Dining Guide: Japan

The Ultimate Japan Food Guide

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 it’s 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

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 the place that sushi was born. In this Japan food guide, here are the three most common types of sushi we saw and ate while in Japan.

Nigiri

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 topping 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 (ika), shrimp (ebi), maguro (tuna), or sea bream (tai). Depending on the restaurant you visit you might notice that the chef places the pieces of sushi one by one on a plate for you to enjoy, or places many pieces on a larger plate.

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 the 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 a palette cleanser, not to be eaten with your sushi.

Maki

Bowl of 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 a cone-shaped hand rolls where the rice and other ingredients are inside a larger piece of seaweed.

Sashimi

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

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 are even prepared in different broths and various toppings. Don’t worry, we’ll cover all our favorites in this Japan food guide.

Ramen

Ramen Factory Kyoto - Kyoto Itinerary

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 shoyu (soy sauce). For traditional ramen, you’ll find toppings like thin-sliced pork belly or chicken, green onions, and dried seaweed. However, there have been more vegetarian and halal additions to the ramen world too!

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

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 sobayu (soba water) which is what the soba is cooked in. You’ll then pour the sobayu into the remaining dipping sauce and enjoy sipping it. As you can tell, nothing goes to waste during a meal!

Udon

Udon noodle sets in Osaka Japan

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 (above). 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 (above) slurping the noodles as you eat. After finishing you can drink the remainder of the broth directly from the bowl.


TEMPURA

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

Kushikatsu skewers 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 kushikatsu which is small portions of panko fried meat and vegetables. There are a number of kushikatsu restaurants in Japan where you can have them prepare the items for you, but there are also fun restaurants where you can cook your own kushikatsu! See our Dining: Japan Instagram story highlights to see us cook it. 😉

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 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

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

Kaiseki Dining at Nishimuraya Hotel Shogetsutei

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

Slices of wagyu beef

Yakiniku means “grilled meat” and you’ll find all different kinds of yakiniku in Japan. These grilled meat dishes are often referred to as a Japanese version of a “barbecue” since each piece is commonly cooked over an open flame.

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

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

Gyoza dumplings

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

takoyaki balls from Osaka, 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 their 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

Kaiseki Dining at Nishimuraya Hotel Shogetsutei

Kaiseki is definitely the most unique item on this Japan food guide. It is a traditional multi-course Japanese meal that often features small portioned artistically arranged dishes. All of the ingredients are mindful to 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

Fish shaped cake called a Taiyaki.

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!


WAGASHI

Wagashi

This Japanese confection is very delicate and commonly served with tea. This is truly 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

Dango are 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

strawberry daifuku from kuramon market in osaka

Mochi is 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.


ICE CREAM

8 layers of ice cream from Daily Chico in Tokyo, Japan

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.


KAKIGORI

Japanese Matcha shaved ice

Also known as “Japanese Shaved Ice,” kakigōri was a rather delicious and refreshing treat! Like the soft serve ice cream, kakigōri has many different flavors including strawberry, grape, melon, green tea, cherry, and lemon.


CREPES

Hand holding a sweet crepe topped with ice cream and strawberry syrup.

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.


PARFAITS

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

DONUTS

Japanese donuts

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

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 konbini (convenience store) in Japan too!


DRINKS

COFFEE

Rocca Food Truck

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.


TEA

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).


SAKE

pouring a glass of sake

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.


BEER

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.


SOFT DRINKS

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

17

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 on 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?

We all know that Japan is known for its sushi but what other foods can you expect to try in Japan? Read this complete dining guide for Japanese cuisine to find out more! #Japan #JapaneseFood #Kyoto #Osaka #Hiroshima #Tokyo
We all know that Japan is known for its sushi but what other foods can you expect to try in Japan? Read this complete dining guide for Japanese cuisine to find out more! #Japan #JapaneseFood #Kyoto #Osaka #Hiroshima #Tokyo

29 Comments

  • Reply
    Kinosaki Onsen, Toyooka, Japan – Pages of Travel
    January 24, 2016 at 8:27 PM

    […] salted dried sardines or anchovies). For more information about this kaiseki style meal check out this blog post on Japanese […]

  • Reply
    erinklema
    September 13, 2016 at 9:14 PM

    Nice round up of the food you’ll find in Japan. After reading your post, I’m so hungry. I want sushi now. I’ll take some of those adorable doughnuts too, and I’d love to try dango since it is an emoji. 😉

    • Reply
      kallsypage
      September 13, 2016 at 9:28 PM

      Thank you Erin! We loved the food in Japan. After walking nearly 25 miles a day you’d think we would have lost weight… Instead we broken even! I wonder why? HAHA! The doughnuts were seriously awesome, almost too cute to eat and you can get dango at any 7/11 there. 🙂

      • Reply
        erinklema
        September 13, 2016 at 11:00 PM

        Haha. I’m not surprised! I mean, basically I’d want to live on sushi, noodles, and sweets in Japan … not exactly the healthiest of foods. But, tasty, for sure!

