The Ultimate Japanese Food Guide: Food & Drinks to Try in Japan
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We all know that Japan is known for its sushi, but what other foods can you expect to see and try when traveling to Japan? Here are some of the foods we tried and what we would recommend for your Japan food guide!
If you want to see even more foods we ate while in Japan head on over to our Instagram story archives and you’ll find a whole section on each place we visited, Japanese dining, and even an entire archive dedicated to ICE CREAM.
Japan’s Best Foodie Cities
You might be surprised to know that Japanese cuisine varies by region and city. For example, ramen that you order in Sapporo will have a miso-based broth while ramen that you order in Wakayama has a soy sauce-based broth. In fact, there’s a different spin on ramen in each place you visit!
Osaka is well-known for its Dotonbori street food and is often called “Japan’s kitchen,” Tokyo has its flair boasting more Michelin star restaurants than any other city in the world; but two other cities that have been bursting into the culinary scene lately are Fukuoka and Nagoya.
Fukuoka is famous for its Hakata ramen and yatai stalls where you can sit and have a drink with friends while casually eating some yakitori or yakisoba. Nagoya’s cuisine, known as Nagoya meshi, includes many dishes and ingredients that can only be found in Nagoya, like red miso paste. There are countless yummy options to choose from in this Nagoya food guide!
Regardless of which places you visit in Japan, one thing’s for sure, the food will always be delicious!
JAPAN FOOD GUIDE: ENTRÉES
SUSHI IN JAPAN
When most people think of Japanese cuisine they probably think of sushi. Every time we’ve visited Japan we try new sushi restaurants and visit our old-time favorites too because it’s out-of-this-world delicious. There’s something to be said about having fresh fish, unlike the frozen stuff we have shipped to the United States.
In the U.S. we also think sushi is elaborate rolls filled with fish, cream cheese, vegetables and topped with a heavy amount of sauces that range from sweet to spicy. However, this is not the kind of sushi you’ll find in Japan. In Japan, you’ll find the authentic, delicate, and relatively simple flavors of fish, rice, wasabi, and soy sauce.
If you’re used to the “westernized” concept rolls, this might come as a shock to you. But allow yourself to indulge in authentic sushi from one of the many high-quality restaurants. In this Japan food guide, here are the three most common types of sushi we saw and ate while in Japan.
This is by far the most common form of sushi and also our most favorite. Each piece of Nigiri is formed by hand. The sushi rice is pressed into a rectangular or oval shape with a bit of wasabi spread on top then covered with a piece of fresh fish or other toppings before being artfully placed on a plate.
There are many types of fish that could be used but a few of the most common are freshwater eel (unagi), squid (
A few things to keep in mind while eating nigiri is that you do not have to use your chopsticks to eat each piece, using your hands to eat is quite common when it comes to nigiri sushi. You will also want to make sure you don’t pour too much soy sauce into your dish as it can be considered taboo. Instead, pour a little bit at a time.
When dipping your piece of sushi in soy sauce, you’ll want to dip fish side down to not soak up too much as it can be an insult to the chef to add too much. Make sure you do not mix your wasabi with your soy sauce, your chef has already carefully considered how much wasabi to put on each piece. Last, ginger is to be used as a palate cleanser, not to be eaten with your sushi.
This is the form of sushi that we typically see at local sushi restaurants in the United States, although in Japan maki is much more basic and light. Maki is generally a sushi roll of rice and seaweed accompanied by vegetables or raw fish. Another way they are formed is as cone-shaped hand rolls where the rice and other ingredients are inside a larger piece of seaweed.
Sashimi is delicately sliced pieces of raw fish that are accompanied with soy sauce. When eating sashimi you’ll lay out one piece of fish and put a small amount of wasabi on top. Fold the piece in half and carefully dip it into your soy sauce and eat in one bite. Typically the fish is plated from lightest to darkest, providing you with an order of which to eat each piece.
NOODLES IN JAPAN
We’re crazy about all the noodles in Japan. It is always one of the top choices for us as it makes for a delicious, quick, and inexpensive meal. Each style of Japanese noodles are different textures, widths, and is even prepared in different broths and various toppings. Don’t worry, w
This isn’t your typical ramen and there are no instant noodle packages we’re including today in this Japan food guide. This ramen is as fresh as it gets. Ramen is a soup noodle dish that is made with thin noodles typically served in a pork or chicken broth with a base of miso or
When eating ramen you’ll start by sampling the broth, after you can slurp your noodles so you can enjoy the broth and noodles together. As far as the other items go, you can eat them separately or together but it is most common to eat the egg separately (think of it as a side dish) and the mushrooms are meant to be eaten with the noodles. Don’t fear of making a mess, slurp those noodles and enjoy!
