The Top 10 Things To Eat In Japan

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  • September 23, 2015
top 10 foods you should eat in japan

A trip to Japan will not be complete without trying out the local cuisine. Aside from its rich history, fascinating culture, and captivating sceneries, the country is also a top tourist destination because of its diverse, unique, and mouth-watering dishes. If you have plans to visit Japan in the future, the following are 10 foods that you should not miss out on:


Probably one of the more recognizable Japanese foods, tempura are small, thin slices of vegetables and seafood that are lightly battered and deep fried. It is of Portuguese origin, with the first ever tempura recipe introduced in the mid-1500s, in the Nagasaki area, by Jesuit missionaries from Portugal. It became an instant favorite, and people back then bought it from street vendors, known as yatai.




There is a long list of vegetables and seafood that can be used to make tempura, but the most common is shrimp, or ebi. Some good seafood alternatives are squid, prawn, crab, fish (sakana), scallop, shrimp, cod, catfish, ray, sea bass, rock salmon, Japanese whiting, sea perch, haddock, plaice, coley, conger eel, and pollock. For vegetable tempura, or yasai tempura, some notable options are bell pepper, carrot, okra, bamboo shoots, sweet potato (satsumaimo), green beans, butternut squash, eggplant (nasu), onion, pumpkin (kabocha), and potato.

Ingredients and Preparation

The batter is prepared by mixing small batches of cold water and soft wheat flour, using chopsticks, in a bowl. The seafood or vegetables are sliced into thin strips, dipped in the light batter, and then deep fried in hot sesame oil or tea seed oil. Tempura are usually served with seasonings and dipping sauces.

Where to find

Restaurants and fast foods that specialize in tempura are known as tempura-ya, and they are found all over Japan. These places serve tempura either as a main dish or a side dish, as well as a topping for soba and rice bowls. Prices may range between 800 and 5000 yen. At supermarkets and food stalls, cheap individual tempura pieces that cost less than 400 yen are available.


Yakitori are the Japanese’s own version of grilled or skewered chicken. Made from various chicken parts, the meat is chopped into bite-sized pieces, seasoned, put through a skewer, and grilled over charcoal.
This food is typically served in small restaurants, eateries, and street stands, where many office employees hang out after work hours to enjoy yakitori with beer and other alcoholic beverages.



Different parts of a chicken may be used to make yakitori, including the following:

  • Thighs (momo)
  • Wings (tebasaki)
  • Breast (yotsumi)
  • Small intestines (shiro)
  • Skin (kawa)
  • Cartilage (nankotsu)
  • Heart (kokoro)
  • Liver (reba)
  • Gizzard (sunagimo)

Ingredients and Preparation

When ordering yakitori in a restaurant, there are two options on how it will be cooked — either with tare sauce (a mixture of sugar, mirin, soy sauce, and sake) or with salt. The meat is then skewered and grilled until cooked.

Where to find

Yakitori are very common and widespread in Japan because they are inexpensive and easy-to-eat. They are served in yakitori-ya, izakaya, and food stands across the country. One stick usually does not cost more than 200 yen. Some specialty restaurants offer yakitori set meals that are made up of several yakitori types served hot off the grill.

3. Ramen

When strolling along the streets of Japan, there is no way you would not pass by at least one restaurant that serves ramen. A very popular noodle soup dish, ramen is made up of wheat noodles in fish- or meat-based broth, seasoned with miso or soy sauce, and topped with dried seaweed, green onions, sliced pork, and others.



Because of Japan’s geography and topography, there exist many different variations of ramen, depending on the region. Here are the four general categories:

miso ramen

Miso ramen

Said to be invented in Sapporo, miso ramen features a rich miso soup texture that is topped with pork slices, garlic, sweet corn, bean sprouts, and butter. Sometimes, it may also include seafood such as crab, scallop, and squid

shio ramen

Shio ramen

Said to be the oldest type of ramen, shio, or salt, ramen is known for its straight noodles, as well as its yellowish broth made from boiled fish, vegetables, seaweed, and chicken, and consists of a lot of salt.


Tonkotsu ramen

The creamy soup is prepared by boiling down pork bones until they dissolve. Highly popular in the Kyushu area, its flavor is usually enhanced by adding pork fat and chicken broth.

shoyu ramen

Shoyu ramen

Usually with a broth-base of vegetable and chicken stock with a lot of soy sauce, shoyu ramen has curly noodles and topped with fish cakes, green onions, bamboo shoots, boiled eggs, black pepper, and bean sprouts.

Where to find

Ramen-ya, or specialized ramen restaurants, are the best places to enjoy the best ramen in Japan. They are literally found everywhere, most especially in the busiest locations, like entertainment districts, train stations, and along major pedestrian-traffic roads. They are also available at special vending machines, supermarkets, food stalls, izakaya, and convenience stores.


Most likely the most world-renowned dish from Japan, sushi is a type of food that primarily consists of raw fish (or some other seafood) and cooked vinegared rice, and sometimes also with vegetables, fruits, and other ingredients.



There is a wide variety of sushi types today, and they differ in the kinds of toppings, fillings, and condiments added, and method of preparation. The following are just a few of the most notable ones:



This type of sushi is made of sushi rice, seafood, and some vegetables wrapped and rolled in dried seaweed sheets.



Named after Inari, a Shinto god, this food is made by deep-frying tofu pouches filled with sushi rice. Some varieties include carrots, green beans, and other ingredients.


These are cone-shaped sushi made of sushi rice, vegetables, and seafood wrapped in nori seaweed sheets.



Different types of seafood, including shrimp, eel, tuna, octopus, fish, squid, and shellfish, can be used to top the small rice balls used in making nigirizushi.

