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Japan is a foodie’s dream—a country full of exotic, delicious cuisine totally unlike standard western fare. Whether you want to snack on grilled yakitori in the alleys of Tokyo or try fugu in Osaka, every meal will be an experience, with something new on every plate. If you’re trying to decide what to eat in Japan, we’ve got you covered with this list of some of the most popular (and delicious) food you simply can’t miss. From sushi to sweets, you’re in for a treat!
No conversation about Japanese food is complete without sushi! Sure, you can get sushi all over the world these days, but the very best sushi can only be found in its homeland. Although people often associate sushi with raw fish, any dish containing rice that has been made with sushi vinegar is technically sushi. You’ll usually find it in wraps or small portions
- Food tip: The rules for eating sushi in Japan are a little different. The chef will already have added wasabi to the sushi if it needs it, so don’t mix any into your soy sauce. Eat your sushi as it comes, instead of waiting, so that you can enjoy it at the perfect temperature.
- Where to find it: Sushi is everywhere, from the airport to the basement of department stores, you won’t have trouble finding it. One of the most popular places in Tokyo to try sushi is Tsukiji Fish Market.
Although ramen originally came from China, it’s one of the most popular dishes in Japan and you can find a ramen shop on pretty much any corner. This delicious noodle dish typically features long noodles with vegetables and meat in a broth that comes in a variety of flavors. You can’t go to Japan without enjoying some ramen.
- Food tip: It doesn’t take long for ramen noodles to get soggy, so you’ll want to start eating as soon as they’re served. Don’t be afraid to get your slurp on. It’ll help cool the noodles as you eat and it’s not considered impolite.
- Where to find it: If ramen is what you’re after, you’re in luck. You’re never far from a ramen-ya in Japan. The regions tend to have their own specialties, so you can have a new ramen experience everywhere you go!
Get your fried food fix with this delicious dish. Tempura is typically made with seafood or vegetables that have been lightly battered and then fried. If you go to a restaurant specifically for tempura, you’ll find that they serve it to you starting with more lightly flavored foods like shrimp, before moving to foods with stronger flavors so you can really taste and savor each piece.
- Food tip: The most polite way to eat tempura involves keeping your sauce bowl in hand and not setting your tempura back down after you’ve started eating it. It’s a matter of manners.
- Where to find it: For the best tempura, head to a restaurant that specializes in it called a tempura-ya. You can find tempura-ya chains all over Japan!
Soba may be a basic dish, but that doesn’t mean you should skip it when you’re in Japan. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat and are very popular throughout the country. They’re easy to make (and also delicious); if you like learning to cook while you travel, you will have no problems finding a cooking class where you make soba yourself!
- Food tip: The teapot that comes with many cold soba dishes contains the water your noodles were cooked in. When you finish the noodles, mix this with your dipping sauce and drink it to finish your meal.
- Where to find it: While you can find soba all over Japan, Nagano Prefecture and Yamagata Prefecture are best known for their soba.
Kani means ‘crab’ in Japanese. You can find it in many delicious dishes. You’ll find fresh kani salads, sizzling kani soups (like kani nabe, a crab-based hot pot that comes from Hokkaido), and, of course, kani sushi. If you want to try a real delicacy, look for kani miso, which is the brain of the crab!
Food tip: In the US, kani often refers to imitation crab but in Japan, if something is kani, it’s the real deal. When imitation crab is used, it’s called kani surimi.
Where to find it: Hokkaido is well known for its kani. There’s a popular chain restaurant called Kani Honke there which serves excellent crab dishes you have to try.
If you’re in a hurry, you can’t go wrong with a quick convenience store onigiri. Your typical onigiri is a triangle-shaped clump of rice (although sometimes you’ll find it in cylinders, circles, or even stars) wrapped in nori, or seaweed, with some kind of additional filling. This ranges from shrimp mayonnaise to pickled fruit or even, if you’re in Okinawa, to spam. It’s the Japanese food to try if you’re on the go and need something quick and portable and, of course, delicious.
- Food tip: Onigiri packages will usually have some numbers on them indicating how to open them - if you try to tear the package open, you run the risk of your rice ball falling apart.
- Where to find it: You can find onigiri in any convenient store, but there are special onigiri shops if you want to try something a little fancier.
You may have heard of this delicacy before; fugu is pufferfish. Be prepared to shell out a little extra cash in exchange for this unique (and potentially deadly) meal. It’s worth it. One of the reasons fugu has gotten so much attention is that it’s a highly poisonous fish and if not prepared correctly could be fatal. The most popular way to eat it is as sashimi, or raw, but you can also have it fried or in sushi, or in plenty of other creative ways that will have you reaching for your yen.
