Cuisine is central to any culture, and Japan is no exception to this rule. The ingredients and preparations of Japanese food are dynamic and delicious, but most importantly, they tell the story of a culture. Every aspect of every dish conveys the story of Japan’s geography, climate, history, customs, and families. Whether you’re searching for the perfect cold-curing hot pot, an elegant sushi presentation, or something skewered and portable from a street stall, the traditional flavors of Japan are authentic (and delectable) to the core.
Yakitori, which consists of bite-sized pieces of savory chicken grilled on a skewer, makes use of every part of the bird including the heart, liver, and comb. It usually comes served in a salty or salty-sweet sauce. Its portable nature makes it a popular street food, but this kind of item wasn’t eaten commonly until around the mid-17th century as eating meat was mostly taboo in Japan.
Okonomiyaki translated literally means “whatever you like grilled”. This indulgent comfort food combines a variety of ingredients (like pork, shrimp, and cabbage) topped off with mayonnaise, sauce, and dried seaweed flakes. This pancake-like dish is actually considered a fast food, and can generally be found at street vendor stalls.
Unagi means “fresh eel” in Japanese. It is often served as a component to other meals, with a bed of rice or unakyu sushi on the side.
Udon noodles are a staple for many Japanese dishes. They are thicker than Soba or Ramen noodles, and are whiter and chewier too. They can be enjoyed hot or cold, and it is considered basic manners to make a slurping sound when doing so!
Soba noodles are crafted from buckwheat flower and are similiar to the size and texture of spaghetti noodles. Like Udon, they can also be consumed hot or cold. They are commonly served with tempura, vegetables, raw egg, or various meats.
Yuba is made from the skin that forms when making tofu out of soy beans. It is cut into strips and served alongside other dishes such as udon, sashimi, fried bean buns, and various soups. Yuba is a commonly traditional item found north of Tokyo.
This hot pot dish is comprised of a chicken-based broth, vegetables, tofu, and/or seafood. Its notable heartiness was originally intended for sumo wrestlers to consume to accommodate with their weight-gaining diets.
Ramen began in China, but quickly became a staple of Japanese culture. Every region has its own spin on this hearty dish of noodles and broth, but common ingredients can include: onion, seaweed, bamboo shoots, scallion, corn, soft or hard-boiled eggs, garlic, spinach, bean sprouts, kamaboko, chashu pork, and various seafood. Many ramen experts claim that the noodles are best consumed within five minutes of serving, so slurp up!
You’ll most frequently find these pan-fried dumplings served up as a side for ramen. They’re succulent and addictive, and are enjoyed with a dipping sauce of rice vinegar and soy sauce.
10. Miso soup
Miso soup combines dashi (miso paste and a briny stock) with cubes of tofu. It can be enjoyed alone or as a side item.
This one-pot dish of tofu, beef, and vegetables simmered in a sweet soy sauce broth became popular after that aforementioned ban on meat was lifted in the 17th century. It’s not uncommon for this dish to be cooked right at your table, similar to the fashion of a hot pot.
Sashimi is any thinly sliced raw seafood or meat. It is considered a Japanese delicacy, and is usually served as a starter along with soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger.
Tempura was introduced to Japan in the 16th century by Portuguese missionaries. The dish may comprise seafood or vegetables which are battered in eggs and flour, then fried to an ultra crispy texture.
14. Tsukemono pickles
These pickles have been enjoyed in Japan since prehistoric times. They may be made with a variety of fruits or vegetables, including daikon radish, eggplant, ume plum, ginger, lotus root, and Chinese cabbage. They make for a beautiful topping to other dishes, and are a very healthy snack as well!
The dorayaki is a type of Japanese confection which can be considered most akin to a filled pancake. These dessert patties are filled with sweet Azuki red bean paste, and are served hot.
Edamame refers to the preparation of soybeans in the pod, boiled or steamed and served with salt. Outside of the pod, this often called mukimame.
Yakiniku, which literally translated means “grilled meat”, is Japanese-style barbecue. Restaurants that offer yakiniku generally feature tables with built-in coal grills where you can order your choice of cubed meats and vegetables and cook them for yourself.
Takoyaki is a decadent ball-shaped treat battered and filled with ingredients like octopus, tempura, green onion, and pickled ginger. It is topped with dried bonito, kewpie (Japanese-style mayonnaise), and takoyaki or ponzu sauce.
Perhaps one of the most famous dishes to hail from Japan, this dish combines rice seasoned with vinegar and dashi,then top with fresh fish, meat, or protein. Depend on many different types of sushi, toppings, fillings, sauces, and preparations technique may vary chef to chef. It is commonly served with a side of wasabi and pickled ginger.
Onigiri is a triangular shaped rice ball often topped with seaweed and filled with a mixture of pickled ume, salmon, katsuobushi, kombu, or tarako. Their handheld size and shape make them a popular item for street stalls as well as convenience stores.
21. Shabu Shabu
Shabu shabu is a dish of thinly sliced beef or pork that is prepared at your table by swirling a single piece of meat around in a hot broth until sufficiently cooked. It gets its name from the sound it makes while cooking: swish, swish.
Himono means “sun dried fish”. It’s salty and chewy, and is usually grilled up as a breakfast item.
Dango is a type of dumpling that has a texture similar to that of mochi, and is served on a stick. They are usually served with red bean paste or a sticky and savory glaze made with soy sauce.
Chikuzenni is a blend of vegetables (such as shiitake, gobo, renkon, takenoko, and carrots) simmered at a low temperature in a broth of dashi and mirin. Traditionally, turtle would be added to the mix, but in modern times it is more common to use chicken.
25. Agedashi Dofu
Cubes of tofu are lightly breaded and then deep fried in a hot broth of mirin, dashi, and soy sauce. It is one of Japan’s oldest known tofu dishes and is typically topped with daikon, negi, and fish flakes.
This iconic omelette and rice dish is a staple, but can be hard to totally perfect! The dish may be served with demi-glace sauce or ketchup, the latter topping being a favorite of children and diner menus.
Motsunabe is a popular winter hot pot dish made of beef and pork guts. It’s served with soy sauce, garlic, chili pepper, miso, cabbage, and garlic chives.
Daifuku is a Japanese dessert of a small round mochi cake filled with azuki red bean paste. These confections come in a variety of colors including pastel pink and green.
This simple dish comprises cubes of tofu and vegetables in hot water. Kombu is often added to the water to achieve a greater umami taste. As it is vegetarian, it is considered a Japanese Buddhist food and can almost always be found at temple restaurants.
Zoni was a samurai soup that was eaten on the battlefield and intended to be prepared with portable and local foods. Today, it remains an economic and flexible dining option. It may be served with any number of regional ingredients, but toasted mochi is the constant component.
31. Yaki Imo
Yaki Imo refers to Satsumaimo sweet potatoes traditionally baked over an open fire. There are portable Yaki Imo shops that serve up these handheld snacks from the back of a truck with a wood burning stove.
Ochazuke is a simple dish of green tea poured over rice. It is often served with salmon, seaweed, and sesame seeds. Dashi or hot water may be used in place of the green tea.
This fancy dish is comprised of monkfish liver steamed in salt and sake, usually topped with negi, daikon, and tangy ponzu sauce.
Thickly cut pork belly is simmered in a mixture of dashi, mirin, soy sauce, sugar, and sake for a result that is savory and succulent. A bit of mustard served on the side helps to brighten the overall flavor.