If you’re planning on visiting Japan, you might be wondering about all the things you can eat there. Japanese cuisine is one of the best in the world, especially given that many chefs train in just one specific food for their entire lives. You can expect the highest quality in everything you eat.
Knowing that Japanese food is amazing is just half of it though. When you visit, you need to know what to look for and how to say it. You’ll be bombarded with choices from the moment you step off the plane.
You probably already know you’re going to get top quality sushi in Japan, but what about the other foods? There are dozens of unique and tasty things to try when you visit this beautiful country.
All I can say is, go in with an open mind and be willing to try things, even if they look questionable to you. Some of the best things are the ones you’re not sure about eating. Try everything and you’ll be rewarded for it.
If you have longer to spend in Japan, you can expand this itinerary to any length you wish.
There are a lot of moving pieces to planning a trip to Japan. You can use the tools below to start booking the necessary things:
Get your rail pass. You can buy it online here
Book accommodations. We recommend using Expedia to find the best deals on hotels and apartments. We offer hotel recommendations in the itinerary below.
45 Traditional Japanese Dishes You Need To Try
There are so many traditional foods of Japan that we all know and love. From delicious Japanese soups to sushi and pork belly, we can’t get enough of it.
It doesn’t matter how much you think you know about this cuisine, there will always be something that surprises you.
Ramen is a very common dish throughout Japan. It is made up of noodles, an intense broth, slices of pork, sometimes vegetables, and Ramen Eggs (Ajitsuke Tamago). Ramen can be found all over Japan and you’ll often find them in clusters in popular areas.
There are two main types of ramen – tonkotsu (pork bone) and shoyu (soy). Some places even have special ramen menus, which feature ramen from various parts of Japan. There is no end to the combinations and variations of ramen.
The best way to enjoy ramen is to slurp it down, don’t be afraid to be noisy! Just be careful of the splatter.
2. Miso Soup
Miso soup is also commonly enjoyed in Japan. Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans. It comes in several varieties, each having its own distinct flavor profile.
Miso soups come in both savory and sweet forms. They are often eaten as part of a meal, generally as a starter. Don’t be surprised if a bowl shows up at your table without having ordered it. The soup has a flavorful miso broth, seaweed flakes, tofu, and green onions in it.
Wagyu is a Japanese cattle breed that is world-renowned for its buttery texture, subtle umami flavor and unequaled tenderness. It comes exclusively from Japanese cattle within the Wagyu bloodline and cannot be raised elsewhere.
The Wagyu fat is also unsaturated and high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, so not only is Wagyu marbling more delicious, it’s also more healthy. You can find different grades of Wagyu beef, though most you’ll order in a restaurant are an A4 or A5 rating, with A5 representing the most premium level of Wagyu.
You may also have heard of Kobe beef. Kobe is just a type of Wagyu cattle that are raised specifically in Kobe. This is to maintain its high level of integrity. A Kobe beef experience IN KOBE is something you shouldn’t miss.
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake made of a special flour batter mixed with cabbage, scallions, shrimp, and sometimes meat. The pancake is then cooked on a griddle until it’s crispy and served with Okonomiyaki sauce, bonita flakes, and Japanese mayonnaise on top. Make it at home using this recipe.
Okonomiyaki has become popular outside of Japan, and is now found in restaurants across America. It might seem a little strange to put shrimp in a pancake, but it’s pure savory goodness.
Dotonbori street in Osaka is one of the best places to get Okonomiyaki.
Tempura is a special type of batter that is used to coat all manner of foods that are then deep fried. The batter is very light and crunchy. It is most commonly associated with seafood, but there are plenty of delicious tempura options out there.
Tempura prawns are very popular, as are grilled shrimp, octopus, squid, and eel. Fried green peppers, carrots, potatoes, and eggplant are just a few more popular choices.
Tempura is often served alongside rice and side dishes, such as salads and pickled vegetables.
Takoyaki is popular street food in Japan. You’ll find it pretty much everywhere you go. Just look for the long lines of people waiting for their beloved snack.