Soba is another favorite of ours and can be eaten hot or cold which makes it the perfect dish to enjoy year-round while in Japan. Soba is a thin buckwheat noodle dish that is typically served with a hot or chilled dipping sauce. You may have some other items alongside your soba noodles and dipping sauce such as green onion and wasabi.
When eating soba you’ll take the wasabi and green onion and mix them in the dipping sauce. After, take a small portion of the noodles and dip them lightly in the sauce (don’t soak or pour the broth over the noodles, that’s a big no-no!) and slurp… yes slurping is polite in Japan!
After eating your soba noodles, your server will bring out
Udon is a thick and chewy noodle typically served hot or cold, inside a mildly flavored broth, or on the side with a dipping broth. It’s completely different from many other noodles in Japan and one of our favorites. We’re honestly convinced that noodles are soul food.
If served with a dipping sauce you’ll eat them in a similar way as we outlined with soba noodles. By taking a small number of noodles and lightly dipping them in the broth before slurping them up! If served inside the broth you’ll eat them like ramen slurping the noodles as you eat. After finishing you can drink the remainder of the broth directly from the bowl.
TEMPURA IN JAPAN
If you aren’t feeling super adventurous when it comes to Japanese food, I think that tempura might be a hit in our Japan food guide. We love the crispy, fried pieces of tempura as an addition to a noodle dish or as an entree itself! Usually, tempura contains seasonal vegetables, fish, prawns, and/or crab and if served as a dish can often be eaten with a bowl of rice. Tempura is also served with a dipping sauce and grated ginger or daikon radish as a palette cleanser when eating the salty, fried goodness.
KUSHIKATSU IN JAPAN
To keep up with our fried foods we want to introduce you to a fun dish in our Japan food guide known as
The main thing to know about kushikatsu is that under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you ever, EVER double-dip in the kushikatsu sauce. Why? Because it is shared between yourself and a number of other people in the restaurant. Although, if you go to a place where you can cook it yourself, you can have an individual bowl of sauce.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while each skewer is small, they fill you up quickly! Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach and order too much because one, that’s wasteful, and two, it’s considered rude. Instead, order a few pieces at a time, you can always order more later!
SHABU-SHABU IN JAPAN
Shabu-Shabu is a dish that features thin slices of meat and vegetables that are cooked in water or a light broth. Although, when it comes to the meat, you won’t be leaving it in the boiling broth to cook. Instead, you’ll take one piece at a time gently moving it around in the broth.
HOT POT IN JAPAN
Hot pot is very similar to Shabu Shabu but this time you will be putting the ingredients into a pot of simmering broth to cook. Hot pot dishes usually contain a variety of seasonal ingredients such as thinly sliced meat, seafood, vegetables, mushrooms, and tofu.
YAKINIKU IN JAPAN
Yakiniku means “grilled meat” and you’ll find all different kinds of
Typically you’ll see Yakitori (grilled chicken) as street food, at Izakayas (bars), or even in restaurants. For a more expensive option, you can visit a restaurant that offers prime beef cuts such as Wagyu, Kobe, and Matsuzaka served with soy sauce, wasabi, and salt for dipping – however, if you get a REALLY good cut, you won’t need to add anything.
OKONOMIYAKI IN JAPAN
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake. This generously portioned dish became popular in the Hiroshima region but has since expanded all over Japan with different variations. It is typically made with cabbage, egg, noodles, and a choice of meat (pork, octopus, squid, shrimp). It is then fried and topped with a sweet and savory sauce, mayonnaise, green onion, and bonito flakes.
GYOZA IN JAPAN
While gyoza is traditionally a Chinese dish, these savory dumplings are now found in many places in Japan. They are filled with meat and vegetables, wrapped in a thin dough, and pan-fried until the bottom of the gyoza is perfectly crisp. After being plated they are served with a gyoza dipping sauce.
TAKOYAKI IN JAPAN
Takoyaki is a ball-shaped wheat flour-based snack that is typically fried and cooked inside a special Takoyaki pan that has round holes to make its shape. They are filled with octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. Then it is topped with a sweet and savory sauce, mayonnaise, and bonito flakes. Be careful after ordering and don’t eat them right away! They come out EXTREMELY HOT.
