Japan is one of those countries that is filled with a lot of cultures and traditions. But not just only that, it has very unique cuisines that are tasty and mouthwatering.
Here is our list of the 10 food you need to try when you’re traveling in Japan. Each dish has its own regional variation, so it’s a good thing if you manage to try something that is out of our description.
Once you find the dishes that you like, you’re gonna miss them so much when you’re back home!
The 10 Must-try Japanese Food in your Trip to Japan
My top one on the list is definitely Ramen! You’ll find Ramen almost everywhere around Japan. Ramen restaurants (or called Ramen-ya) in Japan serves a bunch of variation of ramen that comes with all kinds of interesting flavors.
Despite being originally a Chinese dish, it is said that Ramen has been introduced to Japan a few centuries ago, and now it has become one of the most common and cheapest Japanese cuisines.
Some of the most common ingredients in a Ramen bowl includes seaweed, chashu (pork or chicken slices), chives, eggs and bamboo shoots.
The best part of Ramen is actually the broth!
Guys, that’s what makes it unforgettable, and you’ll probably crave more after trying one.
Remember to slurp your Ramen!
It might be impolite to slurp in many counties, but not in Japan! In fact, it is impolite if you don’t slurp when eating noodles in Japan. Slurping displays your enjoyment and appreciation of the food, also, as an affirmation to the chef that the food is tasty.
Ramen generally falls into four categories:
Shōyu 醤油 (meaning ‘soy sauce’)
It has a clear brown broth made of chicken or vegetable stock added with plenty of soy sauce. This gives a salty, savory flavor yet still light to the tongue. Shōyu ramen is one of the most traditional one among the Ramen family. It is often decorated with chives, marinated bamboo shoots, fish cakes, seaweed accompanied by chashu and a poached egg sliced into halves.
Shio 塩 (meaning ‘salt’)
A clear, light brown broth made from salt. Like the standard Ramen, it has chashu, vegetables, fish, seaweed or more. I definitely recommend you to try to dry version Shio Ramen. You basically dip your noodles in a concentrated ‘shio broth’ and then you’re ready to slurp it!
Miso ramen noodles are typically thicker and chewy. Also, this ramen blends miso with chicken broth to create a thick, hearty soup. It also has all the ramen basic ingredients.
The curry ramen is a specialty of Hokkaido. The curry ramen is mainly made with pork bone and vegetables seasoned with curry.
If you happen to be in Tokyo or planning to travel there, Live Japan wrote a post about Tokyo’s Must-Try Ramen Restaurants which you can drop by to taste some good ramen!
The “octopus balls” is one of the famous Japanese snack that you could spot easily in supermarkets and convenient stalls. Takoyaki is made of batter stuffed with diced octopus, pickled ginger, onions and cooked in special molded pans. It is typically topped with flavorful takoyaki sauces, dried bonito flakes and mayonnaise!
Osaka is floated with takoyaki shops. If you happen to be there, you would probably see dating couples poking into “octopus balls”, feeding each other or students queueing for takoyakis.
If you never had it, this is a must-try among the Japanese street food! It is made of batter, stuffed with a bunch of other stuff. Different cities will have different variations. It has a cabbage base, sometimes stuffed with meat, seafood, yam or cheese. The local says that that the original version was from Osaka.
Some calls as the “Japanese Pizza”, however, to be precise, its name “Okonomi” means “to one‘s liking” and “yaki” means “grilled”.
You might even find some okonomiyaki restaurants provides you the ingredients and you grill it yourself at tables with special hotplates known as teppan. Or, some may have counters where the chef prepares and cooks in front of the customers. Either way, it is definitely a good experience!
Why am I stating the obvious? Well, you might think that you have tried sushi before in your home country, so you’re thinking of skipping this when you’re in Japan. Think again. Sushi in Japan is out of this world and simply cannot be compared to those in your home country.
For those who have not heard of Sushi, it is seafood or raw fishes packed together nicely with rice and seaweeds by Sushi masters. It is one of the most common food in Japan too. The ones near the Tsukiji Market are really good as the ingredients used are fresh from the market itself!
Sushi Etiquette in Japan
- Eat the fish in the order the chef placed on your plate.
- Eat your fish within a minute when served. This is because it is at its perfect temperature.
- The nigiri already has wasabi. This is the amount the chef has put into it. If you need to add more wasabi, add it on top of the fish sparingly.
- Always dip only the fish-side into the soy sauce.
- Don’t mix soy sauce with wasabi.
- You’re probably given a wet rolled towel. This is to wipe your hands before the meal. After that, placed the towel back onto the towel plate. Use it to clean your fingers throughout the meal.
Just so you know, sushi also goes well with a drink – Sake!
You can learn more about sake at our sake beginner’s guide.
If you have not seen one, they’re brown or green in color. These noodles are made from buckwheat flour, served either hot or cold, with or without soup.