Takoyaki is a fried snack made with a special batter in a special takoyaki pan, which is a griddle made of cast iron with half-spherical molds where the batter is poured. Once the batter is in, a piece of octopus is dropped into the batter. Then the little balls are expertly flipped inside the pan until they are perfectly cooked into round balls.
Takoyaki can be eaten plain, but it’s often drizzled with sauces and topped with furikake (a savory dried seasoning, and seaweed flakes or bonita flakes.
Sashimi is one of the most famous Japanese foods. Sashimi is exceptionally fresh raw fish that has been sliced thin.
Slicing the fish thinly allows the flavors and textures to shine through. Sashimi is usually served with wasabi and soy sauce.
Sashimi doesn’t only have to be raw fish, though. It can actually be any type of protein, like shrimp, scallops, or eel. Sushi is sashimi wrapped in nori sheets with seasoned sushi rice.
Unagi is Japanese freshwater eels. Unagi is steamed or grilled, then seasoned and slathered with teriyaki sauce before being served.
The unagi’s skin must be removed prior to serving. This process gives the unagi a translucent appearance. The flesh of the unagi should be firm and white.
Eating unagi is an experience, because the texture changes slightly after every bite. You’ll want to eat slowly, so you can appreciate all the different tastes.
9. Kushiyaki / Yakitori
Yakitori is literally “grilled chicken”. It’s typically skewered onto a stick and cooked over a grill. You would be surprised how many different types and variations of yakitori they’ve come up with. Often a chef spends his whole career perfecting his yakitori.
The skewers are placed directly on the grill, allowing them to cook quickly without burning. This results in juicy and flavorful poultry.
Sushi is probably one of the best-known Japanese foods. Sushi is sushi rolls, which are pieces of flavored rice, seaweed, and other ingredients wrapped around a piece of raw fish. Sushi is normally served cold, but you can find hot sushi as well.
Sushi can be made from almost any type of seafood. The most common types of seafood used in sushi include tuna, salmon, mackerel, sea urchin, and crab. Shrimp and abalone are two other popular varieties of seafood used in sushi.
Japan is famous for its noodle dishes, and for good reason! Japanese meals often include noodles, but not always.
If you aren’t familiar with the cuisine of this country, trying out things like ramen and udon are always a great place to start. Who doesn’t like ramen?
Soba noodles are thick buckwheat noodles that are traditionally served chilled, though you will also find them in a hot broth. Cold soba noodles are often tossed in a light broth with spicy toppings.
Hot soba noodles are usually served with a hearty soup base, making them perfect for warming up during winter months. The texture of the noodles is firm and chewy.
Champon is another noodle dish similar to ramen. Champon noodles are long, and the dish is traditionally made from pork, vegetables, and seafood.
This dish is also known as chanpon, and is a regional dish of Nagasaki, though the concept came from China. Champon is made by frying pork, seafood and vegetables with lard, then added to a soup made with chicken and pig bones.
Udon is a type of thick wheat noodle that can be served in a variety of ways. The simplest form is in a hot soup called kake udon, with a mild broth called kakejiru made from dashi, soy sauce, and mirin. It is usually topped with thinly chopped scallions.
Other common toppings include prawn tempura, kakiage (mixed tempura fritter), abura-age (sweet, deep-fried tofu pouches), kamaboko (sliced fish cake), and shichimi spice added to taste.
Udon can be served cold or hot. If they are served hot, udon is typically served with a rich broth, including meat, vegetables, and mushrooms. They can also be served in a clear broth, making it easy to see what’s inside.
Poultry And Meat Dishes
Poultry and meat are an important part of Japanese meals, and the majority of meals will have some form of meat in them.
From hot pot dishes to ramen noodles, you are likely to find pork, chicken, or beef in some of them. For those who don’t partake in meat, however, there’s plenty of tofu and veggie options, too!
Karaage is fried food. It is breaded and deep-fried, resulting in crispy golden brown chicken, fish, or other meat that has been marinated for flavor. It is usually served with mayonnaise and ketchup.
