By the time you get to your first restaurant in Japan, chances are you’ve eaten Japanese food back home, either at a sushi train or something similar. However, the Westernized version of Japanese food can be so drastically different that it’ll be like eating it for the first time all over again. And the restaurant experience, even if it is as simple as McDonald’s, is amazing.
The traditional food of Japan is based on rice with miso (a paste made from fermented soya beans) soup and other dishes, with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Side dishes are generally made with fish, pickled vegetables, and/or vegetables cooked in broth. Fish is the common traditional cuisine. It is mostly grilled, but it may also be served raw as sashimi or in sushi. Seafood and vegetables are also deep-fried in a light batter as tempura.
With most restaurants, you can clearly see what you are going to order because plastic food replicas appear in the windows and display cases of pretty much everywhere that serves food (minus the big chain fast food companies). And they do look so real!
For a list of famous pre-made snacks available in Japan, visit here.
Agedashi tofu is a Japanese way to serve hot tofu. Silken firm tofu, cut into cubes, is lightly dusted with potato starch or cornstarch and then deep fried until golden brown. Find the recipe here.
Amazake is a traditional nonalcoholic sake made from fermented rice, or rather, with the portion of fermented rice that’s left over from the process of making sake. It’s usually served during winter and most Shinto shrines provide or sell it in the New Year’s. To purchase your own amazake, go here.
Anpan is a sweet roll most commonly filled with red bean paste. Anpan can also be prepared with other fillings, including white beans, sesame and chestnut. Find the recipe here.
Bento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento holds rice, fish or meat, with pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container. You can cook them any way favorable or purchase them premade in most food stores around Japan. There is no recipe, because you can put anything in them, the same you can put anything in a lunchbox.
Dango is a Japanese dumpling and sweet made from mochiko, related to mochi. It is often served with green tea. Dango is eaten year-round, but the different varieties are traditionally eaten in given seasons. Try to make your own dango.
Dangojiru is a miso soup, filled with vegetables and dumplings, and has a very rich flavor. Winter is the best time to enjoy hot dangojiru, however it can be enjoyed with a variety of seasonal vegetables throughout the year. Give the recipe a try.
Ebi Fry (fried prawn)
Fried prawn is a deep fried cuisine popular in Japan as well as other Japanese restaurants worldwide. It is a speciality of the city of Nagoya. Each prawn is straightened out flat, then coated with flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs in that order, and deep-fried in hot cooking oil. Try ebi fry for yourself.
Gyoza is a type of dumpling commonly eaten across Eastern, Central and Western Asia. Though commonly considered part of Chinese cuisine, gyoza are also commonly eaten in many other Asian countries, and Japan has adapted it’s own style of cooking it. Whip up some authentic gyoza here.
Karaage, is a Japanese cooking technique in which various foods — most often chicken, but also other meat and fish — are deep fried in oil. It’s eaten with rice, soup and vegetables. Small pieces of the food are marinated in a mix of soy sauce, garlic and/or ginger, then lightly coated with a seasoned wheat flour or potato starch mix, and fried in a light oil. Find the recipe for chicken karaage here.
Tonkatsu (pork cutlet), is a Japanese food which consists of a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. There are two main types, hire and rosu. It is often served with shredded cabbage. A katsu-sando is literally a tonkatsu sandwich, or pork sandwich. Learn how to make your own from here.
Makizushi are sushi rolls. Sushi rice and various ingredients are rolled in nori (dried seaweed) as maki means rolling in Japanese. Since makizushi are wrapped by nori, they are also called nori-maki. There are many kinds of sushi rolls. Popular sushi rolls in Japan are tekka-maki (tuna sashimi rolls), kappa-maki (cucumber rolls), and more. Makizushi are good finger food. Learn to make your own here.
Miso soup is a traditional soup consisting of a stock called “dashi” into which softened miso paste is mixed. Many ingredients are added depending on regional and seasonal recipes, and personal preference. Find the recipe here.
Motoyaki is a style of Japanese cooking in which seafood is baked with a mayonnaise type sauce on top, then served on an oyster shell. Find the recipe at Big John’s.
Motsunabe (nabe meaning ‘one pot cooking’)
Motsunabe is a type of nabemono in Japanese cuisine, which is made from beef or pork guts, offal. It is a popular stew made with guts portions of various types of meat, prepared in a conventional kitchen cooking pot or a special Japanese nabe pot. Find various recipes here.
The most well-known sushi is the oval shaped sushi, called nigiri-zushi which means hand-pressed sushi. Nigiri-zushi can be made with various toppings and is commonly served in sushi restaurants. Sushi chefs in Japan go through extensive training to learn to make nigiri-zushi. Wiki How has a recipe that you can try at home.
One of my personal favourites, Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients, namely cabbage, seafood, eggs and meats. There’s an easy way to make it here.
Omurice or omu-rice is an example of contemporary Japanese cuisine consisting of an omelette made with fried rice and usually topped with ketchup. Omu and raisu are contractions of the words omelette and rice. Find the recipe here.
O-nigiri, also known as o-musubi, nigirimeshi or rice ball, is a Japanese food made from white rice formed into triangular or oval shapes and often wrapped in seaweed. Find a cute version of the recipe at Serious Eats. And there’s a slideshow on the various things you can create!
Takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. Find the recipe at about.com.
Tamago kake gohan
Tamago kake gohan or Tamago gohan in short is a popular Japanese breakfast food consisting of cooked rice topped or mixed with raw egg and—optionally—soy sauce. Easy enough to make!
Tempura is a Japanese dish of seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep fried, similar to how ebi fry is cooked. Try your hand at it here.
Teriyaki is a cooking technique used in Japanese cuisine in which foods are broiled or grilled with a glaze of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. In Australia, teriyaki sauce is often used in a stir fry. To make teriyaki beef, click here.
Tonkatsu is a Japanese food which consists of a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. There are two main types, hire and rosu. It is often served with shredded cabbage. Learn how to make it here.
Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel, especially the Japanese eel, Anguilla japonica. Unagi is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking. It is not to be confused with saltwater eel, which is known as anago in Japanese. Find the recipe here.
Yakitori (grilled chicken) is commonly a Japanese type of skewered chicken. The term “yakitori” can also refer to skewered food in general. Kushiyaki, is a formal term that encompasses both poultry and non-poultry items, skewered and grilled. Find out how to make it at taste.com.
Served straight from the grill, yakizakana (literally, grilled fish) + a bowl of rice + a bowl of miso soup = the quintessential Japanese meal. The firm yet moist flesh topped with sizzling, crispy skin is Japanese soul food. Find the recipe here.
What are your favourite Japanese dishes? Comment below!