Where to find

Sushi is a major part of any Japanese dining experience, so it only makes sense that this food is served at numerous places, from the small, traditional family restaurants to the pricier, high-end establishments. It is also available in supermarkets and convenience stores, usually in bento boxes.

5. Soba

An affordable and common Japanese food made of thin noodles, served either hot or cold, soba is a traditional cuisine that originated from the Tokugawa period. Nowadays, different regions in Japan boast of their own soba noodle varieties, incorporating special ingredients to create exceptional flavors.



There are two general types of soba: hot soba and cold soba.

hot soba

Hot soba

This type of soba is made of buckwheat noodles in a hot, broth-based soup, topped with different vegetables, seafood, meat, and other ingredients. There are numerous varieties of hot soba dishes, with each variety featuring a different set of toppings. Here are a few examples:

  • Kake soba: Topped with thin slices of scallion or fish cake, or both
  • Tempura soba: Topped with vegetables and a large shrimp tempura
  • Soki soba: Topped with stewed pork, or soki
cold soba

Cold soba

During the summer months, soba noodles are often chilled and served as cold soba, sprinkled with chopped dried nori seaweed bits, and prepared on a bamboo tray with soba tsuyu, a dipping sauce mixture of sweetened soy sauce, mirin and dashi, on the side. Like hot soba, it also comes in different varieties, including:

  • Mori soba: Served as plain, chilled soba noodles with dipping sauce
  • Hiyashi soba: Topped with various vegetables, such as okra, radish, or soybeans
  • Zaru soba: Topped with nori seaweed bits

Where to find

Soba is quite a common item on the menu of many food stands at train stations, family restaurants, and special soba establishments all over Japan, most especially in the tourist areas. The typical cost of a basic soba dish runs between 500 and 1000 yen.

6. Shabu-shabu

Shabu-shabu is a hot pot dish that features paper-thin cuts of beef that are boiled in water. Said to have originated from a Chinese hot pot dish called Shuan Yangrou, it got its onomatopoeic name from the sound made when stirring the ingredients in a pot. While it is more popularly made with beef, there are other versions that make use of crab, lamb, chicken, pork, lobster, and duck. It is typically served with mushrooms, carrots, onions, sauces, and dippings.


Where to find

Shabu-shabu is a regular menu entry in many restaurants located in the busy tourist areas of Japan, as well as in smaller-scale eateries in local neighborhoods.

7. Okonomiyaki/Monjayaki

Okonomiyaki and monjayaki are both flavorful types of Japanese pancakes made of flour and vegetables, combined with seafood or meat cooked on and eaten straight off an iron plate with a mini-spatula-like utensil called hera. The similarities between the two end there, as each one requires different methods of cooking, and quantity and type of seasonings used.



When cooking okonomiyaki, the batter is shaped into a pancake upon placing on top of the hot iron plate. Toppings, such as seaweeds, fish flakes, ketchup, mayonnaise, and other condiments may be used.



The monjayaki batter has a softer texture, with consistency that is comparable to that of melted cheese. When cooking, the batter is spread to cover a bigger area of the iron plate. It is best eaten while half-cooked.

Where to find

Although the Kansai-style and the Hiroshima-style are the most well-known variations in Japan, these dishes are also found in restaurants outside of these regions, all throughout the country.

8. Tonkatsu

Prepared by breading and deep-frying pork cutlets, tonkatsu is an authentic Japanese dish that was invented in 1899 at Rengatei, a restaurant located in Tokyo. The early version was known as katsu or katsuretsu (cutlet), and it was only in the 1930s when it started being referred to as tonkatsu (pork katsu).


Ingredients and Preparation

To make tonkatsu, cut pork loin or pork fillet is seasoned with salt and pepper, dredged in flour, dipped in egg, breaded, and then deep fried. It may be served in a variety of ways, sometimes with tonkatsu sauce, mustard, and a lemon slice, and other times with miso soup and shredded cabbage. It is also widely served as a katsu sando, or sandwich filling.

Where to find

Tonkatsu-ya are the best places to go to if craving for tonkatsu. These establishments offer a wide range of tonkatsu dishes that cost between 800 and 1500 yen. Food kiosks, supermarkets, and convenience stores also sell tonkatsu meal boxes that cost around 500 yen.

9. Kashi-pan

Kashi-pan, or sweet bread, is a type of Japanese bun that is topped or filled with jam, cream, paste, or some other savory filling.



  • Kurimu-pan – These are Japanese buns filled with custard cream.
  • Meron-pan –The breads have criss-cross patterns on the crispy surface but are soft and fluffy inside.
  • Korone – These are seashell-shaped buns with chocolate cream filling.
  • An-pan – The buns stuffed with sweet bean paste.
  • Jamu-pan – The most common variations are filled with strawberry jam, but some may be stuffed with apricot jam.

Where to find

It is very easy to find bakeries in Japan that sell kashi-pan, so enjoying as many of its variants as you can is definitely possible. It is both a good breakfast and snack option to keep you going throughout the day. Supermarkets and convenience stores also carry these special breads.

10. Curry

Introduced by the British in the late 1800s, during the Meiji era, curry is considered to be up there when it comes to appetizing, authentic Japanese cuisine because of its hot and spicy flavor that is uniquely and distinctly Japanese.


Ingredients and Preparation

To prepare Japanese curry, different kinds of meat (chicken, beef, pork) and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions) are used. It may then be served in three different forms:

Curry udon

noodles topped with curry sauce

Curry rice

rice topped with curry sauce

Curry bread

Buns or pastry stuffed with curry

Where to find

Because it is considered by many locals to be somewhat Japan’s national dish, finding curry in Japan is not difficult. Restaurants all over the country have different curry dishes included in their menus. Even small food kiosks, supermarkets, and convenience stores in busy areas also carry a variety of curry products.