- Food tip: Japanese restaurants need a special license in order to sell fugu, so keep an eye out for that to make sure you’re eating safely.
- Where to find it: While you can find it all over Japan, over 60% of the fugu that’s caught around the country goes to Osaka, so you can bet that they’ve got some high-quality dishes there!
Takoyaki is one of our favorite Japanese foods. These little fried dumplings traditionally contain octopus and green onions and are dressed with a special takoyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and bonito flakes. They are, and we’re not exaggerating, the best street food in Japan, possibly in the world. There are also tons of unique regional varieties, so you could spend your whole trip gorging on takoyaki and still discover new things.
- Food tip: If you’re in Osaka, don’t be surprised if your takoyaki is served without any toppings. The dumplings themselves are sometimes so flavorful it would be a crime to put anything else on top. Trust your chef!
- Where to find it: This is another dish whose traditional home is Osaka, although it’s a popular street food throughout the country on account of how absurdly delicious it is.
If you’re not sure what to eat in Japan and you want to go for one of the nation’s most iconic dishes, pack your bags and head to the nearest izakaya for some sashimi. Sashimi is thinly sliced raw fish (or on some occasions other types of meat), often served with rice, wasabi, and ginger. Most commonly you’ll find it with tuna and salmon, but you’ll also find octopus, razor clam, and caviar without trying too hard.
- Food tip: Unlike eating Japanese food in the US, it’s more common to dab your wasabi or ginger directly onto the sashimi, rather than mixing it in with the soy sauce. Just be careful not to use too much.
- Where to find it: Although some of the larger port cities are known for their seafood, head to a smaller city, like Kyoto, where your fish was caught in cleaner waters.
Want to share a meal with friends? Shabu-shabu, or Japanese hot pot, is the perfect meal for eating with friends. At the center of the table is the hot pot, which contains two kinds of boiling broth that you use to cook your meals, typically consisting of fresh vegetables, beef, and other assorted meats. Shabu-shabu actually gets its name from the swishing motion you do with your food through the broth as you cook it.
- Food tip: If you’re using veggies that take longer to cook all the way through, put them in the hot pot and wait for it to get back to a boil before cooking your quicker foods. Add your noodles last so that they can soak up all the flavors of the meal.
- Where to find it: Shabu-shabu is available all throughout Japan. There are a few chain restaurants, like Nabe-zo and Onyasai, that have locations across the country and are guaranteed to have delicious hot pot meals (and English speaking support through the process).
Another excellent street food, yakitori is grilled chicken on a skewer, cooked over a charcoal pit. It often uses all different parts of the chicken, so one skewer may contain a bite of the breast followed by liver or thigh with either a sweet and savory yakitori sauce or with simple salt. Most yakitori restaurants also offer veggie skewer options that are also delicious.
- Food tip: Don’t be afraid to use your hands. Eat them straight off the skewer for maximum street food enjoyment.
- Where to find it: The best places to get yakitori are the specialty shops, called yakitori-ya. Tokyo has a few neighborhoods well known for their yakitori, like Omoide Yokocho and Yurakucho.
Gyudon is a popular beef bowl with onions on rice, with a sauce that gives it a delicious sweet and salty flavor. It’s a tasty and low budget option that everyone can enjoy. Gyudon restaurants also tend to be open 24 hours a day making them an ideal food to end your evening on after a few drinks. Typically you can also add pickled ginger and chili flakes to get the perfect flavor.
- Food tip: If you’re eating inside at a gyudon restaurant, there are code phrases you can use to request things like extra broth by saying you’d like it with tsuyudaku!
- Where to find it: Like most of the food on this list, gyudon are available all throughout the country, with certain regional differences. The best place to get them are the specialty gyudon-ya shops.
Green tea is a staple part of the Japanese experience. There are many delicious sweets designed to pair perfectly with green tea and you’ll find them all over the place when you decide to settle down for a steaming mug of tea. They take all sorts of forms, from yokan, a tasty jellied desert, to dumplings made with bean jam.
- Food tip: You’ll have many opportunities to try different sweets and our recommendation is to try them all! They’re so different from the sweets we’ve come to know; you’re in for an experience.
- Where to find it: Kyoto is well known for its sweets, so if you’re a foodie looking for Japan’s best sweets to pair with your tea, head there!
There’s nowhere quite like Japan if you’re looking for the tastiest foods. From sweet to savory to umami, Japanese foods are carefully balanced to have the perfect combination of flavors to give you a culinary experience like no other. If you still can’t make up your mind on what to eat in Japan, try it all! If you’re not sure where to go and want to make sure you don’t miss out on the best Japanese foods, you can find Japan tours that will take you to restaurants around the country!
Travelling to Japan? Chat with a local travel specialist in Japan who can help organize your trip.
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