When people hear Japan, they most likely think of sushi, maybe ramen. Well, I’m here to enlighten you on some foods you might not have considered that are just as good! If you plan on visiting Japan in the future, here’s your list of other delicious options other than the most popular.
Taiyaki If you’re a fan of anime, you might have seen this dessert before (as well as many other Japanese foods that I will / will not list below). You might have even seen this little guy make his way over to the States served in a trendy fashion of taiyaki ice cream where the fish is used as an ice cream cone, but this is the more traditional version. It’s commonly filled with red bean paste or custard, but can also be filled with chocolate, sweet potato or matcha like the one pictured – and my favorite. I tried this the first trip to Japan and loved it so much that I HAD to get more on my second trip.
Udon (and tempura) Another favorite, but then again, a lot of these will be favorites; I wouldn’t suggest something I didn’t care for, no matter how popular it is. Best eaten with a side of tempura fried veggies of choice (I loveeeee tempura sweet potato), udon is something I regretted not trying on my first Japan trip, so I made up for it the second time around… It’s obviously a thicker noodle soup, which you can get plain, with beef (as shown below), or (depending on the place and what is offered) with whatever you would like! I prefer mine with beef to get my protein in.
Onigiri I know I said this already, but this is my ABSOLUTE favorite. For real. I crave these all the time. They’re rice balls wrapped in seaweed with various fillings, my favorite being salted salmon or tuna with Japanese mayo. It’s nothing like sushi and the mayo is nothing like you’ve had here in the States. You can find these everywhere honestly; convenience stores, fish market, there are even restaurants for them specifically. I prefer to get mine from 7/Eleven just because I’m familiar with the packaging and how the flavor that I like most looks at those locations. Consider using your phone to translate the kanji to figure out the flavor you would like best or just wing it and choose a few without knowing what the contents are; that’s a fun way to try new things while traveling. I also absolutely love the packaging and how it opens. The seaweed is kept separate from the rice to keep it fresh, so follow the numbered steps to open correctly.
Tuna Belly or Toro Seafood in Japan is sooooo fresh, understandably because they’re an island and well known for their sushi. It only makes sense that anything seafood related is fresh and delicious. This dish in particular, is minced tuna belly over rice. Heavenly if you love fatty tuna and something simple.
Chirashi Bowl Back again with the fresh seafood. Think of this like a poke bowl, but with strictly rice, a fresh assortment of fish cut sashimi style, and hints of soy sauce and wasabi. And just like poke, it’s customizable, or as customizable as you can get in Japan.
Yakitori Ignore the fried tofu at the top of the photo and instead focus your attention on the skewers below. It translates to skewered chicken but I’m sure you can find other meat types served in this style.
Soba Soba noodles are thin and typically served cold with a dipping sauce, but can also be served hot. They’re the opposite of udon’s thick wheat noodles by being made of buckwheat and much thinner in size. I only tried them cold, which was strange having to dip my noodles but it was still deliciously weird.
Curry Most people don’t think of curry as something they would eat in Japan, not to mention find. But believe it or not, Japanese curry is pretty popular and freaking good. It’s hard to miss it since there are so many restaurant chains that sell it, so you have plenty of options to choose where you want to get it from, a chain called CoCo Ichibanya being one of the most popular spots.
Don Buri Don Buri, although not quite one of my favorites, is barbeque eel over a bed of rice, and is actually pretty popular and simple.
Dango Dango is made from rice flour and not quite the same as mochi. It has a slightly sweet taste but mostly taste like rice and is firm in texture. They’re a simple sweet but make for a nice photo. Not to mention you see these in a lot of anime.
Wagashi Or Namagashi, are a traditional Japanese confection served with tea. They are super sweet (that’s why it makes such a great combination with tea) and always have a cute design or shape. I absolutely loved the Year of the Rooster one I found, even if it had bean paste inside.
Ramen One of the most known things about Japan, ramen. Forget what you know about ramen because it doesn’t compare, especially if you’re thinking of instant ramen. One place that I absolutely recommend is Ichiran. I didn’t go the first time to Japan but made sure to make it happen on the second trip. There are plenty of other options for ramen other than Ichiran, so take your pick, whether it’s a mom-and-pop shop or a well-known chain like Ichiran. I haven’t been to the U.S. location, so I can’t say how they compare, but I DO know it’s cheaper and better in Japan, 9 times out 10, as is everything. But you can never go wrong with a local spot.
Shabu Shabu A Japanese type of hot pot served with thinly sliced beef and an array of other meats and vegetables. In this photo, I got a split pot to try out two different style of broths, one creamy and one spicy. Hot pots like shabu shabu are very customizable, so what you see below is just what I chose to order.
Sushi Last but not least, the most famous of all. Japan is the land of sushi, so it only makes sense that it’s so popular, but it’s certainly not how you can order it in the States. Think more simple rolls and raw fish. You’re out of luck if you only eat cooked, deep-fried, covered in sauce type rolls, because cooked options are limited; very limited. But if you like raw sushi, I highly recommend toro – tuna belly. Sushi restaurants are everywhere, but try out a conveyor belt sushi restaurant if you visit or visit sushi restaurants at the fish market for the freshest of fish.
Although it’s the most popular food that people think of when they think of Japan, you can’t call yourself a foodie if they only thing you eat in Japan is sushi! Even if you aren’t a foodie and you’re just visiting, don’t be afraid to branch out! If you only eat sushi, you’re missing out on so many other amazing foods that make up the Japanese cuisine and culture. It’s like visiting visiting New Orleans and not trying gumbo or crawfish but only eating jambalaya.
Now this isn’t every single food item known to the country of Japan, just some of my favorites that I made sure to try on my visits; there’s plenty more that I still haven’t tried that’s on my list. I hope this gives you more of an idea of what to expect food-wise in Japan and that it persuades you to eat more than sushi on your visit. I promise you’ll love so much of it and will want to move there just to get the amazing food everyday. Now don’t get me started on Japanese Starbucks and 7/Elevens…