Part of the reason I moved to Japan was because of the great food. When visiting Japan, by all means eat sushi, and lots of it. But don’t forget there’s lots more to explore- and missing the wide array of culinary delight Japan has on offer would be an unforgivable shame. Sample some of these savories (and sweets) to discover new favorites you’ll still dream of when you return home.
This isn’t the 99 cent packet of instant noodles that keep university students alive world over. Japanese ramen is a flavorful soup of fresh noodles in chicken or pork broth topped with meat, bamboo shoots, seaweed, bean sprouts, green onions, boiled egg, corn and other various toppings. Ever region has its own delicious take on ramen, so slurp up as much as you can.
These delicious savory pancakes make a satisfying treat. Literally “grilled as you like,” egg batter is filled with a diverse range of ingredients, grilled at your table, and topped with barbeque sauce, mayonnaise, and fish flakes. Fillings can include cabbage, pork, seafood, cheese, kim chi, and a plethora of other delights.
With the same comfortable, homey feel as okonomiyaki, takoyaki are a favorite Japanese street food. These octopus-stuffed dumplings are battered and served up as something a bit like a savory seafood fritter. Sample some as the perfect answer to the late night munchies.
Curry itself isn’t Japanese- it was brought over by Indian traders in the late 1800s – but the Japanese have evolved it into what has become their quintessential comfort food. It has it’s own idiosyncratic flavor, unique from Indian or Thai curries. Sweeter than its Indian counterpart and available at a customizable range of spice levels, this delicious, wholesome dish of vegetables, proteins, curry sauce and rice is an particularly Japanese experience that is sure to satisfy.
Food becomes a social event with shabu-shabu. This dining experience, named for the sound the marbled meat makes when its cooked in boiling broth, is communal dining at its finest. Everyone gets involved, as raw meat is brought to the table and diners cook each bite individually.
Another great social meal, izakaya is a bit like Spanish tapas or Mediterranean meze, though generally more substantial. Small shared dishes are brought to the table, accompanied by alcohol and lingering over several drawn out courses, perfect for post-work drinks and socializing. Some establishments offer “all you can eat” or “all you can drink” izakaya, where customers can order all they like for a set price.
It goes without saying that while in Japan, you should sip at least one cup of green tea. What you may not realize is that you should also nibble at it – matcha shows up in all kinds of unexpected places in Japan. Green tea ice-cream is a must-try. Beyond that, take a bite of matcha in pretty much anything, including KitKats, cookies, Coke, and soba.
Indulging your sweet tooth is great fun in Japan, where uniquely flavored (and often delightfully pretty) confections abound. Traditional options include mochi (chewy sweets made of pounded rice paste and filled with a variety of bean pastes), and dango (sweet rice flour dumplings that pair nicely with green tea.) Marvel at the delicately beautiful cakes and confections in bakery cases, and go ahead and take pictures of your choices – we won’t judge.