As you wander through the streets of Japan, you’ll likely be overwhelmed by the number of restaurants, food stalls, and convenience stores filled with delicious food to try. Japanese cuisine is famous for its unique flavours, incredible freshness, and artistic presentation, making it nothing less than a world-class dining experience. But with so many new and tasty-looking dishes to try, how do you know which ones need to be checked off your list? If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the variety of choices, fear not, we’ve compiled a list of ten iconic Japanese dishes you absolutely MUST TRY during your Japan adventure.
As an international favourite enjoyed by many across the globe, sushi is a Japanese culinary delight. Bringing together perfectly seasoned vinegar rice and an array of ingredients like fresh fish and vegetables, it sure makes one tasty bite. From nigiri, a delicate slice of fish atop a small mound of rice, to the popular maki rolls, sushi comes in many diverse forms and flavours. It certainly is Japan’s most iconic dish, with each piece a flavourful bite into Japan’s rich culinary culture.
Actually originating from China, ramen is a beloved dish in Japan that was reinvented and transformed into the epitome of Japanese comfort food. It’s a fragrant bowl of chewy noodles swimming in a rich, savory broth, that’s finished with a variety of toppings like slices of pork, a soft-boiled egg, green onions, or nori (seaweed). The most amazing thing about ramen is that every region in Japan has its own take, meaning there’s so much exploration to be done!
Sukiyaki is an extremely warming, comforting, and sociable hotpot dish that is perfect for sharing with friends and family on cold days. It consists of thinly sliced beef, tofu, vegetables, mushrooms, and noodles that are all simmered together in a sweet and savory broth right at the table. Traditionally in Japan, each item is dipped into a beaten raw egg before eating. Doing so enhances the sweet and salty flavours of the broth, adding an irresistible creaminess and richness.
Also dubbed as “Japanese pizza”, okonomiyaki is a savory pancake that’s packed with a whole load of different ingredients. The batter typically includes cabbage, green onion, meat, and even seafood. A fun fact is that its name means “grilled as you like it”, perfectly reflecting the flexibility of this dish. Once cooked, it’s topped with a special sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed, and bonito flakes, creating a tasty explosion of flavour that will have you coming back for more.
It’s truly surprising how a simple slice of fresh fish could possibly be so mouthwateringly delicious. Sashimi is a prime example of simplicity and freshness - it’s a thinly sliced raw piece of seafood served with a dipping sauce and a simple garnish. The type of fish can range from tuna and salmon to more exotic varieties like octopus and sea urchin. Each piece is carefully and precisely cut, causing each bite to melt in your mouth like butter.
Tempura is one of those dishes that perfectly captures the Japanese’s careful attention to cooking techniques. You can choose from seafood or vegetables which are lightly battered and deep-fried to crispy, golden perfection. Served with a delightful tentsuyu dipping sauce, every bite of this fried treat offers a pleasing crunch followed by a tender and juicy inside.
Yakitori, aka skewered chicken, is a popular street food you can find almost anywhere in Japan. Made from all parts of the chicken, each skewer is grilled over charcoal, giving it a tasty smoky flavour. Typically seasoned with either salty or sweet sauces, yakitori is also known to be a popular companion to a cold glass of beer in Japan.
Udon is an incredibly thick and chewy noodle that comes in many variations in Japanese cuisine. It can be served in a hot soy-based broth with various toppings or served chilled with a side of dipping sauce. No matter how you choose to have it, udon is a staple dish that is as versatile as it is satisfying. Just don’t forget to slurp your noodles - it’s considered polite in Japan!
Onigiri, also known as rice balls, are the ultimate Japanese snack. Found even in convenience stores, these triangle-shaped rice balls are wrapped in seaweed and often have a surprising filling like pickled plum, salmon, or tuna mayo. They’re the perfect on-the-go food that is built for convenience, but still very very delicious to eat.
For a sweet treat, you definitely need to try mochi in Japan. Made from glutinous rice that is pounded into a paste, it’s then molded into a variety of different shapes. It has an amazing chewy texture that is so fun to bite into. You can likely find mochi that is filled with sweet bean paste and dusted with powdered sugar, making it a great dessert to finish off the day.
Are you hungry yet? These ten iconic Japanese dishes are definite must-tries if you ever find yourself in the Land of the Rising Sun. From fresh sashimi to comforting ramen, each dish is so unique and different from the last. It’s time to step out of your comfort zone to explore Japan’s exciting culinary landscape!