Top Japanese dishes

Japan is a once-in-a-lifetime holiday destination for many people. It’s got stunning landscapes and a strong cultural identity and is also home to some deliciously tasty cuisine. Sushi is possibly the first thing visitors to the country try, but there is so much more to Japanese cuisine than beautifully served raw fish.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan anytime soon, don’t leave without trying one or more of the following Japanese dishes. When you get home, you can shop at your favorite Japanese online store and recreate those same dishes for your friends and family.

Japanese ramen
Japanese ramen. Photo by Stephen Bedase on Unsplash

1. Ramen

Ramen is a dish of egg noodles in a salty broth with tasty additions. It is also a top late-night meal for the Japanese and a good example of one of their imported dishes. The dish originates from China, but the Japanese have added their twist to it and made it their own. 

The Japanese twists include pork bone (tonkotsu), soy sauce, miso, and salt. One location that’s famous for its tonkotsu ramen is Fukuoka, while Hokkaido is famous for its pungent miso ramen. 

2. Unagi

Unagi is river eel and might not be to everyone’s taste, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It’s typically grilled over charcoal, with a sweet barbecue sauce. 

Folklore states that unagi is the perfect cure for Japan’s heat and humidity. You’ll find fresh, wild-caught unagi only between May and October. 

Japanese chef at work
Photo by Thomas Marban on Unsplash

3. Kaiseki

Kaiseki is more than just a meal, it’s a work of art and the height of Japan’s haute cuisine. It’s a dish that’s been served in Japan for centuries. It was traditionally served alongside the tea ceremony in Kyoto. 

The meal consists of a procession of small courses meticulously arranged and served on beautiful crockery. Fresh ingredients are used and each dish is supposed to evoke the flavors and sights of the current season. 

4. Soba

Soba is a dish made using long, thin, buckwheat noodles. These particular noodles are a Japanese staple, particularly in mountainous regions where buckwheat grows very well.

A hot soy sauce-flavored broth is served with the noodles. Alternatively, the noodles can be served at room temperature on a bamboo mat accompanied by a broth on the side.

5. Shabu-Shabu

This is a very decadent Japanese dish that consists of thin slices of pork or beef served in a bubbling broth. The marbled meat is brought to the table and diners get to cook it themselves, one mouthful at a time. 

6. Yakitori

This is a staple for the Japanese working man along with a cold beer. Pieces of chicken are grilled to perfection on skewers and served with either a sweet soy-based glaze (tare) or salt (shio). You can expect almost every part of the chicken to be included in this dish.

7. Temakizushi

These are sushi hand rolls with a very rustic and homemade feel about them. Fillings might include cucumber, egg, salmon, tuna, or greens, but anything goes. 

Temakizushi won’t be on the menu at a Japanese restaurant. Instead, you’ll find them in convenience stores. Alternatively, see if you can find a class and learn how to make them yourself. 

8. Tonkatsu

Tonkatsu is a perfect example of Japanese soul food. It consists of breaded, fried pork cutlet that is cut into slices and served on top of rice. Accompanying the dish will be a side of cabbage and a sweet, salty sauce.

You’ll have no problems finding this on the menu at most restaurants. In chain restaurants such as Katsukura, it’s a staple dish.

A variety of Japanese dishes
A variety of Japanese dishes. Photo by Paulo Doi on Unsplash

9. Udon

Udon is another popular Japanese staple that you’ll find everywhere. Udon is a form of noodle and various dishes are made using them. The favorites are Cold Udon, Udon, and Yaki Udon.

  • Cold Udon: The Udon is first put in cold water and then served in a bowl with chopped scallions and sauce. You may also be given various toppings to make the dish more delicious. 
  • Udon: Udon, in its purest form, is served hot in a broth together with thinly chopped scallions. Additional toppings, such as meat or Tempura can be added. 
  • Yaki Udon: Also known as Fried Udon, this is a dish of stir-fried noodles with sauces, vegetables, and various other ingredients such as eggs or meat. 

10. Takoyaki

Takoyaki is a Japanese octopus cake that’s typically served with fried fish, chopped green onion, and a Takoyaki sauce. It’s a dish that’s very easy to make at home using a Takoyaki machine. Simply mix Takoyaki flour, water, eggs, and octopus. Then, according to your preferences, you can add cheese and green onion. 

Quick tips for eating at a Japanese restaurant:

  • Don’t wait for everyone to start eating. In Japan, food is eaten as soon as it arrives.
  • Don’t drink before everyone else.
  • Don’t dig in without saying a few pre-meal words of thanks.
  • Don’t leave your chopsticks stuck in rice.
  • Don’t use your chopsticks to push, drag, or move dishes.
  • It’s considered very unrefined to use your hand as a safety net while transporting food to your mouth using chopsticks.
  • You’re expected to ask for other people’s permission before eating the last bit of something.
  • Japanese meals tend to be a very silent occasion. 
  • Tea should always be drunk using two hands.
  • You’re allowed to pick up your bowl and slurp your noodles if you want to.

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