This popular dish is particularly famous in Dotonbori – Osaka and honestly, it would be a crying shame if you miss out on getting them there. We’ve had them in other cities too but they’re definitely not the same.
KAISEKI IN JAPAN
Kaiseki is definitely the most unique item on this food guide for Japan. It is a traditional multi-course Japanese meal that often features small portioned artistically arranged dishes. All of the ingredients are mindful of the season and are often locally sourced to provide the freshest taste. One of our favorite kaiseki dining experiences was when we visited Kinosaki Onsen.
JAPAN FOOD GUIDE: SWEETS
Taiyaki is a fish-shaped cake that is served hot. It is typically filled with sweet red bean paste but you can also find them with sweet potato or custard inside too!
This Japanese confection is very delicate and commonly served with tea. This is a cultural experience and while we truly enjoyed it, we knew that wagashi might not be for everyone as it has a very mild flavor and a distinct texture.
Dango is a sweet, rice flour dumplings put on skewers in sets of three. You can find them covered in sweet soy sauce, plum sauce, or plain like above!
MOCHI + DAIFUKU
Mochi is a chewy rice cake made out of sweet rice flour with red bean paste inside. Daifuku is mochi with a piece of fruit inside it! Both of these are traditional, yummy Japanese treats that you should definitely try.
Japan has a large variety of soft-serve flavors. We could honestly write an entire blog post on ice cream alone! Our favorites were pineapple, strawberry ice, black sesame, vanilla & green tea, melon, and vanilla cookie.
READ MORE: Ice Cream in Japan
Also known as “Japanese Shave Ice,” kakigōri was a rather delicious and refreshing treat! Like soft-serve ice cream, kakigōri has many different flavors including strawberry, grape, melon, green tea, cherry, and lemon.
These are very thin pancakes made from wheat flour served with a large variety of fillings. In Japan, crêpe stands were nearly on every corner. Remember how we said we could write a whole blog post about ice cream in Japan? Well, we could make a new website solely dedicated to these scrumptious treats! Many of the flavors are sure to send you into sugar shock but they are quite worth it.
Mainly made of ice cream and other sweet ingredients served in a tall glass. It is one of Japan’s most popular desserts and is often found in coffee shops or maid cafés
Oh for the love of donuts! While donuts are typically known as being a delicious cake, in Japan they are even better and often very cute!
Melonpan is a sweet bread covered with a sugary crust that resembles that of a melon! This Japanese sweet is found all over Japan. You can even get it at any
READ MORE: A Sweet Guide to Japanese Desserts
DRINKS IN JAPAN
Much like in other countries we have visited or lived coffee is served hot or cold. We enjoyed sipping on espresso drinks from local coffee shops and selecting a Boss iced coffee from a nearby vending machine.
Being the most common drink in Japan there are many varieties to choose from. If you are interested in learning more about tea in Japan we found this article helpful. We personally enjoyed Matcha (powdered green tea), Kocha (black tea), and Hojicha (a sweet roasted green tea).
Before visiting Japan the only sake we had tried had been rather strong. While in Japan we tried many different kinds of sake and were pleased with each one that we tried. We learned that when buying a brand of sake it is best to find one that includes only ingredients in Japan as it is the purest form. If you are a fan of sake, you should also consider trying Awamori, the famous Japanese liquor from Okinawa.
The four most popular beers include Kirin, Sapporo, Asahi, and Suntory. We tried each and found that they were all similar in taste. Asahi seemed to be the driest brew, followed by Kirin and Sapporo. Another interesting fact is that Japan has vending machines that you can purchase alcohol from as they have no open container laws.
Japan carries Coke and Pepsi products although they are limited to choices. For instance, we didn’t see Dr. Pepper while in Japan. It is also uncommon to have ice with your beverages, something that we commonly have in the U.S. but we did find that they sold a cup with ice at 7/11’s freezer section.
Ramune is a carbonated soft drink found widely around Japan. It is known for its unique bottle design and a large variety of flavors. While in Kinosaki Onsen we tried the Onsen specialty flavor only sold there. It was comparable to Sprite in the U.S. but a lighter flavor. Other popular flavors include strawberry, lychee, melon, grape, muscat, pineapple, watermelon, and orange.
We hope we gave you some insight into the incredible food to eat in Japan! We never tired of the food or trying new things! What are some of your favorite Japanese foods and beverages?