soft poached egg.


Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken)

Karaage are bite-size chicken thigh pieces that have been marinaded with soy sauce, sake, ginger and garlic, then dusted lightly with flour and quickly deep-fried in hot oil. The result is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside fried chicken which can be served with some Japanese mayonnaise or with a bowl of steamed rice.

Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken)

Edamame

If you are wondering what to eat in Japan that is cheap and heathy then edamame is the perfect snack food! These are young green soybeans that are served in the pod after being blanched and lightly salted. You will find many Japanese people ordering edamame with their drinks in traditional izakaya pubs, and we saw many businessmen enjoying eating them on the bullet trains in Japan.


Shabu Shabu

Shabu Shabu is a fun way for families and groups to eat together. Ingredients such as thin slices of marbled meat and vegetables are quickly cooked by being dipped into a traditional Japanese hot pot of simmering broth using chopsticks. The broth is only for cooking and the ingredients are then removed and dipped into either a ponzu or sesame based sauce before eating.

shabu shabu Best Japanese food
Image: Pixabay

What to eat in Japan – Sweet Japanese dessert food dishes

Matcha

Matcha is Japan’s beloved green tea powder and used to create popular and trendy desserts from lattes to ice cream to Kit-Kats!

Image: Pixabay

Japanese Kit Kats

Japan is renowned for its unusual and experimental Kit Kat flavours. This item of confectionary has reached cult status, possibly to do with the fact they are seen as a good luck charm. The Japanese pronounce the chocolate bars as ‘kitto katto’ which sounds similar to ‘kitto katsu’, which means ‘you will surely win’. 

There have been over 200 different Japanese Kit Kat flavours launched since the year 2000, and the ones most commonly found include wasabi, apple, sake, rum and raisin, purple sweet potato, matcha (green tea) and Baked potato!

Searching for the coolest Kit Kat flavours in Japan | Travel blog | Kit kats | purple sweet potato
Purple sweet potato kit kat

Japanese Cheesecake

Known as soufflé cheesecake in Japan, this soft, fluffy sponge-like dessert is made by whipping egg whites into a meringue and adding it into a cake mixture (eggs, milk, sugar, cream cheese). The combination is then baked in a bain-marie or a hot water bath which makes it moist and jiggly. Most people prefer to eat it while it’s still hot, so it almost melts in the mouth.


Japanese fluffy pancakes

These thick pancakes are an iconic Tokyo dessert and have a soufflé-like texture that are custardy on the inside and golden and crispy on the outside. Japanese fluffy pancakes are created similarly to Japanese cheesecakes by whipping egg whites to form a meringue which is mixed into a pancake batter, and then slow cooked on a low heat. Toppings include butter, maple syrup, whipped cream, caramel, nuts and fruits.


Mochi

Mochi is a very popular dessert that has been enjoyed in Japan for centuries, and traditionally made to celebrate the New Year. They are tiny circular cakes made out of glutinous rice, that are soft, chewy and slightly sticky, and often filled with red bean paste, fresh strawberries or ice cream.

To make mochi you pound steamed rice grains into a paste, then wrap the dough around a sweet filling and form it into the final mochi shape which is then baked or boiled.


Taiyaki

Taiyaki is a fish-shaped waffle and a common street food in Japan. It is made from pancake batter that has been poured into a fish mould and filled with sweet or savoury ingredients such as red bean paste, custard, chocolate, sweet potato, sausage, cheese or matcha.

Image: Unsplash

Harajuku Crêpes

There are many crêpe shops and street food stalls in the Harajuku district in Tokyo that are super popular with young people. Japanese crêpes are usually crispier than French crêpes and are rolled in a cone shape and jam-packed with sweet fillings such as fresh fruit, chocolate, ice cream, custard, whipped cream, jellies, chopped nuts and more.

BOOK IT: Crazy Cute & Kawaii Harajuku Food Tour >

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What to eat in Japan, Best Japanese foods

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