What to eat in Japan: 7 Traditional Japanese Food you MUST Try
Not sure what to eat in Toyko, or on your Japanese travels? Below you can find our guide to Traditional Japanese food and where to find it on your trip including restaurant recommendations! This way you will now exactly what to eat in Japan when you are there.
Traditional Japanese Food
Regarded as one of the most delicious cuisines in the world, traditional Japanese food has become a staple in many different countries. The simple yet bold flavors from Japanese dishes are easily recognized yet difficult to replicate.
Although Japanese cuisine has expanded to all over the world, going straight to the source is always best to get the most authentic taste.
Here we will be taking a look at what to eat in Japan, and the top 7 Japanese dishes you MUST try when you visit
What to eat in Japan
While some items on this list might be familiar, there are definitely some traditional Japanese food that you might never have even heard of! This list goes in depth on what to eat, all about the Japanese dishes, and where you can find them.
If you don’t know what to eat in Japan, at least try the Sushi!
Hailed as the most well-known dish from Japan, sushi is a favorite of many natives and travelers. The few ingredients that go into making this dish is what makes the flavors stand out. No one element overpowers the other. Instead, all of the components complement each other in such a perfect way.
Sushi chefs are usually very highly regarded in Japan as they are expected to master the skill of preparing quality sushi. There is an abundance of fresh seafood in Japan so whether you dine at an expensive omakase (where the chef decides what to serve you) or a mainstream chain restaurant, you’re bound to have an excellent meal.
When in Japan, tuna is king, so be sure to budget for this pricey cut of fish. There are different types of tuna sushi with the fattiest cuts being the most expensive. The splurge is definitely worth the life-changing bite, so don’t miss out! Other favorites are salmon and uni, which is sea urchin.
While there are plenty of sushi restaurants to feast at, I recommend checking out Sushizanmai. It’s a chain, so there are plenty of locations with one of them being in Osaka’s bustling Dotonbori area. Prices are pretty moderate there with some dishes being a couple of bucks to one order of the fattiest tuna sushi being around $8 USD.
Another widely known and loved traditional Japanese dish is ramen. While you might think of the instant noodle packages you can grab from the supermarket, Japanese ramen is completely different. The amount of care and finesse that goes into creating the thick salty broth and chewy noodles can take years to master.
The complex flavors in a bowl of ramen is sure to warm you up on a cold winter’s day or help you relieve some steam after a full day of traveling. Ramen is easily accessible and is also an affordable option. Wherever you go in Japan, make some time to slurp down this delicious dish!
You can find the famous Ichiran in several locations across Japan. If you’re in Kyoto, I recommend dining at Raa-men Miyako Gion Honten! It’s in the Gion district of Kyoto, so you can eat a bowl of ramen while wearing a rented kimono.
Ramen is a must try dish when looking for what to eat in Japan!
There are variations of curry around the world with the most known versions being from India and Thailand. However, Japan also specializes in its own version of curry, which vastly differs from other countries’ curries.
Japanese curry usually only comes in one flavor with the changeable element being the toppings that you can add. The curry itself is a meaty thick sauce that can be slightly tangy or spicy depending on who’s making it. Some toppings you can opt for are tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet), chicken, beef, and veggies. The curry accompanies a side of white rice, which is honestly the best pairing you could ever have.
Japanese curry is one of the cheaper food options with Curry House Coco being a famous chain.
While I was in Osaka, I found this hole-in-the-wall curry place that specializes in one dish and one dish only: tonkatsu curry with rice. None of the staff knew English, so I just pointed to the one picture they had on their walls and was pleasantly surprised with the most delicious Japanese I have ever eaten. Definitely check out Ganso Tonkatsu curry Katsuya in Osaka. Just be ready to order in Japanese or point at the picture like I did!
As one of Osaka’s specialties, takoyaki is a popular street food that is made with pieces of tako (octopus). These fluffy and creamy balls of dough mixed with veggies and pieces of octopus are not as scary as they sound! While the fish flake topping might appear as being alive, this is actually just an effect from the heat curling the flakes.
