Before I went to Japan, when it came to Japanese food, my first thought was sushi. In fact, thinking about it, whenever I mentioned Japan to anyone, one of the first things they said back to me, involved sushi, and reference to how much sushi I would get to eat!
However, having been to Japan, sushi is now one of the last things I mention when discussing Japanese food. I feel like my culinary senses have been opened to a whole new world of tastes, smells and textures and I have to say, Japanese food is freakin’ awesome!
So, here is my quick guide to the Japanese food you simply must make the effort to try, if ever you are lucky enough to visit this amazing country!
Basically, ramen consists of noodles, broth, some melt in your mouth meat and a smattering of seaweed and possibly an egg or two. It is a bowl of hearty goodness that you can’t help but slurp and slurp until there is nothing left. I tried veggie ramen, pork ramen and chicken ramen and I have to say, the pork ramen was defo my favourite.
Many ramen restaurants involve the novel concept of ordering using a vending machine and are the perfect place to go if ever you are travelling alone. Ramen is the perfect anti-social dinner, and to be honest, given how messy it is to eat, it is probably best kept as an anti-social dinner option! Many ramen restaurants will offer ‘foreigners’ a bib, as there is definitely a technique that is learnt over many a bowl of ramen, before you can successfully slurp the noodles up, without spraying soup all over yourself and your neighbours!
This was a surprise favourite of mine. Pre Japan, pork was a meat I would usually avoid, but Japan has pretty much converted me. One of the best pork based dishes offered in Japan is the fabulous tonkatsu. It is a succulent piece of perfectly cooked pork, coated in a light breadcrumb batter, served with a huge mound of shredded cabbage, various sauces and toppings and rice. In one place we visited in Kyoto, you even had to make your own sauce by grinding up the sesame seeds in a pestle and mortar!
I have to say, I could take or leave the shredded cabbage, not a fan of that, but the Japanese love cabbage, and as you will find when travelling around, vegetables are hard to come by, and so if you are really craving your veg intake, you’ll have to learn to love the cabbage!
Tendon Tempura Rice Bowl
One of the best cheap eats Japan has to offer. You will find a Tendon (pronounced “Ten-yah”) in pretty much every city in Japan. They offer a bowl full of rice topped with tempura vegetables, fish and/or meat. Just take my word for it, it is awesome, and once you have eaten here once, you will keep going back. I highly recommend the mixed veg and ebi (prawn) rice bowl. Yummy. Oh, and as with most things in Japan, it comes with a side of miso soup!
Not only is the name of this awesome, but the taste lives up to the name. I freakin’ love this. It is essentially a pancake with various fillings, topped with mayo and a brown/bbq type sauce and bonito flakes (the weird fish flakes that look like they are moving). If you are lucky, you will get to make it yourself at your own table come hot plate. Served with an ice cold beer and you are pretty much in foodie heaven. The best place to eat this is in Osaka, as that is where the dish originates. Head to Dotonbori and you will have your pick of Okonomiyaki places to eat at!
This is a simple dish. Meat, on sticks. Every type of meat, any part of the animal, on a skewer. It is cheap and satisfying and a staple food in the many Izakayas (essentially all you can eat and drink restaurants). Be warned, the Japanese like the more obscure parts of the animal, so if you want the ‘usual’ cut of meat, you need to be specific! Expect a lot of meat on sticks, for very little cost.
Not really Japanese food, but an icon of the food on offer in Harajuku. In my opinion, no trip to this part of Tokyo is complete without picking up a giant, rainbow candyfloss. The task? Can you finish the entire thing without ending up in a sugar coma. I didn’t manage it, and I was sharing!!
Sushi (well, I couldn’t not include it now, could I?)
It wouldn’t be right to do a guide to Japanese food without including this icon. Sushi in Japan is, as you would expect, on a whole other level to sushi anywhere else. It is incredible. One of my favourite places to eat Sushi was at a sushi train restaurant called Genki Sushi. Granted, this is a chain restaurant but the novelty of having your food delivered on a ‘train’, combined with the amazing taste and presentation made it pretty amazing.
If you really want the freshest possible sushi, head to the fish market where you can have the sushi prepared there and then from that mornings catch. All at an insanely cheap price.
Ok, so I’m going to be honest, this isn’t one of the dishes I actually liked BUT, it is such a hugely popular dish in Japan and one you can’t avoid when heading to the street food mecca, Dotonbori. It is essentially a pancake type dough ball filled with a piece of octopus. The dough ball bit was fab, the octopus, not so much. But to be honest, that’s more down to the fact I don’t really like Octopus, not a fan of the texture. However, if you like Octopus, you will no doubt love this!
Even if you don’t, you should take the time to stop at one of the stalls and watch it being made, it’s pretty awesome!
Not exactly in the gourmet food category this, and probably not something the Japanese would ever shout about, however, if ever you find yourself peckish and in one the many Family Mart’s or Seven/Elevens dotted all over Japan, order yourself a pizza man. They are just delicious. Sorry, I never got a picture, I ate it too fast every time!
Custard filled melon pan
In the same category as the pizza man above, this is another convenience store must have and especially good for breakfast on the go! Despite the name, there bread does not contain melon, it just has the appearance of a diced melon. You can get plain versions but the ones filled with custard (that can be somewhat elusive) are the best! As above, no picture, I tended to eat this pre coffee and therefore before I was fully functioning and able to think about taking a picture!
Ok, not technically a food but no trip to Japan is complete without trying a peach Fanta. It is just delicious and despite tweeting Fanta about my love for this amazing drink, it doesn’t look like the UK will be blessed with this flavour anytime soon!
If this post has tickled your taste buds, check out my Osaka vlog where I try many of the foods listed above at the world famous, Dotonbori!
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