This dish is commonly found on many restaurant menus, especially in Japanese izakayas where you can expect to find other types of fried foods and finger foods.
Basashi is a Japanese delicacy of thinly sliced raw horse meat. It is typically served with either garlic or Japanese horseradish sauce and dipped in soy sauce.
This dish can be found in Kumamoto, among other places, and is traditionally served cold.
Typically basashi is dipped in soy sauce and served with garlic or Japanese horseradish.
Gyoza is a specific type of dumpling – they have a half moon shape and are first steamed, before being pan-fried to get them crisp. While there are traditional fillings, like ground pork, onions, and cabbage, this type of dumpling can have a variety of fillings to try out.
While you can find these from street vendors, you will also find a good number of gyozarias throughout Japan that make only gyoza. It’s a true specialty that takes a special process and it’s very fun to watch this process in action. Make it at home using this recipe.
Doteni is a Japanese dish that is made up miso and mirin. It commonly consists of beef intestines, tendon, and Daikon radish, though other ingredients can be used.
Doteni should not to be confused with dotenso, a type of soft tofu that is cooked until it becomes creamy. However, like dotenso, Doteni cooks for an extended period of time to allow the meat to become tender and juicy.
A Korokke, or croquette as you might know it, is a popular dish that can also be found in Japan.
This dish typically includes ground beef, shiitake mushrooms, and potato. It can be eaten on its own, or with other small items.
The deep friend outer layer is typically made of panko, giving it a crisp texture and delicious flavor.
Jingisukan is a traditional mutton dish that is grilled on a convex skillet or grill. Traditionally, this meal is cooked alongside ingredients such as onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and bean sprouts.
The sauce it is served with is typically either based on soy or sake, so it can appeal to many people. This great dish is a popular meal in many parts of China and on the Japanese island of Hokkaido.
Motsunabe is a classic nabemono (hotpot) Japanese dish consisting of tripe or offal. It is typically served over rice.
Motsunabe is a dish that contains a lot of different parts of an animal, and is typically made from pork or beef, though chicken can also be used.
Other ingredients such as chives, tofu, and cabbage are also common additions to this one pot dish.
Tebasaki is a popular Japanese dish that is made of fried chicken wings. Tebasaki is usually served with vinegar and sugar for dipping, making it very flavorful.
In addition to the wings, some tebasaki will include other pieces of chicken, including thighs and breasts. Corn flour or potato starch is used to make these wings ever crispier, and a delicious sauce tops it all off.
This is a term that refers to grilled meat. Yakiniku is mainly a Korean cuisine, but has been adopted into Japanese culture.
Typically, yakiniku restaurants serve kebab style meats that are marinated, skewered, and then grilled.
These types of meats come in various sizes, shapes, and flavors. Some dishes may contain vegetables or seasoning to add more flavor to the meat.
There are several types of meat that are typically used in yakiniku, including beef, lamb, chicken, pork, fish, and shellfish.
23. Kakuni Manju
Kakuni manju, or pork belly buns, are a favorite in many areas of Japan. These rolls consist of sticky dough wrapped around a filling of pork belly, which gives it a unique taste.
Kakuni manju is a popular snack throughout Japan, and is available at most convenience stores and supermarkets.
These delicacies are often served with cucumber and hoisin sauce to make them even more delicious. The pork itself is seasoned with dashi and a number of unique Japanese spices.
24. Hida Beef Sushi
Hida beef sushi is much like regular sushi, except beef if used instead of fish. This beef is thinly sliced and served raw with the other traditional components of sushi.
Hida beef comes from cattle raised in the mountainous regions of the country. It’s Wagyu beef that’s raised in a specific way, from a specific place, much like Kobe beef. Both types of beef have incredible marbling that makes for a very succulent piece of beef.
You’ll find this type of sushi in many areas of Japan, including Hida Takayama and Osaka, where we kept going back again and again for the wagyu sushi.
25. Miso Katsu
Miso katsu is essentially breaded, deep-fried strips of pork cutlet topped with miso.