Since it’s served fresh, watch out as to not burn your tongue. The inside of the balls are extremely hot, but that usually doesn’t stop people from devouring them (myself included).
You can never go wrong with takoyaki, and the best place to eat it is in Osaka. Dotonbori is riddled with a number of takoyaki stands, but the most famous spot is Kukuru, which is the stall with the giant octopus as their storefront. There’s usually always a line at Kukuru, but the wait is so worth it.
It’s pretty amazing how much flavor can be packed into such a bite sized ball. Make sure to tackle an order of takoyaki when you visit Japan – it’s a game changer.
Another Japanese specialty is okonomiyaki, which is a savory pancake made with various ingredients. Its name is derived as meaning “how you like”, so naturally, okonomiyaki comes in a variety of different flavors. The standard okonomiyaki is made with eggs, cabbage, green onions, and pork belly topped with mayonnaise, dried seaweed, and okonomiyaki sauce.
At some restaurants, you can grill the okonomiyaki yourself where at others they either prepare it in front of you on a hot griddle attached to your table (similar to ones used in hibachi restaurants) or just serve it to already prepared.
Whichever style it’s cooked, okonomiyaki is a treat for food lovers. The creamy texture pairs nicely with the charring from being grilled, and the sweet tangy okonomiyaki sauce serves as the perfect zing to the otherwise bland taste of eggs.
Grilling meat is a staple in most countries, and Japan has created their own delicious version of it called yakiniku. While it is similar to Korean barbecue in some ways, yakiniku has some unique aspects to it.
The first is that the meat comes already cut into bite-sized pieces ready to grill. There are grill your own restaurants and restaurants that grill for you, but either way, yakiniku is a must eat when in Japan. Different cuts of meat also come with their own sauces, making each bite distinct from the last.
The most popular meat to grill is the famous wagyu beef that originates from Japan. This a premium cut of Japanese beef where the fat has been marbled so delicately and thoroughly throughout the meat. The best tip for eat yakiniku: invest in some of the pricier cuts of meat. Your taste buds will thank you.
I also recommend dining at a restaurant where you can order as you eat instead of all you can eat joints. What you get in return for quantity is much better quality. While in Kyoto, I had a meal at Premium Wagyu Beef Shibata, which is located right next to the Kamogawa River. The view was incredible, and the food was even better. There was no wait, which was shocking to me because this place truly deserves more recognition.
7. Kushi Katsu
The last item on this list is for traditional Japanese dishes is kushi katsu, which is basically deep fried ingredients on a stick. While more people are familiar with Japanese tempura, which uses a flour-based batter, kushi katsu is a dish that is made using panko crumbs. The sauces are also completely different with kushi katsu sauce having a much more tangy taste to it.
At kushi katsu restaurants, customers will share a communal metal tub of sauce regardless of whether they are the same party or not as sometimes seating is more bar styled. That means that there should be absolutely no double-dipping. The golden rule of eating kushi katsu is to only dip your skewer into the sauce once, and if you need more sauce, you can use the cabbage leaves to scoop some more onto your skewer.
If you’re a fan of fried food, kushi katsu is a must try dish. The crispiness of the batter is incomparable and each ingredient is really highlighted as they are eaten on their own. Kushikatsu Daruma is famous for being the first to implement the no double-dipping rule and can be found at multiple locations. They offer set menus in addition to all their individual a la carte skewers.
Now you know what to eat in Japan!
Travelling to a new country can be overwhelming and stressful, but the good news is, there’s always a lot of new food to discover. Whether you’re an adventurous eater or like to play it safe, Japan has something for everyone.
Hopefully this list will give you a better idea of what traditional Japanese food you might want to try when you visit Japan. No matter what you choose to eat, you’re bound to find something that changes your life.
So now you know what to eat in Japan, let us know which are your favourites after your trip! We would love to know which Japanese cuisine you enjoyed the most.
Author: Ria is travel writer based in South Korea who loves travel, food, video games, and dogs. She likes to spend her weekends exploring her home and surrounding countries but also enjoys a night in watching rom-coms with her pup.