You can find them almost anywhere in Japan and comes in different variations.
The soba you will see most often will be the Mori Soba. It is often served on a bamboo tray called a Zaru with a dipping sauce known as soba Tsuyu (a soy based dipping sauce) on the side. The Tsuyu is a combination of sweetened soy sauce, mirin and dashi. There is also Green Tea Soba (Matcha Soba) which is produced with buckwheat flour and green tea powder.
- Pick up a mouthful of soba from your tray using chopsticks.
- Dip it in the delicious Tsuyu
- Slurp it! (Like mentioned previously, it is common to slurp in Japan!)
After finish eating, you may also drink the water in which the noodles were boiled in (which is known as Sobayu), mixed with the remaining Tsuyu.
Soba that is often served in a bowl of hot tsuyu, so it looks just like a bowl of noodle soup. Of course, the hot tsuyu in this case is not as concentrated as the tsuyu dipping sauce served with the cold soba.
There are many different versions of hot soba in Japan. Some comes with flavored broth and all kinds of toppings too!
Unagi is grilled soft freshwater eels covered with tare sauce. It is also a common delicacy in Japan as well.
You’re probably freaking out when I said eel.
Yes, it’s eels!
Guys, if you haven’t had one before, you gotta at least try it once! It’s so good when it melts in your mouth with the tare sauce. We would even get another one if we’re there right now.
Another common unagi dish is unadon which is unagi served with rice in a bento box.
In Japan, there is a summer tradition known as Doyo No Ushi No Hi which means (day of ox) for eating eel. Traditionally, it is believed that eating unagi will bring relief from the summer’s intense heat and humidity.
Despite that belief, unagi does have nutritional benefit. During summer, the hot weather makes our bodies harder to keep up energy, so this is a good time to dig in some Unagi. This is because Unagi is a nutritional food that is packed with many vitamins, proteins and calcium will help the body to keep up stamina.
It is seafood and vegetables covered in batter and cooked in sesame oil. You usually find this traditional food served in a lunch set that comes with rice and side dishes in restaurants. Tempura includes mixed vegetable strips, such as carrot, onions, eggplant, and seafood which would be shrimp or squid.
Tempura is best to be eaten hot when served. Some tempura dishes come with dipping sauce, but some are just sprinkled with sea salt without any sauce.
While you can order them alone, most of the restaurants also serve Tempura in combination with other foods like soba with tempura (tensoba) or on top of udon soup.
They are thicker white noodles that are chewier than Ramen. It is served hot or cold, comes with meat, eggs and vegetables. The common udon is served in noodle soup form. Its broth is flavored with kakejiru (a mixture of soy sauce, mirin and dashi), topped with diced scallions, fish cake or tempura sometimes.
Depending or regions, the broth is normally dark brown (dark soy sauce) in eastern Japan or light brown (light soy sauce) in western Japan.
Also, the same goes for Udon when eating : Slurp it!
Yakiniku (meaning grilled meat) are bite-sized meat and vegetables cooked on griddles. It is commonly known as ‘Japanese Barbeque’. Diners cook their slices of meat and vegetables on a griddle at the the center of the table. There are a variety of options which includes beef, pork, chicken or seafood. The locals tend to order beef items more.
The special thing about yakiniku is the oriental sauces. After cooking the meat, you dip them in the sauce, then only eat them. The sauce will bring out the flavor and the juices of the meat. All restaurant will have their own special sauce! The commonly known dipping sauce is the tare sauce.
Visit a Yakiniku restaurant that offers All-you-can-eat and fill up that tummy of yours with delicious Japanese grilled meat!
Gyoza originally came from China (known as Jiaozi). Today, they are a common food in Japan that you can find at street stalls across Japan. You can spot them easily at the side dish section of the menu in restaurants as well.
The dumplings’ filling is made of pork, beef or chicken with garlic chives, vegetables or beans sometimes. They have different versions including fried gyoza (yakigyoza), boiled gyoza (suigyoz) or deep fried gyoza (agegyoza).
Gyoza is served with tare sauce mixed with rice vinegar or chili oil. We can’t describe to you how delicious it is when eaten with the sauce. We especially like the chili oil!
By the way, Japanese supermarkets also sell the frozen food version gyoza if you decided to buy some back home for your friends and families.
Eat all you can guys!
This is our list of food that you need to try in Japan. One thing we realize is that the food in Japan has so much variety to choose from, also way healthier options than the food in western countries. Japanese restaurants also take food hygiene very seriously by the way.
So, try all the food in Japan and tell us your amazing journey in the comments! Or, if you think our list is missing with some other awesome food in Japan, let us know too!
Japan is definitely a place that is full of surprises! The food is out of this world and there’s so much to explore in Japan. Head to our Ultimate Japan Travel Guide to learn more about it!