Miso katsu is served with a spicy sauce called “chasu” that adds moisture to this crispy treat. This dish is traditionally served with a thick sauce, steamed rice, and shredded cabbage.
26. Japanese Curry
Curry is considered a national dish of Japan, and is prepared in almost every household. Japanese curry is served with rice and eaten primarily with chopsticks.
The main ingredient of Japanese curry is the curry sauce, followed by carrot, potatoes, and meat of choice. Japanese curry is typically served with their curry rice, curry bread, or curry udon.
Fish And Seafood Dishes
In Japan, crab is a country-wide favorite. Crab is a type of mollusk that lives in the ocean. It is found on beaches and rocky coasts.
A variety of crabs can be found here, from small to large varieties. One of its most popular forms is the king crab, which grows up to 30 pounds and can live for 50 years.
There are a number of crab dishes that come from Japan, including the following:
- Tempura – Deep fried seafood served as a side dish
- Shumai – Steamed dumplings filled with crab meat
- Kabayaki – Grilled crab legs over a bed of rice with ponzu sauce
- Oden – Soup with crab
Zuke is a method used to preserve fish by marinating them in a soy sauce concoction.
This makes for incredibly delicious and flavorful meals that need to be tried out. You can try zuke with fish such as tuna, and almost anything else.
Today, the preservation part of the fermentation process is only to add flavor to this delicious mean, rather than actually preserve the fish.
Japan is one of the world’s largest producers of oysters. Oysters are also a big part of Japanese culture. There are two kinds of oysters commonly sold in Japan, and both are incredibly popular for meals.
Fugu, or pufferfish, is another Japanese delicacy. Pufferfish has been consumed since ancient times, but it was not until recently that the government banned eating it due to its high toxicity levels.
In recent years, however, they have started to allow restaurants to serve fugu once again. Fugu is usually served grilled, but you can find fugu sashimi and fugu yakimono (fugu stew).
31. Anago Meshi
Anago meshi is grilled sea eel served with rice. Sea eel is caught fresh and served very quickly to create delicious Japanese delicacies.
Anago meshi is made with anago, or Japanese sea eels, and is often paired with shoyu soba noodles.
32. Fukagawa Meshi
In literal translation, Fukagawa-meshi is rice cooked with clams. This dish’s main ingredient is clams, and is served hot in a bowl. Clams are cooked in a broth containing sake, mirin, sugar, and salt, and then mixed with white vinegar and soy sauce.
It’s called this because it comes primarily from the town on Fukagawa, a shellfish-producing area near Tokyo. It’s one of the most popular rice dishes in Japan.
33. Tako Tamago
Tako tamago is one of the best and unique street foods you can find in Japan. This delicious dish is an octopus on a stick with a quail egg stuffed in its head.
The baby octopus is grilled and the egg is boiled, before being skewered and ready to eat. If you want to get your mouth on any of the unique Japanese foods, it needs to be this one!
Kaisendon is a kind of Japanese seafood sushini with rice. The seafood can include various types of fish or other creatures, all of which are thinly sliced.
Drinks And Desserts
Sake is a popular alcoholic drink in Japan. It is used in a number of recipes as well as for drinking alone.
Sake is made from rice and water and is fermented using yeast. This drink is used for cooking as well as for drinking, making it a great accompaniment to many dishes.
It is available in different styles, ranging from light and fruity to rich and full-bodied.
Matcha is tea leaves ground into powder. It can be used to make desserts and drinks. Matcha is extremely high in antioxidants, meaning it is perfect for those who like to keep their body healthy.
It is also said to help improve concentration and focus. This ingredient can be used to make ice cream, cakes, cookies, beverages, cocktails, milkshakes, etc.
37. Castella Cake
A Castella cake is another great Japanese food to try. These amazing treats consist of sponge cake made from flour, eggs, sugar, and starch syrup.
Originally brought to the country from the Portuguese in the 16th century, this cake has become a favorite.
Mochi is sticky rice pudding. This treat is eaten during the New Year by pounding pieces of mochi together. They can use these ingredients to make sweet or savory mochi.
