Because of the fantastic culinary scene, it is no surprise that when people visit Japan trying a wide variety of food is an essential part of their travel plans. While experiencing fresh sushi in Japan is vital, there are a variety of other delicious dishes you need to try too. If you are visiting Japan for only a short visit, it can be a challenge to figure out what to eat, as there are so many options and not enough days. With that in mind, here are the 10 dishes you need to try when you are in Japan.
Taiyaki is a fish-shaped cake that is a favorite dessert during street festivals, but you can find it sold throughout the year too. The pancake-like batter is poured over a fish-shaped mold and cooked until the mixture is lightly crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. In Japan it is traditionally filled with sweet red bean paste you can now find varieties filled with custard or chocolate. This dessert is best enjoyed fresh while it is still hot.
Donburi is a Japanese rice bowl, and it is the perfect convenient, affordable and filling dish. You won’t have to look far too far find donburi in Japan, as there are fast food chains everywhere selling donburi.
The name, donburi means rice bowl, so dishes that have ‘don’ in the name indicate they are a rice bowl. There is a variety of different donburi types, each with a different name, but some of the popular varieties of rice bowls include: gyudon (thinly sliced beef and onions), unadon (grilled eel), oyakodon (chicken and egg), katsudon (deep-fried pork cutlets), tendon (tempura), and tamagodon (scrambled egg).
Nabe is Japanese hot pot that is made in the winter to warm up. In a pot of hot broth, a variety of ingredients are added such as noodles, vegetables, tofu, and meat. The dish is meant to be enjoyed family-style, so each person would pick out what they want to eat from the pot of hot soup.
One of the most popular dishes is sukiyaki where sliced beef, vegetables simmered in a sweet and salty sauce. Another common nabe dish is shabu-shabu you cook the vegetables and meat in a kombu based sauce. Shabu-shabu means ‘swish swish’ and that is the motion you are to make when cooking.
Omurice, short for omelet rice is a strange combination of savory chicken rice wrapped in a paper-thin egg omelet and is garnished with ketchup. If you are someone who enjoys ketchup on your scrambled eggs omurice is a dish you need to try. In recent years some restaurants are ditching the thin egg omelet, and instead laying soft and fluffy scrambled eggs over the bed of fried rice and topping everything with a generous dollop of ketchup.
There are so many types of Japanese noodles you need to try while in Japan, and udon is one of them! Compared to soba and ramen noodles the noodles are thicker and chewier wheat flour noodles. In the colder months, a bowl of udon in a hot broth made of dashi, soy sauce, and mirin is the perfect way to warm up. While in the summer udon noodles are best enjoyed cold with a soy-sauce dipping sauce.
In the hot udon bowls, the flavor of the broth and the toppings vary from region to region, with eastern Japan having a much darker broth compared to western Japan.
Onigiri is flavored balls of rice that are perfect for an inexpensive snack or quick meal. The dish is sold everywhere in Japan so you can get it at convenience stores or even restaurants.
The most simple onigiri is rice molded into triangular shape and wrapped in seaweed. The simple dish can also be flavored with a variety of fillings like tunamayo (tuna and mayonnaise), umeboshi (pickled Japanese plum), salmon, or kaka (bonito flakes with soy sauce). For extra flavor, it might also have a salty seasoning topping sprinkled over the rice with commonly sold flavors being pickled plum, dried fish, shiso or egg. It is the perfect snack for when you’re on the go.
Yakiniku, or grilled meat, is a must-try social dining experience you need to try in Japan! At Yakiniku restaurants you sit at a table with a BBQ in the middle of the table and cook your meat and vegetables. Unlike Western BBQ, in Japan, the meat is cut into bite-sized pieces and is served raw as you get to cook it yourself.
If you are hungry Yakiniku restaurants are a great choice as they offer all you can eat menus where you will be given unlimited food to cook for a set time limit such as 2 hour.
3. SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM
In Japan soft serve ice cream is the perfect refreshing treat. Every region in Japan has own signature flavor, and you could easily travel around Japan just sampling the ice cream. Each prefecture has ice cream based upon their specialty fruit or dishes, for example, Okayama Prefecture that grows white peaches make an excellent white peach soft serve ice cream.
When ordering ice cream in Japan, you’ll also find a bunch of unique flavors that you’ll only see in Japan such as wasabi, miso, soy sauce, soba noodles, squid ink, bitter melon, and cherry blossoms.
Crispy and gold brown on the outside, gyoza are dumplings filled with vegetables and meat and wrapped in thin dough. Based upon Chinese pot stickers gyoza has a thinner wrapper to allow for a crispier texture. Compared to potstickers Japanese gyoza are usually smaller and designed to be enjoyed in one to two bites. The dipping sauce for the gyoza is typically vinegar, sesame oil, and spices, but sometimes ponzu is added for a citrus flavor too. Curious to try this delicious dish? You can commonly find gyoza as a side dish at ramen shops or izakayas (pubs).
Sushi is typically the first food that comes to mind when people think about Japanese food, and it is indeed a dish you will want to experience in Japan. One of the best ways to experience sushi is at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant where you can pick plates of sushi off they conveyor that catch your eye. This is an easy way to order sushi for tourist, as you won’t need Japanese to order. Here the plates are prices based upon the color of the plate.
Some common varieties of sushi you’ll want to eat are classic maki rolls you might be familiar with, nigiri sushi (a piece of raw fish over rice), sashimi (a piece of fresh fish), inarizushi (rice inside Aburaage tofu pouches).