        • Reply
          kallsypage
          September 16, 2016 at 6:31 PM

          Just drink a gallon of green tea a day and it off sets it! 😉
          Pretty sure I had a crepe or two everyday! HA!

          • erinklema
            September 17, 2016 at 11:07 PM

            Haha. Great tip about green tea!

  • Reply
    Julie Cao
    September 25, 2016 at 11:47 AM

    Japanese Ramen is my favorite. The sushi plate looks so exquisite and so healthy. Thanks for the round-up for the delicious Japanese food.

    • Reply
      kallsypage
      September 25, 2016 at 2:36 PM

      We loved the Ramen too! Thanks for visiting, glad you enjoyed! 🙂

  • Reply
    10 of the Wackiest Foods to Try From Around the World | Pages of Travel
    November 7, 2016 at 11:37 AM

    […] -Logan & Kallsy, Pages of Travel […]

  • Reply
    The Glutton's Guide to the World's Best Cuisines - Eternal Arrival
    January 23, 2017 at 6:27 AM

    […] back. As ridiculously fresh and delicious as Japanese sushi is, there’s so much more to Japanese cuisine than just that. The Japanese take doing things to perfection so seriously that there’s […]

  • Reply
    screamfmlondon
    January 29, 2017 at 9:04 PM

    Yum! Fabulous and thorough post. There’s so much more delicious food in Japan besides sushi!

    • Reply
      kallsypage
      February 4, 2017 at 8:54 PM

      Thank you very much! I couldn’t agree more but obviously having sushi there is out of this world! 😉

  • Reply
    Sanne - Spend Life Traveling
    January 29, 2017 at 11:32 PM

    Oh how much I miss the food in Japan! I had a hot pot with a local family, in their home, when I was in Japan. That was probably my favorite food experience there.

    • Reply
      kallsypage
      February 4, 2017 at 8:54 PM

      Oh the hot pot! We loved those so much. We have since tried recreating that with our fondue pot but it’s not the same.

  • Reply
    Kari (Happy Coconuts Travel Blog)
    January 30, 2017 at 9:03 PM

    Holy YUMM that all looks so good! I have always wanted to go to Japan just for the sushi alone! But every single thing looks so good, here I came Japan!

    • Reply
      kallsypage
      February 4, 2017 at 8:55 PM

      I’m pretty sure I turned into a walking piece of sushi while there! We ate SO. MUCH. FOOD!

  • Reply
    wheninmyjourneys
    January 31, 2017 at 11:10 AM

    There are lots of choices made me hungry. I love the mochi and gyoza.

    • Reply
      kallsypage
      February 4, 2017 at 8:56 PM

      Same here! We recently found some decent gyoza at Trader Joe’s Grocery Store in the States and some Mochi Ice Cream. It’s satisfying us for the time being!

  • Reply
    Bhushavali
    February 1, 2017 at 6:20 AM

    OMG! That’s a long long list. That’s actually a very educational post with so many technical terms!!! I’ve never had Japanese food so far and I know, its high time, I should get into an authentic restaurant and try a few dishes!

    • Reply
      kallsypage
      February 4, 2017 at 8:58 PM

      It is a rather lengthy list but all of them are worth trying! If you like any type of Asian cuisine you will most likely LOVE authentic Japanese.

  • Reply
    Anna Sherchand
    February 3, 2017 at 10:48 AM

    Great list guys! I tried home made Okonomiyaki at a japenese friend’s house in Kyoto and absolutely loved it :
    http://www.annasherchand.com

    • Reply
      kallsypage
      February 4, 2017 at 8:59 PM

      Thank you Anna! Okonomiyaki is so delicious and not to mention, a LARGE portion every time!

  • Reply
    Snigdha
    February 4, 2017 at 9:04 AM

    I love Japanese food. Although it’s an acquired taste but I find it simply yummilicious. My favorites are tempura, soba, and okonomiyaki. Love your read. I’m still drooling.

    • Reply
      kallsypage
      February 4, 2017 at 9:00 PM

      Thank you very much Snigdha! Tempura became a fast favorite of mine as well. In fact, I’m kind of obsessed with ALL Japanese food. 😉

  • Reply
    mohitarts
    February 5, 2017 at 11:53 AM

    The moment your page loaded I was like wooww…food..but being a veggie I was more interested in getting some drinks and as I scrolled down finding one and that too something new …will definitely have to look more about the sake..

  • Reply
    ADAM DOOLITTLE
    February 5, 2017 at 11:57 AM

    Officially hungry now! For a long time I’ve wanted to travel to Japan, mostly for the culture but now after reading your post I definitely wanna go for the food, too! There are so many delicious look dishes here from the dumplings to the sushi to the noodle dishes…and of course, the crepes! Those look absolutely amazing 🙂

  • Reply
    8duffels2mutts
    February 5, 2017 at 1:45 PM

    I think I would get really fat if I went to Japan! All of this food looks so, so, so good. I’m sure that I would be eating nonstop just to get the chance to try it all 🙂 The Japanese shaved ice looks especially awesome!

  • Reply
    Brigitta
    May 9, 2017 at 6:16 AM

    *drooling* I want to try EVERYTHING on this list! 😀

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