Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi, has become popular all over the world, and now I want to explore some more of its traditional dishes. Please join me on my tour!
I love Japanese food! It was not always that way, however. Seafood used to make me sick and the general taste of fish used to leave me a little wary if trying it, especially new things for the first time, such as oyster or crab. As time went on, I began making my own sushi and found it to be a rewarding process. It is always a joy to see how inventive the Japanese can be when preparing and presenting their food in a process known as kawaii, where even little onigiri balls can be formed into cutesy pandas!
The traditional food of Japan is based on rice and fish, with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. The side dishes often consist of pan-fried dumplings and vegetables cooked in broth. Fish is often grilled, but it may also be served raw as part of sashimi or in sushi. Apart from rice, staples include noodles, such as udon. Historically, the Japanese shunned meat, but with the modernization of Japan in the 1860s, meat-based dishes such as tonkatsu became common.
I have chronicled 12 of the best street foods in Japan already, so this article concentrates mainly on the mainstays of Japanese cuisine, although some other street foods have been added for good measure!
Famous Japanese Drinks:
Green Tea is the de facto hot drink in Japan – and everybody seems to love it! It is claimed that regular consumption of green tea can have health benefits, such as stress relief, and even reducing body fat over a longer period. Slightly less popular is Habushu, which is a form of Japanese snake wine made from the venomous habu snake. Finally, Sake is one of the main alcoholic beverages in Japan. It is known as the wine of the Samurai!
Traditional Seafood Starters:
Sushi (寿司) is a staple in Japanese cuisine. It is made from cooked vinegared rice and is usually filled with seafood, such as tuna or crabmeat, although it can also consist of any other practical food chefs can fit inside! It is rolled using roasted seaweed and is often sprinkled with poppy seeds.
Sashimi (刺身) is a delicacy made from thinly-sliced raw meat or raw fish. Sashimi is often the first course in a formal Japanese meal, but it can also be the main course, presented with rice and miso soup in separate bowls. Many Japanese people believe that sashimi, traditionally considered the finest dish in Japanese cuisine, should be eaten before other strong flavours affect the palate.
Snack Foods and Light Bites:
Gyōza (餃子) are pan-fried dumplings, that can have many different fillings, and are commonly eaten as a side dish with ramen. The most popular preparation method is the pan-fried style called yaki-gyōza, in which the dumpling is first fried on one flat side, creating a crispy skin.
One of the most famous Japanese snack foods is the Korokke (コロッケ). It is basically a simple potato croquette that has been battered and deep-fried. Korokke can be eaten as an individual snack or as part of a larger dinner.
Senbei is a traditional Japanese welcoming cookie that is often offered to guests when arriving at somebody’s house.
Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) is a savoury pancake with its origins in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. It is made from a complicated dough base, filled with thick pork belly and seafood, and topped with vegetables.
A steamed dumpling similar to a Chinese baozi or a Filipino siopao, Nikuman (肉まん) is a popular snack in Japanese cuisine and is filled with a variety of fillings, with curry being a frequent choice! Nikuman are steamed and kept hot in bamboo baskets.
Miso Soup (味噌汁) is made from dashi, which is basically a seaweed stock, although other stock ingredients are sometimes used. Miso Soup is available all around the world, including in instant packets in grocery stores.
Kare Raisu (カレーライス) is a simple yet very popular dish of white fragrant rice beside some extremely hot curry sauce. Curry is one of the 3 major foods of Japan, along with fish and noodles.
Chahan (炒飯) is a simple dish of fried rice, and is often made with egg and vegetables. As always with Japan, presentation is very important and it is common to see it shaped in a ball or bowl shape, and occasionally eaten with chopsticks!
Yakizakana (焼き魚) is the name given to any grilled fish dish in Japan, and boy do the Japanese love their fish! Mackerel (aji) is especially popular! Usually served with daikon.
Tempura (天ぷら) is a dish of deep-fried and battered seafood. Cooked bits of tempura are either eaten with dipping sauce or used to assemble other dishes. Tempura is commonly served with grated daikon and eaten hot immediately after frying. Prawn tempura is a very popular version.
Rice bowls are famous all over Japan, and although they can contain a variety of meats, beef the the most popular, which leads to the moniker “Beef Bowl”. Gyūdon (牛丼) is a bowl of boiled rice topped with thinly shredded beef and onions, all simmered in a fusion of soy sauce and dashi (seaweed stock). It is usually served with a side of pickled ginger.
Ramen (ラーメン) is a wheat noodle delicacy bathed in a meat broth, such as chicken or beef. Toppings can include seaweed, vegetables, and onions. All regions of Japan have their own variations of Ramen – but it takes skill and practice to learn how to eat it properly!
Udon (うどん) are the famous thick noodles from Japan, that can be eaten hot or cold. Made from wheat flour, udon noodles are frequently served in a bowl with a tempura topping!
Yakisoba (焼きそば) is a delicious dish of fried buckwheat and derives from Chinese Chow Mein. It is usually smothered in a generous helping of condiments such as oyster sauce.
Tonkatsu (豚カツ) is a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet, served often with shredded cabbage.
Shaped like an American Football, Omuraisu (オムライス) is basically rice in an omelette, and usually topped with ketchup or soy sauce. This dish is also very popular in South Korea.
Mochi (餅) is a Japanese rice cake, which is especially popular during Japanese New Year celebrations, and can be wrapped in leaves. Mochi ice cream, which has a icy and creamy filling, is also a popular derivative of this little cake.
Kakigori is a traditional Japanese shaved ice dessert, similar to patbingsu in Korea and baobing in China. As you would expect, green tea flavoured ice is a predominant choice in Kakigori – and many other Japanese desserts!
Melonpan is a flavoured bun that is not too dissimilar to the pineapple bun that is sold throughout Asia, but especially in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Monaka is like the original ice cream sandwich, although presented in the inimitable Japanese elegance.
Thanks for joining me on a brief tour of Japan’s favourite foods! Please check out my other entries in the Foodporn series, including Japan’s regional neighbours China (Chinese Foodporn) and South Korea (Korean Foodporn).