The traditional way of eating mochi is to shape them into balls and roll them around in honey or sugar syrup.
39. Hokkaido Dairy
Though not a particular food item, Hokkaido Dairy is famous for its high quality dairy products. This includes milk, cheese, and cheesecakes.
Visit Sakaimachi Street and sample some incredible dairy products!
40. Tamago Kake Gohan
Tamago Kake Gohan (or TKG for short) is a popular Japanese breakfast item. It consists of cooked rice with a raw egg on top. It can include other ingredients such as nori and spring onions.
The egg is traditionally mixed in with the cooked rice and enjoyed like that.
Onigiri is a type of sushi rice ball. Onigiri consists of steamed rice, sometimes wrapped inside seaweed, forming a ball shape.
There are many varieties of fillings including vegetables, meat, and even yummy sweets. You’ll probably see people selling them at train stations and street corners throughout Japan.
Kaiseki is a style of cuisine consisting of multiple small courses served over several hours. Kaiseki typically features seasonal ingredients and is accompanied by a variety of side dishes.
Depending on where you go to get this, you can expect a number of different meals. The only thing that is standard for this is that there will be shokuji and suimono courses.
Monjayaki is a batter-based dish topped with a variety of ingredients, including seafood and cabbage. There are many variations of this dish, and all of them are delicious!
This is a savory steamed-egg custard dish that is popular is many parts of Japan. Chawanmushi is filled with various types of fresh produce like cucumber, radish, mushrooms, and spinach.
Not to be confused with udon, oden is another one pot dish. It can include ingredients such as boiled eggs, fishcakes, and konjac, amongst other things.
Things You Need To Try In Japan
Try A Japanese Cooking Class
If you visit Japan and are interested in its cuisine, why not take a cooking class?
Many schools offer classes where students learn how to cook authentic Japanese dishes. Like this sushi making class offered in Tokyo.
Taking Japanese cooking classes will help you gain a better understanding of the methods and process of cooking authentic Japanese food.
If you would like to try recreating some of your favorite dishes when you get home, a cooking class is the perfect thing for you!
Here are a few cooking classes we recommend:
- Osaka Cooking Class
- Sushi Cooking Class in Osaka
- Izakaya Style Cooking Class in Kyoto
- Bento Box Cooking Class in Kyoto
- Ramen and Gyoza Cooking Class and Tokyo Local Supermarket
- Tsukiji Fish Market Visit with Sushi Making Experience
- Small-Group Wagyu Beef and Kaiseki Ryouri Tokyo Cooking Class
Go On Food Tours
Food tours may be one of the best ways to learn more about the local cuisine.
How? Get in contact with a local who does tours, and they will tell you everything you need to know. The locals will show you all the best spots to visit to get the authentic taste of Japan, and you’ll never forget it.
Food tours available:
- Tokyo Tsukiji Outer Market Walking Tour and Rolled Sushi Class
- Tsukiji Fish Market Food and Culture Walking Tour
- Kabukicho Izakaya Food Tour and Golden Gai Experience in Shinjuku
Japan is a country that is full of incredible foods and flavors. It’s the perfect place for anyone with an adventurous tongue and insatiable hunger.
By taking advantage of these wonderful opportunities, you’re sure to enjoy yourself immensely!
Many foods might seem daunting at first, especially if you aren’t used to it. Things like raw fish might seem odd at first, but we’ve all had sushi, right?
Get yourself some popular dishes, and always try out the staple dish in the area. It can be a lot more exciting than you could imagine.
Make a point to visit the best Japanese restaurant in the area, and try every new Japanese dish you can get your hands on.
There are a variety of dishes that you will be sure to love. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stable dish in the area, or something that you can only find in a fancy spot, try it out!
Don’t forget that there is a Japanese version of plenty of foods, too. From pizzas to burgers, and everything in-between, explore! Don’t limit yourself to white rice – try all the hot pot dishes you can get. You won’t regret a thing.
Be Prepared For Travel
Planning is the most important part of any successful trip. Do it the easy way:
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.