If you’re thinking about visiting Japan, chances are you’ll want to know what Japanese cuisine is like. It can be quite a mouthful of a name, but it doesn’t need to be intimidating – and we’ve got the lowdown on everything from sushi to ramen noodles.
We have put together this comprehensive guide to all the different types of Japanese cuisine that you may encounter when living or traveling in Japan. We will take you through the basics of Japanese food – including some of their most popular dishes, as well as more unusual and unique options for those who love trying something new.
As we go through each type of Japanese food, we will talk about how they differ from traditional western foods, where they were originally introduced, and how they vary depending on the region of Japan where they are eaten. As well as providing the general information you may want to know before heading out to try a dish, we also give you plenty of advice on hompage on which restaurants we think serve the best food in the area.
While many countries have their own native varieties of grains, none rival the versatility of Japanese rice. Not only does this versatile staple of Japanese cooking come in several different shapes and sizes, but there are literally thousands of variations on the basic idea of what constitutes a ‘rice’ – not least because rice was so important in its early development that different regions had their own distinctive names for it.
In terms of size, you can choose between sushi rice (which is small and round), short grain rice (which has a slightly sweet taste) and glutinous rice (which has a sticky texture). If your trip takes you to the Kansai region, don’t forget to sample the white rice with red beans (called kurozu no miso), which is particularly delicious.
Although it’s easy enough to make your own sushi at home, if you’re looking for a quick and tasty lunch option then a visit to one of the many Japanese eateries serving sushi and sashimi is likely to be very popular indeed.
The two main types of nigiri-style sushi are made with tuna and salmon, although there are other fish such as octopus, sea bream, eel and squid available in certain areas too. The rolls (known as hand rolls) are similar, but instead of being made up of single pieces of fish, they are rolled in vinegar and seaweed, making them a little less filling.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try a bowl of miso soup to start with. This particular Japanese classic is usually served cold, and the salty flavor makes it an excellent choice when hot weather hits. Miso soup comes in many different varieties, but typically contains umeboshi plum paste, dashi stock and green onions.
Despite the fact that it’s the perfect meal for a rainy day, it’s unlikely that anyone would ever guess that ramen is actually one of the most popular forms of fast food in Japan. In fact, you might even find yourself asking why you never thought of it as a possible option while eating out in Japan before now.
It’s not just the convenience of having instant noodles on hand that makes ramen so popular, but the fact that it combines the taste of Chinese food with Japanese ingredients – meaning that it’s pretty much impossible to get bored of eating it. You can buy ready-made ramen noodles by the box at many supermarkets throughout Japan, but if you want to cook your own version at home, here’s our guide to making your own ramen broth.
This traditional Japanese stew is a mixture of vegetables cooked in a rich chicken stock, flavored with soy sauce, sugar and sake. Oden originated in Okinawa, and became popular in Tokyo after World War II.
You can prepare oden at home by simmered the vegetables in the stock until tender, adding the seasonings just before serving. It’s best to use fresh ingredients, and if you’re really brave you could even add crab meat (although it’s hard to tell whether any of it survived the boiling process!).
One of the most widely recognized Japanese flavors, teriyaki is basically a marinade made from brown sugar, soy sauce and mirin (a sweet wine). While there are many variations on the theme, it’s traditionally used to prepare beef, pork and chicken, although it can also be used to treat vegetables as well.
If you’d prefer to skip the marinating part of the recipe, then you can simply dip your food into a pan of boiling oil and sugar, before placing it back in the oven to finish off the cooking process. Teriyaki is often paired with rice and fried tofu, although it’s also common to see it served on top of rice with fried eggs.
Another popular Japanese dish, chankonabe is made using strips of grilled meat, along with other ingredients like bamboo shoots, egg, nori, scallions and mushrooms. It’s very simple to prepare in your own kitchen, as long as you have access to decent quality meat – although if you want to make it look authentic, you should look for places offering the real deal.
The most famous variant of the dish involves the use of kobe beef, but there are plenty of alternatives available, including chicken, lamb and beef tongue. Chankonabe is especially popular in Okinawa and is frequently served alongside ramen noodles.
There are many ways to enjoy katsuobushi – the dried bonito flakes that add umami flavor to many Japanese dishes. These flakes are commonly used in stocks, but can also be ground into powder and added directly to soups to impart a rich and savory taste.
While they are sometimes sold as a standalone product, they are most commonly used in conjunction with another ingredient. For example, katsuobushi is often combined with rice and miso to create katsu don, and is also mixed with shiroezu (white soy sauce) to make katsuobushi no tataki.
Another popular snack in Japan, okonomiyaki is essentially a pancake made with batter and cabbage, often flavored with miso and grated ginger. Okonomiyaki is often served with a side of shredded cabbage and bean sprouts, although you can also opt for a variety of toppings including bacon, seafood, eggs and cheese.
Not everyone is familiar with okonomiyaki outside of Japan, but the popularity of Japanese street food means that if you’re passing through an area with lots of okonomiyaki outlets, you’ll surely find someone willing to sell you a bite or two.